Section from Damon Lindelof's involvement with the ongoing interview series The Hollywood Masters, at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV. the full transcript is found at at www.hollywoodreporter.com
So far have updated with this information, but only have made use of section 1 here:
Contacted by Ridley,
Receiving the script,
Impressions of the Earlier Script
GALLOWAY: Did you see the original Alien when it came out?
LINDELOF: Not when it came out. I was seven years old, and it was rated R. And I was aware of it, and had an Alien toy. And I knew that the things came out of eggs, and stuck to your… We, all the kids, were talking about it, but I was not allowed to see it. Aliens, I did see in the theater. Which came out in the late 80s.
GALLOWAY: You tackled the Star Trek franchise, and you then joined the Alien franchise when you got a phone call out the blue from Ridley Scott saying, will you work on this?
GALLOWAY: Tell me about going to his office.
LINDELOF: I had just finished Lost, and my wife and I, and my son, went to Italy for a month. And when we got back, all that time I was like, “I can’t take any other work, I’m doing Lost.” My agent called me up and said, “Ridley Scott is going to call you in five minutes. Are you available?” And I almost crashed my car. I pulled over. I was on Ventura Boulevard in the Valley. And I was like, “I’m going to be waiting here for two hours.” But sure enough, five minutes later, my phone rang, and it was Ridley and when you are Ridley Scott, Sir Ridley Scott, you don’t introduce yourself, you’re not like, “Hey uh, Ridley. Big fan of yours.” I was like, hello. And he’s like, “Hey Damon, it’s Ridley. So, I’m sending you a script. You know, read it and let me know what you think.” “OK.”
And then a couple of hours later, a guy showed up at my house, and said, “I will be waiting in my car outside your house read the script bring it back out to me, and are you available to talk to Ridley tomorrow at 10 a.m. to come into his office?” I read the script. It was called Alien Zero. It was written by Jon Spaihts, who I was honored to share a writing credit with on Prometheus, that’s what it ended up becoming. I thought that there were a lot of really great ideas embedded in it. But when you are reading a script in this context, you’re being essentially asked to replace someone, right? I have to ask myself, “Why is Jon Spaihts not continuing on in this project?” And this is something that’s very unfair that happens to writers, which is, the way that filmmakers signal the studio that they’re ready to make a radical or drastic change is they replace the writer, which never happens in TV; it’s the exact opposite. I felt Jon had done a number of really smart things, but I tried to figure out why is it that they are sending the script to me? What is it that they think that I can do? I anticipated what those things might be, and then I sent an email.
GALLOWAY: Namely what?
LINDELOF: Well, namely, the language of Alien Zero was very much an Alien reboot, in my opinion. There were facehuggers, and xenomorphs, and eggs, in the language of that movie, by page 30. I had heard this thing was a prequel, and there’s a problem with prequels; there’s something I don’t like about prequels, which is there’s an inevitability, that you’re just connecting dots.
So this idea of the Star Wars prequels, for example, is you’re going to make three movies where you basically just tell me what I already know. At least embed a new idea in there that I didn’t already know, or introduce a different thematic. Like, what if Obi-Wan Kenobi had stolen Anakin’s girlfriend away from him. And that way, when I watch Star Wars again, I’d realize, “Oh, that’s why Obi-Wan Kenobi is letting Darth Vader strike him down, ‘cause he feels guilty. That’s why Obi-Wan Kenobi is watching over Luke, the progeny of the guy that he screwed over.” So you know, embed a new idea. And in Jon Spaihts’ script for Prometheus was this creation myth. The opening of Prometheus as you see it was in Jon’s script. Oh this is a movie about scientists who are searching for the existence of their creators, and so there’s this kind of religious spirit, a pseudo-spiritual thing told in scientific language. And then what was really interesting to me was there was a robot along for the ride, an android, named David in Jon’s script, and I was like, “Oh this is cool. These idiot humans are basically going and looking for their creator.” And anybody who’s ever watched a science fiction movie knows, all great sci-fi is: don’t cross this line; there are questions that mankind should not answer, do not reanimate dead bodies. And it’s like, “Well let’s f—ing do it anyway,” and then it doesn’t turn out well. And because it’s an Alien movie, we know how it’s going to end.
But that was an interesting idea, because the android was there, and he’s there with his creators, and they’re seeking out their creators. And he’s not impressed by his creators. The android, he’s the smartest guy in the room, and I was like, “I’m going to take those ideas, and I’m going to say that’s what the movie is, and we don’t even get to anything, any familiar Alien language, until the end of this movie and if there was a sequel to Prometheus, it would not be Alien — it would go off in its own direction. And therefore it would be exciting to watch because we’re not just connecting dots.”
GALLOWAY: I remember you talking about going into Ridley’s office and it’s like a vault. He has offices in West Hollywood?
LINDELOF: He has offices in West Hollywood and it’s like the Scott Free complex, and Tony Scott, his brother, God rest his soul, the two of them also had a commercial production house, RSA, and so they’ve got these compounds down there; but Ridley’s office — I went in, and there is literally a room that has a vault door, like when you go and see movies, heist movies, and they open up the vaults. It’s that thing that you turn. And they open it up for me and I went in and there were nine guys sitting behind laptops and Arthur Max is the production designer of Prometheus, and there are all these amazing drawings that he had done of the engineers, and of the space suits and the planets and the ship, which was called the Prometheus. And it was another J.J. moment, where I’m basically like, standing there with Ridley, and this is just the way that you’re supposed to feel in these moments, which is like, “How did I get here?”
And then right on the heels of that, “I’m here, and I better act professionally, because Ridley Scott is not going to hire me if I just ask him questions about Blade Runner for the next half hour,” which is what I want to do. I have to act like I belong here and start explaining to him: “Look, embedded in this script are these amazing ideas, and if you want to hire me, I play up this stuff and play down this stuff, but I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water because obviously there’s a lot of great things in Jon’s script.” And that’s my pitch, and Ridley responded, and then we went to Fox, and pitched to them. And they responded and, in all great traditions, you’re told that this is going to be a six-week gig and it was a year of my life. (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/damon-lindelof-struggling-depression-why-838257)
GALLOWAY: What do you mean by story gravity?
LINDELOF: Story gravity. Any summer movie that comes out with a budget of $100 million-plus has to have the world is at stake. The hero has to save the world. And when the hero has to save the world, there is either a portal that’s going to open at the end of the third act and all the bad guys are going to come through, and the hero has to close the portal; or there’s something that’s going to explode and kill everybody, and the hero’s got to stop that from happening. And you go into these movies and you say, “I’m not going to do that.”
You know, even in Prometheus, it’s like, “I’m not going to do that.” And then you get notes, and things aren’t working, and then you’re like, “Oh what if the ship lifts off and it’s headed for earth and if they don’t stop the ship from getting to earth, it’s going to destroy earth,” even though they are lightyears from earth. They’re so far from earth they have to go into cryo-sleep to get to the place where this movie is taking place. And so there is sort of a fundamental familiarity with the moves of one of these movies, and when a movie comes along like Ant-Man, which is like, “We’re not playing for the fate of the world here,” it’s just a heist movie and that’s the outcome of it. If it falls into the bad guy’s hands, it will be bad; but every Avengers movie now, you can’t just have the Avengers not saving the world. It has to be bigger and louder every single time. And I will go and I will see every Avengers movie ever made, but I don’t think that I’d be particularly good at writing them.