1 - The theatre, the TV and the Oscars
After taking theatre courses in Georgia, then Florida, Alan Ball moved to New York at the start of the 1990s. There he wrote several pieces including Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, in 1993, and Made for a Woman, in 1994. It wasn’t long before Hollywood called him across the continent, much to his jubilation. He started working as a tv scriptwriter with a handful of unpretentious series:Cybill which recounted the adventures of a failed actress and the sitcom Oh Grow Up. Then in 1992, the Long Island Lolita, Amy Fisher, fatally injured the wife of her lover, Joey Buttafuoco. She was only 17. Alan Ball seized on this much mediatised event and subsequently wrote the script for American Beauty, a full-length feature film that mixed innocence and predatory charm. Behind the façade of the bourgeoise house belonging to Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and his wife Carolyn (Annette Benning), unravels a tragi-comedy that leads inevitably to death… Alan Ball’s first attempt at movies was a huge success: American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, received the Oscar and Golden Globe for best script in 2000. A nice start.
2 - From Six Feet Under to True Blood
Alan Ball’s success wasn’t just limited to cinema. In 2001 he started writing a series that was to be unanimously acclaimed - Six Feet Under, shown on HBO. Moving into directing, he was awarded two Golden Globes and six Emmy Awards. Set in Los Angeles, “the world capital of the denial of death” in the words of Ball himself, the Fisher family inherits the undertakers established by the father, who died in an accident. In this series, black humour is de rigeur, and Alan Ball’s ingenuity led to the writing of ever more improbable situations. Strange (and not very reassuring) the scriptwriter does seem fascinated by death. Any desire to joke about this however evaporates on learning why: “When I was just 13 years old I was in a car accident with my sister who was driving. It was her 22nd birthday and she died. She died in front of me. She died on me. Death stuck its big face in mine and my life changed forever. That’s why death seems like a recurrent theme in my work…”
Alan Ball changed tack for his next project, the series True Blood, inspired by the novels of Charlaine Harris, Southern Vampire Mysteries. Here the vampires live among humans, nourishing themselves on synthetic blood, a friendly alternative to mass killing. Openly gay, Alan Ball is very active in the LGBT community. His is a powerful voice, and he features more and more gay and lesbian characters in his work. President of the production society, Your Face Goes Here Entertainment, he himself produced True Blood (from 2008 to 2014) and Banshee (2013-2015), broadcast on Cinemax.
3 – The new project: Here and Now
Alan Ball admits to having no emotional connection with his writing. According to him, beauty exists in the strangest of places, the USA thus serves as a bottomless well of inspiration. At 60 years old the writer is this year hiding behind Here and Now, a new HBO project that starts 11th February on the OCS channel. A drama series where black humour runs rife, it’s almost like his credo. The show follows the ups and downs of a multi-racial family composed of a philosophy teacher, his lawyer wife and their three adopted children from Somalia, Vietnam and Columbia.
“Here and Now” trailer