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For writer-director Mark Frost, life after David Lynch and `Twin Peaks' goes on

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By D.L. Mabery

For the Post-Bulletin

MINNEAPOLIS -- A lot of screenwriter and director Mark Frost's career seems to have been in the timing. For instance, the New York native was 5 years old when he saw his first movie -- at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. ``It was a religious experience,'' he says.

At the age of 13, Frost moved to the Twin Cities with his family; his father, Warren, was an actor with the Guthrie Theater. By the time he graduated from high school in 1972, Frost had studied acting and had written both a novel and a play that was produced at school. He went to Pittsburgh to study acting, directing and play writing at Carnegie Tech, but left college in his junior year to work in Hollywood. Three weeks after getting off the bus in Tinseltown, Frost was writing scripts for episodic television.

``I had this experience of going out when I was 20 and getting work within weeks, which is ridiculous,'' Frost says. ``In fact, it was so easy that I didn't want to do it. I wrote for `The Six Million Dollar Man,' which wasn't terribly rewarding.''

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Now 38, Frost has completed work as writer-director on ``Storyville,'' a political thriller set in New Orleans that stars James Spader as a young congressional candidate who becomes embedded in sexual treachery, murder and blackmail. ``Storyville'' is scheduled to be released this fall by 20th Century-Fox.

In Los Angeles his first goaround, Frost was roommates with Michael O'Keefe, the actor who married Bonnie Raitt and who was just in the Twin Cities with the touring stage production of ``A Few Good Men,'' and Alan Arkin's son Adam, who appeared in the late-'70s situation comedy, ``Bustin' Loose.''

``We were three wild and crazy kids, running amuck in Hollywood,'' Frost syas. But he took an exit off the fast lane in 1975 and returned to the Twin Cities and found work as literary associate for the Guthrie Theater. He also became playwright-in-residence at Midwestern Playwrights' Lab, where he wrote ``The Nuclear Family'' (staged at the St. Nicholas Theater in Chicago) and ``Heart Trouble,'' which was given a workshop presentation at New Mexico State University.

By the beginning of the '80s, however, Frost was back in Los Angeles, working for his friend Steven Bochco, creator of ``Hill Street Blues.'' In three years with the popular nighttime TV drama, Frost rose from being a free-lance writer for the series to being its executive story editor. `` `Hill Street' brought me up to a whole another level of craft,'' Frost says. ``It taught me how to write under the pressure of a deadline.''

He turned this knowledge toward writing screenplays, and in 1987 Frost's first major motion picture, ``The Believers'' starring Martin Sheen, was released by Orion Pictures.

``Plots are just the bare bones that you hang your story on,'' Frost says. ``A plot is, `The queen died and the king died.' A story is, `The queen died and the king died of heartbreak.' There are a million different reasons why a plot will happen.''

Frost capped off the '80s by forging a creative partnership with David Lynch, and together they wrote a comedy called ``One Salvia Bubble,'' which was intended to be Lynch's follow-up to his flamboyantly weird ``Blue Velvet.'' But the project was thrown in limbo -- and immediately became one of Hollywood's legendary unproduced scripts -- when the De Laurentis Entertainment Group, with which Lynch was signed, collapsed in bankruptcy.

Lynch and Frost rebounded by forming their own production company and went on to become 1990's cause celebre with the audaciously bizarre nighttime soap opera ``Twin Peaks.'' But after two seaaons of the dirty deeds in the Pacific Northwest, ABC-TV cancelled the series.

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``Part of me felt that it was true to itself and it died a natural death and never became another one of those shows that was just hanging on in order to survive,'' says Frost. ``I felt that it was badly mistreated by the network, though, in terms of its scheduling, which helped an awful lot with the show coming to an end.''

Frost and Lynch take another stab at prime-time television this summer with ``On the Air,'' a comedy set behind the scenes at a late-1950s live-broadcast TV variety show. He says his only involvement with the TV series has been in writing scripts, and ``On the Air'' is probably the last project the public will see from Lynch/Frost Productions as the two principals have decided to part ways this fall.

Meanwhile, Frost made ``Storyville'' with Ed Pressman, who produced Oliver Stone's ``Talk Radio,'' while Lynch directed ``Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,'' which is scheduled to be in the theaters in August. ``I didn't have anything to do with the (`Twin Peaks') movie; I was making my movie while he was making his,'' says Frost.

Although ``Storyville'' is Frost's first infiltration into feature-film direction, he'd been at the helm for episodes of ``Hill Street Blues'' and for the first season ``Twin Peaks'' cliff-hanger. Naturally, having his say from the director's chair is something Frost sought: ``It was always of my plan to establish myself as a writer. That's the best way to go in order to get yourself into a position where you can control your own material.'' But we shouldn't expect a Woody Allen, writer-director-actor proejct out of him yet. ``I think that would be way too much work,'' he says.

In fact, we really shouldn't expect much cinematic work out of Frost in the immediate future. Although he's just polished off the ``Good Morning, Chicago'' screenplay (the sequel to ``Good Morning, Vietnam''), he's currently typing out an untitled ``Victorian metaphysical adventure novel'' for a late-summer deadline with William Morrow publishers of New York.

``I'm getting more satisfaction out of the novel than anything I've ever written before,'' he says. ``I'm actually writing something to be read rather than something that will be used as a blueprint for something else. It's a completely different discipline.'' |

D.L. Mabery is a free-lance writer from Minneapolis who frequently contributes articles on the entertainment scene to the Post-Bulletin.

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