a) Walter Hill is handed the script
Wall street Journal's claimed that Dan O'Bannon handed his script through the window with a
note on it "Please read me", however only the fact that someone handed a script through the window was quite true, but it was by the hand of Mark Haggard who was someone that Walter Hill was prepared to receive a script through the window from.
If it was during the Democratic National Convention, it might have been somewhere from 12–15th of July 1976
Walter's office was on the first floor ground floor of Goldwyn Studios, and after lunch one day he was sitting in his chair ruminating with the window open and so Mark a friend of his walked down the alleyway, stopped at the window and said "Walter!"
He handed the script through the window and Walter read it.
b) David Giler reads the script
Soon Walter Hill handed the script to his business partner David Giler, and he said to him "I may be out of my mind, the script is terrible but it has one great scene that is worth doing and tell me if I'm nuts".
The following night Walter Hill, as he remembers, was watching Jimmy Carter's acceptance to the Democratic Convention speech on TV and was quite happy to answer the phone when it rang and there was David on the other end of the phone and he wasn't amused.
David said" What are you? You are nuts! This is crazy!"
Walter then said "Have you come to the big scene?"
David replied "Yeah, yeah, yeah, the thing jumps out and is on his face"
Walter responded "That's not it"
David said "What's going to come, I'm already on page 90"
Walter replied "Keep reading"
c) Getting to the Chestburster scene
David went back to reading the script and came to the scene later known as the chestburster scene and he called him back and said "Well I see what you mean, No, no, no, I think you're absolutely right, this is terrific."
However the script, 165 pages long was not for David Giler, this own view was that it was a bone skeleton of a story amateurishly written, with the most boring dialogue that one would ever have heard in their life and was really terrible, a pastiche of fifties movies so awful that you couldn't give it away, with no characters, but the central ideas were sound.
If they made the film from the script as written, it would have been a remake of "It! The Terror From Beyond Space." Walter Hill had a similar perspective about the script adding also that it had a Jesus Gadzooks quality to it.
He thought though that the most obvious thing about it was the need to make a science fiction version of Jaws and that film had come out in 1975 so it was still fresh on the minds of the film world then.
As it happened Walter had been a big scifi reader as a kid and one of his favourite films was "The Thing From Another World" but other than that he was open to admitting that he had little background in science fiction and David had no real interest in sci-fi at all.
In the long run Walter Hill thought that this distance that they had from the world of sci-fi helped them to write their version of script without being too caught up by their sense of the unreality of the situation regarding such a thing as an alien monster with acid blood.
They took what they found to be an implausible situation and do what they could to make it sound real to them selves.
e) The script's pros
However regarding the original script, Walter felt that it was put together with a lot of low cunning, the real genius of the the Dan O'Bannon/ Ron Shusett story was that they had worked out the details and plot twists for this story of a space monster that could not be killed without endangering the astronauts life support system, so how do you destroy this creature, and at the same time, the beast was knocking the members of the crew off one by one, Agatha Christie style and Walter really liked this to the point that he saw it as the script's genius
f) The script's cons
However Walter Hill didn't like the addition of holograms and other material that seemed like the substance of pop culture, it really wasn't for him.
There was a genuflect to pyramidology as well with the alien eggs as the bottom of a pyramid. Once O'Bannon and Shusett's reached Brandywine and they contacted them, they asked O'Bannon not to write anymore, to stay away from pens and pencils altogether and it seemed to them that he didn't mind.
g) I owe it all to Agatha Christie
Picking up on the Agatha Christie comparison, back at the time, the author was hot property, a movie of "Ten Little Indians" was released in 1974 starring such actors as Herbert Lom , Richard Attenborough and Oliver Reed, where one by one, people are murdered. "Murder on the Orient Express" starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot in 1974 and they had another film "Death On the Nile" to be released in with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot 1978.
It would make sense to think that they could make use of the Agatha Christie similarities when making then film. Indeed Alien would of course be compared to Ten Little Indians in terms of its plot by Ridley Scott.
h) Heading to the next position
Soon they both shared this with Gordon Carroll the third partner of Brandywine. Walter was saying about the script to both his partners "If it were done on a sophisticated level, rather than as a lowbudget picture along the lines of The Blob, we'd have a truly extraordinary film"
They phoned Dan and Ron in and Gordon Carrol said to them, "We've read 300 scripts and this is the first one we've all agreed on."
And so they went on to make a six months option deal and Dan had the idea that he would get to be the director of special effects on the picture
They gave the original screenplay to the Fox studio as they had a deal with them and Fox read it and passed on it when it, a reason given was because of its gratuitous violence but Walter Hill's view about this was that it was too much like a low budget movie and well Fox were also notably skeptical about it when they first brought it to them because it was more difficult for studio people to see the value in this sort of thing than in for instance, a story about a housewife with a nervous breakdown, but indeed Giler and Hill wouldn't let it go.
|The Ritz Carlton in New York, |
formerly The Navarro Hotel
It was still the Christmas holiday and at the time they were working on numerous other projects at the same time, but David was about to go to Hong Kong with his girlfriend,
Before then the two of them worked on the script together.
Walter told David "Look, we've got to have some women, they're going to have women in the spaceships in the future."
David's reply was "yeah yeah, why don't you make the captain a woman, that would be different" and Walter started to do this.
When David did go to Hong Kong, over three days or maybe a week Walter did a spec rewrite of the O'Bannon/Shusett script, eliminating several scenes of violence, making changes to the dialogue, he started thinking "let's go for the whole enchilada here," and took the idea even further. He would feel it working, the resonance of the story became different. This would develop into the characters Ripley and Lambert becoming women
Then David came back after the holidays and they rewrote it several times.
The script was then sent to Fox's Vice President for world wide production, Gareth Wigan with a notation that Walter would be interested in directing it.
Walter thought well of Gareth because he was one of the very few executives that he had ever worked with who was actually very good with script.
At some point along the trail David and Walter did an endless series of polishes of the script and the last couple were done in New York in Walter's room as the Navarro Hotel at 110 Central Park South,(later to become the Ritz Carlton), which was a place popular with bands like The Who, while he was prepping for The Warrior.
- Mr O'Bannon, however, was determined in an unusual ploy, after other studios also turned him down, he passed the script through an open window in the office of a group of veteran writer-directors affiliated with Fox. Attached to the script was a note "Please read this"(The Wall Street Journal)
- Walter Hill: The window story as reported in the Wall Street Journal is quite true (Cinefantastique vol 9 #1)
- Dan O'Bannon (11:55): Mark Haggard knew Walter Hill, the director of tough guy movies, gave it to Walter Hill, Walter Hill showed it to his partner David Giler, and then they showed it to their third partner, Gordon Carroll. The three of them had just formed their new production company called Brandywine Films. (The Beast Within: Starbeast: Developing the story)
- Walter Hill: David and I had formed a production company with Gordon Carroll -this was about 1975. About six months after we started, I was given a script called Alien by a fellow I knew, (Mark Haggard, interesting guy , a real John Ford expert) who was fronting the script for the two writers. I read it, didn't think much of it, but it did have this one sensational scene -which later we always call "the chestburster". I should say that The Thing (1951) was one of my favorite films from when I was a kid and this script reminded me of it, but in an extremely crude form. (Film International #12, p21)
- Walter Hill: One thing worth remembering is that Dan's screenplay had been making the rounds for quite a while , and no one had bought it. Fox had seen it, and with Dan's original conception of a low-budget picture, they really weren't about to consider it. I originally read the script in the summer of 1976, and I saw qualities in it that the studios hadn't, in terms of the story itself. I presented it to my partners , saying that, if it were done on a sophisticated level, rather than as a low budget picture along the lines of The Blob, we'd have a truly extraordinary film. (Starlog/ July 1979 p93)
- Walter Hill: The real genius of the O'Bannon-Ron Shusett story was that they had worked out the details and plot twists for this story of a space monster that could not be killed without endangering the astronauts' own life support system. At the same time, this terrible beast is knocking them off one by one, Agatha Christie style, the stuff of real drama" Starlog/ July 1979 p93)
- Hill freely admits having little background in science fiction, though he developed a passion for films of all kinds during his childhood in Long Beach, California. He began to plan for a career in film while a student at Michigan State University. After his graduation, he worked in a number of unrelated fields, including a year spent as an oil field worker and on construction crew, while he completed his first screenplay. The script though never produced, led to his first work on films. As a young screenwriter he worked with such noticables as Sam Peckinpah (The Getaway) and John Huston (The McIntosh Man) before he directed his first film, Hard Times, starring Charles Bronson. It was shortly after the completion of Hard Times that O'Bannon's Alien script first caught his attention (Starlog/ July 1979, p94)
- Gordon Carroll (12:16): We had offices at the , at the ten Goldwyn Studios, now Warner Hollywood, and Walter's office was on the first floor ground floor, and after lunch one day he was sitting in his chair ruminating, er, with the window open, and er, a friend of his, er walking down the alleyway, and he stopped and said "Walter!'(The Beast Within: Starbeast: Developing the story)
- David Giler (12:39): This guy handed him the script through the window, and er, and , er, he read it! and he, he, er, said, wha'd'you.... "I may be out of my mind", he said, "I think this", he says, but er, I mean, "the script is terrible but it has one great scene in it, read it and tell me what you think." I read it and I thought it was absolutely terrible, and, ha ha ha, and I called him up and I said" what are you, you are nuts, this is crazy. " "Have you come to the big scene?" I said "Yeah, yeah, yeah, the thing jumps out and is on his face." "That's not it" "What's going to come. I'm already on page 90?" And he said "keep reading" And I came to the chestburster and I called him back and I said "well, I see what you mean."(The Beast Within: Starbeast: Developing the story)
- CFQ:Who at Brandywine Productions saw to it that
the ALIEN script was given serious consideration at
David Giler:Walter Hill probably had more to do with getting the O'Bannon script launched than anyone. Mark Haggard at Goldwyn Studios asked him to read it, and Walter championed the project from then on. It was a bone skeleton of a story then. Really terrible. Just awful. You couldn't give it away. It was amateurishly written, although the central idea was sound. Basically, it was a pastiche of Fifties movies. We—Walter Hill and I—took it and rewrote it completely, added Ash and the robot subplot. We added the cat, Jones. We also changed the characters around. We fleshed it out, basically. If we had shot the original O'Bannon script, we would have had a remake of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. (Cinefantastique vol 09 n.01)
- David Giler: The first time I saw it, I like to tell this story actually because everybody hears about scripts that came through the window and in this case it literally did come through the window. Walter and I had offices at Goldwyn, what was that called - Goldwyn Studios - now called Warner Hollywood, and Mark, whose last name I can't remember at the moment handed this to me. There was an alley that was right by the Walter desk, handed this script through the window and Walter read it and he said "well, it's crazy, I think we've got, this script is just awful he said, but it's got one great scene that is worth doing. You tell me if I'm nuts." So I took it home and I read it and I read of course on about page 90, it was this huge giant script, neither one of us was particularly interested in science fiction I have to also point out, and I came and I read it up until about page 95 or something and I called Walter and I said I think you're absolutely nuts, this is just terrible. He said "well did you come to the big scene?" I said" the thing where the thing jumps on the guy's face?", he said "no, no that's not it, keep reading." I said "I'm on page 95 now." He said "keep reading". So I came to the, what we later came to call the chestburster and I got it and I said "No, no, no, I think you're absolutely right, this is terrific." And talk about big grossing movies, this may be the grossest of them all. (Alien Evolution)
- Walter Hill: I gave it to David with one of those "I may be crazy, but a good version of this might work" speeches. The next night, I remember I was watching Jimmy Carter giving his acceptance speech to the Democratic Convention, and was quite happy to answer the phone when it rang. It was David, he told me I was crazy, but he had just got as far as the big scene (the chest burster) and it was really something. So basically, off the strength of that, we acquired the rights and kicked it around for a few weeks, trying to figure out what to do with it. Remember, neither of us was a real sci-fi writer or a horror writer, but we were arrogant to think we understood how the genres worked. First we gave the original screenplay to the studio we had a deal with (Fox); they read it and passed (actually it had been previously submitted to them, so technically they passed it twice), but we didn't want to let it go. We believed that if you got rid of a lot of the junk, - they had pyramids on the planetoid, a lot of Von Däniken crap, and a lot of bad dialogue - that what you would have left might be a very good, very primal space survival story. (it was now around Christmas Holidays.) David was going off to Hong Kong with his girlfriend, but before he left we thrashed out pretty good. (Film International #12, p21)
- David Giler: It's not a very good script. It had what we saw as writers, potential, It was a whole 165 pages long. The most boring dialogue you've ever heard in your life - no characters - no nothing. But it had great elements.(Fantastic Films, #12 p60)
- Walter Hill: The O'Bannon -Shusett script was, in any kind of literary sense, remarkably unsophisticated. It has not even B-picture merit. That was its problem. Nobody could take it seriously. It wasn't a professional job. It was poorly written. It had a 'Jesus, gadzooks' quality and no real differentiation in characters. But there was no question in my mind that they wanted to do a science fiction version of Jaws (Cinefantastique, vol 9, no 1, p16)
- Walter Hill: It was put together with a lot of low cunning. To my mind they had worked out a very interesting problem, how you destroy a creature you can't kill without destroying your own life support system? I thought this a good notion. But the script had a lot of junk in it, like holograms and other current "pop" stuff. (Cinefantastique, vol 9, no 1, p16)
- Walter Hill: There was a genuflect to pyramidology as well with the alien eggs as the bottom of a pyramid. O'Bannon and Shusett presented their draft to us and we asked O'Bannon not to write anymore, to stay away from pens and pencils altogether. He didn't mind. (Cinefantastique, vol 9, no 1, p16)
- Dan O'Bannon: They
read it, they called us in and Gordon said to us 'We've read 300
scripts and this is the first one we've all agreed on." Okay? Great
compliment. And they proceeded to make a deal with us. And we got into a
lot of haggling, there was at least a month of negotiating. Finally we
made a deal, an option deal, and they took it to Fox with whom they'd
just made some kind of production arrangement for their company. And Fox
immediately expressed interest and Brandywine exercised the option
which was a real surprise 'cause it was the first time in my life I'd
ever had an option exercised. I'd sold many options but I'd always had
them revert. I'd never had them fork over the cash on the barrelhead
Fantastic Film: Typical. Happens all the time
Dan O'Bannon: What happens?
Fantastic Films: Options reverting. You realise that probably half of everything that Heinlein has ever written has at one time or another been optioned and with the exception of one story, it's always reverted.
Dan O'Bannon: Well, this one didn't revert. They'd payed us wham! - landslide! - cash! It was interesting because it came just in time to pay my medical expenses. I'd been under such stress and other problems plus not taking care of myself, that I came down with a very bad stomach ailment in 1977. I was sick a great deal of that year, I was in and out of hospital . (Fantastic Films s #10, 1979)
- Phobos: Have you accepted any offer for Alien?
O'Bannon: We accepted a six month option from a company called Brandywine. That's Gordon Carroll (producer of Cool Hand Luke and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid), and David Giler (writer of The Parallax View, The Blackbird) Their company bought an option on it. They have a contract with Fox, so they're hoping to finance it there. In which case, my participation will be as director of special effects, in addition to the script (Phobos #1, August 1977, p 14)
- Writer-director Walter Hill read it, Mr. Hill decided that it was intriguing and contained the germ of a movie but needed rewriting. He dashed off a quick rewrite in three days, eliminating several scenes of violence and changing the dialogue considerably. Then he sent the script to Fox's Mr Wigan, with a notation that he would be interested in directing it. (The Wall Street Journal)
- Film International: It sounds like you and David Giler had a good time writing the script.
Walter Hill: Too much probably. And to tell you the truth, we were kind of left-handing the whole thing. I didn't mean we thought we were above the material, that's the worst sin, and sends you straight to hell. But, we were busy on a lot of other projects and, again, neither of us felt scifi was our natural métier. Although I had been a big sci-fi read when I was a kid, David not at all. Oddly enough, in the long run, I think that distance helped our script - the feeling we had standing somewhere outside the genre helped get it off centre and made it a different tone. And it gave us the courage to be irreverent. I mean when it's two a.m., and you're writing about a monster with acid for blood, some irreverence is called for; we were taking an implausible situation and trying to make it sound real, and most of the time we pulled it off, I think. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we may have left-handed the script, but we did work very hard; the Ash death speech we probably wrote twenty times before we got it right. Anyway, David went to Hong Kong, and I sat down and did the spec rewrite of the O'Bannon/Shusett script. It took maybe a week. After the holidays, David got back and then he and I rewrote it several times. We gave it to the studio, and they got on board. Gareth Wigan was the executive on the piece; he's one of the very few executives I've ever worked with who's actually very good with script. David and I then did what seemed like and endless series of polishes. The last couple we did in New York in my room at the Navarro ( now the Ritz Carlton) while I was prepping The Warriors.(Film International #12, p21)
- Walter Hill: Fox was also notably skeptical about it when they first
brought it too them because it was more difficult for studio people to
see the value in this sort of thing than in for instance, a story about a
housewife with a nervous breakdown. After David and I reworked it, they were more able to see the story's merits - enough to invest $10 million in it. (Starlog, July 1979, p94)
- The idea for "Alien" for example, first came to Fox in a script by 39 year old screenwriter named Dan O'Bannon who was fascinated with science fiction. Gareth Wigan, Fox's vice president for world wide production, turned down O'Bannon's original script because "it was gratuitously violent. (The Wall Street Journal)
- Alan Ladd (13:17): He brought it to me and I thought it was interesting, a nice horror picture, it's outer. I mean what could sound better? And er, they then completely rewrote the script from top to bottom. (The Beast Within: Starbeast: Developing the story)
- Walter Hill: I was given the task of rewriting Alien, er, the original script and I said to my partner David Giler who also did a lot of work on the script, he and I worked together, he was um, typically, he was going off to, to er , Hong Kong, with his girlfriend. Well I stayed home and laboured and uh, he he, I said "Look, we've got to have some women, they're going to have women in the spaceships in the future" and er. He said "yeah yeah, why don't you make the captain a woman, that would be different", and erm , I started doing that, he took off and I thought, no, let's go for the whole enchilada here, because it gave the film a whole different resonance, and er, er, and as I cooked it up that way, it is, you could feel it working, and erm, we named the character Ripley after Ripley believe it or not, and erm, Ellen is named after my mother, my mother's middle name. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLmp3luMzyA)