Today’s exhibit in my month-long dive into the Writer’s Digest archives is a Q&A with screenwriter Rod Serling. This ran a year before The Twilight Zone debuted on network TV. I apologize for my lack of sticking to any sort of logical or chronological order with these excerpts. I guess I’m not that linear after all.
Anyway, here is Rod Serling for your reading pleasure:
[from Writer’s Digest June/July 1958: one year before The Twilight Zone first appeared on TV)
Question: Do you ever write your story with a particular actor or actress in mind?
Answer: No. There are simply too few top-rate actors and actresses around to be able to do that. Usually, I have as many as three or four of one type of actor or actress to fill the part.
Question: You had only two or three credits and were able to start right in with a top agent. How?
Answer: I started writing for TV in 1949 when even the large networks weren’t sure what a TV writer was. An impressive list of credits was not required to work with a smart agent then.
Question: Are you able to write, well, anything you wish?
Answer: Fear keeps you from writing just anything. You can’t fight a story out. I guarantee that if you sweat and worry, you’ll never make it.
Question: What are some of your weaknesses?
Answer: Plotting and writing about women. I can’t get close up to a woman and study her emotions and what she thinks. I can’t write a love scene without blushing. I feel that I’m barging in without being invited.
Question: Does the beginning writer have a better chance to sell the ½-hour show, the hour show or the 1 ½-hour show?
Answer: The ½ hour show is easiest for the beginner, because there are more of them. The 1 1/2 show is almost impossible to break into for the beginning writer.
Question: How many credits must a writer have today before being able to work with a top agent?
Answer: God only knows. Of course, magazine credits are good and the more known the magazine to which you contribute, the better become your chances.
Question: Will producers read unsolicited scripts?
Answer: If a writer doesn’t have an agent, it’s definitely best to query a producer before submitting a script, even an outline. Another point to remember in preparing your TV script is to leave the directing to the directors if you are not familiar with the business directions. A story is used if it has something good, regardless of the lack of technical TV knowhow.
Rod Serling is not overly enthusiastic about the controlled effect TV has on writers (the restrictions sponsors demand and the reluctancy of TV producers to produce controversial shows). However, he says, “There’s something opiatic about TV. When people take off their shoes and relax in their living rooms, it’s difficult to prod them into thinking. Yet, if there’s any art form that can influence people everywhere, it’s TV. It’s so constant in its existence. It’s always there.”
More of my archive digging finds tomorrow, so stay tuned.