Danny Bilson is an American writer, director, and producer in movies, television, videogames, and comic books. With his writing partner Paul DeMeo, Danny Bilson wrote the movie The Rocketeer (1991), the videogame James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (2003), the television series The Sentinel (1996) and The Flash (1990), and recent issues of the comic book, The Flash. Bilson also directed and produced The Sentinel and The Flash.
Bilson's scope has been characterized as transmedia. He has adapted comic books into movies (The Rocketeer), comic books into television (The Flash), and movies into videogames (James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing). Bilson's and DeMeo's writing has tended toward action and sci-fi genres, emphasizing more than human heroes and their visceral adventures.
Danny Bilson was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Mona Weichman and the director Bruce Bilson (Bewitched, Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes). Danny has only one sister, Melinda, who was born on December 21, 1971. Danny and Melinda did not grow up together because of the age difference but are quite close now because of their children (Rachel and Luke). Danny comes from a line of writers and directors. His grandfather, George Bilson, wrote My Bill (1938) and produced the variety show Variety Time (1948). George's wife, Hattie Bilson, wrote Pal, Canine Detective (1950), which George produced. George Bilson also produced trailers and short features for Warner Bros., and comedy shorts starring comedians Edgar Kennedy and Leon Errol.
As a child Danny wandered the set of The Andy Griffith Show, where his father was serving as an assistant director (1960–1961), and played with Ron Howard. He grew up on Silver Age comics, such as The Flash, which would later influence stylistic choices in the television series costume.
On May 30, 1980, Danny Bilson married Janice Stango. Janice's son by a previous marriage, John Pierce, is a graphic artist. Danny and Janice's daughter, Rachel Bilson (b. 1981) is an actress, notable for her role in The O.C.. Sometime later, Danny and Janice divorced.
During production of Viper, the actress Heather Medway and Danny fell in love. In August 1997, Danny and Medway married. Their daughter, Hattie Elizabeth Bilson, was born on December 19, 2001. Elizabeth was presumably named after her great-grandmother (and Danny's grandmother) Hattie Bilson. On February 10, 2007, Danny and Heather's second child, Rosemary, was born.
Danny lives in Los Angeles with his family. He is an avid gamer, and a loyal sports fan. He plays console and PC videogames, and maintains an account on World of Warcraft (WoW) with his friends from EA. He describes WoW as as the golf of interactive entertainment.
Bilson graduated from California State University, San Bernadino. There he met and teamed up with long-time writing partner Paul DeMeo. Together they formed Pet Fly productions.
After college, Bilson struggled to break into the movie business, working as an extra while writing screenplays. Bilson and DeMeo produced their first script, Trancers (1985), a noirish tale about a time-traveling detective from the future. This cult hit spawned five sequels, for which Bilson and DeMeo contributed some writing.
Bilson debuted as a director for Zone Troopers (1986), co-written by DeMeo, a tale of American World War II soldiers who find an alien spacecraft. Danny shot Zone Troopers for $600,000 in Italy. Following this, the writing duo performed the same roles on The Wrong Guys (1988) a comedic spoof of boy scouting.
Bilson and DeMeo then began their comic book adaptation of The Rocketeer (1991). Writing for Disney, the partners were hired and fired several times during the five years of movie development. The two had a rough executive experience in which scenes were deleted only to be restored years later. The film finally made it to theaters and was heralded by Entertainment Weekly as the best comic book adaptation to film.
Bilson and DeMeo wrote the pilot for an original series called Unlimited Powers. This series about four superheroes was influenced by Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen. While a series with four superheroes would prove too costly for television, one of the characters of Unlimited Powers became the protagonist of their new series The Flash.
The two wrote and produced the television adaptation of the DC comic book, The Flash (1990). Danny directed some of the episodes, and so did his father, Bruce Bilson. Danny and Paul DeMeo were new to the producing and had conflicts with executives over the budget, which sometimes reached $1.4 million per episode. The two knew what they wanted to see, a fantastic revision of Barry Allen's silver age Flash II. In part, they achieved a classic comic book atmosphere through colorful lighting and retro design. They sculpted the appearance of The Flash into a painstakingly molded suit which was so hot that a water-cooled vest was needed to keep actor John Wesley Shipp comfortable.
At the request of executives at Paramount Pictures, who wanted a series about a super car (in the vein of Knight Rider), Bilson and DeMeo wrote Viper (1996), a series about a transformable Dodge Viper supercar used as a secret weapon against a vast criminal organization.
Bilson and DeMeo then wrote, and Bilson directed The Sentinel (1996–1999). In this television series that ran for three and a half seasons, heroic Detective James Ellison uses hyperactive senses to fight crime in Cascade, Washington.
Around the end of The Sentinel, Bilson shared a flight with Electronic Arts president Don Mattrick. They struck up a conversation about videogames. Recognizing a need for quality writing and acknowledging Bilson and DeMeo's gamer roots, the two were hired.
One of Bilson's early contributions to Electronic Arts' storytelling was as a consulting producer to The Sims (2000). According to Bing Gordon, when Electronic Arts had bought Maxis, the developer of The Sims, Will Wright was working on a project about home improvement. It was Bilson who emphasized the storytelling potential of the household's careers, children, and personal lives. Bilson enumerated a couple dozen scenarios that occur in any household sitcom. This personal touch was incorporated in The Sims, and no doubt contributed to the all-time number one selling videogame's mass appeal.
Bilson's game enthusiasm and storytelling skills led him to become vice president of intellectual property development. While at Electronic Arts', Bilson and DeMeo wrote for a number of videogames in the James Bond 007 and Medal of Honor franchises. For the Medal of Honor series, Bilson borrowed cinematic techniques from successful World War II movies, such as the storming the beach scene of Saving Private Ryan which was emulated in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Yet more than literal repackaging of a movie story, Bilson and DeMeo enhanced the fiction and tailored it to the videogame experience, in which the primary activity is not to watch, but to play.
Bilson and DeMeo ran into creative differences with Electronic Arts and the Bond license managers, on the James Bond 007 series. While writing the videogame GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (2004), Bilson and DeMeo wanted to reinvigorate the franchise by having the player be a villain and fight Bond. But the writer's arms were tied, in part by the license holders' thick manual which regulated approved uses of Bond. Moreover, the license holders would not allow Goldeneye to kill MI6 agents, cops, or Bond. In short, Goldeneye could only kill other bad guys. Bilson and DeMeo were eventually allowed to "kill" Bond in the opening sequence, which turned out to be a VR training simulation.
Electronic Arts executives also expressed conservative concerns on the risks being taken with the use of such an expensive license. In particular, if it's a Bond game, the player should primarily see (and be) Bond.
Bilson and DeMeo left Electronic Arts to pursue their own transmedia intellectual property (IP). The two having successfully carried an IP from comic to screen and screen to videogame, conceived new characters and stories that would succeed in multiple media.
Bilson and DeMeo returned to their childhood roots from which their inspirations and adaptations came: comics. The two co-wrote The Flash: Fastest Man Alive for DC Comics and along with actor Adam Brody (who was dating Bilson's daughter, Rachel, at the time), they are writing a new miniseries for Wildstorm Comics named Red Menace.
Around this time, Bilson also began teaching, in part from the encouragement of his friend and World of Warcraft guildmate, Bing Gordon. Bilson is an adjunct professor at USC School of Cinematic Arts, where he teaches traditional screenwriting and also character development and storytelling for videogames.
Bilson continues to write original screenplays and write and edit for videogames. As of this writing (in 2007), he is editing the upcoming videogame Crysis, and in the planning stages of a videogame based on the upcoming movie that adapts one of the greatest comic books of all time, Watchmen.
Bilson and DeMeo's subject matter and genre preference to date can be characterized as comic book action bleeding over into other media. Bilson's own stated strong suit is action sequences and his preferred genre is science fiction, because there are more possibilities.
According to Bilson and DeMeo, rather than writing for a theme, the two prefer to focus on entertainment value, presumably through the action of the characters and intensity of the scenarios. While Bilson adheres to the three act structure, he rejects most rules on screenwriting and would rather explore the story possibilities intuitively.
Bilson recommends the integration of story and gameplay as soon as possible. His agent cites works such as Gears of War (2006) in which the writer was brought in late and the story could barely be salvaged. Bilson acknowledges that in videogames, gameplay is more important than story. He stresses, though, that story can enhance the experience. From playing games extensively, he believes current videogame stories are still lagging behind their contemporaries in movies and television.
In The Sims, no screenplays or verbal dialogue was written (or programmed directly), but general principles of behavior which can be identified with stereotypical scenarios emerge. While teaching storytelling for games at USC School of Cinematic Arts, Bilson would later characterize and champion this form of storytelling as emergent storytelling.
In his classes on writing for videogames, Bilson stresses product familiarity. To interested students, Bilson says, if you play games, this class is for you. Bilson recalls, and worked through, a period in which many videogame writers were competent movie writers, but had no experience or interest in playing videogames. To counter that trend, Bilson stresses employing the videogame medium's motivations to tell a story: objectives and rewards. In videogames, Bilson lambastes delivering stories through long cutscenes, as a player doesn't want to watch a movie; the player wants to play a game.
Some of Danny Bilson's works in movies, television, videogames, and comic books, quoted from the Internet Movie Database.