EXCLUSIVE: His HBO series True Blood landed its first best series Emmy nomination yesterday. Now Alan Ball is prepping a new hourlong project for the pay cable network. HBO has greenlighted a pilot for All Signs of Death, a dark comedic drama based on Charlie Huston’s 2009 crime noir novel The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death. Ball is executive producing and directing the pilot, which was written by Huston. The project, which is now casting for an August production start date in Los Angeles, centers on an inveterate twenty-something slacker who stumbles into a career as a crime scene cleaner, only to find himself entangled with a murder mystery, a femme fatale and the loose ends of his own past. “It’s not so much about the crime, it’s about the personal story of the central character and his journey back to being fully connected with his life after some very traumatic things,” Ball said.
As a director, Ball will experiment with smaller, portable cameras for a cinema verite style. “The show is about contemporary Los Angeles, but not the glamorous LA, it’s about the dirty underbelly of LA,” Ball said. “We’re going to try to go against the grain, away from the overlit, stylized noir for a more frantic, contemporary, naturalistic style.” Ball is executive producing All Signs of Death through his company, Your Face Goes Here Entertainment, under his overall deal at HBO. Huston is co-executive producing, with Your Face executives Christina Jokanovich and Peter Macdissi also producing.
Ball discovered Huston through Charlaine Harris, the author of The Southern Vampire Mysteries novels that True Blood was based on. She gave Ball a box with her favorite books. One of those books was Huston’s 2004 novel Caught Stealing. Ball loved it and went on to read the other 2 books from Huston’s Hank Thompson trilogy as well as Huston’s Joe Pitt series of novels about a PI who is a vampire. He met with Huston only to discover that the two were already connected – Ball had cast Huston’s wife, actress Virginia Louise Smith, in his 2007 film Towelhead. The two became friends, and one day, Huston told Ball he was considering pitching his latest novel, Mystic Arts, as a TV series and asked him whether he thought the the book could be a series. Ball’s answer? “It could be a great series.” “All Signs has a hard noir feel but it’s also ironic; it’s graphic and gritty but human and very moving at the same time – it is able to capture all those elements in a very distinctive tone,” Ball said.
Master horror writer Stephen Kings agrees. He gave Mystic Arts a glowing review, calling it “fiercely original.” “Charlie Huston is a brilliant storyteller, and writes the best dialogue since George V. Higgins – but what pushes my personal happy-button is his morbid sense of humor and seemingly effortless ability to create scary/funny bad guys,” he wrote. “There are a lot of those in this book, and several I-can’t-believe-I-laughed-at-that scenes of grue, but the best thing about Mystic Arts is how decency and heroism rise to the top in spite of everyone’s best efforts to crush them under heel.”
For Ball, there is a thread that links his lauded mortuary drama for HBO Six Feet Under, vampire drama True Blood and All Signs. “Obviously death is a theme I’m fascinated by,” he said. UTA-repped Ball is currently splitting his time between pre-production on All Signs and breaking stories for Season 4 of True Blood whose writers reconvened at the beginning of this week. There was “a round of Starbucks” in the writers room yesterday to celebrate True Blood’s first best series Emmy nomination. “It as was a fantastic surprise,” Ball said. HBO’s current batch of pilots also include Luck and Tilda, which have wrapped production, and Miraculous Year, which is finishing casting.
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