Aliens: Making Aliens
a) This is the guy
Giler and Hill at the time had a company called The Phoenix Company.
In the summer of 1983, Larry Wilson was a development executive working for the company, searching for other writers.
He came across a script called The Terminator and when he read it, he found it electrifying.
He put it on David Giler's desk and said "This is the guy"
Giler along with Walter Hill and Gordon Carrol read The Terminator script and were very impressed.
They wanted Cameron and Hurd to come to see them and talk.
Gale Ann Hurd meanwhile was very busy in pre-production for Terminator so Cameron went in alone.
- Summer, 1983 : Larry Wilson, a development executive working for the Phoenix Co. (Giler's production company), was searching for writers for "Aliens." He came across a script called "The Terminator" by James Cameron and couldn't put it down. "It was electrifying," Wilson recalled. "I put the script on David's (Giler) desk and said, 'This is the guy.' " Giler and partners Hill and Carroll quickly agreed on Cameron, and he was hired to do a "treatment" (a short-form version of a script that lays out the story for a movie).(LA Times, July 24, 1986, 'Aliens': A Battle-scarred Trek Into Orbit by DAVID T. FRIENDLY)
By the Fall of 1983, they had a project for Cameron a futuristic update of Spartacus in outer space, he was supposed to come up with his own idea to pitch, and they would pitched their idea to him but the conversation revealed that they weren't seeing eye to eye on the whole matter.
Another project that they were developing at the time was a science fiction version of The Great Escape.
What they wanted for Spartacus in space was sand and sandals elements intergalactically dressed up, still literally with swords and sandals in the movie, which Cameron found idiotic, while his own pitch involved wanting to do a fundamentally different story told in primarily science fiction term.
He told them that it wasn't going to work, he was getting up to make his way to the door, but Giler insisted that he still wanted to do something with him.
Either Cameron asked "Are there any other projects that you might be considering?" or Giler said "We do have this other thing?" and that would have brought Cameron to ask "What's that?" to which Giler would have replied "Alien 3" or if a possibilities in the exact words that were exchanged mattered, perhaps Giler went straight to the answer to Cameron's main question with the answer "Well, there's always the next Alien"
Curiously Cameron didn't know about who the producers of Alien were, or at least he had a brain block about the whole matter here, and his brain was like a pinball machine going off.
- James Cameron: Now, picture my brain at that moment. It was like a pinball machine going off. I hadn't known Giler had been involved with Alien. I told him, "You guys have the rights to Alien?!?" (Aliens the illustrated screenplay, p12)
- Starburst: Did Walter Hill and David Giler come to you for the proposed Alien II based on the Terminator Script?
Jim Cameron: Originally they came to me to do a futuristic updating of Spartacus in outer space. It was through this that Alien II came up in conversation as we weren't seeing eye to eye on Spartacus. They basically wanted the same movie but with the sand and sandal elements intergalactically dressed up, while I wanted to do a fundamentally different story told in primarily science fiction terms (Starburst #98-99, Aliens , The Starburst Interview with James Cameron by Alan Jones )
by the fall of 1983, the year Cameron first talked to Giler and Hill,
Brandywine was focused on developing non-Alien-related projects. one was
a science-fiction version of The Great Escape (ultimately unproduced);
another was a sci-fi remake of Spartacus (also never made). Yet it was
precisely because of this Spartacus 'update' that Jamese Cameron had
been asked to met Giler and Hill in the first place (Aliens the illustrated screenplay, p11)
- Jim Cameron: This is Jim Cameron. I wrote and directed this film
back in '83, and directed it in '85 through '86. It was released in the
summer of '86. July 17th, if I'm not mistaken. It started as a
treatment. I was having a meeting with David Giler and Walter Hill,
talking about another project, and that pitch was not going very well. I
could tell by their sagging expressions that they didn't like any of my
ideas. But they had read my Terminator script and wanted to work with
me on something. I was getting up and making my way toward the door and
David Giler, one of the producers of the first film, said "We do have
this other thing", and I said "What's that?" He said "Alien 2. " (00:01)
And all the pinball machine lights and bells went off inside my head
but I maintained a straight face and said "That could be interesting."
And I suggested that I write a quick treatment, a quick outline, just to
give them an idea of what I might do with it. So I raced home and
stayed up for three days straight, drank about eight pots of coffee and
wrote a 40- or 50-page treatment. (Aliens Anthology blu-ray subtitles)
- James Cameron: My
Terminator script had gotten a good response at Brandywine, so I was
called in to pitch my idea on their Spartacus-in-space project. But it
became clear that David Giler wanted a swords and sandals-type film set
in outer space - with literal swords and sandals. That was a concept I
found pretty idiotic. It certainly didn't jibe with the pitch I'd come
up with for my own take on their remake, so I basically told them it
wasn't going to work and got up to leave the meeting. But Giler insisted
that he still wantd to do something with me. I asked him if he had
anything specific in mind, Giler replied, "Well, there's always the next Alien". (Aliens the illustrated screenplay, p12)
- Gale Anne Hurd: Walter and David have a company together called The Phoenix Company. They had a project which they wanted Jim to do - a futuristic updating of Spartacus. They had read The Terminator script and were very impressed. As I was busy putting together the pre-production on Terminator, Jim met with them, was pitched the Spartacus idea, and didn't immediately respond to it. So, he asked if there might be any other projects they were considering. Then they said, "Well , there is the sequel to Alien." Jim said "ALIEN was one of my favourite films of all time, and I would really love to have a shot at cracking the story." Because at the time, it really hadn't been cracked. No one had come up with an approach that was satisfactory to all the various creative individual involved. ( Starlog, May, 1986)
- James Cameron: Alien was a watershed in science fiction film making. A truly seminal moment, in fact, along with 2001, Alien is my favourite science-fiction film. (Aliens the illustrated screenplay, p12)
Cameron asked whether Brandywine had any ideas for an Alien sequel.
Giler handed him a one paragraph story outline that near enough read "Ripley gets rescued and goes back to the planet with a bunch of soldiers, They are attacked and eaten" and concluded with the sentence "And then some other bullshit happens."
He thought that this trivialised the entire process of actually working out what the story should be.
then enquiring whether Brandywine had any ideas for an Alien sequel,
Cameron was handed a typed, one paragraph story outline by David Giler. (Aliens the illustrated screenplay, p12)
- James Cameron: That outline said something like " Ripley gets rescued and goes back to the planet with a bunch of soldiers. They are attacked and eaten." That was pretty much it. Except that - and I'll never forget this - the outline concluded with this sentence; "And then some other bullshit happens. " Which I thought trivialised the entire process of actually working out what the story should be.(Aliens the illustrated screenplay, p12)
Cameron had written a script originally called ET, but once he found out that Steven Spielberg was making his own movie with that title, he decided to change it to Mother, set in the future.
It featured a character very much like Ripley, and had a creature that was a sort of an alien queen that would be known as "Mother".
It ended with a final battle between the protagonist encased in a suit that Cameron would later in Aliens call called a power loader, and there creature known as 'Mother'.
Meanwhile at the end, the entire Venus-based complex where the humans were based in the story started falling apart, with the structure being wrecked by super-heated gases boiling up from Venus' interior, and Cameron would make this due to the Atmosphere Processor for Aliens
- James Cameron: Right after my meeting with Brandywine, I pulled something out of my files that had been inspired by Alien. I'd written it years earlier, it was originally titled ET. But when I found out that a guy named Spielberg was making his own movie called ET, I changed the title of my ET to mother. And mother already had most of the structure, characters and key scenes that would later show up in Aliens. I didn't tell Brandywine that, though, I simply added the character of Ripley, changed the title from Mother to Alien II, and came back to Brandywine a week later with a 42-page outline. (Aliens the illustrated screenplay, p12-13)
- Mother, like Aliens, was set in the future. Its story took place on the planet Venus, and concerned an off-world mining operation. (Aliens the illustrated screenplay, p13)
e) Adapting Mother
For the Alien sequel he read a lot of books on Vietnam because of the strong military storyline.
His earlier synopsis for Terminator ran for 45 pages, and here the Aliens synopsis was 42 pages and ended up being written within three days.
At one point, a deal was almost closed to see the rights to the sequel to producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna ("Rambo"), but the lawyers couldn't close the deal, so the prospects looked dim.
- James Cameron: When I'm writing, I have a period of assimilation where I absorb everything to do with the project. I read everything related to the subject. For Aliens I read a lot of books on Vietnam because of the strong military storyline. Then for three days I sit and drink 10 cups of coffee. Then I'll write the synopsis in a week. The synopsis for Terminator ran 45 pages. The Aliens synopsis was 42 pages. (Monsterland, p24-25)
- James Cameron: But Mother also featured a character very much like Ripley, had its own type of Alien Queen, and ended with a final battle between the protagonist and 'Mother" while the main character was encased in what I'd later call a Power Loader. Also, at the end, the entire Venus-based complex where the humans were based in Mother started falling apart, just like the Atmosphere Processor dos at the end of Aliens. Except that in Mother's case, the structure was being wrecked by the super-heated gases boiling up from Venus' interior. (Aliens the illustrated screenplay, p13)
- Fall, 1983 : The 42-page treatment, written in three days, was submitted to Fox where, because of lack of support for the idea, the project went into its own form of hyper-sleep. Said Cameron: "An executive told me he didn't like the treatment because it was wall-to-wall horror and it needed more character development." At one point a deal was almost closed to sell the rights to the sequel to producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vanja ("Rambo") but the lawyers couldn't close the deal. Prospects for a sequel looked dim. (LA Times, July 24, 1986, 'Aliens': A Battle-scarred Trek Into Orbit by DAVID T. FRIENDLY)
- Jim Cameron: Really what I did was I adapted a
story I had already written, which was called Mother, which was an
"alien on a space station" kind of story. It had the power loader
machine in it. I had written this treatment a few months earlier. So I
adapted it, dropped Sigourney's character and a bunch of marines into
it, and in that one quick stroke created all the character names -
Gorman and Hicks and Vasquez and all those folks - and dropped it on
them a couple of days later. I think they felt like they'd hit the
jackpot. That was the film they wanted to make. So they authorized me to go ahead and start writing
the script. The problem was, that day I landed the job to write the
script for the second Rambo film. So I called them up and asked David
Giler what I should do. And he said "Don't be stupid. Take both jobs."
So I took both jobs. I also had to do a rewrite of my Terminator script
to start production in February, so I had a three-month period where I
had to write three scripts. So I decided that each script was gonna be
two hours long, so it'd be 120 pages. So I figured out the total page
count, whatever that is - I guess 360 pages. I divided the total number
of waking hours I had during that three-month period by 360 and figured
out how many pages per hour I had to write, and then I just wrote that
many pages per hour. (Aliens Anthology blu-ray subtitles)
By July 1984, Larry Gordon was hired to replace former studio production head Joe Wizan.
Finding few project in the production pipeline, he looked for possible sequels and came across the "Aliens" file.
He couldn't believe it hadn't already been done because in this business there were those decisions that one would agonize and sleep over, but this was so obvious to the extent it was a no-brainer.
Cameron finally made and completed his Terminator movie and released on 26th of October, 1984.
Upon seeing "The Terminator", Gordon agreed to let Cameron write and direct the script, with Gale Anne Hurd, as producer
: Independent producer Larry Gordon was hired to replace former studio
production head Joe Wizan. Finding few projects in the production
pipeline, he looked for possible sequels and came across the "Aliens"
file. "I couldn't believe it hadn't already been done," Gordon said. "In
this business there are those decisions you agonize and lose sleep
over, but this was so obvious. It was a no-brainer."Gordon, who
had worked with Walter Hill on "48 HRS.," revived the project and agreed
to let Cameron write and direct the script after seeing "The
Terminator." The deal also included Gale Anne Hurd, then Cameron's
collaborator and girlfriend, as producer.
g) Jim Cameron phones Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott had learnt that someone else was doing the sequel while he was prepping for the fantasy film Legend starring Tom Cruise and Mia Sara with Tim Curry playing the Lord of Darkness
When Jim Cameron knew that he had the job, he reached out to Ridley over the telephone.
Being very nice Jim said "Listen, this is tough, your beast is so unique. It’s hard to make him as frightening again, now familiar ground."
So he said, "I’m going in a more action, army kind of way".
Ridley responded "okay. "
He was actually very angry and hurt about this but he couldn't tell Jim.
With that Ridley thought to himself "Welcome to Hollywood".
When he came to see Jim's film, he thought that he had done a pretty good job
But Ridley knew that he had done something special with Alien that was a one off.
He felt hurt because he thought that he was damaged goods because he was trying to recover from Blade Runner.
He thought was a very special movie even if the previews were a disaster.
Perhaps it was as if he would have been too expensive a person after that film.
DEADLINE: They didn’t ask you back for the Alien sequel, which James Cameron directed. It’s very different, more of a roller-coaster ride.
SCOTT: Well, Jim is about that, the way he designs, his whole process is The Ride. As I learned somebody else was doing this, I actually had been trying to develop something. When Jim called me up and said, listen … he was very nice but he said, this is tough, your beast is so unique. It’s hard to make him as frightening again, now familiar ground. So he said, I’m going in a more action, army kind of way. I said, okay. And that’s the first time I actually thought, welcome to Hollywood.
DEADLINE: What was it like to learn about a sequel to your movie when your replacement calls you?
SCOTT: Jim and I talk often. We’re not exactly friends, but we do talk and he’s a great guy.
DEADLINE: How did you feel after you hung up that time?
SCOTT: I was pissed. I wouldn’t tell that to Jim, but I think I was hurt. I knew I’d done something very special, a one-off really. I was hurt, deeply hurt, actually because at that moment, I think I was damaged goods because I was trying to recover from Blade Runner. Which I thought I really got something pretty special, and then the previews were a disaster.
DEADLINE: But at the time Cameron called you, that’s enough to rattle the confidence of anyone. How did you get yours back?
SCOTT: Did a lot of pushups, play tennis, thrash the sh*t out of a tennis ball and look at the next movie. And I was already prepping Legend with Tom Cruise, Tim Curry playing the Lord of Darkness, and Mia Sara, who only did a couple of movies and decided no more. What I decided to do was something that ironically Disney hadn’t done at that point. And I always thought, why not do a live action kind of cartoon, kind of fairy story, which they didn’t go for. And of course, they do it now again and again, 25 years later. But in those days, I made it literally as the fairy story, with very little help from any digital work. I had to build the forest and the makeup on the fairies had to be real made up, makeup applied on the day. It’s remarkable. Tim Curry playing the demon … it was a success for me, just great. (https://deadline.com/2023/11/ridley-scott-napoleon-gladiator-2-joaquin-phoenix-interview-1235600742/)
Ridley Scott: Well, you know, the er Alien was a great franchise and erm
John Alan Simon: You never did the, you didn't do any of the others
Ridley Scott: They never asked. I thought, welcome to Hollywood, and that was the first lesson, you're in for the first lesson, I didn't even know it was happening until I found out so, I think I would have been too expensive, so I wasn't asked and erm, by then because I had done Blade Runner and da da da and erm, I bear no malic, erm, I was pissed for a bit though I'll tell yer, and erm, Jim did a good great job, that, I think gradually that one, it's a hard act to follow, that first Alien was good special because the beast himself. The cast was fantastic. Without that Alien, you wouldn't have had the same kind of movie, it's a monst.., I was going to say it's a monster, it was a beautiful monster, and er, catatonic when you, it was like as scary as hell (Source: Ridley talking about Alien in "Behind Closed Doors with Ridley Scott " BAFTA , The Landmark, Los Angeles , January 7th 2016, )