Ron Fogelman is the producer behind bringing the legendary show The Twilight Zone to the stage. The show can be found at the Ambassadors Theatre, London, until June 1st 2019. We caught up with Ron to find out more about how he did it.
STARBURST: How did you get involved with the Twilight Zone?
Ron Fogelman: If you’re going to blame anyone, blame my kids. In our household I’ve got three kids. And there’s some amazing stuff coming out these days. Because you’ve got Netflix and Amazon you’re surrounded by content. It’s hitting you from every direction. I grew up when they were just three channels on the telly and on a Saturday afternoon I didn’t have a choice. I’d watch a Western, or sci-fi, or a drama or a Hitchcock film. And you get a broader view of what you like. And you get used to older films which I think is a skill you have to develop when you’re younger.
I was very keen to have our kids to see lots of different film making material, just so they have the change to see it. So we’ve done everything from Billy Wilder to Frank Capra to David Lean. Within that sort of spirit I was looking at my boxed set of Twilight Zone. I wondered what my kids would make of it. I carefully selected some stories. What amazed me was the immediate effect. They were so well crafted and timeless in appeal. That’s where it started.
How would you define The Twilight Zone?
It’s a different kind of story-telling. The show often gets labelled as horror or science fiction, but I think it transcends that. If you look at the horror label they are two kinds. One where I go Boo! And you get a short adrenaline burst and you go that was fun. Your body acclimatises to it and you forget about. Then there’s what the Twilight Zone does; it looks at those things that unsettle you and unnerve you. Things that you try to bury. Through very careful surgery, it digs in and twists. It’s what it leaves behind that’s really matters.
How did you get started in this industry?
I always knew I wanted to work in entertainment and I’m a passionate devotee of genre. In the late ‘80s as I was getting into the business it was a period of change, and I wanted to use my mix of creative and business skills. I joined the FTSE100 company Rank which at the time one of the best collections of UK films, which is now owned by ITV. It was investing in new movies and that was my first job in the industry. I then went on to Polygram, which then went onto become part of Universal studios and I became a suited executive for them. Quite often you’ll have an amazing piece of material such as The Big Lebowski, but it’s one thing having the script and another thing to sell the licensing rights. You have to call on your storytelling skills because you’re trying to encapsulate what this project will become to people who are very cynical and will assume that everything will be a failure until proven otherwise. That was really where I started with the business.
How much did you sharpen those skills?
I wanted to make sure I understood the creative side of things, so initially I read about a thousand scripts. I realised I was turning into a poor man’s critic; I could sense when something was good, but if something was not quite good enough, I didn’t have the skillset. I didn’t want to sit with the writer and say ‘I don’t like that page, why don’t you make it blue’. I needed to understand how writing works. So I started reading up on it and I wrote an adaptation as an exercise. It eventually led to me working with a friend of mine who’s a very good graphic novel writer, a guy called Andrew Donkin. He’s got a very good book out this year called Illegal. We did spec scripts for Batman: The Animated Series. We sent of a script, it was called Right man for the Job to Allan Burnett and Bruce Timm. It went to LA. I didn’t have an agent. I wrote an impassioned letter and within 24 hours I got a called saying that he really want to work with me. Which is one of those things you don’t normally get. At that time Batman had run its course and they were looking to develop Superman the Animate series. We were very lucky as we got to work with Paul Dini on an episode called the Toyman. It was brilliant. I have some of the cells from that on the wall of my office.
And how has this lead to this?
It’s a strange life. I think it lends towards producing because Producer is not a job description. it’s not something you can train for. You have to understand production, financing, distribution, marketing, finance and talent. Very few people get to build up those skills. Thankfully because of the diverse things I’ve done its helped produce this show.