Ball was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to Frank and Mary Ball, an aircraft inspector and a homemaker. He attended high school in Marietta, and went on to attend the University of Georgia and Florida State University, from which he graduated in 1980 with a degree in theater arts. After college, he began work as a playwright at the General Nonsense Theater Company in Sarasota, Florida.
He is noted for writing the films American Beauty and Towelhead, and creating and producing the HBO drama series Six Feet Under and True Blood. For his work in television and film, Ball has received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including an Academy Award, an Emmy and a Golden Globe. He works currently on the screenbook on the pilot for All Signs of Death, the HBO series based on the crime noir novel The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston.
Ball is gay and has been called "a strong voice for [the] LGBT community". In 2008 he made Out magazine's annual list of the 100 most impressive gay men and women.