Ed Wood is a 1994 American biographical comedy-drama film directed and produced by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the eponymous cult filmmaker. The film concerns the period in Wood's life when he made his best-known films as well as his relationship with actor Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau. Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie, and Bill Murray are among the supporting cast.
The film was conceived by writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski when they were students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Irritated at being thought of solely as writers for family films with their work on Problem Child and its sequel, Alexander and Karaszewski struck a deal with Burton and Denise Di Novi to produce Ed Wood. Initially, Michael Lehmann was chosen to direct the project, but due to scheduling conflicts with his work on the film Airheads, he had to vacate the director's position, which was taken over by Burton.
Ed Wood was originally in development at Columbia Pictures, but the studio put the film in "turnaround" over Burton's decision to shoot in black-and-white. Ed Wood was taken to Walt Disney Studios, which produced the film through its Touchstone Pictures label. The film proved financially unsuccessful, returning only $5.9 million against an $18 million budget, but was met with critical acclaim upon release, with particularly praise for Landau's performance and makeup. It eventually became a cult classic and won two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Landau and Best Makeup for Rick Baker (who designed Landau's prosthetic makeup), Ve Neill and Yolanda Toussieng.
In 1952, Ed Wood is struggling to enter the film industry. Upon hearing of an announcement in Variety magazine that producer George Weiss is trying to purchase Christine Jorgensen's life story, Ed meets with Weiss to direct a now fictionalized film titled I Changed My Sex! but isn't hired. Ed then meets his longtime idol, horror film actor Bela Lugosi, with whom he becomes friends. Ed persuades Weiss to let him direct the film by convincing him that having a star in the film would sell tickets, and they could sign Lugosi for a low price. During production for Glen or Glenda, Ed and Weiss argue over the film's title and subject matter but Weiss eventually plays by Ed's rules, albeit reluctantly. Filming gets going, with the story now about a transvestite. Ed takes to film production with an unusual approach; shooting only one take per scene, giving actors very little direction and using stock footage to fill in gaps. The movie is released to critical and commercial failure, preventing Ed from getting work at Weiss' Screen Classics or making a partnership with Warner Bros. executive Feldman. On the advice of his girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, Ed decides to finance his next film independently. Ed is unsuccessful in finding money for Bride of the Atom, but is introduced to a psychic called The Amazing Criswell who gives him advice on how to sell himself better. During this time, Ed has discovered that Lugosi has developed a morphine addiction.
Ed meets Loretta King, whom he mistakes for a wealthy heiress and asks her to fund the film and ends up casting her as the lead instead of Fuller as planned with Fuller being assigned a more menial role. Filming begins, but is halted when it is revealed that Loretta is actually poor, so Ed convinces meat packing industry tycoon Don McCoy to continue funding the film, who agrees as long as his son is cast as the lead and the film ends with an explosion. When filming wraps up, with the title being changed to Bride of the Monster, Dolores breaks up with Ed after the wrap party because of his circle of misfit friends. Lugosi attempts to conduct a double suicide with Ed after the government cuts off his unemployment benefit, but is talked out of it. Lugosi checks himself into rehab to cure his drug addiction, and Ed meets Kathy O'Hara, who is visiting her father there. He takes her on a date and reveals to her his transvestism, which she accepts. After Lugosi is checked out of rehab, he and Ed shoots a film with Lugosi outside his home. Ed and company (along with TV horror icon Vampira) attend the premiere for Bride of the Monster, an angry mob chases them out of the theater.
Afterwards, Lugosi passes away, leaving Ed without a star. After learning that his landlord, Reynolds' church is struggling to produce several religious films about the twelve apostles, Ed convinces him to allow his church to fund his script for a sci-fi film, Grave Robbers from Outer Space, which could result in a box-office success and generate enough money for Reynolds' dream project. Ed hires Vampira and Kathy's chiropractor Dr. Tom Mason to star in the film (the latter being a stand in for Lugosi) and also has conflicts with the Baptists over the title, script content and Ed's B movie directing style, eventually renaming the film Plan 9 from Outer Space. Ed soon leaves the set out of frustration to go to the nearest bar, where he has a fictional encounter with filmmaker Orson Welles, who rekindles Ed's inspiration by advising him to assert his vision and resist artistic changes imposed onto him by sponsors. Filming finishes with Ed taking action against his producers' wishes. After attending the premiere, Ed and Kathy go to Las Vegas to get married.