Mr. Johnson was one of the principal writers on Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone”, writing both stories and screenplays for such legendary episodes as “The Four of Us Are Dying”, “Kick the Can”, “A Game of Pool”, and “Nothing in the Dark”. He also was the writer of the first regular episode of Star Trek to air, “The Man Trap” and the feature films “Logan’s Run” (he co-wrote the novel the film was based on) and “Oceans 11″. He was part of a group of Southern California science fiction writers that included Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury and Charles Beaumont. He collaborated with Ray Bradbury on the story for “Icarus Montgolfier Wright”, an Academy Award nominated animated film produced by Format Films.
I came to the event with a bunch of questions for George, foremost of which was this: how does a dramatic writer fill in the details of a story without being boring? In George's Twilight Zone episode "A Game of Pool," the whole extended middle was a pool game. Now how do you make a thing like that interesting?
The answer isn't obvious. I'd just seen the episode and there wasn't a single second where the film was less than fascinating, even though there were no fights, shouting matches, power outages or third characters. How did George keep the interest level so high? You're going to die when you hear what he said.
The answer in paraphrase was...personality...character friction...two appealing ideas in conflict...the gradual unveiling of an overriding great thought...and. of course, suspense about the outcome of the game and how the story's going to end.
Fine, I reply, but what kind of character conflict could possibly keep our interest for so long? One man's a seasoned pro and the other's a talented usurper. So what? What can you do with that, that hasn't been done a million times before?
George's answer was that I hadn't done my homework. I should have paid more attention to the human relationships on display in the street. It's not enough to characterize people as pro or usurper, or shy or extroverted. You have to try to understand why they're that way. Their outward actions are a manifestation of their inner ideas about the world. Exactly what are those ideas? What happens when those ideas are challenged? It's not anger, it's something more interesting.
Holy Cow! When all those things come into play, the task of filling up the middle of the story seems like fun. In fact, the middle now becomes the most interesting part. Thanks, George! I'll never look at that problem the same way again!
BTW: are these theories relevant to animated comedy? Mmmmmm...maybe not exactly. Cartoon comedy has its own rules. But they're still very, very interesting, you have to admit.