Before the Scene with Doug Ellin

by AJ Buckley on July 9, 2014

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Before the Scene is where we all start. In a small town with our families. In front of a mirror with our friends. The days spent sleeping on a couch. The nights working at a bar. Living with the unknown and surrounded by uncertainty. It’s about the times that define us. It’s about the darkness just before the limelight.

Doug Ellin is veteran writer, director and producer. A graduate of Tulane University, Ellin is best known as the creator and executive producer of HBO’s Entourage, for which he earned three Primetime Emmy nominations over the course of eight successful seasons. He is currently in post-production on the highly anticipated Entourage feature, set for release next year.

What made you want to become a writer?
Lack of skill in any other field.

What was your biggest fear?
Starvation. For real. I didn’t know a single person when I came out here. I had no connections in the business whatsoever. I had no idea how I was going to make a living, so those were real fears. I wasn’t poor. My parents gave me a little financial help so I could survive, which was great, but I ate spaghetti and ketchup at least three or four days a week for a couple of years.

What was your lowest point?
My lowest point was, surprisingly, after I had some success. I didn’t really struggle for a while. I got into film school early. I made a movie that cost nothing that was picked up by a studio and released worldwide. And then did a second movie and the same thing happened. I made a living for a while. But after that second movie came out and didn’t make money, even though it was such an exceptional independent movie that Universal released it as a big studio film, I couldn’t get a job for the first time in a decade. I mean any job. That was my low point after having pretty good success. And that was right before Entourage.

What was it that kept you from walking away?
I don’t know. I really don’t. It’s one of those things. They keep teasing you with success. There would always be something that led me to believe I should still stay here. You can make a movie for $100,000 dollars that you think is never going to go anywhere. I would be out of money for eight months. And then, someone comes in and says, “I’m going to release it around the world.” It comes out and it doesn’t really make any money. But you just keep going. Little things keep happening that made you think things would be good at some point.

What did you have to walk away from?
I can’t think of anything I’ve necessarily walked away from. This business is one of those things that you just have to keep adapting to. Early on in my career, it really looked like I was headed for big success and then it just evaporated. After making significant progress and money, buying myself a house and living out here at thirty years old, I was thinking about going back to law school. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I was like a pariah.

Who was your closest ally?
Probably my German Shepherds. They’re the ones who have taught me the most!

What were you doing the morning before your life changed?
So many times, it seems like my life was changed. The most steady thing was Entourage. The first call was that they bought the script. It seems like that changed my life [overnight] but that took two years. We got picked up for season one, but we didn’t really have any ratings. Then we got nominated for an Emmy.

But you know, twelve years later, it’s still a grind to get the [Entourage] movie going. Nothing feels like it really changed for me, to be totally honest. I’m kind of in the same mental spot I was twenty years ago.

What were some words that kept you going?
Entourage was such a struggle to get going. When we got reviewed by The New York Times – which for my family was like a big thing – my whole life was that New York Times review. It literally called us the smartest show on television. That was kind of an amazing moment. It held me together for awhile.

How do you think you’ve changed?
I don’t think I’ve changed a bit. I have a tremendous amount of friends from literally elementary school on that I still keep in contact with constantly. I’ve gotten older and fatter, but other than that, I don’t think I’ve changed and I’d be shocked for anyone to tell me otherwise. Even my ex-wife!

What are some words that you have to inspire others?
The exciting aspect of this life is when things go well. If it’s something you love, when good things happen the rewards are so great. Success is just a matter of strong perseverance. It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to keep going.