Many writers dream of directing their own scripts, but when producer Mickey Liddell asked Greg Berlanti to helm “Broken Hearts Club” (working title), Berlanti said no. Twice.
“I really didn’t want to mess the thing up,” Berlanti remembers. But when he finally said yes, he delivered a film good enough to garner a coveted Friday night slot at the Sundance Film Festival, even though it didn’t begin shooting until four days after the fest’s submission deadline.
“Broken Hearts Club,” which Berlanti calls “a gay ‘Diner,'” follows the lives of six friends through a summer in West Hollywood. The Sony Screen Gems pic is the first studio film since 1970s “The Boys in the Band” with only gay characters.
The 27-year-old Northwestern graduate came to Los Angeles in 1995 as a playwright. He was a story editor at Roth-Arnold Prods. when he wrote a spec called “8×10’s,” which became “Broken Hearts Club.”
It impressed “Scream” scribe and “Dawson’s Creek” creator Kevin Williamson enough to land Berlanti a staff job on “Dawson’s.” “He has a wonderful ability to capture dialogue that just sings,” Williamson says of Berlanti.
Williamson also finds Berlanti a great collaborator. “He’s someone you want to meet in the office at 8 in the morning and work with till 3 in the morning. It’s just such a pleasure to sit in a room with him.”
The two collaborated on a pitch, “Her Leading Man,” which was set up at Universal, but “8×10’s” languished.
Then Berlanti found himself in an elevator with “Go” producer Liddell. “He said, ‘That was my favorite script last year,'” remembers Berlanti, “and I said, ‘Why aren’t you making it?’ He said, ‘Because I’ve been so caught up with ‘Go,’ but maybe I will.’ A week later he was sitting down with me.”
That was the first time Berlanti declined to direct. A few months later, Liddell asked again, but Berlanti was writing “Her Leading Man” and moving up at “Dawson’s.” The answer was still no.
Still, Liddell waited. “(The script) takes you to a world that was really particular to this guy and his friends,” Liddell says. “I just had this gut feeling that he was the one to tell the story.” Finally, Berlanti agreed.
Williamson likes to joke that Berlanti is the new Neil Simon, “but in a very postmodern way.” In fact, Berlanti counts Simon among his heroes, along with Albert Brooks, Woody Allen, Cameron Crowe and Billy Wilder. He calls them “very literate storytellers, who had to find very inventive, active ways to tell very talky pieces.”
Now Berlanti is looking forward to saying yes to directing again. “When it was said and done, it was the best experience I’ve ever had, life-defining in a lot of ways. You’re starved for communication when you’re writing. It’s the loneliest thing. But when you’re engaged in a conversation about these things, it’s so fulfilling. It was worth hiding out for a couple of years.”