Alan Ball

Alan Ball Headshot

Director • Writer • Producer

Birth Name: Alan E Ball

Birth Date: May 13, 1957

Age: 67 years old

Birth Place: Atlanta, Georgia

Former playwright-turned-filmmaker Alan Ball left behind the rather anonymous and distressing world of sitcom writing to make his breakthrough as the screenwriter of the Academy Award-winning film "American Beauty" (1999). Prior to that success, Ball penned off-Broadway productions, including "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress," before cutting his teeth on sitcoms like "Grace Under Fire" (ABC, 1993-98) and "Cybill" (CBS, 1994-98).

Because of his fascination with dysfunctional families, he created "Six Feet Under" (HBO, 2001-05), a darkly comic drama about a family that runs a funeral home in Los Angeles after the untimely death of their patriarch (Richard Jenkins). With its morbidly funny take on mortality and those who deal with it on a daily basis, "Six Feet Under" quickly became a flagship series for HBO, while earning numerous awards and nominations. For his part, Ball established himself as one of the pre-eminent talents on television and on the big screen, earning a reputation for unflinching drama tinged with a dark sense of humor.

Born on May 13, 1957 in Atlanta, GA, Ball grew up the son of a failed carpenter/Lockheed Aircraft employee father and a housewife mother who gave birth to him when she was 44 years old. Because his two brothers were 20 years his senior, Ball's closest friend growing up was his sister, Mary Ann. But when he was 13, Mary Ann was killed on her 22nd birthday in a car accident while taking a sharp turn and crashing head-first into an oncoming car. Ball was in the passenger seat.

After her death, Ball felt that he had lost everything dear to him, while his parents sank into their own deep depression. Meanwhile, he began to show signs of creative energy at a young age - he wrote his first play when he was six and regularly put on productions with neighborhood friends throughout his youth. With his sights set on acting, Ball attended Florida State University after high school, but quickly changed direction when he realized playwriting was a more comfortable fit. After dropping out of school, he moved to New York City to forge ahead as a playwright, but took a detour as a magazine art director for Adweek and Inside PR.

Eventually, Ball managed to have several of his plays produced at various venues both off-off- and off-Broadway. In 1991, he premiered "The M Word" at the inaugural Lucille Ball Festival of New American Comedy. Two years later, "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress" - perhaps his best-known play - debuted at the Manhattan Class Company and caught the attention of Hollywood. Producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner read one of Ball's plays and offered him a chance to serve as story editor and staff writer on the second season of "Grace Under Fire," a sitcom about a divorced single mother and alcoholic (Brett Butler) struggling to keep her life and sanity together.

The following season, he jumped onto another Carsey-Werner production "Cybill," a half-hour comedy about a once-famous, but now fading television actress (Cybill Shepherd) struggling to keep her career going with bit parts and television commercials while raising her two teenage daughters (Dedee Pfeiffer and Alicia Witt). Ball spent three seasons...

...on "Cybill," rising through the ranks from co-producer to co-executive producer. But in the end, he remained creatively and professionally dissatisfied - in his words, he felt like "a whore."

While hating life as a sitcom writer, Ball was concentrating on an idea for a play loosely inspired by the real-life case of Amy Fisher, a Long Island teenager who shot the wife of her older lover, Joey Buttafuoco. Intrigued by the media circus that followed - there were three made-for-television films made on the subject - and the idea that truth was undoubtedly being obscured, Ball began to write a play examining what might drive people to such extreme behavior. Invoking memories of his own Southern upbringing, Ball spent several years refining his version, morphing it into a dark comedy-drama that served as his first produced screenplay, "American Beauty."

Purporting to examine what might go on behind closed doors in suburbia, the finished film - directed by Sam Mendes and starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening - stuck a chord with moviegoers. Part "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966); part "Lolita" (1962), "American Beauty" examined the mid-life crisis of a man (Spacey) bored by his job, turned-off by his wife (Bening) and alienated from his family. Well-acted and strongly directed, "American Beauty" was nominated for numerous awards and won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.

Trading on his success, Ball embraced the creative freedom provided by HBO to create another signature series for the pay cable channel, "Six Feet Under." Like "American Beauty," the show peered into the darkest recesses of a seemingly typical family to discover both the joy and tragedy of every day life. Because the series' protagonists - the compellingly dysfunctional Fisher family (Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy and Lauren Ambrose) - also worked in the funeral business, the daring, frequently morbidly funny show provided an unflinching portrait of the workings of grief, mortality, sexuality (both gay and straight) and the complexities of family dynamics unlike any other series. For his efforts, Ball collected a 2003 Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, and shared a 2002 DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series. Meanwhile, the show and cast earned a plethora of honors; but most tellingly, when other projects beckoned and Ball gave up his day-to-day involvement in 2005, the decision was made to end "Six Feet Under," rather than see it limp forward, guided by lesser hands like so many other series.

After spending a couple of years out of the limelight, Ball returned to the fore in 2008 with both a new feature and a new television series. On the small screen, he served as creator and executive producer of "True Blood" (HBO, 2008-14), a one-hour drama based on the Southern Vampire book series by Charlaine Harris. Set in the backwoods of Louisiana, "True Blood" focused on a telepathic waitress (Anna Paquin) who finds herself suddenly drawn to a 173-year-old vampire (Stephen Moyer) mingling amongst the town's mortals with his fellow blood suckers.

Ball then made his feature directing debut with "Towelhead" (2008), an adaptation of Alicia Erian's novel of the same name, about Jasira (Summer Bishil), a 13-year-old Arab-American girl discovering her sexuality while dealing with the racism that runs rampant in the small Texas town to which she moves during the first Gulf War. Meanwhile, Jasira becomes oddly and obsessively attracted to her neighbor, Travis (Aaron Eckhart), an Army reservist who confuses her budding sexuality with mixed messages.