August 25, 2013

'Twilight Zone' Creator Rod Serling Shares Great Screenwriting Insight in Final Interview

To many he's just that eerie, stilted voice of The Twilight Zonebut to others he was an incredibly talented writer and mind behind one of the most popular TV shows of its time -- and still today holding its own. Rod Serling was widely celebrated, winning 6 Emmies, the Peabody, 2 Golden Globes, and 2 Writer's Guild of America awards during his unfortunately short career. Three months prior to his death, Serling gave his final interview in which he talks at length about screenwriting: his process, his motivation, and how he dealt with rejection early on in his career.

Many of us grew up watching and enjoying The Twilight Zone, unfortunately for those in my generation, we could only experience it through reruns on basic cable -- probably during the most monotonous hour of a Sunday afternoon. The show has a massive cult following today and is considered a mainstay of pop culture. But, what of the man behind it all?

Serling offers great insight in this expansive interview -- questions ranging anywhere from how important he thinks screenplays are to production to who or what he'd like to be if reincarnated. The most intriguing of them, though, center around his craft of screenwriting.

When asked why he writes, he replies:

Why do I write? I guess that's been asked of every writer. I don't know. It isn't any massive compulsion. I don't feel, you know, God dictated that I should write. You know, thunder rents the sky and a bony finger comes down from the clouds and says, "You. You write. You're the anointed." I never felt that. I suppose it's part compulsion, part a channel for what your brain is churning up.

Another question that every writer is asked is about their process. Serling admits that he doesn't find any enjoyment in "the process," rather in finding that it "zings" or has "great warmth and import" -- and is successful, of course." He describes his writing habits: 3 hours of writing per day, but describes his "pre-writing routine" as "endless."

Recalling back to his early days as a writer, Serling remembers feeling the painful sting of rejection, but insists that the sting becomes less severe over time -- especially if you're financially stable:Rod Serling banner

It's gotten easier because now it's only a blow to ego, it's no longer a blow to pocketbook. I'm sufficiently independent to know that I can live well and comfortably all the rest of my life whether I'm rejected or not. In the old days, Linda, you were rejected, and not only was a piece of your flesh cut to pieces, your pocketbook was destroyed. You know—you don't have bread for rent -- You can become much more independent, much more courageous with a bank account. And also, much more independent and self-reliant when you know you have money behind you. But rejection is still rejection. It's a very difficult, bleeding process.

This struck me as a pretty whimsical stance for a military man who admits in the interview that he can't remember the last time he cried: when asked if he had anything encouraging to say to screenwriters going through endless rejection, he replied:

Somehow, some way, incredibly enough, good writing ultimately gets recognized. I don't know how that happens but it does. If you're really a good writer and deserve that honored position, then by God, you'll write, and you'll be read, and you'll be produced somehow. It just works that way. If you're just a simple ordinary day-to-day craftsman, no different than most, then the likelihood is that you probably won't make it in writing. You're going to wind up either getting married, working for an insurance company, joining the regular army, or what-all. But if you have a spark in you, a cut above the average, I think ultimately you make it.

Although he may not be the quintessential screenwriting sage we'd typically go to for insight, there is much to be learned from Serling, especially from his interview.

What do you think about Rod Serling's thoughts on screenwriting? What stuck out to you? Let us know in the comments.

Link: Rod Serling's Final Interview -- Rod Serling Memorial Foundation

Your Comment

15 Comments

That eerie, stilted voice was a familiar one around our house. I grew up watching original episodes of Gunsmoke, Andy Griffith and Twilight Zone. I, especially, liked it when, in later years, he appeared smoking a cigarette. I remember watching Dean Martin smoking and drinking martinis on his show.

Thanks for posting something on Rod. He's an American treasure.

August 25, 2013 at 8:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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not at all being a jerk, but that youtube vid of the intro is not the real intro, it's someone's like student animation project to recreate it.

August 25, 2013 at 9:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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that's the exact same one used on the Tower of Terror in Disney World, so I think you might be mistaken

August 25, 2013 at 11:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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@Jaan you are totally right. That one is for sure not the original. Orignial was much more classic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ny7uGEPgoXk

August 26, 2013 at 9:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I couldn't find an original that I could embed...so, I guess we'll have to make due :)

August 27, 2013 at 3:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

I think Twilight Zone episodes are totally and fully complete little filmmaking tutorials. They fire on all cylinders of the production process. Excellent writing of course, but also perfect direction, staging and camera movement. I've been re-watching a lot of the episodes (the first two seasons are on Netflix!) and the thing that really drives these stories are the inner drives of the main characters. They are intense. They have this deep longing for something, a dream that was never realized, or an obsession they can't let go of, and then they have to run through these delightful little psychic obstacle courses before they reach the end. And the end is always dynamic. Things have shifted and important lessons have been learned so the final reveal is quite satisfying. And it all feels quite honest, fully earned and not just an overblown melodrama.

August 26, 2013 at 2:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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earnestreply

Cool post

August 26, 2013 at 3:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

And let us remember that Serling also did the screenplay for the Oscar nominated curio Seven Days in May. The Twilight Zone was a great series; there were times when Serling's writing seemed to be a parody of himself, but he must have been burning the candle late many times. There were other great writers on the series too - some of the dark moody episodes were written by Charles Beaumont who knew he was dying in his twenties.
You guys have opened a can of worms with this article (but many thanks). I am now reminded of The Outer Limits, and perhaps in some ways these shows were a springboard for the original Trek.

August 26, 2013 at 6:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Saied

Twilight Zone is one of my all-time favorites. And lo my chock of joy when I discovered that someone felt it was appropriate to re-issue the whole series in PRISTINE 1080p HD scanned from the original 35mm negatives (except of course those few episodes where the producers tried to go the cheap route with early video-tech). And with literally tons of extra features in 5 quite heavy box-sets. I've almost made it through the first season in this edition and wow. Not only is the writing as good as I remembered. But the cinematography really gets a chance to actually show off it's fine details, hidden from public view the last 50 or so years.

Wow, that sounded like a sales-pitch... :P

Anyways. I'll probably listen through that last interview. I mean... since the guy wrote the shooting-scripts for a vast majority of the episodes (even when he based it on other properties he usually wrote the adapted scripts) He could probably teach a lot of us a lot about how not to waste a minute of screen-time (most episodes are barely 25 min long and has to set up it's world a long with telling a gripping story and include the usual intro-outro, act-break (commercials) and all things a modern (by that time) show needs.

August 26, 2013 at 11:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I hope you enjoy the episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" - for a certain type of humour it had me biting my lip at the end, one to watch lightly with friends.

August 26, 2013 at 3:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Saied

Discounting the past revivals of the show, there haven't been many true 30-min dramas - let alone anthologies - on the national TV since then, has there? The Hitchhiker was on HBO in the 80's. Tales from the Crypt. Anything else comes to mind?
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A neglected genre. If one looks at TftC, he sees some big time writers/directors involved - Walter Hill, Fred Dekker, Bob Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Howard Deutch, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Darabont. I doubt anyone would get them to do regular TV but an anthology is a different beast.

August 27, 2013 at 1:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Nice to see a tip of the cap towards Rod Serling. Richly deserved.

P.S. Chuffed to see him use "bread" in place of "money." That there is almost a trip to the Twilight Zone.

August 27, 2013 at 7:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Rod Serling's always been one of my writer heroes. He also wrote the screenplay for the original 'Planet of the Apes' film and a highly regarded TV movie called 'Patterns of Power'. An inspiration to all TV writers who came after.

August 28, 2013 at 10:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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David Anderson

Paul Glass who composed the wonderful series music is busy and living in the Italian Part of Switzerland.

August 29, 2013 at 5:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jeff hoffman

Every Rod Serling fans message to you all now you can follow us on So, if you're not on Whatsapp plus make sure to signup for it.

November 19, 2017 at 3:38AM

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