These days, fans know George R.R. Martin as a TV powerhouse as much as they know him as a prose writer. The celebrated author and editor behind things like A Song of Ice and Fire and Wild Cards is also the celebrated writer and producer behind juggernauts like Game of Thrones and its spinoffs, and it doesn’t stop there. Martin’s career has a rich history in both prose and screenwriting, and as the author recently discussed, it all goes back to the 1985 reboot of The Twilight Zone.
In a recent post on his “Not a Blog,” Martin elaborated on his support for the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike, and in particular his support for the WGA’s call to get rid of “mini-rooms” in which writers are called in for a brief time to work on scripts, then let go without any access to the production side of the TV process. To illustrate his point, Martin shed some light on his own TV breakthrough, which came after years of working pretty much exclusively in the world of prose.
George R.R. Martin recalls his experience on The Twilight Zone
“Much as I enjoyed television, I never dreamt of writing for it until 1985, when CBS decided to launch a new version of The Twilight Zone, and executive producer Phil DeGuere invited me to write an episode for them,” Martin wrote. “A freelance script; that was how you began back then. I decided to give it a shot… and Phil and his team liked what I did. So much so that within days of delivery, I got an offer to come on staff. Before I quite knew what had happened, I was on my way to L.A. with a six-week deal as a Staff Writer, at the Guild minimum salary, scripts against.”
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But as Martin explains, his work on the new version of Rod Serling’s iconic series didn’t stop at writing. Thanks to DeGuere, he was soon deeply involved in the entire production process for the episodes he was scripting, giving him a crash course in how TV is made.
“The moment I arrived, Phil threw me into the deep end,” Martin said. “I wrote five scripts during my season and a half on TZ, and I was deeply involved in every aspect of every one of them. I did not just write my script, turn it in, and go away. I sat in on the casting sessions. I worked with the directors. I was present at the table reads. ‘The Last Defender of Camelot’ was the first of my scripts to go into production, and I was on set every day. I watched the stuntmen rehearse the climactic sword fight (in the lobby of the St. Elsewhere set, as it turned out), and I was present when they shot that scene and someone zigged when he should have zagged and a stuntman’s nose was cut off… a visceral lesson as to the kind of thing that can go wrong. With Phil and Jim [Crocker] and Harvey Frand (our line producer, another great guy who taught me a lot), I watched dailies every day. After the episode was in the can, I sat in on some post-production, and watched the editors work their magic. I learned from them too.”
Martin went on to say that “no film school in the world” could have taught him as much as the practical experience of what the Twilight Zone production process taught him, and it was that experience that allowed him to move on to bigger jobs within television, including work on shows like Beauty and the Beast and, eventually, Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. In supporting the WGA, Martin argued that it’s vital for young writers just like he once was to have the same chance.
“None of it would have been possible, if not for the things I learned on Twilight Zone as a Staff Writer and Story Editor,” said Martin, who noted he “was the most junior of junior writers, maybe a hot(ish) young writer in the world of SF, but in TV I was so green that I would have been invisible against a green screen. And that, in my opinion, is the most important of the things that the Guild is fighting for. The right to have that kind of career path. To enable new writers, young writers, and yes, prose writers, to climb the same ladder.”
Classic episodes of The Twilight Zone pop up regularly in SYFY’s broadcast schedule, and you can check out the 2019 edition of the series streaming now.