It started with a phone call from Steven Spielberg. When the call came in, writer Leslie Bohem initially thought it was a prank. “He said that he wanted to do a miniseries about UFOs, alien abductions, that sort of thing,” Mr. Bohem said. “The Sci-Fi Channel was going to give him 20 hours. He wanted to know if I wanted to work on it. Naturally, after I realized it was really him, I said `yes.”’
The project in question was Steven Spielberg Presents Taken, an ambitious 20-hour miniseries that spans 50 years in the lives of three families, all of whose members have their lives touched by aliens. The series, which ran on the Sci-Fi Channel in December, was the channel’s highest-rated program to date, pulling in 6 million viewers on its first night and averaging nearly 5 million viewers each night during its 10-day run.
Mr. Bohem, who has written such big-budget feature films as Daylight and Dante’s Peak, had never done a miniseries before, much less written anything about aliens. “I admitted [to Mr. Spielberg] that I had never written a story about aliens, that basically all I knew about aliens I learned from his movies,” Mr. Bohem said.
But his keen interest in mythology-he had majored in it in college before dropping out to join a rock band-held him in good stead as he began work on Taken. He spent four years writing the entire miniseries, and during that time he developed a profound respect for the legends surrounding alien abductions.
“I went into this project an agnostic,” he said. “I’d never been abducted, so I found it hard to believe in alien abductions. But the more I researched it and the more people I talked to, I found I was really struck by how astonishingly similar all of the stories are. On some level, versions of these stories have been told for thousands of years. Certainly if they are true, they are amazing, but if they’re not true, that’s even more amazing in what that says about us.”
The son of two Hollywood writers-his father, Endre, wrote for films and television and his mother, Hilda, wrote for such TV shows as Dr. Kildare and Rawhide-Mr. Bohem initially pursued a career as a bass player for the rock group Sparks during the 1970s and 1980s.
A fellow musician who became a movie producer eventually helped get him started writing films. “I wrote 20 screenplays about rock ‘n’ roll that never got produced,” Mr. Bohem says. “But by then, I just kept writing and it evolved into a career.”
Now, when he’s not writing about things like alien abduction, Mr. Bohem dabbles with writing songs. Emmylou Harris recently recorded one of his songs, Just Before It Gets Dark.
“My first love is and always has been music,” Mr. Bohem said. “The nice thing now is that music is no longer my career. Now I can just do it for fun.”