Kary Antholis: This is the Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis, where stories of crime and justice are told.
Today’s podcast is a conversation with Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, creators, executive producers and writers of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning limited series, The People v. O.J. Simpson as well as many other award-winning films and television programs.
The conversation was recorded as part of a series of classes that I taught at The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Each week I would host an artist for a discussion that would help us better understand their values and aims as storytellers in the world of crime and justice.
During part two of the conversation we take a deep dive into the issues that arose during the writing and production processes of The people versus O.J. Simpson, and then Scott and Larry field questions from the students in the class.
Kary Antholis: In this class, we’ve discussed kind of briefly the legacy of shows like Dragnet and Hill Street Blues as iconic presentations of the police as kind of protectors of the social order. With Hill Street Blues kind of humanizing them through soap opera but still status quo. You look at the LAPD in a completely different way.
Scott Alexander: Although, we didn’t talk about driving it but we talked about Jack Webb a lot. This was sort of like my own little obsession. The LAPD got so attacked during the trial. To quote Jeff Toobin, “Johnnie would just keep throwing shit at the wall and whatever stuck is good enough.” Johnnie would throw a lot of conflicting theories. But as long as one theory stuck for one juror and a different theory stuck for another juror, Johnnie’s golden. So we kept saying, the night of, we are treating them like Jack Webb characters. They are just by the book, yes, ma’am, no, ma’am. Procedural, doing their jobs, they’ve got gloves, they got little bags. There is nothing fishy going on. This was very influenced by Toobin. Toobin is so dismissive of any conspiracy theory as just being so dumb. In episode seven, Marcia actually talks through the impossibility of the conspiracy theory. Just in terms of how you would have had so many policemen in on this scheme, within minutes of learning about the murders. It’s so crazy.
Scott Alexander: So we wanted to present, especially with Mark Fuhrman, oh my God, you got to see from one and nine. Fuhrman, he’s just a cop doing a job. There’s nothing fishy about it and when they end up moving from Nicole’s condo to OJ’s house, there’s nothing screwey about it. It’s so interesting because it’s before Google, they can’t be looking stuff up. They don’t have anything. There’s no computerized database. He’d been to OJ’s house because OJ had beat up Nicole once and Fuhrman was the cop who got called. So he knew the address. So it’s just very logical and then when they find the glove. We didn’t want anything mysterioso going on. We didn’t want like, ooh, what did Fuhrman just do? Why did he disappear behind the bushes for a second? We didn’t want anything, we just wanted like we just watch—
Larry Karaszewski: But we did not show the moment of him finding the glove.
Scott Alexander: Correct. No, we were covering our asses. We wanted to cut away and then cut back just so we can have it both ways. We wanted the audience to go through sort of like what America went through and what the jurors went through. Which was you go in assuming like well, the cops are just doing their job. Then midway through the series, you go wait, was there something fishy going on? I personally don’t think the cops did anything fishy and OJ did it. It was a sort of interesting experiment just to play that first night just totally straight up.
Larry Karaszewski: The sense was to take that opening night and do it as a procedural and make you think that everything they’re doing is correct. But as almost everything that you see the cops do in episode one comes back to haunt them later on. It’s just as everything we’re just doing, just seems like acts of… Even like getting blood at the scene and stuff like that. Comes up in later episodes as being like wait a second, why did that go down? Everything could be interpreted in a different way.
Kary Antholis: Then in episode nine, which we’ve seen, tell us about crafting the various perspectives on Fuhrman, particularly Marcia Clark, Chris Darden, and Shapiro and Cochran? Those the parallel duels between them is kind of fascinating. Rorschach talks about the LAPD and the cultural belief in the essential goodness of cops in the white world and the alternative perspective in the black world.
Scott Alexander: We set up a very early in the series, that Chris was distrustful of Fuhrman. When Marcia is assigning jobs to each member of the team and it’s sort of like a whole table of white people. She’s saying, “All right, okay, you’ll go interview that witness. You’ll go find this piece of evidence.” Then she gets to Darden and she says, “You can have Fuhrman.” Chris looks at her and he sort of feels like the one black guy is being asked to handle the questionable racist cop. We tried to have kind of a rhyming argument between Chris and Marcia through the latter episodes. Which was Marcia saying don’t have them put on the glove and Chris saying don’t put Fuhrman on the stand. Each of them refusing to listen to the other one, which sort of worked emotionally as the problem with their relationship. That it’s like they were the two survivors of the Titanic who like went through this whole experience together but they still in terms of crossing lines and learning to trust each other, each of them refused to listen to the other one on the key issues.
Kary Antholis: Then Shapiro and Cochran and Shapiro being the instigator of using the race card strategy. But then becoming afraid of it.
Scott Alexander: Yeah.
Larry Karaszewski: Right, I think you answered the question right there. That’s sort of what happened. Shapiro invented the race defense and he’s the one who discovered the sort of truth about Fuhrman. Shapiro was sort of waving the race card in order to try to cut a deal with Garcetti. Was sort of like he felt by threatening the city with riots and things like that, that they would be able to cut a deal. OJ would be able to plead to a lesser charge or something. He was even using Johnnie as that. He was trying to get Johnnie Cochran on the defense team to scare Garcetti.
Larry Karaszewski: But what happens is when Johnnie actually gets on board, he kind of kicked Shapiro to the curb. Shapiro is now a man without a country. Tries to backpedal but he can’t really backpedal on defense strategy.
Scott Alexander: Like we said earlier, we wanted the audience to almost end up liking everybody. In terms of liking or understanding Marcia, Johnnie, Chris, Ito, Shapiro, Kardashian. We wanted you to sort of kind of be rooting for everyone. Shapiro, who can be such a ridiculous person at times. When we talked with John Travolta how he was playing the part, he said, “I’m playing him like an agent. All those studio executives you meet.” It wasn’t like sure that’s great. So even Shapiro of all people had this arc, like, Larry’s saying. Where he went in just wanting to cut a deal because that’s what he does. He doesn’t go to trial, that’s not his game. Then he comes to regret it and he got the scenes with Linell, his wife, saying, “My friends don’t even want to have dinner with us anymore because of what you’re doing and you’re going to burn down the city.” He actually had a scene we shot for episode nine, it got cut out. It was hard to get it on the schedule and then we ran out of money. Then we shot it but it was shot with like a really… It didn’t have enough extras, it was like too pared down.
Scott Alexander: It was a true story, which was near the end of the trial. Shapiro goes to Rosh Hashanah services, which is a holy Jewish holiday. He walks into the temple and he gets booed, which is crazy. And we thought, “Wow.” I don’t know why but for some reason, we had Italian Travolta playing a Jew and we had Jewish Schwimmer playing an Armenian. I’m not sure how that happened. But anyway, John with the Torah in the temple got cut out.
Kary Antholis: I noticed something in watching it tonight in terms of Shapiro. In the moment where Johnnie pauses his questioning of Fuhrman and goes to confer with the rest of the Dream Team. Whose idea do you think it was to ask the last question that he asked? Which is did you plant any evidence that night? The way I watched it tonight was it was Shapiro’s idea.
Larry Karaszewski: I don’t know if it was written that way but I do seem to remember that being shot that way.
Scott Alexander: I’m having trouble… I actually I should have got here an hour earlier and watched it with you guys because I love episode nine. My memory of it is that Johnnie is just doing theater. That he’s just taking a big hammy dramatic pause before he comes in with a closing.
Kary Antholis: Interesting that—
Scott Alexander: But you’re right, John is doing that, I can’t remember.
Larry Karaszewski: That just might be Travolta. A lot of times actors do that where they want to be proactive and so they’re doing that. I think one reason we’re like—
Scott Alexander: There’s a version that it was all scripted between the team. We’re going to pretend to have one last—
Kary Antholis: Question.
Scott Alexander: It’s like in Bull Durham, where the catcher goes out to talk to the pitcher. Then they say, “Where do you want to go for dinner tonight? Do you feel like steak or fish?” Okay, then they go.
Larry Karaszewski: We like episode nine because it opens with a screenwriting teacher. It has our favorite line where that whole section, where they… “How can you teach screenwriting if you haven’t sold a script?”
Kary Antholis: Then everybody reacts like, “Come on, man. That’s every—
Scott Alexander: That’s our favorite joke in the whole miniseries. A couple of months ago I went to the Austin Film Festival. A bunch of kids from the North Carolina School of the Arts, students, came to the festival. Two of them came up to me and said, “Our teacher is Laura Hart McKinny.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, what happened?” It was like, “Laura was very quiet that next day.”
Larry Karaszewski: Well, no, I talked to someone who went one step further than that. Maybe it was that, of course, everyone watched the episode. I don’t even think Laura knew she was going to—
Scott Alexander: No, she didn’t know she’s going to be in first of all. How would she know?
Larry Karaszewski: But they came into the class and Laura was sitting there like this in front of the class really quiet. They’re like 12 minutes the class should’ve started by now. Then she just looks up and says, “Yes, I watched it, I saw it.” Must be a great teacher, by the way. When you talk to the students, they do think she’s great.
Kary Antholis: Share with us any other kind of anecdotal react because the miniseries became a phenomenon, won every award and was watched by everyone.
Scott Alexander: It’s our first TV show and so we’ve never experienced any of this stuff. The recaps the next day we loved. We were so happy the show was not streaming, we were so happy that we were old school. Tuesday night, 10 o’clock, you want to watch OJ, you got to be home. Which was really fun because we kept hearing from parents saying, “You’re ruining my Tuesdays. I can’t go out anymore.” That was great, it was like old school it’s the water cooler talk. Every Wednesday, it’s what people talk about. We would just come into the office and we would spend five hours—
Larry Karaszewski: Going through Twitter.
Scott Alexander: No, it was the recaps, which some of them were really snarky and funny and some of them would do like little screengrabs with little thought bubbles above Marcia’s head, “Oh, my hair!” It was weird jokes. But then a lot of them were really thoughtful and it felt like these people were staying up all night Tuesday writing these grandiose essays about our show. It was like they were writing term papers and they were making connections between episodes and they were making connections that we hadn’t even thought of. They it was so cool that people were taking the ambition of the show so seriously.
Larry Karaszewski: That what was really nice was that people engage with the show and took what we were trying to do very, very seriously. We’re used to movies, which are sort of like they have that opening weekend. Even when we’re sort of doing Oscar things, where it becomes that month. But this was every single week there was a full meal. Then the show works really well if you stream it, you watch all the episodes back to back to back to back. But we felt like just one at a time, let people discuss it for a week and let people… It was also very important so the show really had endings that made you just want to come back and watch more. One of the things that we’ve never done because we only did movies, was even the commercial breaks. We initially thought that was going to be a thing we’d hate, the idea that you have to interrupt the show. We found it was like a new writing tool, that if you had whatever the line was before the commercial break, all sudden had so much more emphasis. All of the sudden, it seemed to land.
Larry Karaszewski: So for us, it wasn’t like an old fashioned serial, where we were ending scenes. But it gave this different feeling, and so we loved it. We actually loved doing that stuff.
Scott Alexander: We had never done TV and we didn’t really understand what you’re supposed to do every week. We came up with this idea, which was you treat this, it’s almost like a different movie. Each week has its own idea. It’s like episode two is the Bronco, episode six is Marcia has gender problems. Episode eight is the jury, episodes-
Larry Karaszewski: Episode nine is Fuhrman.
Scott Alexander: Episode nine is the Fuhrman trial. Actually, we called it the John Grisham night. It’s our crazy core and theatrics thing but like a lot of plot twists. Again, going back to the recap people, the recap people were just so delighted by this because they didn’t know what they’re going to get each week. So then they would be like, “Well this is more of a tragedy week, this is more of a comedy week, this is more of a thriller week.”
Larry Karaszewski: The episode nine because you just watched it, we would joke that it’s the only time that the OJ trial behaved like a television show. Twists and turns on the witness stand and surprise witnesses and all that kind of crap. Usually that stuff’s kind of bogus. And we felt like particularly, this one of the times we were close to Toobin. Because that’s the chapter where you just can’t stop reading because it’s a page-turner. Every bit is something else is happening. So we really treated that as just like this is our legal thriller episode.
Scott Alexander: Nine has a lot of fun jokes. I’m just giggling remembering Nathan in the courtroom in North Carolina. He’s just doing all that molasses syrup kind of stupidity. It’s done really well and Anthony did a great job where he did it all in one shot. Nathan’s hilarious in that scene.
Kary Antholis: You were talking about bloggers and there’s one person, in particular, I put up in the Dropbox. The two articles were relevant to these two episodes. But what I’ll do after this class is put up the entirety of Dennis Bingham’s kind of—
Scott Alexander: The Professor.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah.
Scott Alexander: We call him professor.
Larry Karaszewski: He was a professor, I’m from Indiana and I did not know this person whatsoever. But he wrote a textbook on biopics and gave Scott and I a lot of real estate in that book, even though we’d never met him or even talked to him. But he really saw us as kind of a turning point in how biopics were done. He just started this blog where he would talk about our things. It was not a blog, it really was a scholarly essay. We would just sit there literally like, “Refresh, refresh.” When is it coming up, when is it going up?
Scott Alexander: Sometimes, it’s like one o’clock, it’s time for lunch and the professor hasn’t upload yet. It was like, “Should we wait? Should we wait?”
Larry Karaszewski: Sometimes it even took an extra day because there’s so much he would do. But it was like we were like literally we just couldn’t wait until the professor told us what our show is about.
Kary Antholis: We are now going to turn it over to student questions, which I will read to you. This is the first one… Did you write specifically with two audiences in mind: those who lived through the OJ trial and a younger generation, who did not?
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah. That was on our mind all the time, that we were literally writing it for two audiences. But there are people who know every detail of the OJ trial. They know every single… The car washing guy, they know every single thing in there. We’re also doing so high profile you couldn’t get anything wrong? The second you made any fuck up of any kind, Twitter would tear you apart.
Scott Alexander: Larry lives in fear Twitter.
Larry Karaszewski: Everyone lives in fear Twitter these days.
Scott Alexander: I’m not on Twitter, so I’m not scared of it.
Larry Karaszewski: Then they had this other audience, which is basically probably most of you guys.
Scott Alexander: We’ve got kids who are college-aged so it was almost like market testing. I could go home and have dinner and say, “Have you ever heard of Bob Shapiro?” “Who’s that?” “Okay, we’re going to have to explain this.” Particularly, OJ. Our kids grew up in a universe where OJ is this chunky guy with a sullen face eating oatmeal cookies in a prison in Nevada. The OJ Larry and I grew up with was this heroic, cheerful, all-American, everybody loves OJ, always with a big smile on his face. That was the OJ that everyone couldn’t wrap their heads around had committed two murders. Particularly for young people, we had to impart this idea to the audience.
Larry Karaszewski: Strangely enough, you just watched the first episode. Also, one of the last things we wrote in an episode was OJ’s introduction. When our first draft kind of met OJ in that Chicago bedroom when he gets a phone call. We decided it was kind of important to give OJ a scene before he’s a murder suspect. Technically, he’s actually already committed the murder but he’s not a murder suspect yet. So that scene in the back of the limo, where OJ talks about being a celebrity and about how he felt about Willie Mays. We felt you needed the beginning to get some of that OJ charm before you know what went down.
Scott Alexander: Then we are also always trying to oversell the period and how life was different 20 years ago. Then we had a lot of fights about cell phones and I think there’s a whole school of screenwriting theology now and that cell phones have ruined movies because characters just keep calling each other up. It almost like scenes inter-cutting two people on cell phones. So we had these fights about cell phones were actually pretty rare ’94 and who’s allowed to have a cell phone? Because if you start giving it to too many characters, it’s a cheat. Middle-class characters would not have had cell phones in ’94. I think we didn’t want to have one on him during the Bronco chase because there’s a big crazy joke where everyone in the world knows that OJ is being chased on the freeway, except for his lawyer. He’s the only person who doesn’t know and it’s because we have him in his car listening to Al Jarreau singing What’s Love Got To Do With It? No, We’re In This Love Together, sorry. So in that case, Shapiro could not have a cell phone.
Larry Karaszewski: Which was true, by the way.
Scott Alexander: Yeah.
Larry Karaszewski: Not the Al Jarreau part but he was oblivious to it.
Scott Alexander: Yeah.
Larry Karaszewski: Things like Kardashian, we had to make sure people understood that Robert Kardashian was not a famous person. We were looking at the first news conference where Kardashian reads OJ’s suicide note and the press literally doesn’t know who he is. They keep on asking can you spell your last name? Can you spell your last name? He literally has to spell his name to the… There is 95 million people are watching this Bronco chase. He has to spell his name to tell him who he is. While we’re writing the scene and watching it, we were like wait a sec, where the kids watching this? So we’re like, of course, their dad’s on TV and the biggest thing in television of all time. Of course, they’re watching this. So then we cut to the Kardashian girls watching this and they’re seeing their dad spell their last name on television. We just had them like they’re saying, “Yay, Kardashian on TV.”
Larry Karaszewski: That one moment it was like creating this Frankenstein monster. That, of course, they became who they are, whatever. Not knocking the Kardashians but they came—
Scott Alexander: No one said a word, Larry.
Larry Karaszewski: I know but for us, it was like the light bulb went off. An anecdote, I only person I bum-rushed in the entire thing was I was at a dinner somewhere on the west side. I was sitting there and Kanye and Kim came in. I had never met either one of those and I’m like I got to get over there and say something to somebody. So they ate quicker than I did so they were walking out to their car and I was like… I went there and I was like… I knew Kim liked the show. So I went, “Hi, my writing partner and I we created The People Vs. OJ.” She’s like, “Thank you so much, you’ve taught me so much about my father.” It was a beautiful moment. The next day I went online and there’s this great photo-bomb of me behind Kanye and they’re walking out to the car. It was my proudest moment.
Scott Alexander: We really had no contact with anybody who’s a character in the show. Although, for some reason, Kardashian’s girlfriend from ’94 tracked us down. Took us to lunch and she wanted us to put her into the show because she was in that… We knew she was, she was in the house when they were hiding him from the cops and from the DA. We’re thinking why do you want to be in that scene? Everybody in that house was breaking the law, they were hiding a fugitive.
Larry Karaszewski: You saw that scene, that’s one of the scenes we’re most proud of. Is that sort of craziness that’s happening at Kardashian’s house.
Scott Alexander: It’s the Marx Brothers scene.
Larry Karaszewski: Where doctors are there and people keep coming over and keep coming over. They keep delaying the-
Scott Alexander: Ding dong, ding dong.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah.
Scott Alexander: The studio lawyers said you can’t say, Kim. It’s why not? It’s like I don’t know, she’s trademarked her name or something or she’ll sue us. It’s like she’s a public figure. If there’s one person on our planet who’s a public figure, it’s her. It’s like you can’t do it. We basically put our feet down. We’re saying “You can’t kill yourself in Kimmy’s bedroom.” It’s like it’s the best line in the whole show. Then, Ryan took our side, thank God. That’s Ryan would occasionally throw his weight around in really weird ways. It’s like it’s so important that Kardashian say that line. So we had to cut a deal with the lawyers that we never used her name ever again.
Scott Alexander: So any other scene with the girls, it’s Khloe or I don’t know the other names. Who’s the other one? Kourtney, thank you. You hear Khloe… It was us doing like legal horse-trading so we could say, Kimmy’s bedroom.
Larry Karaszewski: But, of course, that is one thing they argue about. Whether it was actually in Kim’s room or was Kourtney’s room. I think-
Scott Alexander: It’s Kimmy’s room and then, of course, they put that line and all the commercials because it’s a good line.
Kary Antholis: Here is the second question: Clearly, you do massive research for your work. How do you balance research and theme and character when crafting your scripts?
Larry Karaszewski: Research, we love research too. So we love finding out the true things and it’s kind of second nature now. I think we both know what makes the other person laugh. We look for the idiosyncratic details. So a lot of times during like reading all these court transcripts, it can be really, really dry. But when something stands out as being a little wacky, a little weird, will underline it and circle it and try to emphasize the unusual aspects of it. The relationship with theme and research is, hopefully, you kind of… It sounds counterintuitive but a lot of times we know what we want to say before we do the research. We said yes to this project because we know enough about the project that we know we have something we want to say about that project. So when you’re doing the research with or you’re not trying to find an idea, you’re trying to work it how can I find ways of supporting what I want to say?
Scott Alexander: Sometimes we take all the research and we try to organize it. In the case of this show, it would be Marcia quips, OJ talking about race. In the old days, we’d always do lots of highlighting. Toobin wrote the book so long ago that we were not able to get a searchable version of it, which was really a problem. You go, what’s that thing Shapiro said to his wife and we couldn’t look it up. This is the first project we’ve ever done, where we became really reliant upon our assistant, Tim. Because at a certain point, we had 40 or 50 OJ books in our office and they’ve all got highlighting in them. Then we had also had Fox hire a second researcher for us for specific themes that we thought were going to be interesting.
Scott Alexander: So we had the researchers research how did mainstream media cover each event the trial versus how did black newspapers cover it? Which we thought was kind of interesting. Then we had to big-binder that, I’m trying to remember some of the other sort of thematic kind of ideas we had the researchers do. So we ended up having basically two bookshelves of information. At a certain point, our brains melted down. Our brains did not have access to the information anymore. It was so much stuff and it was three years that we did this. We’d get to a point where we would finally just have to scream, “Tim, what did Darden’s dad say to him after the second Oakland trip? His dad said it’s like somewhere in the back of my head I remembered it was something interesting his father said about race. But I can’t remember the line and I can’t even remember where I read it anymore.”
Larry Karaszewski: That’s always a problem. It doesn’t matter looking something up, you can tend to, after 15 minutes or so, find it. But when you don’t remember where it came from and there’s 30 books staring at you, that’s the problem.
Scott Alexander: Yeah and then we got all the Time Magazine articles and the LA Times articles and the New York Times and Newsweek, there was just so much. We will happily over-research. Traditionally, we’ve always said with our biopics, we spent six months in research and then six months on the first draft on features. We always warn the producers, it’s going to be one year before you get a draft. A lot of it is journalism, a lot of it is about weird, people that haven’t been covered a lot. We’re tracking people down and we’re doing it… OJ, we didn’t do any interviews because you didn’t need to, there was 1000 books. But with Man On The Moon and Larry Flynt or Big Eyes. We’re doing the interviews ourselves.
Kary Antholis: Next question is: What advice would you give a young screenwriter without resources who wants to write a biopic? How do you deal with life rights or book rights if you don’t have resources?
Larry Karaszewski: We tend to not get rights or at least not let that cripple us. Our biopics tend to be about famous people and they often are about famous dead people. Famous dead people really don’t have rights. We always joked the third act of the Larry Flynt movie is about what you can say about a public figure. We’re never out to libel anybody or say anything bad about anybody. But for the most part, if the person put themselves in the public eye, you can sort of make a movie about them. It also depends on the balls of the studio you’re working for though too, whether they’re willing to stand up. Sometimes they’re chicken.
Scott Alexander: But it’s not necessarily about needing money to go write the script. People vs. Larry Flynt, we have the rights to nothing. At that point, we were scared of Larry Flynt and we didn’t want him to find out what we were doing. After the movie, we became friends with him. But initially, we were going behind his back and we were just sort of putting out the word to ex-employees of Larry Flynt publishing or people had worked in his house or former limo drivers or former cooks. We were just trying to get juicy stories. That kind of stuff, just word got out and we would get someone’s phone number, we’d call them up. They’d say, “You’re going to pay me?” We go, “No, we’ll buy you lunch.” For most people, that’s fine. It just means they get to tell a couple hours of war stories and we have a tape recorder running.
Larry Karaszewski: I think the only thing that we started on our own that we didn’t have rights. That we actually pursued rights was Big Eyes. We knew that in order to make the movie, you would need Margaret Keane’s art. So we thought it was important to get her permission before we even started.
Scott Alexander: If you’re writing about a deceased person, unless there’s some kind of music rights involved or it’s another painter, you don’t really need rights. It’s like Larry and I wish we were still in high school writing our senior paper because we love to go… I don’t know why we’re really loyal to the UCLA research library for some reason. We love to go down into the… where all the old newspapers and magazines are. Go on the periodicals index and then find all the magazine articles from the ‘60s and the ‘50s. None of the stuff is uploaded and you can’t Google this stuff and it’s not online. You get the old microfiche and whoever the person is you’re interested in, you look them up in the pink periodicals book. Then you get the microfiche and you find the old article from the New York Times from 1947. It’s all available and it’s all free. You don’t even need a library card.
Kary Antholis: Here’s the next question: How did the transformation from casual observer to heavily invested expert impact your opinion of the case, the characters and the verdict?
Larry Karaszewski: Well, I don’t think we were casual. We were non-pros about it.
Scott Alexander: Yeah, I was casual, I didn’t follow that much.
Larry Karaszewski: But it was hard not to when you were living through it. We were going through this when we were making The People Vs. Larry Flynt. Our director, Milos Forman was obsessed with it. He’d follow it nonstop. Even people were being cast in the film based on their appearances in Court TV.
Scott Alexander: That’s true.
Larry Karaszewski: There was a pundit who winds up playing Jerry Falwell’s lawyer in the movie, who was just a legal pundit that was on Court TV covering the OJ trial. You knew enough about that you got excited when he said, “We’re doing OJ as a miniseries.” You’re like, “Yes.”
Scott Alexander: Yeah, but I never watched it. I would read it in the LA Times the next day. Yeah. I wasn’t watching Court TV. I can certainly say I like Johnnie a lot more now than I did back in ’95. Yeah, I sort of admire him a lot more now. What’s funny is I actually grew up in Brentwood and we decided to sort of make Brentwood this kind of running joke in the show. I had never really thought of Brentwood as really much of anything. It’s just like this, I don’t know, it’s just a neighborhood in town. In terms of storytelling, differentiating between different pockets of Los Angeles. There’s Downtown and there’s Brentwood and there’s Simi Valley and there’s The Valley. This could all sort of… Again, in trying to do the tapestry of the show. Well, Bob Shapiro lives in Brentwood and OJ lives in Brentwood. Marcia, she’s in the valley because she can’t afford to live over the hill. Bit it’s all sort of figures into just the socioeconomic story that’s being told.
Larry Karaszewski: I think one of our favorite books on the OJ trial if you want more info was written by Dominick Dunne, who was actually a character in our show. Robert Morse played him. He wrote kind of it’s not really a fictional version but basically, it’s called Another City, Not My Own. He writes about himself but he’s fictionalizing himself. But it’s the story of the OJ trial told through lunches with famous actors and things like that. Dominick came to town to cover the trial. So it’s basically was all about him like, “I had lunch with Elizabeth Taylor today and she asked me about this thing and I told her about this thing.” So it’s basically a book about OJ that actually takes place at the Chateau Marmont in Beverly Hills. It’s a crazy kaleidoscope of this town and we fell in love with Dominick Dunne. That’s why we made him a character in the piece.
Scott Alexander: Yeah, and he’s kind of imposing a bit of a showbizzy, satirical view of the events, which we found very appealing.
Kary Antholis: And one final student question: When you are writing about a real person, how do you decide which events and details are important to include and which ones to let go of?
Larry Karaszewski: A lot of it is simply what entertains us. Scott and I have been very lucky that we write scripts for an audience of two. Sometimes that’s dangerous but that’s why it’s very hard to have someone do like the roles that we do.
Scott Alexander: And Mankey.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah.
Scott Alexander: An old friend from Indiana who had a nervous breakdown and moved back to a trailer in Indiana. We sometimes think well he’ll get this joke. Nobody else in the world will.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah, it’s just what tickles us, strangely enough.
Scott Alexander: Well, it’s about having an agenda. If you’re writing a complete piece of fiction, you’re creating your ideal version of this character and how they’re going to come in conflict with other characters. All of our biopics and People Vs. OJ, it’s our idealized versions of who we want these people to be in service of what we’re trying to achieve. There’s lots of stuff about Marcia in real life and Shapiro in real life and so on that we chose to not include because it might not support our thesis. We have a vision of our Marcia Clark that we want to give to America so we include what support that vision and we exclude what doesn’t. That’s what makes us the dramatist and not just a documentary filmmaker following her around for 24 hours.
Larry Karaszewski: But we always say also a documentary filmmaker is also making those decisions. What am I shooting? What am I including? What am I cutting to? I’m cutting to someone looking… Everyone always pretends like documentaries are true and what we do is un-truth. It’s a messy line all throughout it all. That’s one of the things why we never been able and we’re using an assistant on OJ. Assistance haven’t really worked out for us in the sense that we have to do this research ourselves. It feels like having someone doing those research for you. You can have someone go look up this stuff but we’re so idiosyncratic in what we dig that it’s hard for someone to get in our mind. In terms of like all that little detail that Shapiro listening to… No researcher in their right mind is going to circle the paragraph about Shapiro listening to Al Jarreau. For us, that was like you better believe Al Jarreau is going to be in this thing.
Scott Alexander: Then sometimes it’s stuff you love that you just don’t have room for. Even if you have 10 hours. And here’s the world’s best piece of Marcia Clark trivia. It was just… You know what I’m going to do. There’s no way to include this because it’s so freaking confusing. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything but it’s so interesting. And I might get this wrong because it’s so confusing. Marcia Clark’s first husband, not the one you see her divorce in the series, the one before that. Was an Israeli backgammon champion. He got shot and paralyzed. Tell me if I get this wrong. He got shot and paralyzed by the pastor in the Church of Scientology, who married Marcia to her second husband in a total coincidence. And! The lawyer for the guy who shot her first husband was Bob Shapiro. Did I get it right?
Larry Karaszewski: Yes.
Scott Alexander: Phew. Cause it’s so complicated. It’s like really you’re like what? Then you guys are going to walk out and you’re going to get home and turn your room and go, “I heard the craziest Marcia Clark thing.” “What?” And you’re not going to be able to repeat it because it’s so hard to follow.
Larry Karaszewski: Well, it was one of those things where we were going to have when she finds that Shapiro’s is on the case, like her try to explain to somebody.
Scott Alexander: Shapiro.
Larry Karaszewski: He defended the guy who shot my first husband—
Scott Alexander: But he married to me to my second husband.
Larry Karaszewski: It was so confusing that we just chose to ignore it. The one always bothers me though, is the Bronco chase. There’s a long period where they get to Rockingham and they’re sitting in the driveway. Someone calls up and gets on television and pretends to be a next-door neighbor and it’s a guy from the Howard Stern Show. Once again, in the invention of reality TV, it was Peter Jennings talking to somebody who was obviously a complete fraud. Actually, the guy is just saying, “ba ba booey” and things like that. Having Al Michaels who just did the Super Bowl, having get on with Peter Jennings saying, “Excuse me, Peter, that man just used code for a certain popular radio show. That is not the truth.” The problem was that it was so dramatic and serious in the horrible moment that was happening in the show. That we couldn’t go for this piece of absurdity.
Scott Alexander: We also… OJ is in this beloved movie from our childhoods called The Towering Inferno, which is just a big stupid all-star disaster movie. I think it got nominated for best picture.
Kary Antholis: Irwin Allen, right?
Scott Alexander: Irwin Allen, which is a big dumb piece of entertainment. It’s like Twister, I don’t know. It’s just a silly movie. OJ is in it as a fireman. There’s a scene where he saves Fred Astaire’s… cat? And we were just dying to recreate this moment. But the movie was shot in the early ’70s and so we’re just trying to figure out how we can just like wedge in like a Fred Astaire look-alike with Cuba and the little cat. It has nothing to do with anything, it made us happy to talk about this. I can dream. I can dream that we can recreate The Towering Inferno. This is the stuff that makes us happy.
Kary Antholis: OJ Simpson, Made in America came out the same year as The People Vs. OJ Simpson.
Scott Alexander: Yeah, it’s kind of suspicious.
Kary Antholis: Did you watch it?
Scott Alexander: Yes.
Kary Antholis: What did you get out of the experience of watching it?
Larry Karaszewski: Well, it’s really funny because I think Ezra was really afraid of our show. I wouldn’t say we were afraid of his show but it was kind of weird that these two huge pieces about OJ were coming out of the exact same time. One of my favorite reviews, I think it was the New York Times that said, “If you had told me a year ago I would watch two 10-hour shows about OJ Simpson and it still wasn’t enough. I still wanted more, then I would have thought you were completely crazy.” What I got out of it, particularly was Ezra’s first episode and last episode, which just covers the stuff that’s the before and after of our show. First of all, I think his thing is quite excellent.
Larry Karaszewski: But most of the stuff that takes place during our time period, Scott and I were very familiar with those clips. So it wasn’t like we’re getting new information. But it was great to have that section about OJ’s football career and what he meant at SC and what he meant to the world. That was sort of what Scott was getting at earlier, talking about we really wanted people to understand who OJ Simpson was.
Kary Antholis: You could’ve talked to Ezra into including the Fred Astaire cat scene.
Larry Karaszewski: There you go.
Scott Alexander: Then we have this full… To your research question, we have a strong practical sense philosophy, which is you don’t do any research that follows the period of time that you intend to cover. You only have so many… You have more brain cells because you’re younger than me but you only have so many brain cells. So our knowledge of OJ stops in ’95. It’s like we know everything leading up to the trial, we know the trial. After that, I don’t care because my brain was so full of OJ trivia. So for me, the episode five of Ezra’s thing for me, was mind-blowing, which was the Florida episode. I knew nothing about OJ in Florida.
Larry Karaszewski: Florida and Vegas.
Scott Alexander: That was just crazy. So yeah, I really enjoyed that one.
Kary Antholis: Okay, best piece of advice, career advice, work advice, writer advice you ever got.
Scott Alexander: You got to write something that you love. If it’s a movie or TV show, it’s got to be a show that you would really want to see.
Larry Karaszewski: Right, that I think is a gigantic piece of advice. I’ll take it back to him when Ed Wood was coming out. I think we got Entertainment Weekly and it had to review. And I remember Scott and I just running up to our office and we were reading the review. I turn to Scott and I said like, “If we hadn’t written this movie, I would be so excited right now to see this movie.” That I would be the first guy in line to go see this. So I would say that to you guys in a sense, write something you want to see, not something you think somebody else wants to see or that’s something that you think the marketplace wants. Hopefully, that something you want to see, there’s a sincerity to it and there’s a reason for it. Hopefully, that will connect with other people as well. You’re not some stranger and you’re in your own world.
Larry Karaszewski: So it’s allowed us to write very idiosyncratic things because we’re having such a kick out of doing it. I think that our joy of writing this up transfers over to the screen.
Scott Alexander: Also, you guys are growing up in this era where it’s affordable to make your own feature. I mentioned one or two SC students a year. I’m sort of shocked when they can come out of school with a script and I give them notes on it. Then they scrape together $40,000, $50,000 and they buy the Sony digital camera for five grand. They shoot a movie that looks like a real movie. It has the same resolution and the same picture quality as a movie I go pay 15 bucks to see it at the ArcLight, which is crazy to me. Then they can go whatever and then you go home and you cut it on your Mac. This is all stuff that was not available to us because we’re old. So if you have this ability to go make your own movies, only do it when you have a script that you are just so fucking excited about. You’re like “Oh my God, this is going to be the greatest movie of all time.” Because once you commit to doing this stuff, it is years out of your life.
Scott Alexander: It’s just like some little coming of age thing about a kid who learns to speak up for himself. It’s like, God, it’s like you want that movie that like you spend all summer waiting for like this is my movie. It doesn’t mean it has to be elaborate. It’s like two movies up for best picture and Lady Bird and Get Out. Either those movies could have been shot for $50,000 on that Sony camera. It wasn’t about that at all, it takes place in a house and there’s a car. It’s like there’s nothing else in Get Out. But it’s a great storytelling with a small cast but it was clearly a movie that Jordan Peele’s like oh my God, this movie’s going to be so cool. It’s going to say so much.
Scott Alexander: So it’s not really about resources, at a certain point, it’s just about a great story that you think you can make a kick-ass movie with.
Kary Antholis: Ladies and gentlemen join me in thanking Scott and Larry.
Larry Karaszewski: Thank you, guys. It was great.