Shane Black really ought to look more cheerful. At 25, he has sold three screenplays to Hollywood. The first to be produced, Lethal Weapon, starring hunk Mel Gibson, has pulled in more than $55 million in just two months. Black already is co-writing a sequel for a quarter of a mil. “Shane is as good as they come,” says Weapon’s director, Richard Donner.
But instead of glowing, the boy wonder of scriptwriters feels grumpy. “I was happy for two weeks after selling Lethal Weapon, and then I went miserable again,” he says. “I loathe writing. Lethal Weapon II is making me physically sick…[sigh] I guess I’m not handling success as well as I might.”
Some of Black’s insecurity may come from lack of formal training. At 6, in Pittsburgh, his first writing included a comic strip, about a spy named Super Pooper. “He wasn’t a very good artist, but he wrote great dialogue,” says his mom, Patricia Ann, who has shown her continued approval by sitting five times through the blood and guts in Lethal Weapon. When Shane’s father, Paul, took a new job with a printing company in 1976, the family moved to Fullerton, Calif. Shane got a degree in theater arts at UCLA, toyed with the idea of acting and then, at 22, wrote a screenplay. “Everyone said I would write one someday,” he says, “so I thought, ‘Why not today?’ ”
Why not indeed. Shadow Company—about Vietnam MIAs who return from the dead to haunt loved ones—did not sell until this year, but it landed Shane an agent. Next came Lethal Weapon, which he tossed into the wastebasket (“I thought it was dreadful,” Shane says). On second thought, he retrieved it, and when it was finished, Warner Bros, bought it within three days for $400,000. An adventure film called The Monster Squad went for $200,000 and is scheduled for July release.
Not quite trusting his luck, Black still shares a nearly empty house with four roommates and types scripts on an ancient $50 Remington. There are signs, though, that the good life may be sneaking up on him. “I used to worry about paying for a pizza,” he says. “But I don’t worry about that anymore.”