If you’re looking for Hollywood hype, Glen Morgan is not your guy. Glen Morgan is a mensch. With short salt and pepper hair Morgan looks more like the coach of your cousin’s little league team than the successful Writer, Director, Producer that he is. Concerned about boring the assembled Painted Saint faithful, he did anything but as he dazzled us with stories of temperamental action stars, delighted us with his dry wit, and disarmed us with his self-effacing honesty.
You haven’t been alive during the last 20 years if you haven’t seen at least one project Morgan has contributed to. The short list includes: The Commish, 21 Jump Street, Space: Above and Beyond, Millennium, and Final Destination, but it was The X-Files that catapulted Morgan and his partner, James Wong, to prominence. The pair penned two of that series’ most popular episodes, Squeeze and Tooms, among many, many others. Success hasn’t inflated Morgan’s ego, though. You’ll never catch him taking credit for achievements outside of his relationship with writing/directing/producing counterpart James Wong. Their tandem careers travel the same path and it’s been that way from the beginning. “We were in the same honors English class at El Cajon Valley High School in San Diego,” Morgan explains, “I wanted to go to film school and I was accepted into USC and UCLA, but not for film. Jim’s brother had gone to Loyal Marymount and so I ended up going there. Jim was an engineering major his first semester, but in September of ’79 we saw Apocalypse Now in the Cinerama Dome. When he found out that my final exams were on Annie Hall instead of Geometry he said, ‘That’s it. I’m a film major, too.’” After some modest early breaks, the pair hit a long dry spell. “We did nothing for like four or five years – just watched TV and smoked pot or something. With the last bit of money we had we wrote a script called Hangman about a guy who throws the switch in Louisiana and from that we got a lot of work.”
Despite swearing off TV, Glen ended up on 21 Jump Street, the vehicle that launched Johnny Depp’s career. “We worked at Steve Cannell (Stephen J. Cannell Productions) which was a really great place, but sadly those kinds of places are gone. Steve was really into writers; you could be the lowest level writer, but you got to cast and edit.”
Eventually the pair grew restless. “We were under contract working on The Commish, which we were told would be like NYPD Blue. Imagine spending two years on a show where you’re like, ‘Could we be a little more dark here?’” So they left Cannell, but not before their writing helped establish the career of another star, Michael Chiklis. An Emmy-winner on The Shield, Chiklis got his first big break on The Commish.
What happened next could have taken Morgan & Wong in a completely different direction. Having secured a ripe assignment on a sit-com called Moon Over Miami (“We always wanted to do comedy!”), the pair got a call about an obscure Fox show called The X-Files. “Everybody was fighting to get on Moon Over Miami. It was supposed to be the next big show. Peter Roth, a friend we made working at Steve Cannell, was running 20th Century Fox at the time. We got word that he wanted us to see this pilot for a thing called The X-Files. And we were like, ‘Oh, no, no, no,’ but our agent made us watch it in his office anyway. After the first five minutes we thought, ‘Okay, well, the teaser was good, but this’ll be dumb,’ but we liked it. At this point we hadn’t actually seen Moon Over Miami. So, we thought, we’ll go look at that and it’ll be better than this X-Files pilot and that’ll be that… but it was just awful. So we did X-Files and that show was a blast. Every agent in CAA at the time thought we were nuts and people kept telling us that X-Files would be off in 12 episodes.”
So after setting out to write comedy, Morgan quips, “Now I’m The Horror Guy. One day when you weren’t really thinking you just say, ‘That show is better than that show,’ and the next ten years of your life are all set. It’s hard to go, ‘gimme a week or two to think about what might happen in the future.’ So, you just go with it.”
The X-Files propelled Morgan & Wong to even greater success. Backed by solid industry credentials, the pair moved into film. With Wong directing on their first two features, Final Destination and The One, Morgan took up the producing reins. “Jim and I were always going to switch off and on. With Final Destination, I did okay, but we got into this crazy situation with The One. I kept taking a back seat. I just kind of hate producing,” he admits. “I don’t have that personality. So, I told Jim I’m going to go crazy if I don’t get to direct something.” With the shoe on the other foot during Morgan’s feature debut, Willard, James Wong showed no love of producing either. Morgan explains, “A month into pre-production he goes, ‘What do I do? What do I do?!’ Now when projects come up we juggle for position.”
Despite all of his success Glen sees himself at a crossroads. “The studios aren’t making movies about what I’m really interested in. My wife had just had a baby and our in-laws gave us two hours to go to a movie, and we go to The Grove. We thought, ‘Let’s go to where there’re theatres!’ And we stood there in the lobby thinking there’s just nothing here we’d subject ourselves to. And we left. My favorite movies were all made from about ’66 to ’76-’77 and they’re not making anything like that anymore. A movie from Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, Being There, Shampoo) would have to be an independent now. But Morgan is above all a realist and he navigates the industry in his own way. “Your career has got to be dynamic. If I’m going into a bigger studio I just say, ‘What do you want? What are you looking for? Got a book? Got a remake? And then I make whatever they give me my own.” Even on the biggest projects, Glen always manages to get important elements of his vision across. “New Line is a great place to make a movie. They’ll let you do this, if you do that. I can have a villain that you don’t see (Death in Final Destination), if I cast these people off WB shows. I get it.”
Two decades in the industry give Glen a healthy perspective on Hollywood. “Your career goes weird, weird places. Your personal life takes changes you don’t think about, you don’t expect. When I started in ’88 there was a writer’s strike. And they (The Writer’s Guild of America) gave up stuff because they thought that the one-hour was dead. They thought television would be sitcoms from then until the end of time; and if you were a sitcom writer in the late-’80s you were in great shape. And now you’re not in such great shape. If you’re a dramatic writer you’re not in such great shape because they want all this stupid crap my wife is addicted to.” But Morgan takes Reality TV in the same stride that’s served him well for his entire career. “You’ve just got to believe that it’s going to come around. It’ll come around for the cyclical reasons we talked about. So if you just hang in there, if you keep down the path you believe in, it’ll all turn out.”
Glen’s other partnership requires, and gets, his full attention. He and talented actress Kristen Cloke, for years the Artistic Director of the critically acclaimed Alliance Repertory Theatre in the San Fernando Valley, share a family; they also share a passion for honesty. “I don’t want her to go, ‘Yeah, that script is brilliant,’ if she thinks it sucks or if she thinks it’s not where it should be. And sometimes she’s that voice knocking around inside me, that goes, “Yeah, what am I here for?’” Morgan’s big relationship secret: “I don’t want to sound like Dr. Phil, but you just have to be there, you just have to listen.” So far Glen has managed to follow a path that keeps both his partners happy, at least most of the time. “It’s inevitable,” he laughs, “that the occasion will arise that Jim thinks she’s Yoko and she’ll complain about Jim. So you just have to know where you stand.”
When not directing or producing, home is where you’ll find Morgan; more often than not, he’ll be writing. “I go to a Starbucks,” he explains, “but they drive me crazy. I usually write at home. There’s this garage out back and an attic. There’re termites and my wife keeps trying to clean it, but I won’t let her. It’s really uncomfortable, but I love it. No one ever goes up there. My kids are afraid of it – that’s what’s so great about it!” As any writer, Morgan has his rituals. “I don’t want to sound corny but when I write environment is so important to me – I’ve gotta have music, gotta have coffee, and I’ve gotta have it dark.” Occasionally Glen does write on site. “For the airport scenes in Final Destination I went to the airport. I sat there all day and wrote what I heard and saw. Jim and I are going to do Final Destination 3-D, so I have plans to go back there.” Mr. Morgan even credits some of his early success to a certain gentleman’s club. “It’s really embarrassing to admit, but when we did The X-Files at Fox, across the street at the time was this gentleman’s club, 20/20. And every X-Files for the first year, the stories were worked up in a strip joint. People would laugh and go, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,’ but we really worked. We had a drink. It was dark. There was loud music. And there were men in there with secrets. When they closed the place, I thought, ‘There goes my career!’”
What inspires Morgan? “You know I have four kids now. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It was at Cannell, or maybe it was X-Files, but I wrote a fourth act from 5:30 to 8:30 in the morning, because somebody else hadn’t, and I think they were shooting that day.” As any artist, Morgan also brings material from his own life. “I wrote a pilot for Showtime and drew a lot from my divorce. That’s the stuff I watch – what I believe people went through.” He even takes inspiration from a project’s limitations. “On The X-Files, part of the premise was if Scully ever sees the alien the show’s over, if they ever kiss the show’s over. And by the twelfth episode, it was clear that the audience thought that she was bitchy or uptight. So, we had to sit down and think of a paranormal thing she could see that most people would accept.”
Of course, it’s Glen Morgan and the other Sainthood members who inspire us. As we wrapped up the evening with Mr. Morgan, his thoughts turned to our project, Effloresce, which had yet to shoot. “I really envy that you guys are in this room about to do this project, because I really believe it has none of the BS that has me a little weighed down. From what I read and what I saw, this is exciting. This is really great; it’s a great thing you’re doing. You aren’t making $20 million, but that’ll come. Really enjoy it, because you think with success comes freedom, but then there’re other things.”
We at Painted Saint ready ourselves to take on those other things that success brings.
Charles Picard Director of Development/Assoc. Producer