Prometheus : Jon Spaihts boards Prometheus

 
leading from
Prometheus: Jon Spaihts the Scriptwriter

 
a) Alien Prequel first mentioned to Spaihts
 
 
a.i) Coming for a meet up with Michael Costigan
 
Jon Spaihts wrote a script called Passengers back in 2007, and this became a large part of the reason he was brought in to Scott Free
 
He came to discuss with Michael Costigan, president of Scott Free, the various scripts he had written that they had read.
 
They were shoving comic books, and short stories across the table at him to see if anything sparked his interest.

They also owned the rights to certain books and, they wanted to rewrite certain movies, so they wanted to know if he had original ideas. 
 
It got to a point where he found himself giving his usual response to these situations which was "Well, I love your comic books and your short stories, but why don't you tell me you've got a story you'd like to tell and I'll write you a fresh one, I'll get you an original"
 
  1. Al Horner: Yeah, and it's curious like, one of my favourite things about this movie, it's kind of sense of defiance. I mean, it's in the life blood of this series to kind of switch up genres and surprise fans, like Aliens was a very action centred left turn compared to the lean, contained horror of the first film. And you know Prometheus at the top of the decade that would be defined by these franchises kind of attempting to rebottle and retread (7:00) the feel and story of the original movies that spawned them. instead, Prometheus was, was another left turn, it was this big philosophical treatise on that man and its maker, our proclivity towards mythology and all these different things. it operated at a wholey different speed to the other Alien movies before it. Was that something you kind of like aspired to from the start with Ridley or you know did the material just demand it. How did you end up switching lanes and kind of making a different type of Alien movie?

    Jon Spaihts:
    There are a couple of pieces to that. Um, the first piece is I think intrinsic to the premise and it was called out by.... no called forth by the... the nature of my way in. I took a general meeting over at Scott Free, Ridley's company and they were doing the usual general meeting stuff. They were shoving comic books, short stories across the table at me, trying to see if anything sparks my interest in (8:00) you know my response in those moments is always like "Well, I love your comic books and your short stories, but why don't you tell me you've got a story you'd like to tell and I'll write you a fresh one, I'll get you an original" (Transcript for Script Apart podcast Episode 41: Prometheus with Jon Spaihts  2022)  
  2. Filmmaker: So how did you get Prometheus?

    Spaihts: I went to a general meeting with Scott Free. They just wanted to meet me on the basis of things I’d written that they had read. As is often the case in general meetings we shot the breeze about a lot of different possibilities. They owned the rights to certain books, they wanted to rewrite certain movies. They wanted to know if I had original ideas.

    (https://filmmakermagazine.com/46440-prometheus-screenwriter-jon-spaihts/#.X02DttZ7n8M
  3. Variety mentioned that the script writer "is one Jon Spaihts has become a go-to-guy for space thrillers. After Keanu Reeves became attached to his Warner Bros. sci-fi script "Shadow 19," Reeves hired Spaihts to write the space journey epic "Passengers," which is berthed at Morgan Creek. 
     
    That script got Spaihts the meeting with Fox and Scott Free, and he won the job with an "Alien" reboot take that the studio and Scott loved. Fox has separately hired him to rewrite "The Darkest Hour," which Timur Bekmambetov is to produce with Tom Jacobson. Spaihts is writing "Children of Mars" for Disney and Scott Rudin, and he will follow by rewriting "St. George and the Dragon" for Sony and Red Wagon." (Jul. 30, 2009)
 
 
a.ii) Going back to the Alien universe

It got to a point when Costigan near enough mentioned "We you know what you're thinking, we'd like to go back to the Alien universe, we're not sure how".  
 
One might wonder where they had come so far with the story because Ridley had been working with different ideas over the years exploring the mystery of the space jockey, that what we see is a suit with something inside rather than the actual skin of the creature itself and there had been a previsitation from this species aeons ago in Earths history (See also: Alien: The end of the line, and back to the distant past)
 
They found that they couldn’t really go any further forward with the story they’d come up with, so they had to go back in time and so he asked Spaihts ‘what would you do in a prequel to the film Alien?’. 
 
By that time there had been four Alien movies, and that's not counting the Alien vs Predator movies, but Spaihts thought that the franchise felt pretty much played out to him and so the character Ripley was good and dead.
 
So he felt that the films' quality worsened with each sequel and so it felt like dangerous territory to keep going forwards.
 
He told them "The only way you could go with I think would be backwards"

They replied "we were thinking the same thing. we're looking at a prequel. Do you have any thoughts about that?"
 
He found that interesting because he hadn't prepared anything for that or contemplated the question on an Alien prequel previously but the question was instantly fertilising for him
 
  
  1. After going over a few other projects, Michael Costigan, president of the company, mentioned they wanted to revisit the ‘Alien’ universe,” the writer recalls.

    Acknowledging that the “Alien” franchise with Sigourney Weaver couldn’t extend any further into the future, Costigan and Spaihts agreed that the only way to revisit the “Alien” franchise was to go back. (https://variety.com/2012/film/news/prometheus-writer-on-the-origin-of-fox-s-alien-pic-1118053998/)
  2. Jon Spaihts:  I was brought abroad as the writer of Prometheus before it had that title, it was at that time the untitled Alien prequel, and I got the job almost sideways or accidentally. I had come into Scott Free, Ridley's company, to talk about anything and everything. It was a general meeting, they liked some scripts that I had written and so I came in and talked about different books, different ideas of my own and late in the meeting they said "you know, we'd like to go back to the Alien universe, we're not sure how", and there was at that time not really any way that anyone could see to run farther forward with Alien franchises as it stood, the sequels had become pretty strange and so the only way to do it was to go back in time and do prequels, something before that. (Screenwriters commentary for Prometheus)
  3. Collider:  How did you get involved with Prometheus?

    Jon Spaihts: 
    I had written a couple of scripts that had gotten the attention of the folks over at Scott Free, Ridley’s production company, particularly a science fiction epic, called Shadow 19, and a science fiction love story, called Passengers.  On the strength of those scripts, I was brought in to talk about finding something to do together.  It began as a general meeting, with books and comic books across the table, and they asked me if I had any original ideas of my own.  Late in the meeting, the fellow I was talking to – Michael Costigan, the head of Ridley’s company – mentioned that they had wanted, for a long time, to return to the universe of Alien and tell a new story, but that nobody had been able to crack it.  And, it seemed they couldn’t really go any further forward with the story they’d come up with, so they had to go back in time, and they asked, “So, what do you think?  (https://collider.com/jon-spaihts-prometheus-world-war-robot-interview/
  4. Spaihts:  Late in the meeting, they said that Ridley had been thinking for a long time about returning to the Alien universe. Since no one could see how to continue the existing franchise forward it would have to be a prequel, something set before the time of the first film, and they asked whether I had any ideas. I hadn’t been asked to prepare anything for the meeting or really thought about it before but I found that I had a lot of ideas.(https://filmmakermagazine.com/46440-prometheus-screenwriter-jon-spaihts/#.X02DttZ7n8M
  5. Screem: I read that not only are you the first of the two screen screenwriters on Prometheus but you also pitched the script to Fox originally.

    Jon Spaihts:
    It's true. I went to a meeting at Ridley's company, Scott Free (Productions), in what was probably late 2009. They were impressed by a couple of scripts I had written and wanted to see if they might find something to work with me on. They pitched me a number of things that they had in their hopper-books they had the rights to, films they were remaking - the usual general meeting. It was only late in the meeting  that the head of the company, Michael Costigan, to whom i was speaking, said they had been looking for a long time to make another movie set in the Alien universe, bit nobody had been able to crack the story, Everyone felt that the franchise has played itself out going forward, so the only way was to go backward in time, but nobody knew quite how to do it.  (Screem #24, April 2012) 
  6. Jon Spaihts: Erm, and so I was playing that game and at the end of the meeting, they said "We you know what you're thinking, well, we're going back to Alien", and I think by that time, there's always... there'd already been Alien 1 to 4, so that Franchise felt pretty played out to me, like er, Ripley rather was good and dead and it felt like that played an enormous number of notes and... and I think there had been a skid in quality from one and to the subsequent sequels and so it felt like dangerous territory to keep going forwards. i said the only way you could go with I think would be backwards and so they said "we were thinking the same thing." err, "we're looking at a prequel". Erm, "do you have any thoughts about that?", and that was interesting because I hadn't prepared anything for that or contemplated the question on Alien prequel previously (9:00) but the question was instantly fertilising for me. I guess a few things jumped instantly out of me.   (Transcript for Script Apart podcast Episode 41: Prometheus with Jon Spaihts  2022)

 
 
 
[006.jpg]
The Space Jockey wrapped in his chair in Alien (1979)
 
 
b) 45 Minutes Of Riffing 
 
b.i)Eruption of ideas
 
Actually Spaihts hadn’t been asked to prepare anything for the meeting and really hadn't thought about before but he found that he had a lot of ideas in the form of strong opinions riffed about it for 45 minutes about how one would do it, and what the secrets behind the first film would have to be. 
 
This riffing happened in much a similar way to the way it did for his earlier filmscript Passengers,
 
It wasn't some sort of superpower as such but it was one of those moments where if one is asked the right question and something leaps out fully formed.  

Memories of Alien and even Aliens to a lesser extent had lingered in his memory, so he did have some idea about the universe and the way it worked
 
 

b.ii) Outlining the story 
 
As he told his story, Spaihts outlined a story, main characters, set pieces, a mythology and generally fleshed it out in the room.

He quickly decided that for the story of the space jockeys to be meaningful, it also had to be the story of everyone, and
deeply enmeshed with the human story. 
 
That story would change meaning within everyone's life, things of such significance that people think of in their own differently and mankind's future. 
 
The great task was figuring out how to connect these alien tales to man's story past and future 
 
  1. Jon Spaihts:“I just started riffing about how you’d have to do it and what the secrets behind the first film would have to be, he says. At the end of it, he asked if I could write down what I said and email it to Ridley, who was editing ‘Robin Hood’ at the time. (https://variety.com/2012/film/news/prometheus-writer-on-the-origin-of-fox-s-alien-pic-1118053998/)
  2. Jon Spaihts: So I came in, they asked me if I had any notions on how to go back to do a prequel to the original Alien, and I found instantly that I had opinions about it, that I had notions although I had never asked myself the question or thought about it before, and I just started mouthing off, and I riffed for forty five minutes, (Screenwriters commentary for Prometheus)
  3. Jon Spaihts:  At the end of it all, Costigan looked at me and asked me if I would write that down for Ridley, who was then in the editing room working on Robin Hood (2010)

    Your reps, if you're a writer, your reps will always tell you not to write the story down and leave it behind, because people can steal your ideas and steal your work, but this was Ridley Scott, is I promptly wrote it down and left it behind. And after that things took off almost immediately. In something like ten days, I was sitting in a conference room with Ridley and the co-chairs of 20th Century Fox, and Ridley was no long talking about merely producing the film but directing himself
    (Screem #24, April 2012)
  4. Jon Spaihts:...part of another species of alien greater that our own. All the mysteries have alien players: the exoskeleton nightmare and giant pilot of the ship, the elephantine titan that was called the 'space jockey' in the fan literature. How do you make anyone care about events between creatures like this? (https://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2012/05/03/how-an-unsung-screenwriter-got-to-work-with-ridley-scott-on-prometheus-and-ended-up-riding-a-bronco/#110d8b9846a0)
  5. JON SPAIHTS:   It was interesting because a question I had ever asked myself or been asked before, and certainly nothing I had prepared for the meeting.  But, I found that, when the question was asked, I had opinions that were, in fact, pretty strong opinions, so I just started riffing.

    The original Alien left behind some tremendous mysteries about the universe and the world in which it was set, and the mysterious were provocative.  I followed a thread of thought into how those mysteries would have to be resolved.  That seemed, to me, to make the best sense, and I told the story for 30 or 45 minutes.
     
    (https://collider.com/jon-spaihts-prometheus-world-war-robot-interview/)  
  6. Spaihts: I talked for maybe 45 minutes and when I was done I had outlined a story, main characters, set pieces, a mythology and sort of fleshed it out in the room.(https://filmmakermagazine.com/46440-prometheus-screenwriter-jon-spaihts/#.X02DttZ7n8M)
  7. Filmmaker: What do you think accounted for your ability to do that on the spot? It is because you area a huge fan of the Alien films and remember their world so well? I’m a big fan of those films too, but to be honest it’s been a long time since I saw them and I don’t think I’d be able to jump into that universe at a moments notice.

    Spaihts: I think, yes, Alien and to a slightly lesser extent Aliens, have lingered in my memory, and so I did have some facility about the universe. But I also think some of it was pure blind chance. I don’t think I have some magical power to whip out a fully-fledged screenplay idea at the drop of hat every time I’m asked a question. This was just a question that hit me at a crossroads of my own fascinations. It was the right question to ask me. I’ve been asked the wrong question hundreds of times in interviews. I really don’t mean to claim some superpower — it was just a question that landed near a lot of things I love. So I was able to make connections between them and find my way into a story and mythology I found really compelling. It worked for me because I got excited. (https://filmmakermagazine.com/46440-prometheus-screenwriter-jon-spaihts/#.X02DttZ7n8M) 
  8. Scott: Before we get to Passengers, let’s jump into some of these projects you’ve worked on. Starting with Prometheus. What were some of the challenges of world building that you did when you were writing Prometheus?
    Jon Spaihts: It was getting to extend the fictional canvas beyond the borders of the frame of the original Alien movies. Scott Free Production wanted to go back and look at doing a prequel to the original film. That meant returning to Ripley’s original film and looking at what doors had been left propped open that I could go through and explore.
    Obviously, the origin of the Alien, the Xenomorph, was going to be the critical question. It was found in a derelict spaceship wherein we see the cadaver of an alien giant with an elephantine face, who’s clearly fallen victim to a Xenomorph himself.
    That was the vector. Whatever that giant alien was, the “Space Jockey,” he and his kind were how this thing got here. That meant the prequel really ought to be, in some respect, the story of the space jockeys, but I didn’t think it would be easy to make a popular film [laughs] starring a bunch of 15‑foot elephant giants.
    I quickly decided that for the story of the space jockeys to be meaningful to us, it also had to be our story, the story of humankind.
    Given the age of the wreck as it’s characterized in the first Alien movie, my first thought was that these ancient giants must have been the von Daniken‑style aliens who some believe helped to shape ancient civilizations, and raise our early monuments, and, perhaps, even to shape the development of the species itself.
    I imagined them as the Engineers who fomented sentient life on earth and then schooled that life into their own image, both cognitively and physically. I suppose the closing idea was that that elephantine alien face of the space jockey was merely a mask. Underneath it, to our astonishment, it would be revealed that they looked like us. Or, perhaps more accurately, that we looked like them.

    (https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/interview-part-1-jon-spaihts-5cf713ab14c4)
 






 
c) Heroine saves herself from a chestburster
 
What started to come up in his riff that would interest Ridley later was a scene where the heroine
is impregnated by an alien, that fact that no one had seen anyone survive the chestburster and she saves herself with the use of a medpod
 
Although in Alien Resurrection Ripley 8 there is a scene where she has the alien queen surgically removed in an operating theatre and the technology was available to use it on another character if they could get him to it in time. 
 
Here Spaihts asked what if there's a medical machine where she can cut the thing out of her, and so he described a kind of gory Grand Guignol sequence in which she excised what was at that point a kind of classic chestburster before it could tear her open.
 
The idea was that the real trauma is the Chestburster's exit wound, and having the thing inside the host isn't what kills. 
 
If one gets it out clean, the host might live and it was interesting to play with that notion. The heroine was going to be infected with a chestburster, and once the monster is pulled out of her, it's expelled from the pod and she pulls the canopy closed. 
 
She would be inside the pod for what might be another eight hours while the machine sews her up and heals her. 
 
She would come in and out of fugue state. 
 
When she woke up and looks out, the monster has grown bigger and bigger, going back and forth in the room.
 
When it's full sized, she watches it kill people through the glass.
 
Soon makes her escape, er in either case she ends up running bloody through the ship, bloody and half naked through the ship and thoroughly traumatised
  1. John Spaihts: Here's the scene that I think more than anything else that I think got me the job of writing this movie. pitched it in the treatment, sort of pitched it in the room the first time I was asked about the movie. What if our heroine is impregnated by an alien, we've never seen anyone survive, and she saves herself. What if there's a medical machine where she can cut the thing out of her, and I described a kind of gory Grand-Guignol sequence in which she excised er what was at that point a kind of classic chestburster before it could tear her open, because the real trauma is the exit wound,  having the thing inside you doesn't kill you, erm, if you get it out clean, you might live, erm, so it was interesting to play that notion, um and this scene plays very true in a lot of ways to the thing I originally described except that what comes is a more conventional eh, chestburster, and in my version of the scene, once the monster's pulled out of her, it's expelled from the pod, and she pulls the canopy closed, and then she's inside the pod for what seems like another eight hours while it sews her up and heals her, and she comes in and out of consciousness in a fugue state and as she wakes up she looks outside and the monster's getting bigger and bigger and going back and forth in the room and she's watching it grow up and eight hours later it's full sized and she's watching it kill people through the glass. (Screenwriters commentary for Prometheus)
  2. Jon Spaihts: Plays differently in this case, she traps the monster inside the the pod and she makes her escape, er in either case she ends up running bloody through the ship, bloody and half naked through the ship and thoroughly traumatised (Screenwriters commentary for Prometheus)
 
 
 
 
d) Costigan is impressed
 
At the end of it, Costigan asked him he if could write down what he said and email to Ridley who was at the time editing 'Robin Hood'  
 
In the film business, one was not supposed to write down their stories and leave them behind as a screenwriter if one is not being paid, one is supposed to only talk about it in the room.  
 
But this was an e-mail to Ridley Scott so of course Spaihts did go this direction or did he write everything down and leave it behind in the room 
 
  1. Jon Spaihts: and at the end of the meeting, the executive asked if I would write that down for Ridley who was still in the edit room for Robin Hood at that time, and you're not supposed to write anything down. There's a leave behind if you're a screen writer taking a meeting but of course I did because it was Ridley Scott and it went to him, they told me it wouldn't go to the Studio, and it shot instantly into the studio and up the ranks, and in ten days I was sitting in front of the two co-chairs with Fox and Ridley beside me pitching a movie. And I wrote the first draft in three and a half weeks, the whole thing happened incredibly fast (Screenwriters commentary for Prometheus)
  2. Jon Spaihts: At the end of it all, Costigan looked at me and asked me if I would write that down for Ridley, who was then in the editing room working on Robin Hood (2010)

    Your reps, if you're a writer, your reps will always tell you not to write the story down and leave it behind, because people can steal your ideas and steal your work, but this was Ridley Scott, is I promptly wrote it down and left it behind. 
    (Screem #24, April 2012)
  3. Jon Spaihts:At the end of that time, Michael asked me if I wouldn’t mind writing that down for Ridley, who was in post-production, at that time, on Robin Hood.  You’re not really supposed to write stuff down, as a writer, and leave the document behind.  You’re supposed to only talk about it in the room.  But, it was Ridley Scott, so of course, I did.  In a very short time, that document had leapt from Ridley’s hands into the studio structure and up the ladder.  I think it was less than two weeks, before I was sitting in a room with the two co-chairs of 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott, talking about a deal, and Ridley had turned from being merely the producer of the project to wanting to direct it himself.  After that, things moved very fast, indeed. (https://collider.com/jon-spaihts-prometheus-world-war-robot-interview/)
  4. Spaihts: Something like ten days later, maybe two weeks, I was sitting in a room with Ridley Scott and the co-chairs of 20th Century Fox, and we were doing a deal. From there I was outlining and then writing the script, and I worked through five drafts of the screenplay with Ridley Scott over a number of months.

    Filmmaker: What do you think accounted for your ability to do that on the spot? It is because you area a huge fan of the Alien films and remember their world so well? I’m a big fan of those films too, but to be honest it’s been a long time since I saw them and I don’t think I’d be able to jump into that universe at a moments notice.

    Spaihts: I think, yes, Alien and to a slightly lesser extent Aliens, have lingered in my memory, and so I did have some facility about the universe. But I also think some of it was pure blind chance. I don’t think I have some magical power to whip out a fully-fledged screenplay idea at the drop of hat every time I’m asked a question. This was just a question that hit me at a crossroads of my own fascinations. It was the right question to ask me. I’ve been asked the wrong question hundreds of times in interviews. I really don’t mean to claim some superpower — it was just a question that landed near a lot of things I love. So I was able to make connections between them and find my way into a story and mythology I found really compelling. It worked for me because I got excited.(https://filmmakermagazine.com/46440-prometheus-screenwriter-jon-spaihts/#.X02DttZ7n8M)     

 
 
 
 
e) Summoned to Ridley 
 
In a very short time, that document had leapt from Spaiht’s hands into the studio structure and up the ladder.  
 
Something like ten days later, maybe two weeks, he found himself sitting in a room with Ridley Scott and the co-chairs of 20th Century Fox, and they were doing a deal.
 
Ridley at the time had turned from being merely the producer of the project to wanting to direct it himself.  
 
After that, things moved very fast, indeed.
 
  1. Jon Spaihts: And after that things took off almost immediately. In something like ten days, I was sitting in a conference room with Ridley and the co-chairs of 20th Century Fox, and Ridley was no long talking about merely producing the film but directing himself (Screem #24, April 2012)
  2. Spaihts: The guy I was talking to, the head of Ridley’s company, asked if I would write the idea down so Ridley could take a look because he was still in post production on Robin Hood at that time. You’re not supposed to write down your stories and leave them behind as a screenwriter if you’re not being paid, but it was Ridley Scott so of course I did. Something like ten days later, maybe two weeks, I was sitting in a room with Ridley Scott and the co-chairs of 20th Century Fox, and we were doing a deal. From there I was outlining and then writing the script, and I worked through five drafts of the screenplay with Ridley Scott over a number of months. (https://filmmakermagazine.com/46440-prometheus-screenwriter-jon-spaihts/#.X02DttZ7n8M)

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