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Question about the film Alien and who actually wrote it.

Charles de Lauzirika

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#1 of 27 Merrick Gearing

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Posted April 24 2010 - 05:09 PM

I was watching the documentary on the film Alien from the Alien Quad set as well as listened to the audio commentary of the film and I found out something interesting:

On the movie box it shows that the story and screenplay was written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett.

However, according to Shusett, David Giler and Walter Hill actually made a lot of changes to the screenplay. The creation of Ash as an android for instance was one of them. According to the documentary Shusett thought Giler and Hill adding in Ash was brilliant, while O'Bannon in the audio commentary was a waste of time.

I actually looked through the original script which was also on the Quad set and found it to be different from what was filmed somewhat and wasnt as good, which I found ironic that O'Bannon and Shusett felt each revision got worse, which suggests to me that Giler and Hill played a bigger part in the final product then initially thought.

I guess my question is:
How much did Giler and Hill actually contribute to the script and why are their names never mentioned when talking about the Alien series since it seems like they played a much bigger part than they are often given credit for?

Its also important to point out that the great Alan Ladd played a big part in getting this film greenlit and nobody should ever forget his role in getting Star Wars greenlit.

#2 of 27 Charles de Lauzirika

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Posted April 24 2010 - 08:24 PM

It's my understanding that Dan O'Bannon felt strongly enough about his contribution to the "Alien" script that he submitted the matter to the WGA for arbitration and won.  Generally speaking, even today, once the WGA awards credit, no other contributing writers may be credited, no matter how important their contribution was.  This often goes for commentaries and featurettes as well.  The legal departments at many studios will usually ask me to remove any references (no matter if they're positive, negative or merely factual) to uncredited writers.  As someone who is simply trying to tell the true story behind the making of a film, this can often be a frustrating hurdle.

#3 of 27 Kevin EK

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Posted May 31 2010 - 05:38 AM

Alien was indeed Dan O'Bannon's creation, with input by Shusett.  His original script, "Star Beast", was the initial version of what eventually got rewritten into the final film.   Giler and Hill did a lot of rewriting, as was noted by the guys in the documentaries, and O'Bannon wasn't particularly happy about it.  From his point of view, they were fixing something that didn't need to be fixed.  We can all read the script for ourselves and draw our own conclusions.   My understanding of O'Bannon's original plan for the movie was that he thought he was going to direct it himself, as he would later do with Return of the Living Dead.  But the way that credits are determined has to do with whoever came up with the story first, and how much of that material continues to exist in the completed script.  O'Bannon's story survived all the rewriting by Giler and Hill, who in the end, punched up the dialogue and added a subplot.   From the WGA's point of view, the writer who created this was still O'Bannon.


The note about credited and uncredited writers can be a real problem when trying to just tell what was going on.  There are some documentaries and books I have seen that have been able to untangle this, here and there.  The materials on Jaws, for example, include the contributions by Howard Sackler, John Milius and Robert Shaw.  There is a book on Apocalypse Now by Peter Cowie that goes into pretty extensive detail about the writing of the narration, which gets really interesting.



#4 of 27 Merrick Gearing

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Posted June 30 2010 - 07:06 AM



Originally Posted by Kevin EK 

Alien was indeed Dan O'Bannon's creation, with input by Shusett.  His original script, "Star Beast", was the initial version of what eventually got rewritten into the final film.   Giler and Hill did a lot of rewriting, as was noted by the guys in the documentaries, and O'Bannon wasn't particularly happy about it.  From his point of view, they were fixing something that didn't need to be fixed.  We can all read the script for ourselves and draw our own conclusions.   My understanding of O'Bannon's original plan for the movie was that he thought he was going to direct it himself, as he would later do with Return of the Living Dead.  But the way that credits are determined has to do with whoever came up with the story first, and how much of that material continues to exist in the completed script.  O'Bannon's story survived all the rewriting by Giler and Hill, who in the end, punched up the dialogue and added a subplot.   From the WGA's point of view, the writer who created this was still O'Bannon.


The note about credited and uncredited writers can be a real problem when trying to just tell what was going on.  There are some documentaries and books I have seen that have been able to untangle this, here and there.  The materials on Jaws, for example, include the contributions by Howard Sackler, John Milius and Robert Shaw.  There is a book on Apocalypse Now by Peter Cowie that goes into pretty extensive detail about the writing of the narration, which gets really interesting.

Well, the creation of the company and corporate subplot was a big part of the Alien series so I feel that Giler and Hill's contribution should not be ignored.



#5 of 27 Kevin EK

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Posted July 01 2010 - 07:12 AM

For the series, yes.  But for the original script, O'Bannon's original concept dominated the movie.  For this reason, the WGA ruled that the script was still essentially his.


There are also rules about producers doing rewrites, and how much of the actual script has to be their work in order for the WGA to allow the credit.  I believe it's over 50%, and they didn't meet that standard.


As the documentaries note, their work wasn't ignored - they still have producer credits, and without them, the film wouldn't have been madde, but they did not create the story or the basic script.  (Even though Hill tried to make it look like that by changing the names of the characters in an arbitrary fashion.)



#6 of 27 Merrick Gearing

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Posted July 02 2010 - 06:02 AM



Originally Posted by Kevin EK 

For the series, yes.  But for the original script, O'Bannon's original concept dominated the movie.  For this reason, the WGA ruled that the script was still essentially his.


There are also rules about producers doing rewrites, and how much of the actual script has to be their work in order for the WGA to allow the credit.  I believe it's over 50%, and they didn't meet that standard.


As the documentaries note, their work wasn't ignored - they still have producer credits, and without them, the film wouldn't have been madde, but they did not create the story or the basic script.  (Even though Hill tried to make it look like that by changing the names of the characters in an arbitrary fashion.)

Nevertheless, I feel that they added the little things that made the overall film and entire series better.  Also, the names that Giler and Hill came up with were better.  I rememeber Ripley's original name was something like Malconous.


#7 of 27 Kevin EK

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Posted July 02 2010 - 09:12 AM

Giler and Hill absolutely added things that improved the film, and helped them lay the groundwork to make more movies using the story.  I would also add that the contributions of Ridley Scott were essential, particularly since, according to O'Bannon, he was the one who joined O'Bannon in championing the work of H.R. Giger for the movie.  And without Giger, to my mind, you'd have no alien.  (With a nod as well to Carlo Rambaldi for the outer/inner jaw design)


I'd have to go back to look at Dan O'Bannon's original script to see what the other names were.  I think one was Roby and another one was Standard.  Strange names.

Where things get sticky with the crediting is that the WGA has pretty specific rules about situations like this.  The reason is pretty clear - otherwise, you'd have producers putting their own names on scripts right and left, regardless of their contribution.  The WGA's position is to protect the actual writer who came up with the idea.

One other note regarding DVD documentaries and credited writers.  The Star Trek II DVD includes discussion by Nicholas Meyer et al of how the movie was written.  It's a distillation of the story told by Meyer in many places including his own book, but the short version is Meyer wrote the movie.  There were 5 prior drafts that didn't pass muster, and Meyer sat down with the producers and itemized the elements from those drafts that they wanted to keep.  Meyer then wrote (and rewrote) the basic version of the Trek II script.  (Harve Bennett also put his own material in, and further rewrites were generated by Shatner, Nimoy, and even Roddenberry, in his own way.)  But Meyer wrote it and controlled it on set.  When the time came to determine the crediting, the WGA went back to the original 5 drafts to determine which one had the most elements to wind up in the script.  So the movie winds up being credited to Jack Sowards with a nod to Bennett for the story.  Meyer says that his discussion of these matters led to the disclaimer being put in the front of DVDs that the commentaries and interviews are only the opinions of the people on the DVD and not that of the studio...



#8 of 27 Worth

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Posted July 02 2010 - 12:09 PM

I've read the shooting script of Alien and it was written by Walter Hill - Giler may have also been credited, but having read some of his other scripts, the writing style was clearly Hill's.


The WGA looks to the overall story structure and characters when deciding on credits. As Hill and Giler didn't signficantly alter O'Bannon's story or main characters, O'Bannon retained final credit along with Shusett.


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#9 of 27 Kevin EK

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Posted July 02 2010 - 12:51 PM

Nick, you're correct that the script bears many fingerprints of Walter Hill and David Giler, as does the shooting script of Alien 3.  You're also correct that Hill and Giler didn't change the story other than to add the Company/Ash subplot.


The WGA's 51% rule would have been applied here, and it's a major reason why Hill and Giler's names were not included in the script credits.  From O'Bannon's comments on the DVD, it's clear he was more than a little suspicious about the changing of the characters' names.   The WGA evaluations tend to favor the original writer unless it's clear that the revisers actually changed the basic story at hand.  It's for this reason that three of the Star Trek movies wound up in arbitration, and various other names got included in the credits beyond the people who actually wrote the scripts.



#10 of 27 Merrick Gearing

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Posted July 03 2010 - 07:13 AM



Originally Posted by Kevin EK 

Giler and Hill absolutely added things that improved the film, and helped them lay the groundwork to make more movies using the story.  I would also add that the contributions of Ridley Scott were essential, particularly since, according to O'Bannon, he was the one who joined O'Bannon in championing the work of H.R. Giger for the movie.  And without Giger, to my mind, you'd have no alien.  (With a nod as well to Carlo Rambaldi for the outer/inner jaw design)

I cannot in any way argue with you here.  Giger was the X-factor in all of this.  He is what made the movie something truly special.  However, I do feel that Stan Winston improved the original design in Aliens.  The Alien queen is a thing to behold.

Nevertheless,  its kinda funny how O'Bannon specifically trashed Giler/Hills contributions while Shushet was greatful for those contributions.




#11 of 27 Kevin EK

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Posted July 03 2010 - 11:34 AM

There you have the difference between the two guys.  Although I have to give O'Bannon a nod for not only writing the original script, but also sticking with the project through production, including spending a lot of time with the art department, with Ron Cobb, Moebius, Chris Foss and Giger.

But over time, O'Bannon was always a bit of a curmudgeon, as he grudgingly admits at times in the documentary on the DVD.  Shusett was a more genial guy about this stuff.  I particularly liked O'Bannon and Shusett's accounts of the premiere, with O'Bannon angrily refusing to go, until deciding to drive there like a madman at the last second.

I recall an interview with O'Bannon from 1983, which I still have somewhere in my apartment, where he not only trashed Giler and Hill, but also went off the deep end about John Badham and the producers on Blue Thunder.  The documentary on that DVD covers some of this, but back in the day, O'Bannon was effectively saying that they had ruined his script.  This was in an issue of Starlog in spring 1983, and for some reason, his quotes stay with me to this day.



#12 of 27 Worth

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Posted July 03 2010 - 04:38 PM

I remember that Blue Thunder interview - O'Bannon was furious that his script had been dumbed down and really let into John Badham for it. I suspect he was something of a control freak, which is not a good thing for a screenwriter to be, not if he wants to stay sane, anyway. He probably would have been much happier as a writer-director. It's a shame he never had the opportunity to direct more films - Return of the Living Dead is a classic of its kind.


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#13 of 27 Valaquen

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Posted September 28 2010 - 07:13 AM

I looked at the Alien script battle here:
http://valaquen.blog...cript to Script

Whilst Giler and Hill contributed Ash, the great majority of set pieces are O'Bannon's, and Giger's involvement owes itself to O'Bannon, as does Cobbs'. In short, the movie would have looked the same, though the character names would be different, as would be some of their fates (Dallas meets his maker where Lambert does, and is coccooned from there, Lambert, under then name Melkonis, dies much earlier, and isn't so much of a freak out machine).



#14 of 27 bo130

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Posted September 29 2010 - 02:45 PM



Originally Posted by Kevin EK 
Meyer then wrote (and rewrote) the basic version of the Trek II script.  (Harve Bennett also put his own material in, and further rewrites were generated by Shatner, Nimoy, and even Roddenberry, in his own way.) 


Hi, new to the forum, and I wanted to post on this particular point.  Roddenberry would not have been involved in any re-writes that actually would have "stuck".  He was a (very well) paid consultant from Trek's 2 through 6.  He was allowed to give as many notes as he wanted to about anything related to the films as he wanted to, but noone working on the films, like Meyer or Bennett, were under any actual obligation to change them to Roddenberry's wishes.



#15 of 27 robbbb1138

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Posted September 30 2010 - 01:36 AM



Originally Posted by Valaquen 

I looked at the Alien script battle here:
http://valaquen.blog...cript to Script

Whilst Giler and Hill contributed Ash, the great majority of set pieces are O'Bannon's, and Giger's involvement owes itself to O'Bannon, as does Cobbs'. In short, the movie would have looked the same, though the character names would be different, as would be some of their fates (Dallas meets his maker where Lambert does, and is coccooned from there, Lambert, under then name Melkonis, dies much earlier, and isn't so much of a freak out machine).


That was a great write-up.  The only Giler/Hill draft I'd ever seen was the shooting script, which I did think was a substantial improvement over the O'Bannon/Shusett draft.  However, I'd never seen the earlier Giler/Hill draft that you referenced at several places in your summary.  Is that available online?




#16 of 27 Kevin EK

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Posted November 06 2010 - 05:33 AM

Eric, you're absolutely right that Gene Roddenberry did not actually contribute any writing to any of the Star Trek movies after the first one.  He was indeed a well-paid "Executive Consultant", which was Paramount's way of making the movies without him, but throwing him enough of a bone that his fans would not think he'd been thrown overboard.


I should have been clearer in what I wrote - I realize now that I made it a bit too murky.   I meant that Meyer wrote the Star Trek II script, with some writing done by Harve Bennett.  When Shatner and Nimoy read the earlier Meyer draft, they gave extensive notes, which Meyer quickly incorporated in a way that got both actors very excited about doing the movie.  Roddenberry was a different story.  When he found out that Meyer and Bennett planned to kill off the Spock character, he did not take that quietly.  According to Bennett, Roddenberry leaked the plot detail to the press, generating a wave of angry mail to Paramount and causing a lot of anxiety on the movie, which was still in pre-production.  Meyer then rewrote the script again to move Spock's death to the end of the movie, and to move the simulator scene to the top of the movie, as a way of addressing the fan concerns and deflecting what Roddenberry had done.  Meyer and Bennett acknowledged that this made the script stronger, but said that it wasn't helpful to have Roddenberry acting the way he was.   So he didn't actually write anything, and his recommendations were all pretty much ignored - but his act of leaking the script generated a rewrite.  So his influence came in a backhanded way.


Getting back to Dan O'Bannon and ALIEN, I really appreciated the additional interview material with him at the end of the Enhancement Pods on the new set.  He goes into some detail about his anger at Walter Hill and how he threatened legal action against Hill after one too many instances of Hill trying to take credit for writing the movie.   Of course, this was all from O'Bannon's point of view - I'm sure that Hill would say something completely different about what happened...



#17 of 27 bo130

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Posted November 27 2010 - 10:46 AM



Originally Posted by Kevin EK 

Eric, you're absolutely right that Gene Roddenberry did not actually contribute any writing to any of the Star Trek movies after the first one.  He was indeed a well-paid "Executive Consultant", which was Paramount's way of making the movies without him, but throwing him enough of a bone that his fans would not think he'd been thrown overboard.


I should have been clearer in what I wrote - I realize now that I made it a bit too murky.   I meant that Meyer wrote the Star Trek II script, with some writing done by Harve Bennett.  When Shatner and Nimoy read the earlier Meyer draft, they gave extensive notes, which Meyer quickly incorporated in a way that got both actors very excited about doing the movie.  Roddenberry was a different story.  When he found out that Meyer and Bennett planned to kill off the Spock character, he did not take that quietly.  According to Bennett, Roddenberry leaked the plot detail to the press, generating a wave of angry mail to Paramount and causing a lot of anxiety on the movie, which was still in pre-production.  Meyer then rewrote the script again to move Spock's death to the end of the movie, and to move the simulator scene to the top of the movie, as a way of addressing the fan concerns and deflecting what Roddenberry had done.  Meyer and Bennett acknowledged that this made the script stronger, but said that it wasn't helpful to have Roddenberry acting the way he was.   So he didn't actually write anything, and his recommendations were all pretty much ignored - but his act of leaking the script generated a rewrite.  So his influence came in a backhanded way.


While this is my opinion only, I personally feel that Roddenberry was a blessing and a curse to Star Trek.  I think for every really great thing he did, he did something really negative.  For example, one can thank him for creating Next Gen, but then again one can easily criticize him for allowing his lawyer to essentially take over the day-to-day big decisions of that series, nearly sinking it before the higher PTB were forced to intervene before the whole show went down.  That is certainly not the only example, though.  Roddenberry certainly displayed that he knew how to create a great premise for characters and setting within the Trek "universe".  I think his biggest weakness though was as a writer, particularly as he got older.



#18 of 27 J-Syxx

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Posted November 29 2010 - 04:08 PM

They also made Ripley female.  Without that, the entire dynamics of the film's themes change.



#19 of 27 Kevin EK

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Posted November 30 2010 - 04:57 AM

Joe, you're absolutely right.

But we should also keep in mind what Dan O'Bannon writes in his foreword to his script on the disc - He says that he specifically kept the characters as undeveloped as possible, and that any of them could have been played by a man or a woman (with one exception - the first victim).  His intention was to figure this out when he got into casting, and to create the characters with the cast.  This was of course when he was thinking he'd be directing the movie himself.  Once he lost that level of control, the situation was in Giler, Hill and Ridley Scott's hands.


Another aspect of O'Bannon's intentions come out in that foreword.  He was specific that he wanted the alien to hatch out of a male character.  After that, he felt that the themes of terror and revulsion would be universal.



#20 of 27 J-Syxx

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Posted December 01 2010 - 03:09 AM



Originally Posted by Kevin EK 

Joe, you're absolutely right.

But we should also keep in mind what Dan O'Bannon writes in his foreword to his script on the disc - He says that he specifically kept the characters as undeveloped as possible, and that any of them could have been played by a man or a woman (with one exception - the first victim).  His intention was to figure this out when he got into casting, and to create the characters with the cast.  This was of course when he was thinking he'd be directing the movie himself.  Once he lost that level of control, the situation was in Giler, Hill and Ridley Scott's hands.


Another aspect of O'Bannon's intentions come out in that foreword.  He was specific that he wanted the alien to hatch out of a male character.  After that, he felt that the themes of terror and revulsion would be universal.



Sounds like O'Banon trying to save face in retrospect of Sigourney's involvement in the series being hugely iconic.  I'm not really buying that one completely.  He obviously thinks he could've derided stuff like Ash (although he's completely wrong), but obviously he would come off as just an ass if he was complaining about Ripley not being a guy.  So the best option for him would be to say something that goes back to his screenplay in some odd way than to give Giler and Hill any credit.  As much as his involvement in the film is important and made the film what it was as a foundation for others to build off of, I don't really think everything he said or did was completley on the level.