Charting a return to Hollywood work, outgoing selectman says Lenox 'is our home'

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LENOX — After moving to town with his family in 2009, Channing Gibson had little reason to believe he would return to Hollywood to resume his career as a successful movie and TV screenwriter and producer.

But now he's doing just that, taking a "Hollywood sabbatical" with his wife, artist Cynthia Wick, in order to reunite with his close friend and collaborator, noted film director Richard Donner, 87, to script the fifth and final "Lethal Weapon" film.

"I didn't go looking for the job, it came looking for me," Gibson, 64, explained at a local cafe prior to his recent departure for a house rental in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. His second three-year term on the Lenox Select Board expires in May and he isn't running for re-election, but will return to town for the Annual Town Meeting on May 3.

Gibson wrote the screenplay for "Lethal Weapon 4" in 1998 after multiple script credits and award nominations for an elite list of TV series, including "St. Elsewhere," "NYPD Blue" and "L.A. Law."

Donner phoned him a year ago to scope out his interest in working together one more time on "Lethal Weapon 5."

"I didn't hesitate a second, just because of who was calling," said Gibson."He's a dear friend and we loved working together on `Lethal Weapon 4.' I just have such regard and love for this man. After I said yes, he said. `OK, now I have to decide."

Donner directed the original "Superman" film in 1978; his other credits include "The Goonies," "Ladyhawke" and the original "Lethal Weapon," all in 1985, followed by "Scrooged," "X-Men," three "Lethal Weapon" sequels and more than 20 other big-screen titles.

Last spring, Gibson met with actor Mel Gibson, who was shooting scenes at Ski Butternut in Great Barrington for "Daddy's Home 2." He voiced great interest in rejoining the "Lethal Weapon" team for the finale. Other members of the original "Lethal Weapon" series cast — Danny Glover and Rene Russo — also are reported to be keen on the project.

Several weeks ago, Toby Emmerich, chairman of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, pushed script development for the fifth film across the finish line, Channing Gibson said.

"There's a lot to think about with these kinds of deals. It did take a long time, and I was beginning to think it wasn't going to happen," he said. "But I wasn't personally discouraged, because if it didn't happen, I got to stay in the Berkshires and lead my wonderful life here."

However, he acknowledged, "We had a good [script] treatment, we spent a lot of time giving the project the integrity we want to bring to it. So I was kind of hooked on the project."

With Gibson and Donner "attached" to the film, Warner Bros. has "greenlighted" the development of the script, involving two drafts, with the first likely to be completed by May 1. Then, the studio has options to proceed or not, "and unless I don't deliver a good script, I anticipate I'd be able to stick with this all the way through, if it goes all the way through," Gibson said.

His outline updates the key characters in "a more pared-down version of the series, not quite as big in terms of the action and the comedy. It'll still be fun, but it's going to be a little more real than they have tended to be at times. In tone, we're starting to aim back more at the first `Lethal Weapon' movie."

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Gibson graduated from Yale University in 1976 with a degree in English. Without any intention of working in Hollywood, he moved to California to follow a girlfriend, and worked cutting sails at a sail loft in Seal Beach, Orange County, writing fiction at night.

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Just two years later, he landed script assignments for two episodes of the prestigious ABC series "Family" through a cousin, co-star Sada Thompson, who connected him with the producers. After submitting samples of his short stories, the producers handed Gibsons boxes of scripts of the first two seasons, as well as "MASH," for a quick dive into TV writing techniques.

"Standing on those stages watching my material get shot, I was on cloud nine," Gibson remembered. "My career had many ups and downs after that, but I was committed to it from that time."

He went on to write episodes of the ABC comedy-drama series "Eight is Enough," followed by "St. Elsewhere," where his freelance scripts led to a staff position as story editor for three years and then as a producer for the hospital drama's final season. "That was the dream of freelancers at the time," he pointed out, "to be hired on staff by a show you liked for a regular salary."

He went on to produce and write episodes of "L.A. Law" and "N.Y.P.D. Blue" as well as other shows that had a mixed track record, including "Civil Wars," "Tattingers" and "The Byrds of Paradise," whose cast included Arlo Guthrie.

By the early 1990s, Gibson switched to feature films as a writer and script doctor, notably "Lethal Weapon 4" (1998).

His wife, Cynthia, an L.A. native who was a marketing executive for 20th Century Fox, left the business to be a full-time mom for the couple's two sons, Charlie and Jack, and to ramp up her painting career.

As the film business started to change around 2007, with projects harder to sell, payments to writers sliding and a disruptive Writers Guild strike, Gibson came to share his wife's enthusiasm for leaving the high-flying Hollywood lifestyle.

Two years later, with studios focused on big box-office blockbusters amid drastic cutbacks on script orders and his favored writing project encountering strong creative headwinds, Gibson became deeply disillusioned.

"The business had lost all of its magic for me," he said. They pulled up stakes, starting a search for a new life based on requirements such as good public schools, scenic beauty, close to cities but not suburbs,and "like-minded folks, writers and artists like ourselves."

They followed up on a friend's suggestion to check out the Berkshires, where Cynthia had never been, though her husband was familiar with nearby Norfolk, Conn. At first, they zeroed in on Great Barrington but, with the help of Tim Lovett, co-founder of Berkshire Property Agents, they found an ideal house in Lenox, put in a successful offer and closed on it a month later in 2009.

After she started "putting the house together," Gibson said, "I drove out in August with two boys, a dog and a lizard. We never, ever looked back. It was even better than we hoped for. We met wonderful people, Kennedy Park in our backyard and we became part of the film scene here."

Whatever happens in Hollywood, one thing is clear, he stressed: A return to Lenox later this year is a certainty.

"We love it here," he said. "This is our home and we want to stay here."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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