Alan Ball goes to the well once again, Judd Apatow makes a return to TV and Professor Dumbledore bets the ponies. Just another day on the cable powerhouse that is HBO.
Ball, the Oscar-winning show runner of Six Feet Under and True Blood just shot a pilot called All Signs of Death, based on Charlie Huston‘s book The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, which follows a trauma cleaning unit, much like Sunshine Cleaning, but less cute. Apatow, who made his name with TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, is executive producing a pilot called Girls, which was created by Lena Dunham, currently riding the wave off her indie film Tiny Furniture. It’s a more realistic take on the Sex and the City formula. Both shows are only in the pilot stage and neither has been picked up for series yet. It they do, Ball and Apatow will executive produce. (UPDATE: HBO passed on All Signs of Death.)
Finally, Michael Gambon has been cast as a recurring regular on the Michael Mann-produced series Luck, starring Dustin Hoffman, which is about the seedy underworld of horse racing. Read more about all three HBO nuggets of news after the jump. Read More »
Briefly: Alan Ball has quite a career as a writer and producer (Six Feet Under, True Blood, and there’s his Oscar for American Beauty) but a thinner resume when it comes to directing theatrical features. In 2007, his adaptation of Alicia Erian’s novel Towelhead was better than some narrow-minded controversy-stirring appraisals made it out to be. And now he’s going to helm a new feature, based on a pitch bought by Paramount.
Deadline reports that Alan Ball will produce and direct the ‘dark comedy with a twist.’ The script will be written by Elan Mastai, who wrote The F-Word, which is set up at Fox Searchlight after appearing on the Black List in 2008. In this case, the original story idea was concocted by the True Blood producer, and he and Mr. Mastai developed the pitch together. That’s all we’ve got at this point, but we’ll follow up as more info arrives.
(And calling Alan Ball the creator of True Blood may rile fans of the novels, but from the perspective of television credits, he’s the show’s creator. That’s all we’re getting at there.)
True Blood has quickly become my favorite summer show. With the airing of last night’s season two finale, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin“, I can already feel the pain of another year-long wait ahead of me. Just like Dollhouse, the first season of True Blood took a few episodes to truly get in gear—but once the series found its groove it became an intoxicating combination of sex, violence, and camp. (Anna Paquin’s increasing disregard for clothes was yet another plus.)
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The True Blood panel at Comic-Con was one of the bigger ones. Many cast members showed up alongside writer/creator Alan Ball and Charleane Harris, author of the books that led to the show. They seemed grateful for all of the fan response and the packed room. Apparently their panel was in a much smaller space last year since nobody knew about the show.
They showed a short teaser for the rest of season 2, but it was just a quick glimpse. We saw the Texas vampire contingent, Sookie getting into trouble (again), and Jason getting closer to the preacher’s wife he’s been eying.
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Academy Award winning screenwriter turned director Alan Ball (American Beauty) recently revealed details about two possible upcoming film projects:
He hopes to direct a screwball comedy/romantic farce he wrote right before coming across Towelhead, about two incredibly wealthy egomaniacal people “negotiating their sexual relationship within standards of that time, with that language, and with all the trappings of 1936.” Ball has said in other interviews that it is inspired by that era’s Hollywood comedies, calling it “very stylized but fun”.
But I’m far more interested in a film he hopes to produce, which he describes as “a dark, dark comedy” about “a woman who just gets fed up with being a doormat”. “She snaps and she decides to become a vigilante” and “it’s got a body count!”. Ball admits that the film is a harder sell.
Ball doesn’t do high concept, and I don’t expect any project by the writer to be “an easy sell”. Ball’s directorial debut Towelhead went virtually unseen by audiences, but is probably one of the top 20 films of the year.
sources: MTV, AWFJ
When I first screened Alan Ball‘s directorial debut at the Tonroto International Film Festival last year, it was titled Nothing is Private. In my review, I wondered why Ball had decided to change the title from that of the book it was based on – Towelhead. The obvious answer is political correctness. And a few months ago when it was announced that the film would be released under the same title of the book, I commended the Warner Bros for having the guts to be non-PC. But truth is, the name of the movie (and the book, for that matter) is so tightly connected to the story, and the struggle of the main character. If the story were to be released under any other name (Nothing is Private for instance), it just wouldn’t make sense.
The film is being released in September, and the Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR) has asked that Warner Bros. and Warner Independent Pictures to change the name of the film. Warner Bros is not backing down, and has announced that they have no plans to change the title. The studio has asked that Alicia Erian (author, Towelhead) and Alan Ball (writer/director, Towelhead) explain the reasoning behind their decisions to give the novel and film its name. You can find these statements below.
ALICIA ERIAN – Author of Towelhead
As an Arab-American woman, I am of course aware that the title of my book is an ethnic slur. Indeed, I selected the title to highlight one of the novel’s major themes: racism. In the tradition of Dick Gregory’s autobiography Nigger, the Jewish magazine Heeb, or the feminist magazine Bitch, the title is rude and shocking, but it is not gratuitous. Besides the fact that the main character must endure taunting about her ethnicity (including being called a towelhead), so much of the novel’s plot is fueled by the characters’ attitudes toward race.
I was not contacted by any organization or group when my novel was released in 2005. I don’t know if this was because no one had heard about my book, or because they didn’t feel it would have as much of an impact as a film. Having lived in a world in which my book has existed without protest for the past three years, however, I feel I have at least some view onto what to expect from the public in terms of a response. The bottom line is, never once have I encountered anyone who didn’t understand the seriousness of the word “towelhead” and all its implications.
This is not to say that I don’t find these concerns legitimate — I absolutely do. We live in a racist society, one in which people continue to use ethnic slurs to delineate those who are different than they are. Realistically speaking, though, these people are neither the audience for my book, nor for the film. They will continue to use whatever language they wish whether or not a movie called “Towelhead” is released. For this reason, I am pleased that Warner Bros. is standing by the title.
Towelhead, like its many cousins — nigger, spic, gook, etc. — is an ugly word. The job of the artist, however, has been, and always will be, to highlight that which is ugly in the hopes of finding something beautiful. This charge, by necessity, will at times put the artist at odds with admirable groups such as CAIR. The solution, it seems to me, is not to force the artist to alter his or her work, but instead to use the occasion of that work as an entry point for meaningful debate and discussion
ALAN BALL – “Towelhead” is written for the screen and directed by Alan Ball, Academy Award-winning writer of “American Beauty, ” and creator of “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood.”
As a gay man, I know how it feels to be called hateful names simply because of who I am. Therefore, I felt it was important to retain the title of Alicia Erian’s novel, in which she so effectively dramatizes the pain inflicted by such language, something many people of non-minority descent never have to face. I believe one of the unintended consequences of forbidding such words to be spoken is imbuing those words with more power than they should ever have, and helping create the illusion that the bigotry and racism expressed by such cruel epithets is less prevalent than it actually is, which we all know is sadly not the case.
WARNER INDEPENDENT PICTURES
One of the ideas conveyed in the film is that we all make assumptions about each other, without knowing, based on racial stereotypes. It was our goal in releasing “Towelhead” to help make this point.
Some of our past releases, like “Paradise Now, ” were extremely controversial and elicited demands that the film not be released; “Good Night, and Good Luck.” drew criticism from some as well. Warner Bros. supported the release of these films then, as they do now of “Towelhead,” as a medium to create dialogue and support the expression of ideas, as controversial or as unpopular as they may be. We apologize for any offense that is caused by this title but support Alan Ball and Alicia Erian in this effort.
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Big banner ads all over Comic Con are advertising Tru Blood, the fictional “synthetic blood nourishment beverage” that serves as a blood replacement for vampires in Alan Ball’s new series, True Blood. Eerily convincing, they serve as a clever reminder of the show’s ARG, which also includes a vampire dating site and a blog. Naturally, with all this great marketing and with Alan Ball’s name behind it (not to mention Charlaine Harris, who wrote the Southern Vampire Mysteries books that the series is based off of), there’s a great deal of hype for the show, which documents the world of Sookie, a telepathic waitress, and her relationship with Bill Compton, a vampire. In the world of the show, vampires have the ability to co-exist peacefully with humans due to the development of the existence of synthetic blood, but some humans still (justifiably) regard vampires as dangerous creatures who have the capability to kill humans easily, and the desire to do so for pleasure.
I had the privilege of attending the True Blood panel today and learned a lot from Ball about his vision for the series. Vampires have experienced and extremely favorable resurgence in popular culture recently, and comparisons will unavoidably be drawn between this series (debuting in September) and Twilight, being released a few months later. Ball’s version of vampires will be a fresh take that distinguishes itself in the following ways:
1) Avoiding Vampire cliches – Asked, “What vampire cliches will you avoid?” Ball responded glibly, “Blue light, contact lenses, and opera music.”
2) Vampire fangs – Vampire fangs in the show don’t grow larger at will; they retract and click down “like a rattlesnake’s fangs.” The more realistic elements of the vampire mythos were meant to draw attention away from the physical mechanics of things and more towards the characters and their relationships.
3) Vampire sex – As Ball explains, “In the world that Charlene has created, vampires are now a part of the culture. They are mysterious, exostic, sexy creatures and there are humans from both sexes of all sexual persuasions who really want to hook up with vampires. They’re called ‘fangbangers’ and apparently, as Charlene made very clear in her book, sex with vampires is really kind of great. One would imagine if you’ve had a few hundred years to learn how to please your partner and you still had the body of a 25-year old person, you’d be kind of a hot catch, apart from the biting part.” Ball also hinted that the show would contain gay characters, “both human and vampires,” which may be interesting and promising given the accolades Six Feet Under received for its frank depiction of gay relationships.
4) Vampire blood – Interestingly, in the show’s reality, vampire blood is a very volatile drug. It affects people very differently, as some people can “ride the wave,” while others have a more immediate physical reaction. It’s a gamble when you take it, as it can drive you insane, but It can also be a powerful sexual enhancement drug. Its effects also depend on who you are, and what vampire the blood came from.
5) Tru Blood – When asked “Are there any plans to make Tru Blood into a real drink,” Ball responded “Yes. It’s going to be a combination of V8, valium, vicodin, and viagra.” Was he joking? You decide.
Not too long ago, a rough version of the pilot leaked onto the internet, containing unfinished scenes and the presence of one actor/actress who appears to have completely been replaced. I had a chance to watch this rough cut prior to Comic Con and I have to say I wasn’t terribly impressed. In a series where so much of the audience is expected to suspend their disbelief, it seemed a bit of a stretch to have the main character, Sookie, also be telepathic (an ability, Ball told us today, whose origins will not be explained in the first season); consequently, the show just seemed a bit too wacky for me to really relate to, its interactions too outlandish to have any emotional impact. But as I’ve been told by my colleagues on the /Filmcast, don’t judge a show too harshly based on the pilot alone. Alan Ball is a capable guy and I’m definitely willing to withhold judgment for another few episodes.
I was intensely curious as to why Ball chose this project and discovered that a large part of it was serendipity (Ball admitted at the panel that he discovered the books by accident, finding them in a book store while waiting for a dentist appointment). But as for how much the series is related to his previous work, Ball explained that after Six Feet Under he was really tired of people talking intensely about their problems and contemplating the fact that we all die. “I wanted to do something fun,” Ball said. “I’ve had more fun working on this series than I’ve had doing anything else in my career.” Hopefully we will feel the same way watching it.
HBO has released a poster for Alan Ball’s upcoming HBO series True Blood. In addition to creating Six Feet Under, Ball won an Adademy Award for America Beauty, and directed the upcoming film adaptation of Towelhead. True Blood is based on Charlaine Harris’ “Southern Vampire” novel series. The series follows the world of vampires set in small-town Louisiana. Apparently the vampires are able to co-exist with humans by drinking a Japanese-manufactured synthetic blood. /Film’s David Chen will be reporting from the True Blood panel later this week at Comic Con 2008. The series is set to premiere on HBO starting September 7th 2008.
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Alan Ball’s feature directorial debut is more Six Feet Under than American Beauty in tone, and more of the latter in story. There are more than a few structural similarities to Beauty, including the typical but still wonderful Thomas Newman score, an older man who becomes sexually infatuated with a young girl, and a series of fantasy sequences (minus the rose pedals). Based on Alicia Erian’s controversial novel “Towel Head”, Nothing Is Private is a comedy about pedophilia and racial discrimination. Ball is able to turn these two very taboo subjects into 124 minutes of laugh out loud multi-layed entertainment.
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