Flash of Genius
BY Jeremy Kinser
September 13 2010 3:00 AM ET
Greg Berlanti may be the most successful gay writer-director-producer you don’t know. Unlike some peers with Hollywood at their feet, Berlanti is rarely seen on a red carpet. Nor is he tabloid fodder, making speeches, or dating Lance Bass.
Perhaps he’s too busy working. Berlanti, 38, is in postproduction on Life as We Know It, October’s romantic comedy-drama with Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel. He is simultaneously writing and executive-producing ABC’s No Ordinary Family, a highly anticipated fall series, as well as producing the big-screen adaptation of Green Lantern while working on a screenplay for a film about another DC Comics icon, the Flash. Berlanti’s also still an executive producer on ABC drama Brothers & Sisters and has at least six other feature films in various stages of development.
Yet Berlanti seems remarkably relaxed for a man who has spent the past 10 years as a driving creative force behind some of the most compelling and LGBT-inclusive TV programs in history. With his movie-star–handsome features, he could be an actor himself. But what he really wants to do now is direct. And after a decade-long absence from feature filmmaking, Berlanti is finally doing just that.
Life as We Know It is an opposites-attract tale in which two gorgeous people who instantly dislike each other are united to care for the baby daughter of their deceased best friends. The plot is definitely not breaking new ground cinematically, but with his penchant for effectively combining comedy with tragedy (his best TV work, including Everwood, is evidence), Berlanti has proved that this is his forte.
Sitting on the overstuffed sofa in his office on the Disney-ABC lot in Burbank, Calif., Berlanti is taking a rare break from a relentlessly busy schedule. He describes what drew him to Life. “I liked the combination,” he says, “that it wasn’t just a baby movie and it wasn’t just a romantic comedy.” The film continues a recurring trademark of his work, the life-affirming comedy that springs from unexpected tragedy. The sentiment was certainly a hallmark of his first film, The Broken Hearts Club. Berlanti wrote and directed the semiautobiographical ensemble piece in 2000, making it the first major studio-produced movie with all gay characters in 30 years—since 1970’s seminal The Boys in the Band.
He originally had bigger-budget ambitions for his follow-up feature. A self-described comic book nerd, he was nearly set to direct the film version of the hugely anticipated Green Lantern, the adaptation of which he was writing with Michael Goldenberg, Michael Green, and Marc Guggenheim. But Warner Bros. passed him over for a director with bigger-budget film experience. Berlanti accepted writing and producing credits on Green Lantern. Meanwhile, impressed studio executives offered him the pick of a stack of smaller-budget projects for his sophomore directorial effort.
From a pile of scripts he chose Life. More accurately, it was actually Katherine Heigl (already attached as star and executive producer, she had director approval) who lobbied for Berlanti. The actress says it was Berlanti’s intimate TV work that was the deciding factor for her. “He is a really seasoned, fantastic writer, and I knew he could bring that experience to the table,” she says. “I think he has a great sensibility for honest, grounded relationships.”