a) Post Nightmare on Elm Street 4
Renny Harlon was only 28 and he had just made Nightmare on Elm Street 4 which got a very good critical reception and a huge box office reception and then all of a sudden the day after that came out, he got a call from Steven Spielberg and they met up to start developing something together which unfortunately didn''t out.
He was getting calls from everybody else in Hollywood.
He was a huge fan of Ridley Scott and James Cameron, and he was suddenly offered Alien 3, he thought this was a fantastic opportunity and an incredible honour.
b) Settling into the Fox Studios
Renny gets an office on the Fox studio lot in Hollywood, he is very amazed by his situation and then again very scared because he found himself dealing with a group of people who were asking him to make a film like Aliens with the same kind of guns but a different place.
Surely he thought, if he made a movie that was just a copy of the previous one and just added more fire power or some such things, he would be considered a laughing stock.
He would be compared to the previous directors but they would say that he was an idiot. He felt a great pressure to do something smart.
Renny's response to them was "We can't have another movie where you have more machine guns and more flame-throwers and again the aliens are attacking a place. "
c) William Gibson
Renny Harlin was introduced to cyberpunk author William Gibson who had been writing a script for Giler and Hill which they didn't like, but they weren't ready to give up on him so they suggested that Gibson undertake a rewrite with Harlin.
Gibson declined citing various other commitments
d) Alien Origin Story
For a few months, he worked on developing an idea which was that the movie was going to take place on the planet where the aliens are actually from, with Ripley and a team of scientists and soldiers, and they find out what they really are.
They are ants and somewhere is the ant hill and now they were going to travel to the anthill to find out really what they were all about.
What are they?
Why did nature create these things?
Are they really bad?
Do we just view them as something bad because of the environment that we've experienced them in?
Are they evil horrible killing machines who are taking over the world?
And who knows, they might not really be evil to begin with, but just demonstrating a survival mechanism.
That was one way he wanted to do the movie.
He thought it would be interesting, and it would be an action packed thriller, but the real interest for him would have been to go to their origins and make an alien origin story.
But the studios rejected that saying that people don't want to see that.
He didn't understand why they didn't buy it.
He tried to have writers work on a script with what he had in mind but no one could crack that in a script.
e) Cornfields of Kansas plot
Harlin's second idea was about the aliens coming to Earth, and it would be like a Middle America, Kansas cornfield, with aliens going through the cornfield towards the farmhouse,
Then you realise the aliens have come to Earth.
"Just show the poster to the audience, it's the biggest movie ever" Renny said to them.
The studios response was "Eh, no people wont like it, it's a science fiction movie, it has to take place in outer space. People wont buy it if it comes to Earth. We don't like it."
Renny became more and more depressed because they didn't like his ideas.
f) Hiring Eric Red
The other part of the story was that following Gibson's departure, Harlin recommended hiring Eric Red, scriptwriter of The Hitcher and Near Dark, to rewrite the script, and the producers agreed. But the collaboration was troubled from the start.
The Red script had Hill and Giler's original story and Gibson's script as a foundtion, he felt that he had been tossed into a 'creative drink without a life preserver'.
The basic problem was when he was involved, for five weeks, they didn't know what they wanted, and the didn't want Sigourney back, and they had to go through a whole series of new characters.
He churned out a complete draft with new subplots, themes and characters in less than two months, which he considered to be a piece of junk was a product of a few weeks of intense, hysterical story conferences turning it in on February 7th, 1989.
g) Red's script didn't work
The writer had charted a different and ambitious course, and he understood that the film needed a new alien and he suggested doing genetic experiments on one of them and as far as he see, Hill and Giler had no treatment had no treatment or plan.
Hill and Giler were unhappy with the result because they felt that he had strayed too far from the original story, Renny Harlin also found it to be uninspiring himself.
John Fasano the scriptwriter, when he came into discussions with Walter Hill and David Giler about the project was still working on 48 hours, and became involved in discussions with Harlin for the month before Harlin quit, but did not writing anything for him.
h) Prison Ship Story
Then they came up with an idea.
They wanted to tell the story about a big prison spaceship where the aliens come. They say it's contained and that's how it should be.
Renny did like it and responds "I don't get it. Who cares about a prison ship? The audience isn't going to relate to a bunch of prisoners, They're prisoners, they're all bad guys and no matter what you do it's just going to be this dark story and what's so great about the previous ones, is that the first one was basically a bunch of blue collar guys and women who could be truck drivers and the second one it's these soldiers with Ripley going to battle these aliens ,there there's a little girl who represents humanity there, it's like a mission movie. So again, it's very relatable. But if you do Aliens in prison, it’s like “who cares about the prisoners, let them die”"
i) Renny Quits For the Better
However when they continue to go back and forth with these ideas, and finally when they had this script of a prison ship and aliens, Renny looked at it and said “I’m sorry, I can’t do this”.
He realised now that he was 29 years old, he was dealing with a huge studio which was his dream and said to them "You know, I honestly can't make a good movie"
And so, he quit and it was a scary thing for him to do after having worked on it for about a year and he had no idea what he was going to do with his future or who was going to hire him, he just had to go and trust his gut instinct.
The following day Fox offered him Ford Fairlane, rock and roll detectives seemed heaven stent after the dark creepy world of Alien 3 that shone no light for him, and they were so impressed by the dailies for Ford Fairlane that they subsequently offered him Die Hard 2.
- CraveOnline: Fair enough. You were on Alien 3 for a really long time.
Renny Harlin: Yeah.
CraveOnline: And you left because it wasn’t what you wanted. What did you want from Alien 3. I’ve always been curious about this.
Renny Harlin: Okay, that’s a good question. And I think you can imagine how, as a young filmmaker, I’m only 28 years old, I had made Nightmare on Elm Street 4,
which got a very good critical reception and a huge box office reception, and all of a sudden I’m being offered movies by Spielberg and everybody in town. And I’m a huge fan of course of Ridley Scott and James Cameron, and then I’m offered Alien 3. And I think, this is a fantastic opportunity. I get my office on the Fox lot in Hollywood, and there I am, and I literally have to pinch myself when I’m sitting in my office. I’m on a studio lot, I’m 28 and I’m making this giant movie. I can’t believe. And at the same time I’m really scared, because I feel that if I make a movie that is just a copy of the previous ones and just adds a little firepower or something, I’m going to be a laughing stock. I’m just going to be compared to the previous directors and they’re going to say that I’m an idiot. So I feel huge pressure [to do] something smart. And so I work on it for a few months, and I develop first one idea which was that this movie was going to take place on the planet where the aliens are actually from. So basically my pitch to the studio was, let’s look at aliens like ants. They are ants, and somewhere is the anthill. And now we’re going to travel to the anthill to find out, really, what are they all about? And who knows? Maybe they’re not really evil to begin with. Maybe it’s just a mechanism of survival that they are demonstrating. It would be really interesting – and obviously you’d have an action-packed thriller – but it would be really interesting to me to go to their origins and make this alien origin story. And then they reject that and say people don’t want to see that…
CraveOnline: I would have wanted to see that.
Renny Harlin: Me too! I don’t understand to this day why they didn’t buy it. And the second one was, I know you remember that we’re talking like ’88, ’89, so this is before Jurassic Park and movies like that, so I say… Okay, then I have another idea. Let the aliens come on Earth. Picture Middle America, a cornfield, and the aliens are going through the cornfield toward the farmhouse. And they’re just like, “Eh, no, people won’t like it. It’s a science fiction movie, it has to take place in outer space. People won’t buy it if they come to Earth. We don’t like it.” So I just get more and ore depressed because they don’t like my ideas, and then they come up with this idea… And none of these people work at the studio anymore […] so there’s no one to really blame… They want to tell the story about a prison spaceship where the aliens come. And they say it’s contained, and that’s how it should be, and I say, I don’t get it. The audience isn’t going to relate to a bunch of prisons. They’re prisoners, they’re all bad guys, and no matter what you do it’s just going to be this dark story, and what’s so great about the previous ones, is that the first one was basically about truck drivers and the second one there’s a little kid and so on, it’s like a mission movie. So go back and forth, and finally they are adamant about it, and one day I just look at it and say, “You know, I honestly can’t make this because I don’t believe in it. I don’t think I’m going to make a good movie.” And I quit, and it was a scary thing to do, after having worked on it for at least a year, but I had no idea what my future was going to be and who was going to hire me, and I just had to trust my gut instinct. Do I quit? And then the next day, the same studio, Fox, offered me [The Adventures of] Ford Fairlane and subsequently Die Hard 2, and all those things happened. But it was a tricky time in my life, and then the interesting thing was that then David Fincher was hired to do it, and they did the prison planet, and while David Fincher was a genius filmmaker, even he couldn’t squeeze out a movie that would satisfy people, and the franchise took a real hit at the point. And David Fincher took a real hit, and it wasn’t until he went on to do Seven that he sort of got out of that situation. But it’s just one of those things where you just gotta follow your instincts. And sometimes, to be honest, I wish that I had done that more in my career. Sometimes you [just] want to work, you’re frustrated because you can’t get a project off the ground, and you end up doing something that is maybe not the perfect thing for you to. (www.craveonline.com)
- Den Of Geek: Thinking back over your career, you were attached to over Alien 3 for over a year. Can you tell us what happened there?
Renny Harlin: I had done Nightmare On Elm Street 4, which just completely changed my life. All of a sudden I was meeting with Spielberg and meeting with the studios, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. And when the idea of Alien 3 came to me I felt that it was an incredible honour. I felt like Ridley Scott had made a masterpiece with Alien. Jim Cameron had made a masterpiece with Aliens. And I felt, okay if I can take it to another level, then maybe I have a chance of making a masterpiece as well. And so I eagerly took the challenge, and I had offices on the Fox lot and I felt very excited. But then, as were developing the script, opinions between the studio and I were completely different. They basically wanted to make a movie that was just like Aliens – same kind of guns, just different place.
And they, for some reason, had this idea that they wanted it to take place on a big prison ship. And I didn’t get it. I said, “who cares about a prison ship?”. The whole basic idea of the Alien movies is that in the first one, it is a bunch of blue collar guys and women who could be truck drivers. It’s totally relatable. And in the second one, it’s a war movie, and it’s these soldiers with Ripley going to battle these aliens, and there’s this little girl who represents humanity there. So again, very relatable. But if you do Aliens in prison, it’s like “who cares about the prisoners, let them die”.
Den Of Geek:What was it you wanted to do?
Renny Harlin: My first concept was we go to the planet where the aliens come from, with Ripley and a team of scientists and soldiers, and we find out what they really are. Are they evil, horrible killing machines who are taking over the world? Or are they just animals with a survival mechanism? That’s one way that I wanted to do the movie.
Second way, I said “aliens come to Earth”. I pitched this idea where we are in a Kansas cornfield, and you just see these things going through the cornfield and you just realise the aliens have come to Earth. I said “just show the poster to the audience – it’s the biggest movie ever”. And they were like, “nah we don’t think so, it should just be outer space”.
So for about a year we just went back and forth with these ideas and finally when we had this script of a prison ship and aliens, I said “I’m sorry, I can’t do this”. And it was a very crazy and scary thing to do. I was 29 years old, I was dealing with a huge studio, which was my dream, and I quit. But I went on to make other movies with Fox, and David Fincher ended up doing Alien 3, and of course he’s now doing fantastic. But not necessarily because of Alien 3.: (http://www.denofgeek.com)
- Renny Harlin: I have another example, actually, that happened between Nightmare and Die Hard 2. Before Die Hard 2, I was hired by Fox, right after Nightmare, to do Alien 3. I worked on Alien 3,
with Walter Hill, for a year at Fox, and had several writers work on
the script. I quit that project because I was so mortified by the idea
that I was following in Ridley Scott¿s and James Cameron¿s footsteps,
and I'm not going to be able to do something different or improve on
IGNFF: Was it internal pressure that was pushing you in that direction?
HARLIN: Yes. It was just my own ego. I just felt that my career would be over if I made a movie that was less good and less successful; I worked on it very hard. My take on Alien 3 was that I wanted to go to the planet where they come from. I said, "We can't have another movie where you have more machine guns and more flame-throwers and again the aliens are attacking a place. I want to go to the original planet and find out, "What are they? Why did nature create these things? Are they really bad? Do we just view them as something bad because of the environment that we've experienced them in?" That was my goal, but nobody could crack that in a script, and I finally quit. I said, "I really sorry, but I can't figure this out."
IGNFF: Did you have any fear that quitting that project would set your career back? HARLIN: Yes. I thought that would ruin my career just when I was about to get somewhere. The same day I quit Alien 3, and I thought that everybody would be really pissed off at me , I was offered Ford Fairlane by Fox. I was so tired of the dark, dark creepy world of Aliens by that moment, that a rock & roll detective seemed heaven sent ¿ so I jumped right into that. While I was shooting that, Fox liked the dailies so much that they offered me Die Hard 2. I said, "How can I do these movies back-to-back like that?: They said, "We'll make it all happen." I ended up shooting them back-to-back, editing them simultaneously, and they actually came out one week apart.
IGNFF: So leaving Alien 3 was one of the best things you ever did?
HARLIN: Yes. Yes it was. (http://uk.ign.com/ April 27th 2001
- Empire: Before
we wrap up, I wondered how you look back at the time when you made
Nightmare On Elm Street 4 and Alien³ suddenly fell into your lap. Do you
have any regrets about the way that period worked out?
Renny Harlin: No, no. On the contrary, it worked out really well because I was being honest to myself. I got a call from Steven Spielberg the day after Nightmare On Elm Street came out, and I met him and we start developing something together. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out, but the next thing was the Alien³. Of course, I was very excited and it was a great honour to be following in the footsteps of Ridley Scott and James Cameron, but after developing the project for a year, I just felt it wasn’t going where I wanted it to go and I was really afraid of making a movie that would just look like a bad copy of what Jim Cameron, for example, had done. So I took a huge risk, I really wrestled with myself. Here I am, 29 years old, I have an office on the Fox lot and I’m doing this movie. So for me to go to Fox and say “I quit”, it felt crazy. It was like, “How could I do that?” Empire: Do you remember that meeting? Renny Harlin: I remember it very well. I was scared shitless. I said to myself, “I’ve gotta be honest to myself - I don’t believe in this anymore, I don’t believe I can make a good movie, and I had no knowledge of another movie or if I would work again.” And I just quit. (www.empireonline.com)
- Eric Red: The basic problem when I was involved, for five weeks, was they didn't know what they wanted. They went through a real waste of talent because of that...As for the producers [Hill and Giler], they simply weren't involved. I think it's the responsibility of the producer or creative entity to have a creative concept or to make sure it's moving forward efficiently. But these guys were aloof. I only met once with each of them. (Cinefantastique 1992)
- Movie Hole: And while on the topic of unproduced scripts, there’s a rumour you wrote a draft of “Alien 3”?
Eric Red: That’s the one script I completely disown because it was not “my script.” It was the rushed product of too many story conferences and interference with no time to write, and turned out utter crap.(moviehole.net/)
- Eric Red: In the third film, you needed a new alien, I suggested doing genetic experiments on the alien. They had no story or treatment or any real plan for the picture (Premiere May 1993, p65)
- Following Gibson's departure, Harlin recommended hiring Eric Red (The Hitcher, Near Dark) to rewrite the script, and the producers agreed. But the collaboration was troubled from the start. Though he had Hill and Giler's script as as a foundation, Red felt he had been tossed into the creative drink without a life preserver. "The basic problem when I was involved, for five weeks, was they didn't know what they wanted. " Red has said "They really wasted talent because of that. Another major problem was that they didn't want Sigourney [Weaver] back, so I had to go through a whole series of new characters." Red churned out a complete draft with new subplots, themes and characters in less than two months, turning it in on February 9, 1989. The writer had clearly charted his own ambitious course, which included creating a new breed of alien. But Hill and Giler were unhappy with the result. They felt that Red had strayed too far from their original story, and they rejected the script - a decision that rankled Red. "In the third, you needed new alien, so I suggested doing genetic experiments with one of them," the writer said," [Hill and Giler] had no story or treatment or any real plan for the picture. They were very disorganized and irresponsible." Though Red aimed his vitriol at the two Brandywine producers, Renny Harlin also found the work of his hand-picked writer uninspiring. In addition, Sigourney concurred with David Giler's appraisal that "it was a real disaster, absolutely dreadful" "(Bald Ambition". Cinescape. December 1995 by Douglas Perry)
- Arrow In The Head: I heard you were also commissioned to write an "Alien 3" script?
Eric Red: Yeah, Alien 3 the script that unfortunately circulated…I don’t even look at it as my script. The piece of junk was a product of a few weeks of intense, hysterical story conferences with the studio to rush to get the picture into production and it turned out completely awful.
Arrow In The Head: Did you wind up seeing "Alien 3"?
Eric Red: Yeah and I didn’t care for the picture, they didn’t end up with very much either. (www.joblo.com/)
- They introduced the novelist to their director, a young Finn named Renny Harlin who had made a splash in Hollywood with A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Hill and Giler suggested that Gibson undertake a rewrite with Harlin, but the writer - exasperated by what he considered foot-dragging on the producers' part - declined, citing various other commitments. (Carolco had asked him to adapt his stories Burning Chrome and Johnny Mnemonic for the screen.) Alien 3 had lost its first screenwriter. (Bald Ambition". Cinescape. December 1995 by Douglas Perry)
- John Fasano: When
I started talking to Walter at Fox about the film, Renny Harlin was
the director. I was still working on ANOTHER 48 HRS. I had meetings
with Renny, but I never wrote anything for him because he had quit
within the month. (http://www.money-into-light.com/2015/03/john-fasano-on-writing-alien-3.html)