We proudly include Richard Matheson as part of the Sci-Fi Station - Sci-Fi Masters Series.
Richard Matheson has been called "one of the most important writers of the 20th century" by Ray Bradbury, and his work has inspired many other notable authors. Stephen King cites Matheson as "the author who influenced me most as a writer," and Dean Koontz says, "We're all a lot richer to have Richard Matheson among us." But it's the impact that his work has had on the popular consciousness that gives weight to Bradbury's praise. Even if you've never heard of him, you've almost certainly seen some of his work.
In addition to novels in the mystery, science fiction, horror, fantasy, and western genres, Matheson has been a prolific writer of film and television scripts.
Over a career spanning five decades, Matheson has won innumerable prestigious awards, including the World Fantasy Convention's Life Achievement Award, the Bram Stoker Award for Life Achievement, the Hugo Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Golden Spur Award, and the Writer's Guild Award. Born in New Jersey in 1926, Matheson has lived and worked in California since 1951.
Thanks to Paul Riordan - a Sci-Fi Station Contributing Author - for his fine articles and interview with Richard Matheson which we excerpt below.
-Arnold Leibovit, Director Sci-Fi Station
A shrinking man must battle his own cat and a spider for his very survival. A tanker truck relentlessly pursues a traveling salesman. The last man on Earth defends himself against a horde of plague-spawned vampires. These scenes are from, respectively, the movies THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), DUEL (1971) and THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964). What do they all have in common? They all emerged from the creative genius of one person - Richard Matheson.
Since the release of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN in 1957, Richard Matheson has created, for nearly 40 years, some of the finest screenplays in the horror/fantasy and science fiction genres, as well as some equally exemplary work on the small screen. He's one of the greatest SF/fantasy writers of all time, and his accomplishments span both the written word (via his many classic novels and short stories), television (where he wrote a number of the best-remembered episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE), and the motion picture screen, where his imaginative visions (starting in 1957 with THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) continue to amaze and delight us. In the 1960's, he brought us the classic Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations directed by Roger Corman - HOUSE OF USHER (1960), PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) and TALES of TERROR (1962) - plus such other horror gems as BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962) and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968). In the 1970's, he created some of the most memorable and successful television films of all time, including DUEL (1971), THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) and TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975).
In 1980, SOMEWHERE IN TIME lit up the motion picture screen, spawning possibly the first organization devoted exclusively to one film - INSITE (International Network of SOMEWHERE IN TIME Enthusiasts).
Just mention the TWILIGHT ZONE episode where the man sees a gremlin tearing at the wing. Or the one where a woman repels tiny invaders to her planet, with nothing but her broom. Or the one where a fight manager replaces his robot boxer in the ring. All of these sprang from the brilliant, fertile mind of Richard Burton Matheson.
Richard Matheson was born in Allendale, New Jersey on February 20, 1926. As a child, he'd already started off on a writing career, and had several stories and poems published in a local paper, The Brooklyn Eagle. His interest in fantasy also showed up early on, and his first professionally published story, "Born of Man and Woman," appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950. After penning a number of fantasy, horror and science fiction stories, as well as several novels, Matheson launched his screenwriting career with THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN in 1957, and a few years later, became the third most frequent contributor of teleplays to Rod Serling's THE TWILIGHT ZONE (after Serling himself and Charles Beaumont). Like Sci-Fi Master Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson has produced numerous works in a variety of genres.
In addition to his classic SF novels, I AM LEGEND and THE SHRINKING MAN, Matheson has written horror novels (HELL HOUSE), westerns (JOURNAL OF THE GUN YEARS, BY THE GUN, etc.), mystery/suspense novels (FURY ON SUNDAY, SOMEONE IS BLEEDING, RIDE THE NIGHTMARE) and romantic fantasies (BID TIME RETURN, aka SOMEWHERE IN TIME, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME). He also penned a nonfiction work on metaphysics, THE PATH, and a World War II novel, THE BEARDLESS WARRIORS. Matheson's film scripts and teleplays likewise run the gamut, and have included a serious film about alcoholism (THE MORNING AFTER), several Edgar Allan Poe adaptations (HOUSE OF USHER, PIT AND THE PENDULUM), comedies (THE RAVEN, THE COMEDY OF TERRORS) and such suspense/terror classics as DUEL, THE NIGHT STALKER and TRILOGY OF TERROR. Matheson's forays into science fiction include a number of short stories, several teleplays, and the aforementioned novels, I AM LEGEND (1954) and THE SHRINKING MAN (1956).
(NOTE: The remarks attributed to Mr. Matheson in this article are taken from two interviews I conducted with him - one in the early 1980's, the whole of which was originally published in 1998 in issue 28 of SCARY MONSTERS Magazine - and another I did in May of 1999, for a forthcoming issue of BARE BONES. Some material here also appeared in an article I wrote for MONSTERSCENE No. 9).
As previously mentioned, Richard Matheson's first published story was "Born of Man and Woman." This oft-reprinted tale of a mutant child born to normal parents originally appeared in 1950 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
MATHESON: I don't recall what the circumstances were of how I got the idea for "Born of Man and Woman". I think I just wanted to write a story about what would happen to an average set of parents if they had a monstrosity for a child. I did not mean for it to be science fiction. I assumed it was a fantasy, and as I have told people, I would not write it today, and I would not have written it for a long time in the past, simply because I could not have believed it with what I know now, having been a parent and having raised four children. I just wouldn't be able to accept the logistics of it, which would be unfortunate, because it works out pretty good, and it somehow became a classic in the field, even though it doesn't have that logic.
Matheson subsequently wrote numerous horror, fantasy and science fiction short stories, collected in such volumes as THIRD FROM THE SUN, THE SHORES OF SPACE, SHOCK, SHOCK II, SHOCK III and SHOCKWAVES.
His 1954 novel, I AM LEGEND, about biological war-spawned vampires, has become a Sci-Fi/Horror classic.
MATHESON: (I AM LEGEND) came about because, when I lived in New York, I watched DRACULA, the old Lugosi DRACULA, at a motion picture theater, and it just occurred to me that if one vampire was frightening, then a whole world of vampires would really be frightening. That was the derivation of it. I AM LEGEND has been filmed twice (first in 1964 as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, with Vincent Price, and later as THE OMEGA MAN, starring Charlton Heston), but neither version approached the effectiveness of the original work. Originally, the novel was to have been adapted by Matheson for Hammer Films under the title NIGHT CREATURES.
MATHESON: The Hammer Films version, which was 1957... I went over there (to England) to write. They told me that the censor wouldn't pass it. They did have rather strong censorship at the time. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea. When it was bought by - I forget his name - to be made over here, they told me that Fritz Lang was going to direct it, and it ended up with Sidney Salkow, and the film ended up very poor.
I don't think much of it (1964's THE LAST MAN ON EARTH) at all. It follows the book rather more closely than the other picture with Charlton Heston, but it does it very poorly.
THE OMEGA MAN (1971) was so far removed from the book that I couldn't even feel anger over it. It was just a total remove from the novel, and if people hadn't been told it was from my novel, they would never have known it.
I think probably (Charlton) Heston might have been more appropriate (as the protagonist, Robert Neville). If they had done my script as I had written it, Heston probably would have been pretty good. I always thought of someone like Jack Palance as being very appropriate, although there are other actors who could have done it. (Vincent) Price (was) too particular a kind of actor to be appropriate as just a hard-drinking, family-man type. I have never had a translation of either my book or my screenplay, regarding I AM LEGEND.
George Romero's 1968 zombie epic, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is closer in tone and spirit to Matheson's novel than any official adaptation.
MATHESON: I have no opinion about George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I watched it one night on television, and thought to myself, gee, that's awfully close to I AM LEGEND. He, I guess, prefers to believe that it's just a derivation, but it seems pretty close to me.
Matheson's first screenplay was an adaptation of his 1956 novel, THE SHRINKING MAN. It became the 1957 SF classic, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, directed by Jack (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE) Arnold.
MATHESON: I first started writing for films in 1955, when I sold my novel, THE SHRINKING MAN, to Universal, and did it on the stipulation that I do the screenplay.I've always liked motion pictures, right from childhood on, so I've always wanted to get into motion pictures. I didn't really push it. I did try a little bit before I went back East and wrote the novel THE SHRINKING MAN, but I never really pushed too hard, because I always sensed that it would be much easier to have a project that they wanted to buy that I could use as a wedge, and that's the way I did it. The final film does compare to the script, because that's the way the script ended up. It was revised by Richard Alan Simmons. He did demand - or he did have - a credit, and when I protested, I got solo credit, but he made certain changes. I don't know why they were made; I don't think they improved it in any way.
I wanted, at the time, to have the story structure follow the book, in which you would go to flashbacks, but they didn't want to do that, and accordingly, I think the first part of the film is the dullest. I tried to write my novel that way originally, interestingly enough, and it didn't work at all. I didn't think it had any interest, so I had to jump right into the main body of the story, and then tell the back story through flashbacks, which is the way I think the film should have been done, but nobody did films that way in those days. That was before the "jumping in time" process, which came into film later on. I never really watched Jack Arnold direct. I think he did a wonderful job on the picture. Certainly from the visual standpoint, from the point where the man becomes very small, it becomes fascinating to look at.
Matheson recalled these early days as a screenwriter at Universal-International in the 1950's:
MATHESON: It was interesting (back then) in that I would eat at the writer's table every day. They had a screenwriter's table - it's like we were in the back of the bus or something. Most of the writers that were there seemed to do nothing but talk about investments, and a lot of them are still doing pretty much the same thing today.
In the late 1950's, Matheson was contacted by Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson, the heads of American International Pictures (AIP), who were planning to make a movie based on Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher". Starring Vincent Price as Roderick Usher, and directed in Cinemascope by legendary cult film director Roger Corman, HOUSE OF USHER (1960) was a huge success, and Matheson went on to script three more films loosely based on Poe's work, PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), TALES OF TERROR (1962) and THE RAVEN (1963). Matheson never worked closely with the director on any of these films, but Corman stuck very closely to Matheson's scripts and utilized a lot of the camera angles suggested in them. Matheson enjoyed working with the actors, especially Basil Rathbone, a childhood favorite of his, who appeared in one of the segments of TALES OF TERROR.
MATHESON: I hardly ever worked with Corman. On almost all the scripts, I would discuss them with Jim Nicholson, mostly, sometimes Sam Arkoff. I would write the scripts, then Roger would come in and have some comments to make, and I would make changes, and then he would direct it. Sometimes I would go in and watch, but mostly I didn't, and that was the end of my relationship with Corman. I think he followed my scripts very carefully. For instance, in the first picture, he had never used a boom before, and I had a boom shot in (the script), so he used a boom in HOUSE OF USHER. I don't think any of the Poe films are first-rate. Some of them are more pleasant. I think the first one, of course - except for maybe some of the later ones that I didn't write - but in my particular case, it was the only one that had any relationship to Edgar Allan Poe at all.
During the course of writing the Poe pictures for AIP, Matheson grew weary of them and began to inject an element of comedy into his scripts. He turned THE RAVEN (1963) into a full-blown comedy, made even crazier by the fact that Peter Lorre would ad-lib lines like (while descending into Vincent Price's crypt) "Hard place to keep clean, huh?" Matheson also penned another humorous film for AIP called THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963), for which he also served as associate producer. This film featured Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone and an ailing Boris Karloff as undertaker and associates trying to create their own clientele. Matheson was very pleased with veteran director's Jacques Tourneur's work on the film.
One of Matheson's other script assignments for AIP was to adapt two Jules Verne novels, MASTER OF THE WORLD and ROBUR THE CONQUEROR, into a single film.
MATHESON: I have no idea whose idea it was; it wasn't mine. I did use both stories - I don't really remember how. I guess they (AIP) brought it (the idea) up, and there was a popularity for Jules Verne at the time. 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (were) around that time. Former Republic Pictures' serial director William Witney took over the directorial reins on this assignment, because Roger Corman was busy on another picture at the time.
Matheson indicated that Witney was not really all that enthused over this type of picture, and that he didn't seem to have a feel for it. As a result of this, and the lower budget, MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961) emerged as a poor second cousin to Disney's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.
MATHESON: They (AIP) followed my script closely. That was not the problem with American International. They never changed my scripts. The scripts were done almost word for word, but they were not done well. Now, in this case, they had such a limited budget that, although some of the special effects are nice - the ship is certainly marvelous - and (Vincent) Price is good... the casting (was) off. And they had footage they rented which had absolutely no relevance in the story. They were going over Shakespeare's Globe Theatre when they went to London, and they were using shots out of THE FOUR FEATHERS in Africa... if they had spent the money on it, it might have been better. I think with more money, certainly with another $500,000 anyway... if they could have spent a million dollars, and gotten a really tasteful, imaginative director, it could have been comparable to 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, because it had the same feeling, and the script was just as good.
Matheson had a much happier experience with another AIP film, BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962), which he co-wrote with his good friend, the late Charles Beaumont. Beaumont, like Matheson, was a regular TWILIGHT ZONE contributor, and the two writers had collaborated on scripts for a number of TV shows (although not on any ZONE's). Beaumont, who died tragically young of Alzheimer's disease, had also worked for AIP on the Poe series, and had scripted a number of fine fantasy films.
One night, while out having a drink together, Matheson and Beaumont decided to develop a script together for a film version of Fritz Leiber's classic novel of modern day witchcraft, CONJURE WIFE - a personal favorite of both screenwriters. Universal had previously filmed this tale in 1944 as WEIRD WOMAN, part of its "Inner Sanctum" series with Lon Chaney, Jr. This version was not especially faithful to Leiber's novel, and was little more than a standard 'B' programmer. The producers at AIP liked Matheson's and Beaumont's script a great deal, and they decided to purchase the film rights, which Universal still retained. This meant that the two writers would not get paid as much, but they both were pleased with the completed film. Entitled NIGHT OF THE EAGLE in England (where it was filmed), the movie was released to American audiences under the title BURN, WITCH, BURN (which was actually the title of a different fantasy novel, by A. Merritt, which had been filmed in the 1930's as THE DEVIL DOLL).
Matheson almost ended up doing the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS (1963).
MATHESON: Yes, I went to see Hitchcock, and it looked like there was a real good chance I was going to get it, but his agent didn't show up, and my agent didn't show up, and he apparently is a shy man, from what I was told. He looked a little uneasy, and I disposed of any opportunity I had to get the job by telling him, "Well, Mr. Hitchcock, I really don't think you should show too much of the birds," and that was it. He said, "Oh, no, no," and from then on it was downhill all the way. I think I was right to this day, because the best scene in the whole picture is when the people are trapped in the house, and you hear those crazy sounds outside, and the birds are pecking at the door. It's really frightening.
In 1959, Matheson received a call to view a TV pilot for a little show called THE TWILIGHT ZONE. He ended up penning numerous scripts for Rod Serling's original TV series, including such classic episodes as "The Invaders", "Steel" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". (The latter starred a pre-STAR TREK William Shatner).
MATHESON: I got started in television in 1959. I think the first call I went on was to watch the pilot for TWILIGHT ZONE. I was not a regular staff writer at all; I was just a freelancer. I would come in, pitch ideas, they would accept them. It seemed like I was a staff writer, because they were all written by (Rod) Serling, (Charles) Beaumont and myself, but I was not on a staff at all. It was all done on an individual basis. Rod Serling controlled the series much more so than NIGHT GALLERY. He read my scripts, I met with him and (producer) Buck Houghton on each script, and he (Serling) commented, and I made changes accordingly. There is no difference between writing for films or television, except as what is permitted and what isn't. It's the censor, I would say, that's the difference. And the commercials - you write to fit commercials, so they have these artificial breaks along the way. Sometimes these are not bad, because they're sort of like little cliffhangers. But they can become intrusive after a while, where the story just constantly breaks off.
Cemetery Dance Press recently put out a hardcover volume of Matheson's TWILIGHT ZONE scripts.
MATHESON: Oh, it's a beautiful book, I was very happy with it. What I wanted was that the pages read the same as the script pages. Actually, the credit goes to Stanley Wiater. I had tried to do this years ago. My agent could not interest anyone. Stanley was the one who brought it up with (Richard) Chizmar (at Cemetery Dance) and then asked me questions, wrote the introduction and everything. Yeah, I'm very pleased with it.
The classic 1971 telefilm DUEL, directed by a young Steven Spielberg, was scripted by Matheson from his own story (and based on an actual experience he had).
MATHESON: I was playing golf with a friend of mine (Jerry Sohl) on the day President Kennedy got shot, and we stopped playing the game in a state of distress over the assassination, and we were driving home through this mountain pass. This truck tailgated us through the entire canyon, and we both got enraged at him, and at the assassination and everything, and it struck a vivid chord in my mind. I wrote the idea on the back of an envelope, and then seven years later, I wrote a novelette on that story, which I sold to Playboy magazine. And then some producer at Universal decided that it would make a good movie. I didn't think it could be made into a 90 minute movie. But once I got started, it wasn't difficult. I had to actually do some cutting.
I think Steven Spielberg is a very good director. I didn't work closely with him. I met him once when he was shooting out on a highway, in the café, and I was told they just picked him off their staff at the last moment. They hadn't planned to have him in the beginning, and because he was out and away from the studio, they wouldn't really know what he was doing, and as a result of which, he had more freedom. The director, really, is like a traffic controller. They have created this mystique about the "auteur", which is total nonsense. They can be very skillful interpreters, and add - that's what I think Spielberg did in DUEL. He followed my script very closely, but he added to it, and that's what I think a director can do. A director can't do anything if he doesn't have a good script, as witness 1941, and I don't even think CLOSE ENCOUNTERS was that good. With a good script, he's a superlative director. He's got a wonderful eye.
In addition to his scripts for such made-for-TV films as DUEL (1971) and THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), Matheson also scripted the 1980 NBC-TV miniseries adaptation of Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES.
MATHESON: Some of it was good, some of it was bad. I was not totally happy with it. Some of it was very well done. Some of the casting was off, again, and some of the direction was off. Again, they had to do it on, really, a shoestring budget, because six hours on television, which is really four hours and 48 minutes, for the amount of money they spend, is not too much. I would say that sometimes the director (Michael Anderson) handled it, and sometimes he didn't. It was not a consistent piece of work. Everyone seemed ecstatic with my script. They certainly told me that they were, and I think it is a very good script. Again, execution, execution... this has been the problem I have had right from the start - execution of my scripts. I can go back 10, 15, 20 years and look at scripts, and they are almost invariably better than what showed up on screen.
Matheson also scripted one episode of STAR TREK during its first season - "The Enemy Within" - which involved a transporter malfunction splitting Captain Kirk into his "good" and "bad" selves. Matheson's 1972 TV movie, THE NIGHT STALKER, adapted from a novel by Jeff Rice, was the highest rated TV movie at that time, and led to both a sequel (THE NIGHT STRANGLER) and a TV series, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, which X-FILES creator Chris Carter has indicated helped to inspire his popular show, In fact, Carter even named the senator who helps Fox Mulder "Senator Richard Matheson".
Another TV movie, TRILOGY OF TERROR, starred Karen Black in several roles in three stories by Matheson. The first two were capably adapted by William F. Nolan, but this film is best remembered for the third story, "AMELIA", adapted by Matheson himself from his short story, "PREY". This segment was a taut, tense, compact tale of a lone woman terrorized by a demon-possessed doll, and is one of the most terrifying tales ever made for the tube. In the early 1970's, Matheson adapted his classic horror novel HELL HOUSE to the screen as THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973). The movie starred Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Pamela Franklin and Gayle Hunnicutt as a quartet of paranormal investigators confronting dark forces in a notoriously haunted house. While an excellent film, it is often regarded as considerably less effective than the original book.
MATHESON: When they say (it's) "pretty weak", I think they're only referring to the fact that I've taken out all the sex. When I did the script, I was working on it with (producer) Stanley Chase, and he said that in light of sexual proclivities in the world and in motion pictures, that for us to just say orgies were going on in this house would have been, oh whoopdeedoo, who cares? So, we just sort of eliminated that. The film is not a fair adaptation of my novel, but that's my own doing. I wrote the script, and I don't know what's wrong with it. I didn't like the picture, but I guess I have to take much of the blame for it. John Hough (the director) has done some really good things.
One of Matheson's happiest experiences involved his work on the 1980 time travel fantasy, SOMEWHERE IN TIME (based on his World Fantasy Award-winning novel, BID TIME RETURN). This was the first time he was invited to be on the set throughout the filming, so he himself could make any script changes (should the need arise). He even played a small cameo role in the film, as the "Astonished Man".
MATHESON: Directors never work(ed) closely with me on (the script), except for Jeannot Szwarc. I worked with him closely, but again, he directed it. He was in on the script from the start, and he was very faithful to the script. He did not capriciously change things as he went along. Of course, films are a collaborative effort. When a film is brilliant, there are a score of people who have contributed. I think the writer is the most important, because he started with nothing and made the blueprint, without which nothing is built. But after that, in the making of an excellent film, all the right steps have to be taken. And that is not simple by any means, which explains why there are so few excellent films.
Another of Matheson's favorite works, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, was recently filmed, starring Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding. Jr.
MATHESON: I was disappointed in it, because it changed a good deal of my story, and I thought by their desire to have the two children die before him - they did that because they felt that if she committed suicide and left children behind, the audience would not like her, which, you know, may or may not be true - but it made for terrible complications, I thought, especially when they decided not even to identify them in the afterlife but to have them disguised as various other people. It was the desire of Stephen - who's now Stephen Simon - who was Stephen Deutsch when he produced SOMEWHERE IN TIME - he always wanted to make it look like no other picture ever made, and in that, he succeeded. It looked like a Fellini tour of the afterlife. I (originally) did (a script) many years ago. Steve worked on my script for years. He was working for the Lucille Ball Company at 20th Century Fox, and I wrote an entire script, which Steve was very loyal to. We went several times to Munich to meet with Wolfgang Peterson, who was going to direct it, and he wanted somebody else to do the script, and Steve said no. So I can't blame Steve for going the way he did, because he couldn't get financing on my script. But it really would have been a better picture if my script had been followed.
My script would've cost them half the amount, because I was not interested in having the afterlife look so different that it would blow you away. That wasn't my point. My point was that the wife's afterlife experience, after her suicide, was, to her, still real life, and that the house you saw in that part was identical to the one you saw in the early part, except completely rundown and inoperable. Nothing worked, and it was just terrible, there were tarantulas walking around, which she was terrified of, and I spent actually a lot more time on his efforts to get through to her and save her. (In the film) her house in the afterlife looked like something in the London Blitz that had been bombed. It almost wasn't recognizable. When I first saw it, I wasn't even sure it was the same house. The special effects are so easily done with all these digital operations that they go crazy, and they forget that they're telling a story about people.
Matheson was much happier with the recent film adaptation of his earlier novel, A STIR OF ECHOES.
MATHESON: That (was done by) David Koepp, who did the screenplay for JURASSIC PARK. He made a picture that he wrote and directed called TRIGGER EFFECT. I saw it, and I liked it a lot. I read his script (for STIR OF ECHOES) and it follows my book much more closely than WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. Kevin Bacon is in it, and I think it's going to be quite good.
(Matheson later told me: "It is (quite good) - absolutely.") I also asked him what he's working on these days.
MATHESON: Well, my son and I just finished writing a ... I guess you'd call it a horror film - for Ivan Reitman, which hopefully will be made sometime. And I have a play. I made a book out of it - NOW YOU SEE IT. Obviously, you could tell from reading the book that originally it was a play. And there are a lot of people involved now - producer, director, magic consultant, lighting man, set designer... and now we're trying to find a theater and an actor, so it's conceivable that'll go on sometime.
Finally, here are some of Richard Matheson's thoughts on screenwriting in general:
MATHESON: A screenplay writer is the entire creative input into a film, until the director and the actors get a hold of it, except on those occasions when a producer puts genuine creative input into the script preparation. This has happened to me infrequently. To my mind, the ideal film consists of a very good script, that the director does not do any damage to, but enhances with an enlarged, augmented insight into how to present it visually. My scripts are written in a very visual way, and could be shot by someone who just followed my instructions, which has made me wonder at times why I haven't gone into direction myself.
For instance, they refer to it as Steven Spielberg's DUEL, but my script is very precise and detailed on the running of it. It's a very visual script. I think the writer will always be the major contributor. The director, for all his vaunted power in the business, is an interpreter, and the actors are interpreters. That's probably why writers have never been really accorded the respect out here that they should be, because they are the frightening ones. There is just a lot of blank paper. There's an entire industry sitting around on its hands, until the writer puts something on that paper. It gives them, creatively, a tremendous power over the industry, which the industry, I think, has always resented, and therefore, has tried to put the writer out of the way as soon as the words are on the paper.
One of my pet peeves is the fact that when people win awards - Academy Awards, notably - if it's based on a novel, they never mention it. It's as if the novel never existed. The screenwriter acts as if he's made it up out of his own head. Sometimes even the director acts as if he's made it up out of his own head. It's an ego problem, of course, but it's tremendously unfair, as well.
Screenwriting is still pretty much thankless and creditless, except for a few people who make themselves into personalities, or get reputations or names, but basically, there are people who go on, year after year, doing superb screenwriting jobs, and people don't really know about them. I think I have a reputation, but only in the business. Any name I have comes probably from my books or my short stories, at least in the worldwide sense, or maybe from motion pictures. And because I've been associated with a particular genre, but the director is still given the almost total credit. A new motion picture version of I AM LEGEND has also been off and on in development for the past few years.
Whether this comes to fruition or not, Richard Matheson will undoubtedly continue to be a major presence in the SF/Fantasy Film world. No other writer has scripted as many fine films in this genre. Matheson's work will continue to endure among fans and viewers of fantasy, sci-fi and horror on the large and small screen.
Paul M. Riordan is a freelance writer based in Maryland. He has contributed articles to several film publications, including FILMFAX, MONSTERSCENE, FILM SCORE MONTHLY, SCARY MONSTERS, IMAGES, A JOURNAL OF FILM AND POPULAR CULTURE and DVD REVIEW.COM.
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