Groundbreaking Filmmaker: Alan Ball

Alan Ball isn’t one to shy from a challenge.

For his feature directorial debut, the “American Beauty” scribe and creator of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” tackled Alicia Erian’s controversial novel “Towelhead.” The tome is a coming-of-ager concerning a young girl of Middle Eastern descent and her sexual abuse by a neighbor.

The hyphenate says he’s always planned to direct. He was on track to helm an original script he’d written — a screwball romantic comedy set in 1930s — but got a call from his agent about a manuscript that was available: “Towelhead.”

“I fell in love with the story, and I switched gears,” says Ball, who optioned the material and adapted it himself. “It was something that would never see the light of day. Everyone passed on it; people were terrified of it.

“One of the things I responded to when I read the book was that it’s a very emotional story,” Ball explains. “It’s a story that doesn’t pull any punches. Unfortunately, it’s a very common story in our society. It’s also very funny. One of things I convinced Alicia of is that I would keep it funny.”

The film ended up being made independently, with financing from Steve Rales’ Indian Paintbrush. It shot in less than 40 days, and Ball — who had directed TV prior to the film — concedes the “feature schedule felt a little luxurious to me.”

The pic bowed at the 2007 Toronto film fest under the title “Nothing Is Private” and sold to Warner Independent Pictures.

WIP, which releases the pic in August, changed the title back to the book’s original “Towelhead.” And Ball says he’s fine with that. He told WIP execs, “If you’re not scared of it, I’m not.” Besides, he feels he can always blame Erian. “The change in title in the first place was due to fear and cowardice; it’s really telling that we couldn’t come up with an alternate title that was any good.”

Busy Ball has moved on to his next HBO series, “True Blood,” and says he’s got two feature scripts he’s sitting on to potentially direct: the aforementioned screwball comedy and another “dark comedy with a body count.”

” ‘Towelhead’ was a departure, and I love taking on new genres and new tones. I feel really fortunate that I can work in all these different mediums,” he says. “I don’t want to get to the point of, ‘This is what I do,’ and do it over and over again.”

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