Inside the Dark Literary World of 'American Beauty' Screenwriter Alan Ball

Alan BallSome of the most important screenwriting advice you'll ever hear is to write what you're passionate about. In fact, screenwriter Alan Ball says that that's the best piece of advice he's ever got, and it certainly shows in his work. Ball is known for his dark themes and sordid stories, which have won him many awards, including the Best Screenplay Oscar for American Beauty. While participating in a lecture series for Ideas at the House this last June, Ball details his big break, his writing process, as well as his experiences writing some of his most notable work.

In his nearly 20-year career,  Ball opened up the doors to his dark imagination after several years of sitcom writing by penning American BeautySix Feet Under, and True Blood. These darker projects were more well-received than his sitcom work, proving that Ball not only has quite a knack for the macabre, but also has a deep passion and interest in it as well.

Cinephilia and Beyond has shared several videos in which Ball talks about his work. Before we get to the Ideas at the House lecture (which is over an hour long, so get comfy,) take a look at the video below, which details how he came up with the idea for American Beauty; the concept that inspired him when crafting his characters came from a comic of Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco. (As an added bonus, you can find a link to download the screenplay in Cinephilia and Beyond's article.)

This next video is admittedly dense, but Ball shares some great insight about the world of screenwriting that is worth the large time commitment. But for those of you who are just looking to scrub through, here are a few highlights to check out:

9:30: Ball talks about the source of the "angry writing" of American Beauty.

11:35: Ball shares his interesting take on outlining and why he doesn't do it.

12:30: Ball details his writing process.

26:50: The connection between death and humor in Ball's work

What do you think? Can you relate to Alan Ball's experiences writing? Let us know in the comments.

[via Cinephilia and Beyond]

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Your Comment


Hurahh! Well done article.

November 16, 2013 at 5:33PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


What about the screaming monkeys?

November 16, 2013 at 6:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I don't understand the whole "Educational purposes only" statement with regards to produced screenplays. I mean, since the films have already been produced by large productions companies what else would you do with the screenplay (you wouldn't be allowed to publish it, because it's copyright anyway)? So of course it's for educational purposes, that goes without saying.

November 16, 2013 at 10:16PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


This is a commercial site and, legally speaking, any copyrighted material can be taken down by the request of the owner of the appropriated intellectual property. Among the few exceptions are "fair use" and "educational use". Of course, had Ball's representatives requested the links to be taken down, the site owners would have to comply. In the past, Aaron Sorkin had his "American President" taken off sites; TW had all of "Seinfeld" scripts removed (they reappeared later on as a "dialog taken off the TV" rather than a formatted script that initially belonged to "Castle Rock") and there are practically no "Sopranos" scripts online because they were included in the show's DVD set. (some writers also don't want to see their original drafts uploaded because the final shooting draft can be drastically different after rewrites by the subsequently hired "script doctors" ... as an example, a writer's draft of the original "Hangover" is almost entire different, aside from the opening scene, from the one rewritten and then filmed by Todd Phillips).
By the way, "screaming monkeys" refer to the Quentin Tarantino's law suit against Mr. Ball. The two own adjacent residential properties in Hollywood Hills and they had some disagreements with regards to the animal noises in Alan's backyard. (IIRC, QT called them "screaming pterodactyls", not monkeys but oh, well)

November 17, 2013 at 12:04AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


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December 12, 2013 at 6:03AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM