The Beast Within : Starbeast: Developing the story

Transcript of the section The Beast Within from the Starbeast documentary

Developing the story

Dan O'Bannon (1:12) I've going to films my whole life since I was a kid, I mean, er, I love movies, intuitively I knew it was the thing that I wanted to do more than anything, but the, um, the raising I had, my background didn't suggest that was a practical thing to do for a living

Ron Shusett (1:29) I was a theatre arts major in college, I wasn't a film major  at UCLA, and I did love theatre, but I realised after a while after producing a couple of plays that I had to stay in New York because that's where the investors are, and I hated the weather so much, the closest thing to theatre was film and I'd grown up in LA so I said to hell with that, I'm not going to live in that freezing cold, I'll go into film

Dan O'Bannon (1:53) I applied to USC, NYU, UCLA. NYU, UCLA blew me off, USC accepted, so O came out there and I was a student in the USC department of cinema, met up with John Carpenter. John Carpenter started to do this master thesis film, science fiction movie, I got involved in it and it grew out of hand, it finally got too big for a student movie, and so in the end, we ended up finding a way to put it into theatres and instead of the most impressive student film ever made, we had the least impressive professional film ever made.

A lot of things bothered me about Dark Star, we had an alien in it which, ah, was a beach ball, it was a second try on that alien. I went away from Dark Star really wanting to do an alien that looked real. A couple of years down the line I decided to do Dark Star as a horror movie instead of a comedy and that was the germ of Alien.

Ron Cobb (2:59) : We got to talking, I realised that Dan was a cinema student as USC, and had...was in the process of making a kind of a spoof on 2001, a small film called Dark Star, and er, and he was suprised to find that my secret love was, was film and, er, particularly fantastic cinema always, always attracted me. So basically I helped out on Dark Star.

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

Dan O'Bannon(4:11): 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

Ron Shusett (4:45):  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

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

Ron Shusett (5:16): 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

Dan O'Bannon (5:39): A Chilean film member name named Alejandro Jodorowksy, telephoned me from Paris, "Paris, France" "Paris, Texas?" "no Paris France" He had made an art film named El Topo which was very well received, and this man over this transatlantic phoneline claimed that he had the backing at the rights to make a feature film of Dune

Ron Shusett(6:10):And he loved Dan's work that he did on designing the special effects for dark Star, and he knew he had to do it at a budget with some creative people so he hired Dan to work on it, help him with his storyline and also with his special effects, and Dan went off within a few weeks. He went off to Paris and France and places and was working on the Dune project, There for six months.

Dan O'Bannon (6:31): And I wasn't the only there, he had gone to England and he had plucked up a, and artist who did covers for science fiction books named Christopher Foss, and for the first time I saw somebody whose stuff I liked as much as Ron Cobb's stuff. He had another artist he wanted me to meet. He had seen this guy's work in a, a show that was in Paris at the time. Took me over to, to really one of the fancy hotels in Paris, not the one I was staying at, where this artist named Hans Rudi Giger was staying while his show was on display in Paris. Giger brings up this little tin foil, he said "would you like some opium?", I said "why do you take that?", he said "I am afraid of my visions", I said "It's only your mind", he said "that is what I'm afraid of" He brings out a book, an art book, with his paintings in it, I started looking at this, and he and Alejandro go into a big discussion about Dune, I started looking at these paintings and it took a minute for it to register what I was seeing, but, ah, what I seemed to be seeing was very disturbing

Ivor Powell (7:48): The often told story of that was Dan of course working on the Jodorowsky in Paris for a year or two and it all collapsed,  and he went, you know he went home, er, with no money and whatever it is, and slept on Ron Shusett's couch

Dan O'Bannon (8:02) And I was in desperation, the only thing I could think to do, I had to sell a script

Ron Shusett (8:10): So he said, "light up the board Ron, I got this first act, and you like it", and he says, "I know, I know, you have a good mind. From these, just weeks and weeks I've worked with you before I left, and, and what I saw you've done on Total Recall which you did with a short story", ah" , as far as you got it, I know you can make the breakthrough for me."

Dan O'Bannon (8:28): Well Starbeast is one of those titles you, you know, you think of and then you (miming stick your fingers down your throat), you know, you throw them away. I was running through titles and they all stank, I didn't like any of them. One morning at three o'clock, Ronnie's appartment, I'm typing away, writing dialogue and the characters are saying "the alien ... this, and the alien ... that". Suddenly that word alien, just, just came up out of the typewriter at me. I said "Alien, it's a noun and it's an adjective" I said "yes, that's it, I have the title"

Ron Shusett (9:02) It's simple, it's one word, and no one's ever used it, and and and it never changed from that moment on, no one ever tried , the title stuck, and that was amazing to us even that, just that aspect of it.

Dan O'Bannon (9:13) I went back to storage, got my typewriter out, took it over to Ronnie Shusett's living room and wrote it up. Over the days and nights of the next three months, Ron keeping me alive by feeding me hotdogs

Ron Shusett (9:28) Dan said"somehow the monster has to get on board the ship, but in a way that will amaze everybody. And so I wake up in the middle of the night and said "Dan , I have an idea, " and he said "what, " and I said "the monster screws one of the people" and he says "what? what are you talking about?!", I said "he jumps in his face, plants a tube down him, and inserts his seed in him and later comes bursting out of his stomach." And Dan goes" Oh" (covering his mouth with shock and surprise) My god, it's the most amazing thing I've ever, nobody's seen anything like that!" and we just sat up all night, and then we wrote, and then in three weeks, we had what would, I would say is eighty five percent of the plot, the structure, we didn't write the screenplay right there, of what you saw became Alien, eighty five percent.

Ivor Powell (10:06) : And whether they drew from movies, they probably did like everybody, they drew consciously or subconsciously from things like "It: The Terror From Beyond Space" but they actually added the ingredient of the, this thing being incubated in a human being, made the whole damn thing stand out.

Dan O'Bannon (10:20) Ronnie wanted to be on board, once I'd written the thing. He saw it as a, you know, a viable thing he wanted to be involved with, so, we, ah, we made ourselves a little deal, you be on board as producer and we started trotting around showing it to various, you know, producing entities, we got pretty close to deals on a couple of times , on a couple of times but they fell through, well essentially because people on the other side were, um,  demanding too much, you know, they were trying to screw us

Ron Shusett  (10:56) So we went to Roger Corman's company, but then I think we were dealing with Bob Reamy who later became head of Universal, Corman was out of town, and he said "Yes!" So right, that looks like a pretty amazing success story, he loved that Dan's movie was good even though it didn't make money, he knew that I co-wrote this with Dan, though I never made any thing, movie, in my life and so I took my name off the other, and so we were going to make a deal, but we didn't get to sign the papers, or Alien would have been made as a low budget Corman movie.

Dan O'Bannon (11:23) A friend of ours named Mark Haggard, ended up with a copy of it in his hands, he used to be an independent writer/director.

Ron Shusett  (11:31) Mark said, can I read this great script, I'll tell you what you have". I said Sure, you know and we gave him the script and he, you , and he, let's just wait a few days and then we'll close our deal with Corman. Well he calls us the same night, "It's great, I've got an offer, I can get the money. I can get you the money immediately. So we looked at each other, and we, and we said" Oh look, we can't, we can't wait, we don't want to blow the deal with Corman, ah it's got to be a limited time" "Two weeks, gimme two weeks!"

Dan O'Bannon (11:55): Mark Haggard knew Walter Hill, the director of toughguy 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.

Gordon Caroll (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!"

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 jumos 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 chest burster and I called him back and I said "well, I see what you mean (chuckle)

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

Dan O'Bannon (13:34) What i didn't understand when we made the deal , uh, Brandywine, Giler and Hill, was that Giler and Hill wanted more than to produce this film, they uh, I didn't figure this out , in fact after principal photography, but they targeted my script, they decided that they wanted all the credit for the screenplay, they didn't want me to have any

Gordon Caroll (13:59): Right from the beginning, David and Walter took a, did several drafts, and er, it was the whole character of the film, not the spine of it in terms of story even though that was changed quite a bit, but the whole character changed when Walter and David took it over

Dan O'Bannon (14:17): As Walter himself said, in one of his speeches he gave us during preproduction, he said... he said "the greatest thing I have to bring to this project is that I don't know anything about science fiction, and I don't like it." And that was certainly reflected in the various drafts that he did.

Ron Shusett (14:34): They took several cracks at drafts, and they, from all consensuses were getting worse not better because that wasn't there forté, they did recognise it was great, but they weren't good at making it better or in fact not making it even worse, to a degree, I'm going to modify that with one exception, they made a huge contribution, but in many drafts they did, most people felt it was losing it, but that happens sometimes because you take a shot and then you sometimes come back to what attracted you in the first place, they did it radically, they did eight different drafts.

Dan O'Bannon (15:06) For some reason I couldn't figure out, Walter Hill immediately started doing a rewrite of my script. I remember walking into Gordon Caroll's office and seeing a script on the desk and lifting up a page and it said "Alien, by Walter Hill". Gordon walks in, I said" Gordon, what's this? " Gordon looked very embarrassed, "oh you're not supposed to see that".

Ron Shusett (15:26):But they contributed one thing which one of the best things in the movie, and I will eternally be thankful to them, not only for starting the ball for financing, but to contributing this to the movie. What they invented was the robot that was not in the movie when the robot's..., Ash is the robot and his head comes off, that whole idea and scenario was theirs.

David Giler (15:47): We rewrote it top to bottom, I mean, all the dialogue, all the characters, the whole sense of truck drivers in space, the whole, erm, you know, plot with the, with the robot, the whole with Ian Holm, with all the rest of that stuff, that's all in the new script.

Dan O'Bannon (16:04) The only thing I could see he was doing, was just stirring around the elements. First thing he did was change the names of all the characters. One early discussion, Walter walks into the offices there at 20th Century Fox and he said "I hate all of those names in your script". He hates all the names, how do you hate a name? "Oh, I hate all those names" So he changed them all, course he didn't hate them at all, but he had the naive idea that if you changed all the names, all of the characters names, this would, would count some how as being a substantial rewrite of the material.

David Giler (16:40) With a story that's as often told as this kind of story is, you have to do it in a special way in order for it to be special, I mean that's, was, was our argument with,  you know, about the movie in general with, with Fox all the time, and I think they agreed, which was that you had to treat this kind of B monster movie as though it were an A movie.

Gordon Caroll (16:59) That script did not excite Fox enough for them to say "we want to go ahead and we want to make it". You must remember that this was pre-Star Wars, and er, we were confident, although we had other places where we could set the film up, we were confident that fox would hold differently with another rewrite and whatever would ultimately do it, we certainly, we certainly felt so, and uh, when Star Wars came out, was the extraordinary hit that it was, suddenly science fiction became the hot genre.

Alan Ladd (17:35) : I don't know that there was consensus one way or the other about science fiction, I mean, since I was a responsible party for making Star Wars when it was such a hit, concern about science fiction went away very quickly

Dan O'Bannon (17:49): They wanted to follow through on Star Wars and they wanted to follow through fast and the only space ship script they had sitting on their desk was Alien, so they greenlighted , wham!

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