|Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett|
a) Making contact with Dan O'Bannon
Perhaps somewhere between 1974 to '75, Ron Shusett had not heard about Dark Star, and then somebody was telling him about the brilliant young University of Southern California graduate student who had done this film as their masters degree, the John Carpenter film Dark Star. Scifi was really Ron's love and he also liked suspense. So he went to see Dark Star and was amazed by what he has seen on the cinema screen. As far as Dan was aware, Ron saw the movie at Filmex '74 which was he from March 28-April 9.
|poster for Dark Star|
Ron had in mind the need to find someone who would work on developing stories and working out cheap special effects for his intended movie script he was writing based on Philip K Dick's "We can remember it for you wholesale", he had only developed the first act, and Dan seemed like the perfect person to get to know
- Dan O'Bannon: Well, I've known Ron for a couple of years. I met Ron through Dark Star. He saw it at Filmex in '74 and that's how we met. (Phobos #1, 1977)
- Ron Shusett: Dan went to USC and I went to UCLA, so we really at the beginning hardly knew each other and I became aware of him when I saw a little film he did, probably all you science fiction fans know about, it's called Dark Star, which he did, which he did as a thesis at film school here, but very few of them gotten made, it was so good Roger Corman picked it up released it commercially. He only spent $60,000 but still that was a breakthrough accomplishment thing, and that's where I first became aware of him since we went to different schools, didn't know each other, didn't work together, and I said "wow, this guy, " I saw he did the special effects, and they were done on a budget, but and the script was so woody, and the effects were so great, (ALIEN 40th anniversary Q&A with Ronald Shusett, Diane O'Bannon, David Weitzner - April 20, 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oacp2h4qOKM)
b.i) Scripts in developmentHaving made contact with Dan over the phone, Ron told him that he liked his film Dark Star a lot and would like to work with him. Then Dan said to him "Have you got any scripts that you’ve developed? Send me something you've written. 'cause there are so many people that think they're writers and they're not. I’d like to see what you’ve done so I can see how I feel about you.”
Ron Shusett compared Dan to someone like Joe Biden who would become Vice President of the United States, what was on his mind would come out right through his mouth. Even if that made him somewhat rude at least he didn't talk bullshit.
b.ii) Ron's two scripts sent
Of course, Ron had some things that he had done, and so Dan asked him to send him a few examples, because there were so many people that thought that they were writers, and quite simply, in Dan’s view they were not. Ron sent him two scripts which he remembered that he had either co-written or co-storied, actually it was something that in over two decades later when he came to talk of this information he would no longer recollect which scripts they were and then again later, one of the scripts seemed to be the first act of what would become Total Recall.
b.iii) Dan invites Ron over
He noted that when he was involved in doing these things he sometimes wrote the stories, and then sometimes he wrote the actual screenplay. Dan didn’t send Ron any of his own scripts but since he had seen examples of Ron, he was very impressed and he said to him, “okay, you're good, come over, let’s get together and have a meeting”
b.iv) At Dan's Garret
Ron turned up at Dan’s and he lived in a garret somewhere down in an old building by USC. And there he was and Dan said to him when they got into conversation, as recollected by Ron, “listen, I’ve got this story. I really liked the script you sent me, I do wanna work with you. What else have you got in mind?”
b.v) Excitement about a Philip K Dick short story
Ron replied, “I have optioned this property by Phil Dick” which was the short story called ‘We Can Remember it for you Wholesale’. He showed Dan his first act
For Ron, whether Dan accepted it or not for himself, it seemed that Dan was one of those people who just about knew everything to do with science fiction and of course he knew that story immediately and he said “I’d like to do this please, I love that story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. I’d love to develop it with you, do you have the rights to that?”
Ron replied “Yeah”
So Dan said, “Okay, I’d like to do that, but I’d like you to help me on something I have. " (so as usual, a culmonation from fragments of different versions of Ron's memory about the event) Yuh I realise it's only got a first act, but he said I have something for you that only has a first act, and I want to do that with you because if you have the brilliance to realise this Phil Dick story and everybody says "Oh you can't make, you can't do" , I think that you might be able to help me make my movie, then I'll help you make your movie."
b.vi) Dan's simple monster movie.
With that Dan talked about his own script that was giving him much trouble, saying to him "I’ve got this idea for a project too, it's just a simple monster movie which needs some brand new inspirational idea. It will fall right into place, if we can come up with a simple way of making the monster amazing. I have about a third of it written and I wont, since I don’t know you, I won’t let you take it away, you read it while you’re here”
Ron thought about the fact it was a monster movie and replied “well, I never gravitated towards those”
Somewhere along the line Ron asked "okay where do I get your script?"
- Ron Shusett: I told him that I wanted to work with him, I liked his work a lot, and he was very suspicious of me, because I had something to look at, his.. his film, and he's, and I never got to make a movie then at that point, my life has been struggling several years, I don't know how many years that time, five years, six years, something like that, seven, I don't know, anyway, he said well, you got some scripts you've developed, so I sent him two scripts that I had either co-written or co-stories, sometimes I'd do the story, sometimes I'd do the actual screenplay and he was very impressed, he said let's get together and have a meeting. (1:56, Alien Legacy Starbeast DVD)
- Ron Shusett: So I've got 29 pages written but I don't know you, I can't trust you to leave the house with this story, I know, you have nothing written, I said no, I've just got the rights to the story, I haven't tried to write it yet. And he said okay well you sit here and just read this, this is what I've got and I'm stuck on it quite frankly, but read this. So I sat there and I read it and it was very close to what we actually ended up with on the screen, those first 29 pages.(4:45, The Beast Within : Starbeast: Developing the story, 2003)
- Midnite Ticket: How did you and Dan O’Bannon come to work together?
Ron Shusett: Dan and I both worked on Alien and Total Recall together. I didn’t know anything about Alien. I saw his movie DarkStar and it was impressive to me. Dan wrote it and starred in it and did the effects as a college thesis. It was good enough for Corman. We see over and over he has discovered so many people. Corman gave Dan sixty thousand dollars and released it commercially. When I saw it I said, “Wow, I should be working with this guy”. I hadn’t made any movies and I had been struggling for four or five years at that point. I write a lot of things that require effects and I knew that Total Recall would require a lot of effects. I knew I should be working with a guy who knew how to do them at a lower budget. I looked Dan up and I contacted him. He said, “ Send me something you’ve written”. Dan was sort of like Joe Biden. What was on his mind would come right out of his mouth even if it was a little rude. He wasn’t a bullshit guy. He said, “Look, everybody thinks they’re a writer. I’d like to see what you’ve done so I can see how I feel about you”. I sent him something I wrote that never got made. It was a good script, maybe not a great script. Dan said, “OK, you’re good. Come over and visit me.” He was living on the USC campus in an attic. When I told him I had the rights to Total Recall he said he loved it and wanted to help me work on it.
Phil Dick wrote a lot of short stories and with those you’ve got a beginning but no second or third act. At that point no Phil Dick story had ever been made. Blade Runner was ’82. This was ’76 or ’77. Dan said, “I’ve got a movie that I want to do and I’ve been trying for two years to get a second and third act.” This was the same problem with Phil Dick, where you’ve only got the setup. He said “I want you to read this but I don’t want to give it to you because I don’t know you.” I can understand that. I could have Xeroxed it and stolen ideas from it. Who knows? So he said, “Just read it while you sit here.” So I read it, the first 29 pages. The weird thing is it was exactly what you saw on the screen right up to where the face hugger jumps onto the screen. I said, “Dan, it’s brilliant!” He said, “Yeah, that’s what everybody tells me but I need to get the rest of the movie made. I think you can help me. Reading your script, you had some amazing ideas in there.” I gave him a few thoughts on what I had read. He said “I’ve only known you two hours and already we’ve made more progress than with anyone I’ve talked to in the last two years. This is what I propose to you. We’ll work on these two projects together. We have the same problem. You need a second and third act.” (http://www.midniteticket.com/blog/interview-writer-ron-shusett-on-alien-dan-obannon-ridley-scott-and-prometheus-part-2)
- Ron Shusett: So I Sent him a screenplay I'd written that had nothing to do was Total Recall or Alien or anything. I forgot even what the script was, long forgotten a script and he liked it a lot. And he didn't show men anything, he just said "come over"and when I got there that's when I first heard what was later to become Alien . He said "listen, I've got the story", he said "I really like the script you sent me. I do wanna work with you.And he said "what else have you got in mind?" And I said " I have optioned a property by Phil Dick, which was then, the title of the short story was We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"and Dan of course knows every sci-fi, he said "I know that I love that, I'd love to work on that, you have the rights to that. " I said "yeah" and so he said "okay, I'd like to do that but I'd like you to help me on something I have. I have about the third of it written and I wont , since I don't know you, I wont let you take it away, you read it while you're here." It was about 28 pages written and then I don't think he had the title later he might have said Star Beast, but then that was at one point he started calling it Star Beast. ( report of what Ron said in the interview with Alien Evolution documentary)
- Ron Shusett: I went down to see him, and it was really weird because on that day was born both Alien and Total Recall, because I had an option on the short story by Phil Dick then, and I couldn't get a script on it, so I told him about it, he knew the story immediately, he said "I'd like to do this buddy, I love that story " "We can remember it for you wholesale"?. He said I love that , I'd like to develop that with you. He said I've got this idea for a project too, and he says, er, monster movie, and I said well err, "I never gravitated towards those" . (2:40, Alien Legacy Starbeast DVD)
- Ron Shusett (3:23): I hadn't heard about Dark Star, and somebody was telling me about these two brilliant young guys, and scifi was my love really, I like, I also like, er, suspense, but I went to see Dark Star, and I , and I spoke to Carpenter on the phone, and er, I spoke to Dan on the phone, but it seemed to me I had more of a rapport with Dan just from phone conversations, and , er, I told him that I had the rights the, what would became Total Recall which was the original story by Phil Dick was called We can remember it for you wholesale, so he knew the story he said "i love that! yuh, so you got the rights for that?" "I said yuh" He said "okay, I've got something I've gotta discuss with you that I have been working on for about a year and I need to make a breakthrough and maybe you're the guy who can make me have it happen, " and that turned out to be Alien (3:23, The Beast Within : Starbeast: Developing the story)
- Ron Shusett: I went down to meet him on the USC campus, where he was living in a garret and starving, like me. Neither of us had agents…. I had acquired the rights to a Philip K. Dick story, that later became TOTAL RECALL. Dan said, ‘I love that short story.’ But it has no second act, as Philip K. Dick often doesn’t. He has a great idea and then you’re stuck, trying to live up to his brilliance of the set up. (source: cinefantastiqueonline.com/ September 2008)
- Ron Shusett: I think it was 1976, when I met Dan O'Bannon, 'cause I'd seen Dark Star, somebody told me about this brilliant young USC graduate student who had done as his masters the John Carpenter film Dark Star, and I was blown away by it. And I saw it out there and I went down, he lived in a garret somewhere down in an old building by USC and I had talked to him on the phone and I sent in the script. I told him I liked his film a lot and I'd like to work with him. I made no films in my entire career at this point and I said my main goal is in producing and writing. I'm not trying to be a director, which is a lot harder to get started as first-time director and I wanted to work with him because I thought he did an amazing job, particularly since he also designed a special effects. So he said "send me something you've done, 'cause there are so many people that think they're writers and they're not". ( report of what Ron said in the interview with Alien Evolution documentary)
- Ron Shusett: At
the Birth of Alien. Dan went to film school USC, you know where Lucas
and a lot lot of great film makers emerged from, and I didn't, I went to
UCLA, and so I didn't know him, and but I had heard about a little film
he did that Roger Corman released called Dark Star, it was a low
budget, and I saw his name on it, and when I saw his and said, you know,
I read biography, he'd done, another thing he did that as a thesis of
film school, so I said I got to start working with this guy because he
did all the special effects for a song, he's really inventive, something
I want done without spending a huge amount of money, I should be
working with this guy, his screen brilliance and his special effects
brilliance, so I sent him Total Recall, having seen his short film form
Roger Corman, and this came from a collage project as a senior, i said I
got to start working with him because I need somebody develop this
short story, it needs second and third act, it's just a first act in the
short story. I need somebody who's brilliant who is good with cheap
special effects for big budget. And so I looked him up, and that's where
he was living in this garret, living and graduated from USC, and he was
living in an attic up there, and I, Linda and I were living in just one
room apartment, just a living room and a bedroom.
Interviewer: Where was that Ron? Where was your, where were your?
Ron Shusett:That was in Hollywood. The rent was about $35 a month for that I think, living in Hollywood, and Dan was living down by USC, and I looked him up, having been so impressed with his, I wanted him to help me, nothing to do with Alien, I didn't know about Alien, I wanted to get his help on developing the short story by Phil Dick into Total Recall, later became, later got made because its zillion dollars together okay, so I went to him for that, I had no idea about anything about Alien, and he said look, uh, I love this short story, he knew all about science fiction stories, that was, so he had read it, I, I send the short stories, I want to do this movie, I say I love it, I want to do it with you. "Yuh I realise it's only got a first act," but he said "I have something for you that only has a first act, and I want to do that with you because if you have the brilliance to realise this Phil Dick story and nobody, everybody say "Oh you can't make, you can't do", I think that you might be able to help me make my movie, then I'll help you make your movie" (https://radiopublic.com/an-alien-in-hollywood-ronald-shu-WDMraE)
- Ron Shusett: I should be working with this
guy because i was in love with doing science fiction and I had never
done any film at that point, but one of the things I had the rights to
was the story that Total Recall was based on by Philip Dick, ah, silly
title, "We can catch it for you wholesale", "We can remember it for you wholesale",
but the short story was only forty pages, so I realised it was going to
be a hard job to make that into a full leaf screenplay, on page 40, the
short story ended. We had to invented a whole plot, the second and
third act, but I thought Dark Star was brilliant, not only Dan's work, I
said okay it's too expensive for us to do as a modest budget low rent
version of it, so I contacted him and see if he wanted to work with me
on it, and I had the rights to this, and course, he was science fiction
lover, he said, "oh, I know, I love that short story, I know all about
it. Yeah, I want to work with you on that if you have the rights to
that, " he said "yeah, but I've got something to show you too, I want you
to work with me on it," and he said it was, it wasn't called Alien, and
it wasn't called Total Recall, we needed a title, this story I'm working
on a film, I've got about a third of it and film school done, I can't
get passed the first act I like you, I sent him some ideas I had, he
said I like your ideas, you got some powerful ideas, for how to make a
story work, and I, "all my contemporaries can't help me get passed the
first act, so I'd like to see if you have any ideas, and if you can help
me make, I want you to read it, come here, I don't want you to do
anything illegal, I want you to read it in front of me, I don't trust
you, you'll steal my ideas, "he came, very forthright like that, I'll
re... you read it while you sit here, you'll tell me what you think of
it, I'll tell you maybe I can help you make "Total Recall" err, "We can remember it for you wholesale",
into a full length screenplay and you might be able to help me make
this movie that I want to be, everybody says brilliant, but nobody can
help me make the breakthrough, I think maybe you might be able to help
me, so I said Okay, I went to meet him, we got along right away, and he
said I propose we do my movie first because it could be done as an all
time classic at a low budget, Roger Corman budget, but yours can, it'll
look schlocky until we do it for a hundred million or, sixty million or
so.(ALIEN 40th anniversary Q&A with Ronald Shusett, Diane O'Bannon, David Weitzner - April 20, 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oacp2h4qOKM)
c.i) Pitching Memory to Ron
So Dan pitched the idea saying to Ron "I want to do this story now about astronauts who are forced to land on a dead planet in some remote part of the universe, there they discover an ancient alien artefact, okay, inside of which of course there's some kind of a monster or a threat." and this part was not clear to Dan.
These 29 pages at one point could be easily be labeled as a script, but according to Dan, it was not so much a script, since it was not really written at that point, it was just something in the ideation stage, still very sketchy, and so to follow his idea about his truth of it all, Dan was not ready to write the actual script since he did not have the end of the story yet.
c.ii) Memory's contents as so far understood
Set in 2087, the script started with an alien transmission which caused the crew of the commercial Starship Snark, to come out from hypersleep.
They're receiving a signal from a mysterious planetoid in an alien language.
They land on the storm swept planet and investigate, they get stalled down there, and their ship breaks down, the crew begin to lose their memory.
However they discover that the beacon is coming from a spaceship graveyard, and then they discover the skeleton of a dead giant space pilot aboard a downed derelict vessel.
Sometime after they land, the computer succeeds in translating the message, it was "Do not land."
The crew takes a number of scientific readings, and return to their ship with a misshapen skull as proof of their findings, at one point referred to by Dan as an artifact.
A version of the Memory script has the skull artifact containing an alien creature inside or at least a threat, which quickly matures to full size and begins terrorising the crew once they have set course for home. Evading capture by the beast, the crew eventually joins forces to blast that creature into space.
He felt that he had a good fix on the storyline, up to the point where the alien life form manifested itself and attacked a crew member, but he felt still that he was having trouble making up the monster. How could the monster get aboard in a way that no one had seen before. He hadn't even devised its curious life cycle yet. After that he wasn't sure where he wanted to go with the second half of the piece
- Dan O'Bannon ( December 1971, in a letter to a Scott Derwing,
- Dan O'Bannon: I had the material necessary for the , for the first half of the script, a kind of forbidden planet situation where one of our starships lands of a mysterious planet, gets stranded there, bit by bit becomes involved with some mysterious and threatening organism. I had that all worked out pretty good, but I really didn't know what to do with the second half." (Alien Evolution documentary 4:25 )
- Dan O'Bannon: Astronauts awaken from their long voyage home, to find that their ship's computer has intercepted a radio transmission of unknown origin. When they land to investigate, their ship is disabled, stranding them. Their fatal inquisitiveness brings them to contact with a life form, and it was here, in the realization of the life form, that I knew that Giger could make the film unique. I had a good fix on the storyline, up to the point where the life form manifested itself, and attacked a crew member. After that I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with it. (Something perfectly disgusting by Dan O'Bannon, 2003, Alien Quadrilogy DVD set)
- Dan O'Bannon: I had this opening, I didn't know where it was going to go, I knew I wanted to do a scary movie on a spaceship with a small number of astronauts. Like I say Dark Star is a horror movie instead of a comedy. I had this creepy opening in which astronauts awaken to find that there voyage home has been interrupted , they're receiving a signal from this mysterious planetoid, an alien language, they go down to investigate, they get, um, stalled down there, their ship breaks down (4:11, The Beast Within : Starbeast: Developing the story)
- Dan O'Bannon: I went through old script ideas and found one untitled that was basically the first half of the finished movie - the crew of the spaceship are automatically awakened before reaching Earth because they receive a distress signal from an unknown planet. They land on the planet and discover the beacon is coming from a spaceship graveyard. That was as far as I had got. ( "Kill By Mouth" p118 , Neon (UK). December 97)
- Dan O'Bannon: I said I want to do this story now about astronauts who are forced to land on a dead planet in some remote part of the universe, there they discover an ancient alien artefact, okay, inside of which of course there's some kind of a monster or a threat, and ah, I was having a little bit of trouble making up the monster and I didn't quite know where to go with the second half of the piece.(Alien Anthology Blu-Ray capsules, O'Bannon working with Shusett)
- Dan O'Bannon: So I pitched it to him, I had the idea of Alien, I had the first half of it (3:06, Alien Legacy Starbeast DVD)
- Dan O'Bannon(5:08) The threat at the centre of the story, whatever this monster or thing, danger was going to be, was not at all clear to me at this point. (5:08, The Beast Within : Starbeast: Developing the story)
- John L Flynn: Unfortunately, O'Bannon's first screen treatment was little more than a retread of "It! The Terror from Beyond Space" and "Queen of Blood" (1966). Set in 2087 A.D., the script began aboard the commerical starship Snark with the interception of the source of a signal, a storm-swept planetoid, and discovers the remains of a downed spacecraft and its sole inhabitant, a skeletal pilot, The crew takes a number of scientific readings, and return to their ship with a misshapen skull as proof of their findings. The skull carries the host of an alien creature inside, which quickly matures to full size and begins terrorising the crew once they have set course for home. Evading capture by the beast, the crew eventually joins the forces to blast that creature into space. O'Bannon was not at all pleased with his first draft, and explained his frustration to Shusett: 'Star Beast' is just a simple monster movie which needs some brand new inspirational idea. It will fall right into place, if we can come up with a simple way of making the monster amazing. ( Alien - The Monster of all Monster Films by Dr. John L Flynn)
- Dan O'Bannon: It was really a labor of love. The idea for the movie goes back to 1972 when I wrote the first half of it. It was untitled at that time. I was working on Dark Star and I thought of doing a similar film but without the humour. A really scary movie. (Future Life #11, Jul7 1979, p28)
- Diane O'Bannon: It's called Memory because the crew members who land on the planet gradually lose their memories, this was the original thing. (https://www.perfectorganism.com/home/2019/4/26/109-memory-an-interview-with-diane-obannon-the-forbidden-planet-part-2)
- Interviewer: Had be already come up with any of the life cycle of the alien in the different phases?
Ron Shusett: No. None of that exists. There was just the set up, it was before the alien got on board
Interviewer: Oh, okay
Ron Shusett:It was outside, and before it got on board and it came out of the ship, that was still, all he had was the
Interviewer: That was his first act
Ron Shusett: Yes, somehow an alien would get on board, he didn't have anything about it being in anybody's body, but he said that's what I need. How can an alien get on board in a way that nobody's ever seen? So he was smartly realised that secret, underlined it. He said if you can help me get that secret, how does the alien get aboard in a way that's incredible. I said well let me think about it. I'm going to try and help you. (https://radiopublic.com/an-alien-in-hollywood-ronald-shu-WDMraE)
|poster for Bava's|
Planet of the Vampires
d) Inspired by Bava's Planet of the Vampires
Dan admitted that he stole the idea of the giant alien skeleton from Planet of the Vampires, an Italian movie first released in the USA on 27th October 1965 in which the skeletons were remains of giant humanoid space travellers who had been driven mad into killing one another when possessed by the spirits on the planet, but had he seen this by the time he started.
See also :
- Dan O'Bannon steals a giant skeleton
- Possible inspirations for derelict ship from Planet of the Vampires
|Junkyard was published in&|
Galaxy Science Fiction in May 1953
e) Inspired by Simak's Junkyard
Dan's script was called Memory because the crew members who land on the planet gradually lose their memories, and so the idea of memory loss connects with the Junkyard script.
- Dan O Bannon: So far, so good; but there are also literary sources. To date, no one has recognized a story by Clifford D. Simak, again from the 1950s, published in If Magazine and dramatized on the radio on (I think) X Minus One, entitled Junkyard. In this story, which was much on my mind, space explorers put down on a blighted asteroid where they find a graveyard of wrecked alien spacecraft, of different races. Next they discover an ancient, indigenous stone tower; one astronaut lets himself down through a hole at the top, and finds something at the bottom that looks like a watermelon. No fruit, this organism steals minds. By the time the heroes make it off the asteroid, they've been reduced to near idiocy.(from the "Something Perfectly Disgusting" essay by Dan O'Bannon for tbe Alien Quadrilogy set, 2003)
- Diane O'Bannon: It's called Memory because the crew members who land on the planet gradually lose their memories, this was the original thing. (https://www.perfectorganism.com/home/2019/4/26/109-memory-an-interview-with-diane-obannon-the-forbidden-planet-part-2)
- 22nd February, 1956, "JUNKYARD" 39 02-22-56 :30:00* A galactic survey ship finds a lot of discarded alien machine parts on a low grade planet. When they get ready to leave the crew has forgotten how to power the ship. George Lefferts wrote the script. The cast members were Jack Orrison, and John Larkin, Bob Hastings, Mercer McLeod and Stan Early. Writer: Clifford D. Simak (http://www.otrsite.com/logsd/logx1001.htm)
f) Inspired by Tim Boxell's Defiled
In Tim Boxell's comic book story Defiled, the astronaut is sent to retrieve a artifact in the shape of an alien being's head.
The astronaut accidently drops it, it comes to life and emerges as a large alien life form which injures the astronaut and infects him with an alien organism growing inside him soon emerging from his chest, and this comic book story would help to seed a major idea later in the development.
It seems similar to Memory in the idea that a skull is retrieved containing an alien creature rather than transforming into a full bodied one.
See Tim Boxell's Defiled inspired Dan O'Bannon's Alien
|page from Tim Boxell's Defiled comic book story which inspired Dan-o'Bannons|
g) Along the lines of Forbidden Planet
Beyond there, Dan was not happy with his first draft, he felt that his ideas were to some degree nebulous. He thought that the crew would never get off the planet until the end of the story and the creature would be some kind of a psychic force. So he realised the ideas that he had were like the situation that takes place in the movie ‘Forbidden Planet’, where one of Earth’s starships lands on a mysterious planet, gets stranded there, and bit by bit becomes involved with some mysterious and threatening organism.
|poster for Forbidden Planet|
Dan had been working on the script since 1971, appeared to have stalled, restarted and stalled again.
He said to Ron, seeming at first suspicious of him, "You sit here and read this, this is what I've got and I'm stuck on it, I've been working on it a year and a half. I've got one act. So I've got 29 pages written but I don't know you, I can't trust you to leave the house with this story, I know, you have nothing written"
Although perhaps Ron had written the first act in a later version of these events, it seemed in an earlier version of the story that Dan then asked "You have nothing written?"
Perhaps Ron "No, I've just got the rights to the story, I haven't tried to write it yet."
Ron read this script, he would remember that it was about twenty eight pages long , it had no title to his knowledge unaware that Dan had named it Memory (which so happened to be the name of a H. P. Lovecraft short story about a conversation between a Genie and a Daemon about who built the ruins in a valley, written in 1919), and what Dan had written as far as he could see, was almost exactly what one sees in the resulting film Alien up to right before the face hugger jumps out, but these scenes came at the same point in the final film anyway.
Ron sat there and read it, he was knocked out by it and told Dan "That's absolutely brilliant Dan!"
h.ii) Stuck on page 29
Dan said "Yeah, that’s what everybody tells me but I need to get the rest of the movie made. I get nothing but shit from anybody at film school that I've tried to help me lick this. I think you can help me. Reading your script, you had some amazing ideas in there. Can you have any idea how I can get past page 29, I'm stuck for two years in page twenty nine"
Ron stated "Well, the first twenty nine pages is amazing "
Dan said "I know that. I can't get past that. You got any thoughts?"
Ron said "Well, yeah yeah, I might,"
Perhaps Dan replied reiterating what he had said before "Well okay then think about it, you can't take it with you, tell me if you can think how we can get the second and third act to this movie, because I'm totally given up on how to solve it, and all my contemporaries can't help me either. I go to them all at film school, nobody can figure it out what to do from here."
Ron said "okay, well I think I can help you", giving him a few thoughts on what he had read.
h.iii) Dan's certainty
What Ron had said led to Dan responding, (and then it does seem that much of what Dan seemed to say reiterated the various things repeatedly) "I’ve only known you two hours and already we’ve made more progress than with anyone I’ve talked to in the last two years. This is what I propose to you. We’ll work on these two projects together. We have the same problem. You need a second and third act. I think from the work I saw you do and your other science fiction script, I think you can help me unlock it, and I know I can help you write a good screenplay version of Total Recall.”
- Ron Shusett: I say, "okay where do I get your script". "Well I'm going to give it to you to read while I'm here, you can't leave here, you just read it. er the first twenty nine page. Tell me what you think, tell me if you want to help me." So I sit there and read it, I said "That's absolutely brilliant Dan." He said "okay Total Recall, the short story for Total Recall is brilliant, but I think we should start on mine because yours has to be done for a huge amount of money. Mine can be done for a modest budget even though it's scifi," Alien could be done as we know. It was done big budget, but it could be done real cheap in just a few rooms. So I said, "that's agreeable, I'll work on yours first and then you'll help me try and make Total Recall". He said Okay, So, I I said, "Okay, you've read it, you love it:, arm, he says er, "can you have any idea how I can get past page 29, I'm stuck for two years in page twenty nine". I said "well, the first twenty nine pages is amazing". He says "I know that. I can't get past that". So he says "you got any thoughts". I said "well, yeah yeah, I might," He said "well okay then er think about it, you can't take it with you, tell me if you can think how we can get the second and third act to this movie, because I, I'm totally given up on how to solve it, and all my contemporaries can't help me either. I go to them all at film school, nobody can figure it out what to do from here." I said, "okay, well I think I can help you," (https://radiopublic.com/an-alien-in-hollywood-ronald-shu-WDMraE)
- Ron Shusett: And he said I can't make the breakthrough from here. He said I'll do, I'll help you do Total Recall and you help me do Alien. And I find it kind of amazing, both movies born in that second you know and so, we did, and so, since he had a start, we would have to tackle that first, and er, we were, we put aside Total Recall and we thought we'd try to do something about Alien, I tried to help him get further with it, but before we ever could we got sidetracked because Dan was hired to go off and do the special effects on the first incarnation of Dune with Jodorowsky to direct.(3:23, Alien Legacy Starbeast DVD)
- Ron Shusett : First act was fantastic, I said, you know, possibly maybe I could help you with it, he said okay, I could help you on Total Recall, so we decided however we would tackle Alien first because Total Recall would be way more expensive because at that time we envisioned Alien could be a Roger Corman movie, just in one location, you know, several different rooms in an old warehouse. (5:16, The Beast Within : Starbeast: Developing the story)
- Ron Shusett: Dan said, ‘Put aside your story. I want you to
read something I’ve got. I’ve been working on it a year and a half.
I’ve got one act. So you need a second and third act; I need a second
and third act. I don’t know you so I’m not going to let you leave her
with it; I’m just going to give you these 38 pages to read. I’m totally
stuck, and I get nothing but shit from all anybody at film school that
I’ve tried to help me lick this. If you can help me with the second and
third act, I’ll help you with the Philip K. Dick story, because that’s
gonna cost more. With ALIEN I could probably get somebody like [Roger]
Corman [to finance it], because it could be done on the cheap.’ Out of
that meeting – here’s two bums with no agent, no credibility, and out of
that meeting came ALIEN and TOTAL RECALL. (source: cinefantastiqueonline.com/ September 2008)
i) Shaking handsThey shook hands on the deal and Ron in time to come looked back at that moment to be amazing because both the movies "Total Recall" and "Alien" were born in that second, (the "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" script project was to become the Blockbuster Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall, the final act of which Dan didn’t like at all, enough to want to make him eventually sever ties with Ron Shusett),
They started working on another project that Dan had 80% written and Dan wanted Ron to come up with an ending, which Ron suddenly did, and Dan was very much impressed by it. What this project was exactly was something that he never precisely mentioned to any of the interviewers, but also possibly to follow along with the desire to identify this work, Ron recalled that his work with Dan on one film script at this same period of time that they did together called “They Bite” which also had the title "Omnivore", a script that came out so well that a studio optioned it but didn't know how to do the special effects. It might have been the same script but Dan never quite spoke about every aspect of the matter in one single interview in a way that all the pieces could be married together so easily, there was a possibility that he might have talked about it and that the journalists were not really interested because it seemed to have little to do with the Alien movie.
- Ron Shusett:We started on his project first and there was a very good reason. Dan said “We could get lucky and get it made by Roger Corman and just do it for $700,000.” This was 1977 and the average major budget was only five or six million for the studios. We could do it on a small scale but creatively like he had done on DarkStar. It won’t be huge like a studio movie but it could still make our careers like Texas Chainsaw or Night of the Living Dead or any of the classics B movies. So we decided that’s what we would do. We worked first together on what became Alien and then we worked on Total Recall. The interesting thing is in that moment both movies were born. We didn’t have agents or attorneys or anything. Dan had one movie that was released but it didn’t do all that well because audiences didn’t know anything about it. He had little credibility and I had less. Both huge hits began in that moment. We got them made and we got them made exactly the way we wanted. The odds of that are a million to one. Two guys sitting in a room. (http://www.midniteticket.com/blog/interview-writer-ron-shusett-on-alien-dan-obannon-ridley-scott-and-prometheus-part-2)
- Ron Shusett: Dan and I worked on a film script together called They Bite. It came out so well that the studio optioned it. At that point, Dan went off to work on special effects for the movie version of Dune in Europe. (Future Life#11, July 1979, p28)
- Dan O'Bannon: I knew I had to write something to get off of Ronnie's sofa , I have gotten good responses the previous year and another sci-fi horror script I had written called Omnivore. The studios liked it but they didn't know how to do the special effects. So I thought on Alien I could do something with a similar feel and quality to it but make it very clear that the special effects were manageable by 70s Standards which were of course pretty primitive at the time. (Reel Terror p293)
- Dan O'Bannon:Writing Omnivore proved very valuable to the development of Alien and trying to keep story with budget limitations help shape the screenplay. I wanted it to be really obvious to the studio executives in 1976 that the monster was not going to be cripplingly difficult to pull off, I wanted to write it so most of it was clearly a man in a suit, I described it as a tall humanoid, and I limited it to only one because Omnivore had dozens of these complex creatures. But it had different parts to its life-cycle. I modelled that after microscopic parasites that moved from one animal to the next and have complex life-cycles. I just enlarged the parasite. I was interested in the biology of aliens, so I wasn't interested in streamlining the thing below interest level just for the sake of economy(Reel Terror p293)
- Ron Shusett: I said "I'm agreed" and er we shook hands, and that day both movies were born, both Alien and Total Recall, and who would know, we didn't have agents, we didn't have attorneys, we didn't know what we were talking about. Who would know both movies breaking Alien, big budgets, would become classics, so you've got to have a miracle to have both those things happen, and we just wrote on a napkin, we just finished Alien, we got close to it, we just wrote on a napkin, this is what we'll do with Total Recall between us, he just wrote the deal between us, we thought that would get made, and er, it was just a miracle that the people around us, in each case. (ALIEN 40th anniversary Q&A with Ronald Shusett, Diane O'Bannon, David Weitzner - April 20, 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oacp2h4qOKM)