Screenwriter-director Michael Dougherty enjoyed early success scripting a pair of comic book blockbusters for influential genre director Bryan Singer. He and writing partner Dan Harris began a successful collaboration that led to penning the script for Singer's hugely popular superhero sequel "X2: X-Men United" (2003). Written years prior, Dougherty and Harris' first screenplay as a team, "Urban Legend III: Bloody Mary" (2005), eventually saw a DVD release, although it was their next project with Singer that brought them even greater exposure - and pressure - than that of their lauded work on "X-Men." Expectations were phenomenally high for "Superman Returns" (2006), the first feature film based on the iconic comic book character in nearly two decades. However, when the astronomically expensive blockbuster failed to recoup Warner Bros.' investment to its satisfaction, both Dougherty's and his partner's meteoric rise in Hollywood cooled rapidly. Put into motion prior to the highly-anticipated release of "Superman Returns," Dougherty was given the rare opportunity to write and direct his personal pet project, a quirky, multi-narrative horror tale, appropriately titled "Trick 'r Treat" (2009). Initially slated for a 2007 release, its sudden shelving by the studio until a direct-to-DVD release two years later, was a bitter illustration for Dougherty on just how quickly one's fortunes could change in Hollywood.
Michael Dougherty was born on Oct. 28, 1974 in Columbus, OH, where he attended St. Francis High School prior to enrolling in the film school at New York University. A lifelong artist and horror aficionado, he worked as a freelance animator for such clients as MTV and the Sci Fi Channel for several years after earning his degree in film from NYU. Around this time, while still living in NYC, Dougherty met his future screenwriting partner, Dan Harris, at the party of a mutual acquaintance. Harris, a student at Columbia University at the time, was spending summers in Los Angeles, and when the two hit it off, he suggested they keep in touch. Encouraged to take a stab at screenwriting, Dougherty concocted the horror tale "Trick 'r Treat," which was soon optioned by the production company of famed effects and make-up artist, Stan Winston. Moving to L.A., the aspiring filmmaker was pleasantly surprised to find his friend Harris living in his same neighborhood. When the "Trick 'r Treat" script garnered Dougherty a shot at penning a sequel for the "Urban Legend" horror movie franchise, he invited Harris to collaborate, and their writing partnership was born.
An earlier, fortuitous meeting with director Bryan Singer, combined with the newfound legitimacy that the "Urban Legend" script afforded them, scored Dougherty and Harris their next screenwriting opportunity. A dream come true for a self-confessed pop-culture nerd, Dougherty and his partner crafted the screenplay for the mutant superhero sequel "X2: X-Men United" (2003). Based on a story by Singer, executive producer Tom DeSanto, screenwriter Zak Pen and original X-Men screenwriter David Hayter, it followed the continued exploits of Marvels Comics' favorite team of outcasts as they foiled the mad scheme of an obsessed military man (Brian Cox) intent on wiping all mutants off the face of the planet. After the film did big box office and received mostly favorable reviews - especially from the hard-to-please comic book faithful - Dougherty and Harris' careers were off and running with their first bona fide hit movie under their belts. Two years later, after having languished in Hollywood limbo for a number of years, the script that gained them official entrée into the industry at last saw the light of day when "Urban Legend III: Bloody Mary" (2005) was eventually released straight to DVD.
As gratifying as that may have been, Dougherty and his collaborator had much bigger fish to fry, as they plotted and planned with Singer on what the next installment of "X-Men" might entail. The proverbial rug was pulled out from under the two young scribes, however, when the director announced his intention to jump ship after being offered the chance to direct a new "Superman" movie. As disappointed as Dougherty was to abandon his ideas for the next "X-Men" film, Singer once again swooped in, asking Dougherty and his partner to pen "Superman Returns" (2006). The resulting film, which told the story of Superman (Brandon Routh) returning to Earth after a long absence, only to discover that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has both a new love interest (James Marsden) and a child, and that the world has found a way to live without him, proved to be one of the most costly endeavors in the history of Warner Bros. And although its performance at the box office may have been impressive for a film with half its budget, in the end, "Superman Returns" failed to live up to the lofty expectations of the studio. More importantly, its arguably slow pace and paucity of epically-scaled action sequences did little to satiate the hunger of fans who had not seen a proper Man of Steel on screen since the days of Christopher Reeve.
One year after its release, Dougherty and Harris decided not to write a sequel to "Superman Returns," having weathered the previous storm. They decided to pursue their own separate projects. For Dougherty, it took the form of his long-gestating screenplay, "Trick 'r Treat" (2009), at last coming to life. Produced by guardian angel Singer, it would also mark Dougherty's directorial debut. Based on an animated short film he had made a decade earlier, it consisted of four interwoven tales of terror set in a small Ohio town on Halloween night. Denizens of the doomed township included a high school principal moonlighting as a serial killer (Dylan Baker), a seemingly innocent college girl with a frightening secret (Anna Paquin) and an exceptionally nasty neighborhood curmudgeon (Brian Cox). Slated to premiere in theaters on Halloween of 2007, the film, despite impressively positive advance reviews, was shelved for two more years before being unceremoniously released on DVD in 2009. A clearly disappointed Dougherty next announced his intentions to publish a graphic novel, write a children's book and possibly even mount a sequel to "Trick 'r Treat," which by then had become a minor cult film favorite among horror fans.