Vol 57 No. 15 : July 29, 2005
Vol 57 No. 15 | July 29, 2005
Experienced Writer Turns Educator
Brian Alan Lane has worn many hats as a successful TV/film screenwriter and novelist, but found room for the mortarboard of a scholar in 2002 when he joined the faculty of CSULB's Film and Electronic Arts Department.
Whether it was creating memorable moments in such classic series as "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or "Moonlighting," Lane found himself much in demand and creating a body of professional achievement that brought him to the university. He taught novel and short story writing at UCLA Extension before he joined CSULB.
"My career was diverse," said Lane. "It was 'Star Trek' one week and 'Remington Steele' the next. I had a graduate degree in writing, but I never took a writing course and the only thing I knew for sure was that the greatest motivation for any writer is self-loathing.
"You don't strike the first key until you hate yourself so much you won't be able to survive unless you write. And then the only thing you hate worse is finishing a piece and having to walk away from it. But, once you've accomplished in one genre, best to hurry to another – because there is so very much to learn about writing and you can only learn it by writing and writing and then writing some more. And television gave me that opportunity to re-invent my writer's self every week."
He points to the 1980s as a second golden age for TV with such hits as "Cheers," "Hill Street Blues," "The Cosby Show" and "St. Elsewhere." "But at the same time, I saw the legendary screenwriter's strike in the late 1980s as producers eating the goose that laid the golden egg," he said. "That strike was the cradle of reality TV. As a confirmed believer in (late media expert) Marshall McLuhan, I believe TV became what it was always meant to be, not a resonant and wise medium, not serving some lofty connective purpose, but just an extension of the day-to-day urgency of who we are."
Lane brought to his career the added advantage of a law degree from USC in 1979 (as well as a BA and MFA in film from UCLA).
"I passed the Bar and did both criminal and entertainment law," he said. "I had some sports and entertainment clients, too. But my legal training also made me a better writer because I became more attuned to my audience."
He remembers what he describes as a rich source of TV employment during the Reagan years: women in distress.
"It was the heyday of the Movie of the Week, offered as counter-programming to Monday Night Football and as women were finally allowed into the higher echelons of the entertainment industry. The absurdity was that women were hiring men to write movies for women to watch, and I was known as 'a guy who really knows how to write women.' I still don't know exactly what that means but I do know that, in life and on paper, I find women far more interesting and important than men."
Lane and Theater Arts' Maria Viera concocted a curriculum in comedy writing and performance last year that led to Lane teaching stand-up comedy, with his students competing for a chance to perform in the Main Room of Pasadena's legendary comedy club, The Ice House.
"Our final exam was a stand-up performance at The Ice House Annex before a sold-out house, and, incredibly, six of my 15 students were then invited by the producers and managers from H2F Comedy Productions to compete as semi-finalists in the Ice House Uncle Clyde's Summer Comedy Championship." The finals are set for Thursday, Aug. 4 in the Main Room of The Ice House.
"This kind of instruction is miles ahead of anybody else," said Lane, who intends to continue with the stand-up comedy course in the Fall. "The only other university that offers instruction in stand-up comedy is USC and just barely at that. Nobody has anything like what CSULB offers in comedy writing and performance for all media. We now have, without question, the pre-eminent comedy writing program of any university."
Lane also wrote and executive produced a 30-minute film titled "Body of Work" directed in May by CSULB Film and Electronic Arts grad Farnaz Samiinia, with a cast including Lorenzo Lamas, Eric Tiede and "The Bold and the Beautiful's" John McCook.
"I got professionals to serve as mentors," he said. "Crew and production staffs were students but a professional ghosted every job. The film is currently in post production and if things work out, it ought to get good distribution with possible viewings on IFC or Sundance. Farnaz did a magnificent job – Spielberg better look out!"
As part of this year's Odyssey sponsored by the Health and Human Services Department, Lane joins Criminal Justice professor Judy Hails in a class that invites students to create their own worlds from the bottom up. Called Utopia 101, the class will review nation building documents from the Rand Corp, which will give students analysis on how to craft constitutions, devise infrastructure, create political and legal institutions, and achieve social and moral goals.
"They will be able to build their planets graphically on a Web site, then create their own communities and interact with each other's worlds," he said. "The point of the class is to see if it is still possible to make dreams become reality and serve a rational morality in modern times. Our students will start from scratch, but maybe down the road that will help them figure out how to fix our own world. I'm counting on these kids to fix everything my generation broke."
Lane publishes a literary journal titled Sweet Fancy Moses, with the next issue due out this Fall. He also raises funding to support a campus-based Web site titled "Tales Told" featuring extraordinary stories about ordinary people which he hopes to bring online in 2005.
Lane's resume extends to eight pages of achievement but he laughs and sees only failure.
"Eight pages and hundreds of jobs means I can't hold a job for very long," he said. "The longest I've been anywhere is here at The Beach – three years now and I've just been given early tenure and a promotion and an award. So I guess the C.V. won't make it to nine pages. But then again, there are so many things I plan to do here for our students."
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