Catching up with Allan Heinberg
The ex-Tulsan headed for Hollywood, and now has a hand in projects from television production to comic book writing.
Vital stats: Born in 1967 in New Orleans; family moved to Tulsa in 1973; attended Grimes Elementary School, Holland Hall and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1985; graduated from Yale University, class of 1989.
Now: Lives in Los Angeles; has worked on hit shows “The Naked Truth,” “Party of Five,” “Sex and the City,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The O.C.” and “Grey’s Anatomy”; currently writing the comic book “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” for Marvel Comics; serves as an executive producer at ABC Studios; developing two new television series, one for HBO and one for ABC, and writing a movie.
How did you get your start in entertainment? I got my professional start in 1978 in a production of the musical “Oliver!” at The University of Tulsa. For the next seven years, I worked as an actor and singer at TU, American Theatre Company, Theatre Tulsa, Discoveryland!, Heller Theatre and Tulsa CityArts until I graduated from BTW in 1985. I continued to act, direct and write at Yale University and Williamstown Theatre Festival until I graduated in 1989. For the next 10 years, I was a professional actor and singer in New York City, working regionally, off-Broadway and on Broadway in Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” Then, in 1994, when a play I had written was produced by Manhattan Class Company, I stopped acting and devoted myself to writing full-time.
Tell me about that career-changing play. It was called “The Amazon’s Voice” and it was about a writer who got the opportunity to revamp Wonder Woman for DC Comics, which, ironically, I got to do 12 years later in 2006 when I teamed up with artist Terry Dodson for “Wonder Woman” No. 1.
What was the transition from Broadway to television like? Making a television series is actually very much like working on a new play. More accurately, it’s like working on 22 new plays, since most TV series produce 22 or more original episodes per season. Every series I’ve worked on has felt like being part of a wonderful repertory theater company. It’s extremely communal and collaborative and you get that sustained, and vaguely stressful, feeling of, “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” every single day.
What is your favorite part about being an executive producer and what’s the hardest part? My favorite part is working with my fellow writers in the writers’ room. The writers of “Grey’s Anatomy” are some of my favorite writers and people on earth, and I love every moment in their company. The hardest part is the relentless deadline schedule. There never seems to be enough time in television. Everything has to happen at an insane pace to keep up with production and to keep production costs down.
You’re also the creator of the Marvel Comics series “Young Avengers.” Have you always loved comics? What made you want to start your own and why tell the tale of young superheroes? I have always loved comics and always wanted to write comics, but it wasn’t until I was writing about comics on “The O.C.” that I was invited to pitch ideas to Marvel. They were re-launching their “Avengers” franchise at the time and, because of my work on “The O.C.” and “Gilmore Girls,” they suggested I create a team of teenage superheroes called the Young Avengers. It was a challenging assignment — one I tried to quit several times — but it changed my life. Writing “Young Avengers” and its sequel, “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade,” has been the single most satisfying creative experience of my life.
How’s that? “Young Avengers” and “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” are definitely the most personal writing I’ve ever done. And I continue to learn an enormous amount about pure storytelling by writing comics.