Lance Gentile [Interview]

 

 

Hello Folks! We have an absolutely incredible interview to share with you all today. I know I say this a lot, but this one is truly incredible, and probably one of the most unique stories we have had the great fortunate to have told on within our digital pages. Today, we are so excited to share some words from Emmy Award winning writer and producer, Lance Gentile! Starting his life out (and actually continuing to do so) in the world of medicine, Lance hit a point in his life where he decided to pursue his passion in the world of the arts. And what would soon occur is a brilliant blending of both worlds.

Lance’s career in television really took off when he began working on what would be one of the biggest dramas in television history, the smash hit series ER. He picked up an Emmy for his work on the series, which included gigs beyond writing such as directing a couple of episodes and extensive work as a medical consultant and more. Gentile would go on to work on several other hit series such as House M.D., Third Watch, The Mob Doctor, and many more.

And while I could go on and on about the brilliant career and life that this man has had, I believe it would be best to simply get to Lance’s own responses, as he has a life story that is so incredible, that it really needs to be a miniseries of some sort, probably written by somebody as talented as, well, himself! So Folks, please enjoy some wonderful words from an absolutely brilliant human being, the great Lance Gentile!

 

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What inspired you to get into the world of television writing and producing? I understand you are a board-certified Emergency Physician, still working today! How did you find yourself being able to combine the two very different professions?

In my 30’s, I found myself back at square one following a divorce.  More like square two, actually, as I was still an ER doctor, albeit a burned-out one.  With no debts, dependents or assets, I was in the unique position to ask myself what I’d like to do with the rest of my life.  After some thought, I decided that being a film director seemed like a fun job.  I had no relevant experience at all, knew no one in the business, so I applied to the MFA program at USC film school and was miraculously admitted.  As an ER doc, I did shift work, so I was able to cut down on the number of shifts to make time for school.  In fact, all through my TV career, I’ve always done at least a couple shifts a month, to stay up to date and grounded in reality – to remind myself that TV career timetables and choices are not actually life and death.  I also taught TV writing at USC for 15 years.  With three careers, you have to think of your time at work as being time off from your other two jobs.  I liked being insanely busy – relaxing makes me nervous.  My wife Jacqueline and I also raised two sons – she’s done most of the heavy lifting on that front.  Our oldest was born the night the ER pilot aired — we watched it in her hospital room with our brand new baby, who incidentally had a cameo in the first ER episode I directed, playing a crying baby.   

What was your very first paid gig in the world of entertainment? And was there anything from this experience that you learned and still sticks with you to this day in your work life? Any lessons learned, basically?

I played bass in a bar band in Portland, Maine for a couple years after my internship.  Twenty dollars cash a night plus free beer.  Learned a couple lessons:  Do what you love and you will be happy.  And always go for the free beer.   My first TV/film job was directing Karaoke videos with a few guys I went to film school with.  Same lessons.

 

 

You worked for quite a while on one of the biggest medical drama series of all time, which would be E.R. You started as a technical advisor, and would eventually write and produce for the show as well. So, I am curious to know what it was like working on such a legendary show like this? Especially in those beginning years? Could you just tell right away that this was going to be a massive success? 

It was like being launched in a rocket ship to a new planet.  In one year, I got married, had a son, got a job on what became the number one show on TV and won an Emmy for the second episode of TV that I ever wrote.  I remember standing onstage at the Shrine Auditorium thanking Michael Crichton, Steven Spielberg and the amazing people I worked with and wondering, “Where the hell am I?”  The talented and way more experienced writers, led by the incredible John Wells, basically taught me how to write, shaping my doctor’s POV into story form.  The eyes of the world were on us, and it was gratifying to be contributing to the conversation on health care in America.  Everybody on the show felt that responsibility.  We were on the cover of Newsweek, the Today Show, People, TV Guide.  George was on all these magazine covers.  I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix with him and Noah, which was my first brush with the magnetism of celebrity.  We were just walking around in the crowd and people mobbed them.  I’m sure George hasn’t done stuff like that in awhile.  It was crazy, right from the day after the pilot aired.   I don’t think any of us had the slightest idea of what was going to happen, although we all thought we’d made a good show.   Initially, the Emergency Medicine establishment hated us, panned the show, said how unrealistic it was.  John directed all that stuff to me.  After the show was a huge hit and emergency medicine residency applications skyrocketed, the American College of Emergency Physicians gave me and Michael Crichton “Outstanding Contribution to Emergency Medicine” Awards.   I still have it in my office.  

One very specific and non-television project that you worked on that intrigues me the most, as we ADORE the world of horror, is Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, in which our good friend Mark Irwin was the DP on. How was your experience working on this film? Does your work differ in the medical sense on a horror project?

I think it was number seven in the series.  There were a few hospital scenes.  On my first day, they had hung a forest of blood bags on IVs around the set.  I went up to Mr. Craven, introduced myself, and told him that in fact, blood was kept in refrigerators in the blood bank, not left hanging around on random IV poles.   He looked at me a long moment, then said, “This is a horror movie.”   I nodded, then slunk off to find a place to sit and speak only when spoken to.  So, yeah, medical reality is relative.  More blood! 

 

 

And one questions we always like to ask our statue holding friends: Where do you keep the Emmy you received for your work on E.R.? And does its physical location have a specific meaning to you?

We bought a 20’s Spanish in Santa Monica that came with a little alcove over the fireplace in the living room.  There was even a kind of a spotlight.  The Emmy lives in there.  The fireplace surround, by the way, is the “Spielberg” model, which we put in along with a chorus of angels that sing “aaaaah” every time you turn on the spot.  When my youngest son was little, he thought the statue needed something, so he decorated it with the star from our Christmas tree.  It was on there for a few years, but it’s gone now.   So is he – off to NYU film school learning to be a TV writer.  Maybe that gold statue served as an early inspiration?  

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I’m writing a spec feature about a guy who moves to Key West to reinvent himself, but finds that no matter where he runs, there his is.  Also a couple TV things bumping around.  I’ve also gone back to my long-lost musical roots and am writing songs for an album.  I’ve got seven so far.  I’m not even sure there are albums any more, so who knows where that will go.  At least I have a title:  Better Late Than Never  I’m always looking for interesting writing projects, so if you know of anything send it my way!        

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I can finally play “Johnny B. Goode.”

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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