Sunday, February 26, 2012

Out Spotlight

Today’s Out Spotlight is accomplished writer, director, and producer in television and film. Receiving critical acclaim for his work on stage, and screen he has received numerous awards, including an Academy Award, an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Today’s Out Spotlight is Alan Ball.

The youngest of four children of Frank and Mary Ball, an aircraft inspector and a homemaker, Alan Ball was born May 13, 1957 in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in nearby Marietta, Georgia. His youth was marred by tragedy. His only sister, Mary Ann, was driving the then thirteen-year-old Ball to piano lessons when they were involved in a car crash. He was not injured, but his sister was killed on her twenty-second birthday. He lost his father from cancer six years later at the age of 19.

In a 2000 interview his mother described her son as "a smart little boy" who had "always written a lot" and was very active in school activities. Ball was the editor of the school newspaper, a member of numerous clubs, the president of his senior class, and the drum major of the band, in which capacity he choreographed a half-time show. Despite the accomplishments, Ball said that in his high school he felt inauthentic, as though he had invented "this persona of myself of really being an overachiever, kind of an All-American guy that really wasn't me." A feeling non uncommon for many LGBT youth who have yet to come out, as many know or feel that the face they present to the world is not who they really are, and they consequently wonder if the popularity and respect they earn as the result of their accomplishments are really deserved, since they know (or fear) that they would lose status were their secret revealed.

After high school Ball attended the University of Georgia. After his first year he transferred to Florida State University, from which he graduated with a degree in theater in 1980.

Although he had done some acting, Ball aspired to write for the theater. After his graduation, he moved to Sarasota, Florida, where he wrote plays for the General Nonsense Theater Company.

It was not until Ball began achieving professional success that he found the courage to come out to his mother. She understood his anxiety about bringing it up --"He didn't know if I was going to kick him out of the house or what"--and admitted that the announcement made her uncomfortable. "It took a little getting used to," she said, "but he gave me some books to read, and I understand that God made him like that." His brothers were immediately supportive when he came out, but some other relatives were not accepting, and thought he was going to Hell.

Soon after starting out in regional theater, Ball wrote an off-Broadway production of Five Women that caught the attention of a Hollywood talent scout, who recommended Ball for a job on the writing team of the situation comedy Grace under Fire, which starred comedian Brett Butler. His initial experience of the television was not a happy one. He called his one season (1994-1995) with Grace under Fire "in a lot of ways . . . the perfect first job to have because nothing will ever be that bad." He was dismayed that "writers were just considered to be expendable and the script was kind of secondary to the persona of the star," unlike the situation to which he was accustomed in the theater, "where writers have a certain amount of respect and control."

After Grace he spent three years--1995-1998--writing, and also serving as story editor and producer, for the sitcom Cybill, where he encountered "a really volatile working environment" because of another demanding star, Cybill Shepherd. However, he stated, "I make jokes about those years being unpleasant, but they taught me so much, and I am a much better writer because of it, and so I really don't regret them at all."

Due to his work on Cybill Ball was courted by television production companies to create a new comedy series. Building on the situation in Bachelor Holiday--three single male friends as housemates--he launched Oh Grow Up in 1999 on ABC. Unfortunately, the show did not do well in the ratings and was dropped after a short run.

Meanwhile, Ball had been working on a film script. American Beauty (1999, directed by Sam Mendes) was his cinematic breakthrough. He allegedly based the Annette Bening character in his Oscar-winning American Beauty on his former sitcom star Shepard. The film went on to win five Academy Awards in 2000, including one to Ball for Best Writing in a Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. He also won a Golden Globe Award for his screenplay.

It was through American Beauty where he received wide public attention and followed it up with his acclaimed work Six Feet Under for HBO.

Despite his less than happy experiences in the television industry, Ball returned to it in 2001. This time, however, he was creator, executive producer, head writer, and occasionally director, and had much more control over bringing his vision to the screen, and audiences greeted his efforts with great enthusiasm. Creating Six Feet Under, he introduced one of the great gay characters in TV history, David Fisher, played by Michael C. Hall.

Six Feet Under was a hit from the start of its five-year run. It received numerous honors, including 9 Emmy Awards, one of them to Ball as the Best Director of a Drama Series, and a Golden Globe Award. He also won awards for his work as director from the Directors Guild of America and for his work as executive producer from the Producers Guild.

The Fisher brothers run the funeral home, David is gay and in a romantic relationship with an African-American police officer, Keith Charles and his brother Nate who returns to help run the family business after the death of their father. In a 2005 interview Ball stated that as he envisioned the characters for the show, "David was just always gay." Echoing the title of Andrew Tobias's memoir, he said that David "was the brother who was 'the best little boy in the world' who did everything to please everybody, and that's such a classic gay thing."

Ball was pleased to be able to make the story line concerning David and Keith an important one in the series and "felt really proud to be involved with a show that dealt with this gay relationship in such a sophisticated, rich way." He was particularly gratified by the reaction of one viewer, his brother, a Republican "good ol' boy redneck from Georgia," who, at the end of the show's first season, had only one question for him: "Are David and Keith going to get back together?" Ball said that it was obvious that his brother "really want[ed] this interracial same-sex couple to work."

The couple was not only reunited, but by the last season of the series became the adoptive parents of two boys. For his sensitive and authentic depiction of the LGBT community Ball won the GLAAD's Stephen Kolzak Award in 2002.

It was Six Feet Under that Austin credits getting him the notice that boosted his career.

Ball returned to live theater with All That I Ever Will Be (2007). Set in Los Angeles, the play followed the development of a relationship between Omar, an immigrant from the Middle East who has a day job at a chain store and hustles at night, and Dwight, one of his clients, who comes from wealth and squanders much of his money on drugs.

Ball returned to HBO for another series, True Blood, premiered in the fall of 2007, and was based on the Sookie Stackhouse, vampire novels of Charlaine Harris, which are set in Bon Temps, Louisiana, a fictional town outside of Shreveport.

At the time he discouraged comparisons to Anne Rice's New Orleans vampire novels, saying of Harris's work, "It's not Gothic in the way that Rice is. It's contemporary rural America, white trashy, very funny, and real scary." He added that "vampires are a great metaphor for minority groups that struggle for rights and recognition, but also for Republicans, in that they're vicious and bloodthirsty and will destroy anything that gets in their way."

Ball has been a strong voice for LGBT community both on and off the screen. During a True Blood panel discussion at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, said the gay rights metaphors built into the series were “not the main point of the show; that’s just kind of some fun window dressing. It only is a symbol for the gay and lesbian community because that’s what’s going on right now. I mean, 50 years ago it would have been African-Americans, 100 years ago it would have been women and their struggles for equality and the right to vote, that kind of thing.

Co-executive producer Nancy Oliver added that the gay rights metaphors are “part of the vampire myth as well. I think part of the appeal is the outsider appeal for the supernatural and that (vampires) don’t belong to this (group) and they don’t belong to that (group).”

In 2010 Ball began work on a television adaptation of the crime noir novel The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston, to be titled All Signs of Death. In December 2010, after several months of pre-production, HBO cancelled production on All Signs of Death.

In numerous interviews, Ball discussed his Buddhist faith and how it has influenced his film making.

In an interview with he commented on the iconic scene in American Beauty with the plastic bag, stating, "I had an encounter with a plastic bag! And I didn't have a video camera, like Ricky does...

There's a Buddhist notion of the miraculous within the mundane, and I think we certainly live in a culture that encourages us not to look for that." He has also discussed how his Buddhism has shaped themes in Six Feet Under and True Blood.

Ball keeps a collection of Macaw parrots, much to the indignation of his neighbor Quentin Tarantino, who in March 2011 sued him under California civil code section 3479 over the "obnoxious pterodactyl-like screams" they make.


Anonymous said...
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destiny said...

Six Feet Under and True Blood are among my favorite series, so nice to see Alan Ball featured in the Spotlight.

And thanks Special for the song list.

the real m said...

Thanks for the fascinating recap of Ball's history. I was glued to Six Feet Under for years. True Blood is good but gets a bit too weird for me.

Looks like our favorite troll gave himself away. Too funny.

I recorded the spirit awards and just blasted through them. Kirsten has put on some weight, but looks good. So happy that Michelle Williams won. I love that she keeps her hair short in honor of Heath. The spirit awards are indeed Spririted and fun. I wont be watching the Oscars but will catch the good parts on youtube.

sass said...

Alan Ball has had me hanging onto the edge of my seat forever. He's a genius.

Please Please fix the link for Holly Cole/Women in Blues V...I got nowhere...went to ittunes and they have nothing. that song...have never heard her sing to my great regret. She has 6 albums on itunes...which I will probably day.

That last pic, in the list of pics in previous post, of Jake with David Arquette, after Heath's death, breaks my heart.

I am on a site with no google splcke and am too tired to find one to attach to my tb. forgive me.. I love that song...helpme:)
Glad Michelle won... will watch ISA later tonight, maybe.

Jersey Tom said...

Gay men can win Oscars for writing and composing. Gay characters have won Oscars for several straight men. That may happen again tonight. When will HW allow a gay actor win an Oscar for playing a straight man? When will a out gay man get a role that is Oscar bait?
Of course closeted Gay men have won Oscars. Go figure.

Jersey Tom said...

Great Spotlight SK. Mr. Ball is a very talented man.

tweet said...

Hayden Williams ‏ @howillia

Inaugural soul cycle class ended with me shadow boxing jake gyllenhaal while instructor straddles his bike bars screaming harder #surreal

destiny said...

Sass, I can't seem to get a link address, but if you go to Special's link you'll see that the CD title is in a Google search box, hit the search button next to it, and the CD will come up, then click on the CD title to expand it and get the song list.

Anonymous said...
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covering for 5:52 said...

Anonymous said...

shame Jake isn't nominated. His Source Code is up for a Ray bradbury award at the Nebula Awards which will be given out in May

February 26, 2012 5:52 PM

Special K said...

Sorry 5:52 no anons here on OMG, while it makes it harder for people to impersonate you if you have a blogger id, you don't have to, just pick a name for a comment a day, a week etc. and post.

tweet said...

the Ferret Jester ‏ @ZeroXOmega

Totally just rode alongside Jake Gyllenhaal on a southbound R train. He got off at Canal St. Or is he at the Oscars?

6:38 PM - 26 Feb 12 via Twitter for iPhone

twitter said...

Marloes @marloesb5

I remember @AUS10NICHOLS tweeting the funniest things during the Oscars last year.. Dude, where ya at?
6:45 PM - 26 Feb 12 via web · Details

Twitter said...


conradflowers (@conradflowers)
2/26/12 7:05 PM
Does anyone know where I can get a mold of Jake Gyllenhaal's butt to use as a pillow?

prairiegirl said...

Would someone pleeeeeease tell Bradley Cooper that he looks so ridiculous in his wiggle worm moustache? It's like some kind of really bad, dime store costume prop or like he's trying out for some Rudolph Valentino part. Gee whiz.

So far, the most exciting thing about the Oscars for me was seeing that Sasha Cohen guy spill ashes/Bisquick all over Ryan Seacrest. Did you guys see that? I bet Ryan Seacrest is just really steamed! But what a terrible thing for that guy to do. I wonder why on earth he did that?

Dictators r us said...

It was the last wish of Kim Jong Il.

Methodical Muser said...

Cohen was supposedly promoting his new film, "The Dictator". And, I heard the "joke" was that the urn was said to be carrying the ashes of Kim Jong Il. Not my idea of entertainment or humor. I'll bet Seacrest didn't like it one bit either.

michael k said...

Would someone pleeeeeease tell Bradley Cooper that he looks so ridiculous in his wiggle worm moustache?

Michael K ‏ @mkdlisted
I don't know what it says about me, but the Garber tickler above B. Coop's lip is hot to me

Michael K ‏ @mkdlisted
So much better than a beard

@altfilmguide said...

Alt Film Guide ‏ @altfilmguide

· Open

Oh, they didn't show Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal kissing in Brokeback Mountain, or did they? #oscars2012 #cirquedusoleil

tweet said...

zoeyyy ‏ @jesuiszee
Ahhhh! jake gyllenhaal on the subway!! My roommate saw him and took a picture. Bitch.
9:46 PM - 26 Feb 12 via Twitter for iPhone · Details

prairiegirl said...

The Garber tickler?!! LOLLLLLL!!!! That's awesome.

But it is THE worst moustache I think I've seen in quite awhile. It just looks funny on him and I cannot take it seriously at all.

I'm so happy for Christopher Plummer. He speaks so eloquently about his wife, I just love it.

prairiegirl said...

hmmm.....who has a day of Big V coming up tomorrow????? hmmmmm......think, think, think...

Kevin McAllister dance!!!!!!

Anonymous said...
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JDate said...

Hollywood Yenta Roundup:

JDate recently ran an Oscar-related poll among its users to get the scoop on your favorite Jewish celebrities and here’s how you responded.

Which Jewish bachelor would you like to walk you down the red carpet?

Jake Gyllenhaal 41%

James Franco 22%

Joseph Gordon-Levitt 18%

Shia LaBeouf 11%

Jonah Hill 8%

prairiegirl said...

You know, Austin looks actually pretty vicious with curly blond hair. There's some pictures of him with Amber Heard and someone else and he has on this long grey coat.

He looks pretty "mean", unlike how he looks now in pictures. Must have been during the Informers time. And in The Informers, Austin was excellent at playing a snark.

Jersey Tom said...

Told ya so :-) Congrats Christopher Plummer.

Jersey Tom said...

I think PG might add Zac Efron to that list:-)

?? said...

To what list, Tom?