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Posts Tagged ‘Rod Serling’

Former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden once said of a standout player, “He may not be in a class by himself, but whatever class he’s in— it doesn’t take long to take roll.” (That’s from memory, but you get the point.)  I thought of that quote I heard decades ago when I read the following quote by Rod Serling.

You have to compromise all the way down the line no matter who you are. Unless, of course—you say I’m an affluent screenwriter and all that—I’m a known screenwriter, but I’m not in the fraternity of the very, very major people. I would say a guy like Ernie Lehman, William Goldman, and a few others are quite a cut above. There’s a marvelous and unique man named Frank Gilroy. He’s the only writer I know who absolutely, pointedly refuses to do any changes that he doesn’t feel are absolutely essential and totally in keeping with his own view and perspective. But not too many writers are that independent and that strong-willed.”
The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling
Rod Serling:The Facts of Life interview with Linda Brevelle

P.S.  I found the link to Brevelle’s interview via nofilmschool and it’s believed to be his last interview before Serling died in 1975 at age 50. Serling’s work was great at giving people a fresh perspective on life. When I read the interview the first thing that jumped out at me was the above quote because it’s a reminder that there’s always a food chain. That’s true not only in the world of screenwriting—but if you play professional sports, become a world-class surgeon, or become the President of a great county. Don’t be discouraged by that, but it should help keep you humble. Simply do the best you can, with the skills you have, wherever you live. Stay in your lane because you can’t run William Goldman, Ernest Lehman, or Rod Serling’s race.

P.P.S. And not to take anything way from 6-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest), but time has been very good to Rod Serling’s legacy and I don’t think Serling’s “quite a cut above” comment is true. Despite not attracting a wide audience when it first ran in 1959-1962, in 2013 The Twilight Zone ranked fifth on TV Guide Magazine’s 60 Best Series of All Time. (Following The Sopranos, Seinfeld,  I Love Lucy, and All in the Family. )

Related links:

Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
Rod Serling’s Binghamton Roots
Stories that Will Always Sell (Tip #89)
Spike, Woody, and The Twilight Zone
Screenwriting Quote #111 (Ernest Lehman)
William Goldman Stands Alone

 

Scott W. Smith  

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The Twilight Zone was in peril of not being renewed, season after season. It was not a hit, rating-wise; succès d’estime, yes but not the sort of series anyone could have predicted would be running thirty years later. [Rod] Serling’s skill as a writer has a lot to do with that…also his compassion for the human race as he saw it around him, from day to day. His optimism about the human condition led to stories that made one feel good about the race and its chances for emotional triumph. That, well told, will always sell.”
Producer Buck Houghton (The Twilight Zone)
What a Producer Does (First published in 1991)

P.S. Look at this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominations and look back on past Oscar-winning Best Pictures and see how many end showing an “emotional triumph.” Not all, but it’s an interesting gauge. And even in death there can be an emotional triumph—Gladiator, Titanic, Braveheart.

Bonus:
“The Twilight Zone at its best is better than anything else I’ve ever seen on television…Walking Distance is maybe the show’s best episode.”
Producer/Writer/director J.J. Abrams (LOST)
Time/ Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes

Related Posts:
The Twilight Zone Secrets
Rod Serling’s Binghamton Roots
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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“Now witness if you will a man’s mind and body shrivelling in the sun, a man dying of loneliness.”
The Twilight Zone, The Lonely  (1959)
Season 1, Episode 7 written by Rod Serling

We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age
The Heart of the Matter
Lyrics by Don Henley, J.D. Souther, Mike Campbell

There’s has to be a part of Spike Jonze that hates all of the comparisons being made about his film HerHere’s the short list I’ve read online; Weird Science, The Stepford Wives, Cherry 2000, Blade Runner, Pinocchio, S1M0ne, and of course, Electric Dreams. But as far as I can find, there is only one film that Jonze has publicly referenced and it’s a Woody Allen film.

“One of the movies I watched when I was writing [‘Her’] was ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ because that script is so incredibly written. …There’s a lot of talking about the idea of what the movie is about, but mostly the characters are plowing through the story, and taking you through the story, with their decisions. That was really inspiring.”
Spike Jonze
7 Things To Know About Spike Jonze Directing Her

I imagine there’s another part of Jonze that’s glad people are talking about his film. It’s engaging audiences. It’s starting conversations about what love looks like in the future. What it looks like today. And makes us wonder where all this technology is leading us.

“I think that the movie, to me, is more about our relationship to each other, and our need for intimacy and connection, and the difficulties within ourselves that make that challenging — and the limitations within ourselves that prevent intimacy or connection; when it’s that thing we need, maybe the most. And I think those are timeless things. That kind of loneliness and longing and need for connection, and what connection means and what intimacy means to us. So I think that the parts that are about technology and the parts that are about the way we’re living in this modern world are sort of just the modern set of complications.”
Spike Jonze
Interview with Luke Goodsell

So let me thrown in one more story echo to Her, and it’s one that aired on TV (The Twilight Zone) ten years on before Jonze was born. Written by Rod Serling, The Lonely is about a man sentenced to solitary confinement on an asteroid. As an act of compassion to fight his loneliness, a supply ship leaves the inmate a robot named Alicia. At first he rejects Alicia because she’s fake, but as time goes on he develops feelings towards her. (The whole 24 minute program is below and stars Jack Warden.)

Scott W. Smith

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Over the weekend I saw Saving Mr. Banks and enjoyed it immensely. And there is a line in the film—that I don’t think is a spoiler—that seems to be what the film was about.

“In every movie house, all over the world, in the eyes and the hearts of my kids, and other kids and their mothers and fathers for generations to come, George Banks will be honored. George Banks will be redeemed. George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”
Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in Saving Mr. Banks

That sounds like a pretty strong theme. And I’m fascinated by the topic of theme because I’ve read successful screenwriters and directors say these contradictory things:

A) I never think in terms of theme
B) I usually start with theme
C) The theme reveals itself somewhere in the writing
D) Theme is something the audience sees when the film hits the theaters
E) I avoid writing from theme to avoid the story being message driven
F) I have no clue what the word theme means

So one thing we can learn from Rod Serling, Alexander Payne, Francis Ford Coppola, and others is the process of screenwriting varies from writer to writer.  Which is why you have visually strong writers and dialogue driven writers.

Now I don’t think that Disney line is a direct quote from the Mickey Mouse creator, but from the imagination of the Saving Mr. Banks screenwriter Kelly Marcel.  I don’t know at what point she wrote Disney’s monologue—or if she even thinks that was the theme of the movie—but I do know she in facts does think in terms of theme.

“I’m personally a big fan of knowing what your theme is before starting. I think they can arise as you tell the story, but writing within and for a theme seems to me to help the process along. It allows for much more intricate storytelling, ways of speaking to the theme and letting your theme to speak to you, even unconsciously. I said ‘theme’ four times in that last paragraph. I shouldn’t be allowed to be a writer.”
Screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks, Fifty Shades of Grey)
Go Into the Story Interview with Scott Myers

Related Posts (and a ping pong of views on theme):

Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
More Thoughts on Theme
Theme=What Your Movie is Really About
Theme=Story’s Heart & Soul
Diablo Cody on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme
Shane Black on Theme
Wes Anderson on Theme
Lawrence Konner on Theme
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness
William Froug on Theme
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles
Diane Frolov & The Theme Zone
Theme vs. Story
“Network” Notes by Paddy Chayefsky
Writing and Directing “Out of Africa”
Serling vs. Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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Several years ago I added the section of postcards to this blog as a shorthand way of keeping this blog rolling when things get super jammed. And they mix it up a little, but sometimes I find that even in a simple photo I can find a tie in to one of the themes of this blog.

Today’s theme I’m tapping into is source. Go back on any writer you admire and see if you can find a source of their inspiration. Often there are a mix of sources that made them become a writer such as the hometown they were raised in (as in Rod Serling’s case), but sometimes it’s singular—perhaps an event, a situation or a teacher.

Today’s photo is just a simple unretouched iPhone photo I took at sunrise Wednesday morning on the last day of a four day shoot I did at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida. Shingle Creek is believed to be the northern most waterway of the Everglades. It’s hard to believe that though I was raised in Central Florida I had never heard of Shingle Creek until this shoot popped up. It’s also hard to believe this creek—this swamp area— is just about a mile away from International Drive—which is one of the most touristy areas of the country—if not the world.

photo-5

Related Post: Rod Serling’s Binghamton Roots

Scott W. Smith 

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Big is one of those rare films that will tickle the funny bone and touch the heart.”
Movie critic Peter Travers (then with People magazine)

“(As a screenwriter) I’m in that emotional place where there is room for idealism. In Big (1988) and Dave (1993) there is a similar question being asked: Is innocence redemptive? And I want people to come away with renewed optimism.”
Four-time Oscar nominated producer/screenwriter Gary Ross (Seabiscuit)
1993 LA Times article 

The following exchange between screenwriters Anne Spielberg and Gary Ross can be seen on the second disc of the expanded edition of Big. The 1988 film brought the screenwriters an Oscar nomination, as well as landing Tom Hanks his first Academy Award nomination.

Gary: If there was a punch line on top of the situation where you could feel the writer—we’d yank it out.  If you were organically laughing at the situation, then than was great, that’s where the comedy should come from. If we went through pages and pages (in reading the script for Big) when you weren’t laughing, that was okay.

Anne: And that’s what gave the poignancy to it—that you’re always on that edge of being a kid on his own, and he can’t go home again. There’s always that little moment of sadness just right around the corner.

Gary: And under a lot of the movie there is a lot of sadness. A loss of childhood is a wonderful and sad thing, and I think we respected both of those emotions. And I think one of the things we did that was good was when the story wasn’t funny to us, but was true to the story—that was okay.

An interesting sidenote to the casting of big; Tom Hanks originally turned now the role in Big, and Anne and Gary (and director Penny Marshall) were working with Robert De Niro to play the role of the boy who wakes up a man. Imagine how different that film would be.

And way back in 1959 a Twilight Zone episode written by Rod Serling called Walking Distance first aired. It’s the story of an ad man who mysteriously returns to his childhood town—and nothing has changed. Rod said it was one of his most personal episodes and the theme of returning to one’s youth was never far from his thoughts. You can read that script at rodserling.com. The small boy in the clip below from that episode was played by Ron Howard.

(Yes, Hollywood is one big family–Ron’s dad, Rance Howard, is an actor, Anne’s brother is Steven, and Gary’s dad, Arthur A. Ross, was a screenwriter —deal with it. Write a script as good as Big and you’ll be in the family as well. One more reason Diablo Cody should be your screenwriting hero—a total Hollywood outsider…until she had a hit film and won a Oscar.)

I think the Big commentary by Anne and Gary is the single best commentary I’ve ever heard on a movie from the perspective of a screenwriter, because it is the only one I know that has the original recordings of the creative process as they developed the story right out of the gate.

Related posts:

It Takes Guts to be a Screenwriter (Gary Ross quote)

Rod Serling’s Binghamton Roots

Writing “Seabiscuit”

The Juno—Iowa Connection

Scott W. Smith

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One of the great things about listening and reading about writers talking discussing the writing process is you see how everyone’s approach is different. Some write in the morning, some at night, some write quickly in bursts and others methodically take their time. Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) was very successful writing from theme, but fellow Syracuse University grad Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men) has a little different perspective on theme:

“When you’re talking about things like theme you have to be really careful because that’s not what’s going to make the car go. Okay? It’s what’s going to be what makes the car be good and give you a good ride. But that’s not what’s going to make the car go—at least not for me. You know, everybody writes different. But for me I have to stick—really closely, like it’s a life raft— to intention and obstacles. Just the basics of somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it. Make sure you have that cemented in place. Themes will then become apparent to you and you can hang a lantern on the ones you like. Bring them into relief, you can get rid of the ones that aren’t doing you any good and you can paint the car and make it look really nice. But the car isn’t going to turn over unless you see to the basics of drama, and drama is intention and obstacles, somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it.”
Aaron Sorkin
Creative Screenwriting podcast interview by Jeff Goldsmith
December 24, 2010

Related Post: Screenwriting Via Index Cards (Touches on the writing process of Aaron Sorkin.)

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