By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
And when did you start to feel you wanted to be a part of it?
In high school I had the idea I might want to be a writer, but first I became interested in music. I‘d always loved rock & roll and I wanted to play the drums, and my mother was against that. I had this older cousin, my cousin Johnny, and he would tell my mother, ”Aunt Norma, he can really keep time, you ought to let him play the drums.“ And she said, ”Over my dead body. Gene Krupa was a drug addict. I don’t want any of that stuff.“ But I persisted and I actually took the lessons -- I had a pad and drumsticks, and I played on that for a long time. [My family] saw that I was actually interested in it and would stick with it. And so I got a used set of Gretsch drums when I was around 15. Music was really my doorway into the arts.
Did you play in a band?
[My friends] had the most happening band in the town, but there wasn‘t room for me. They already had another drummer who was far better than me. I tried to play jazz with another group of guys, and that didn’t really work out. But later, when I was in college, that [first] band, which had been a Ventures guitar-based band, broke up, and the Beatles and the Stones had happened, and I reconfigured with two of those guys in a band with vocals -- imitation fake Beatles stuff. Although we never played one date. It was all garage.
When did you get interested in filmmaking?
I‘d loved movies since I was little. My friends and I would watch a movie and then act it out like kids always do. I always always always always loved movies. Then in my 20s I was exposed to foreign film, which gave me a different viewpoint. I don’t think I‘d thought about movies that much -- where they came from or who made them -- but watching foreign films, it became evident that they didn’t come out of a factory in Detroit like Chevrolets. I don‘t think I even read credits when I was a kid. But then I started to hear these names like Polanski and Fellini. I’d go look at those things and see that there was personal expression. It wasn‘t even the personal expression so much that got to me, as the sense of mystery that foreign films had -- nothing was ever decided, nothing was black and white, it was ambiguous.
And that felt like a truer reflection of your own world?
It really did. And that’s what I wanted to do. So I went to film school. But the screenplays that I wrote never got produced. There was nothing ambiguous about that.
What were they about?
I did all kinds of stuff -- psychological thrillers, comedies, a couple of things that were sort of music industry--based, light comedic spy movies, love stories. I tried everything.
You got involved in TV pretty quickly.
I got involved in TV pretty quickly, and once I began making money in television and also working in television -- you know, there‘s a great satisfaction in going to work and solving problems and being close to the center of it. I worked at Universal for years, and I used to love to be able to just take a walk through the back lot there where all those great movies were made and see Spartacus Square and all that stuff -- it was very inspiring to me. And so once having done that, I never stopped.
Did you feel trapped by that success? That it kept you from doing what you really wanted to do?
No, I didn’t feel trapped, I felt that I didn‘t have the courage. It wasn’t that I felt like somebody was holding me or that some iron claw was around my leg -- I was too frightened.
TV does have certain formal advantages over movies, though. You have more time to tell your story.
Well, I think the good news is also the bad news. I think that -- and I didn‘t understand this until pretty late in my career -- the good thing about doing TV is that you can do something that is novelistic. But by and large the fact that you’re doing the same thing week after week after week is destructive. For me. I get terribly bored with it, I get terribly bored watching it when other a people do it. And I think it creates many more creative problems than it solves. It has many more dead ends than it does opportunities. It‘s tough to just keep going with the same thing.
The one big problem with a TV series -- and let’s take The Sopranos out of it, because one hopes this doesn‘t apply to it -- is that the leads of a TV series aren’t going to die. They just aren‘t. And they’re certainly not going to die after the fifth week. So once life and death is taken out of a story about life, how pressing is it? In our lives, there‘s life and death all the time. We’re afraid we‘re going to get sick, we’re afraid we‘re going to get hit by a bus, or someone we love is going to die. But in television that fear doesn’t exist, so the whole thing becomes rather . . . uninvolving. You have cops running around getting shot at, but by and large you know that these cops are not going to get killed.
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