Now that he’s lived in Sonoma for a couple of years, veteran Hollywood screenwriter and film producer Michael Grais can take the long view of the Los Angeles film scene.
“Hollywood has exploded. The studio system is falling apart,” he said. “It’s a worldwide industry now. You can be in this business, and be anywhere. In the old days, if you were going to be a screenwriter, and be successful, you had to live in Los Angeles. Otherwise, I never would have lived there.”
Grais co-wrote the 1982 hit horror movie “Poltergeist” with producer Steven Spielberg and writer Mark Victor and served as executive producer on the 1989 film “Great Balls of Fire,” starring Dennis Quaid as music star Jerry Lee Lewis.
During his Hollywood years, starting in the early 1970s, Grais first established himself as a screenwriter for top TV cop shows “Baretta,” “Starsky and Hutch” and “Kojak.”
He grew up in the Chicago suburbs and at 17 headed west for college, ultimately receiving a master of fine arts degree in writing from the University of Oregon.
Making the rounds of Los Angeles studios to seek work, Grais was handed a “Baretta” episode story idea to rewrite as a teleplay. “I wrote a three-page critique telling why this teleplay should never get made, so I thought I might be in trouble,” he said.
But it turned out that series star Robert Blake agreed with him. Grais rewrote the script, which led to steady work in television, until he moved to feature films in 1981 with “Death Hunt,” a thriller starring Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin.
Grais left Los Angeles in 2001 to live in Mexico and New Mexico, but never felt he’d found the perfect spot, the one that felt like home, until he and his wife, Jennifer, a singer-songwriter and former backup singer for Jackson Browne, moved into a three-story, 1920s house in Sonoma two years ago.
“Every time we drove into Sonoma,” he said as they were settling on their new home, “we both exhaled and totally relaxed.”
Grais, who admits to being “60-ish,” still makes TV shows and movies. In March, he closed a deal with the BBC for the TV series “Subway Stars,” and he’s producing a horror feature, “The Chittering,” from his own script, with filming set to start in the South in the fall.