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David Giler: Cinefantastique Interview

David Giler: Cinefantastique Interview

David Giler, who wrote scripts for MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, THE PARALLAX VIEW and FUN WITH DICK AND JANE, always seemed to get his office located down the hall from scriptwriter Walter Hill, and the two became good friends while they toiled over their respective scenarios. Each had a mutual friend in producer Gordon Carroll, and a lot of casual talk about forming their own company eventually evolved into Brandywine Productions, an association of which ALIEN is the first result. Carroll brings to the company considerable experience as a line producer, both Hill and Giler contribute expertise at screenwriting to find and develop properties for filming. Hill and Giler collaborated on the shooting script for ALIEN, based on a script submitted by Dan O' Bannon. Giler came to filmmaking by way of television, doing scripts for THE GALLANT MEN, KRAFT THEATRE, BURKE'S LAW, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E and THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E, plus many others. He directed his first feature, THE BLACK BIRD, from his own script in 1975.

Who at Brandywine Productions saw to it that the ALIEN script was given serious consideration at Fox?

Walter Hill probably had more to do with getting the O' Bannon script launched than anyone. Mark Haggard at Goldwyn Studios asked him to read it, and Walter championed the project from then on in. It was a bone skeleton of a story then. Really terrible. Just awful. You couldn't give it away. It was amateurishly written, although the central idea was sound. Basically, it was a pastiche of fifties movies. We – Walter Hill and I – took it and rewrote it completely, added the Ash and the robot subplot. We added the cat, Jones. We fleshed it out, basically. If we had shot the original O' Bannon script, we would have a remake of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE.

You mentioned that your rewrite changed some of the characters around. Could you be more specific?

Yes of course. We made the crew members working class types. We made two of them women, thereby adding the feminist elements everyone is talking about. We gave the characters texture, functions. In O' Bannon's draft, they were totally different, military types. All men. We changed all the dialogue. Every word of it. Nothing is left of O' Bannon's draft. Not a word of his dialogue is left in the film.

In interviews prior to ALIEN's release, O' Bannon argued the opposite - that you guys took a nifty, low-budget idea and “inflamed” it to the point that it lost all impact.

I would expect him to say that. He's only out for himself.

Why this ongoing feud?

There's no feud. O' Bannon's a guy trying to make a buck. He's capitalising on the whole thing as much as he can. I can understand that. But we haven't been fighting or arguing over the phone or anything like that. We bought his script a couple of years ago. That was my end of my association with him.

What about reports of O' Bannon being on set, working with the actors, and changing major sections of dialogue?

He was there for a while yes. That was in his contract; that he could hang around during production. That's why we could buy the script so cheap. We optioned it from him for $1000. Later, he wanted art director credit, director of special effects. He wanted a lot of stuff. Thankfully, the unions don't permit that kind of thing. Finally, he settled for “Visual Design Consultant,” whatever that is. But I can tell you he didn't change a thing when he was on set. By the time I arrived in England, O' Bannon was gone. He was in disgrace. He was involved in a big foul-up. He was supposed to have done something, with the computer read-outs. They finally had to be redone.

Why, if O' Bannon's contributions so meagre, did the Writer's Guild award him sole screenplay credit? It doesn't make sense.

You're right, it doesn't. I can't go into what transpired with the Writer's Guild right now. There isn't time. We'd be here all day. All I can say is it's a totally ridiculous and arbitrary process. You just can't tell with the Writer's Guild. In the end, the plot in O' Bannon's ALIEN and the one in ours are the same. Basically the same. And yet, they are as different as night and day. It's something subtle than the Writer's Guild is equipped to handle. Though the storylines are basically the same, what happens to the characters has been changed drastically. That is what has been altered.

Do you feel ALIEN was influenced by STAR WARS?

ALIEN is to STAR WRAS what The Rolling Stones are to The Beatles; it's a nasty STAR WARS. We see it as a suspense-horror film. It's a richly textured film, thanks to H.R.Giger's work. We received an extra $2.5 million from 20th Century Fox on the basis of his storyboard ideas alone. That's how important he was to this project. His designs for the Derelict ship and the Alien was based on flesh, bone and machine – as if machinery were organic and could grow. It's what he calls biomechanics. We used a 6' 10” native of the Gold Coast inside the monster suit designed by Giger.

We used animal and human sounds mixed for the Alien's 'voice.' Composer Jerry Goldsmith added a conch sound. A local fish restaurant supplied the innards and viscera of the crustacean-like specimen examined by Ash (Ian Holm). The “Chest Birth” was simulated for the actors by surprising them with a shower of animal entrails. That's why their looks of disgust and horror are so real. They had no idea what we were going to shoot that day.

You also mentioned the title IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE...

We only began to hear about IT! THE TERROR towards the end of production. I haven't seen it, but I know of it. We were convinced we were doing something new stylistically, even if the basic outlines were the same. I gather the Alien-hiding-on-a-space-ship idea is pretty much a classic premise with science fiction writers, like the gunfight in a western. So the similarities you refer to didn't bother us.

Rumour has it the copyright owners of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE are talking about suing Fox over similarities between the two films.

I haven't heard anything about it. Nothing at all. The first I heard about the similarities between the two films was from you. I know some of the more esoteric science fiction magazines have commented on tie-ins between IT! THE TERROR and ALIEN. But I'm not a regular reader of these magazines. Personally, I think it's a question you ought to address to O' Bannon and Ronald Shusett. If somebody is responsible for stealing the idea, it's them. They signed a paper saying it was an original idea. If it isn't, they lied to us. It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that O' Bannon stole the idea, I must tell you.

Was the cocoon scene cut from the film because it received a negative response from the Dallas, Texas preview audience?

No, not at all. That sequence was taken out before the film was shown anywhere. So no one except us has seen the cocoon footage. It was removed because it simply didn't work. It interfered with the pacing of the film. It looked terrible, awful. So instead of redoing it, we decided to write it off as a bad idea.

Would you consider pulling a 'Steven Spielberg' and re-release ALIEN with the missing eleven minutes?

No. It runs the way we like it. Sure, the extra footage would fill in some blanks for those who read the novel. But it would, we believe, interfere with the pacing of the thing. Look, I wrote the cocoon scene, and I'd love to see it replaced. Basically, it shows Ripley discovering Dallas and Brett in the Alien's lair. Harry Dean Stanton has almost reduced to an egg shape. Skeritt is still alive but beginning to change. He begs her to kill him. She blasts him with a flame thrower. We didn't show him burning, just a closeup of Ripley pulling the trigger. The horror comes from the idea of her torturing her closest friend.

Does the removal of the Cocoon sequence with the egg make the thrust of the film's ad campaign a bit obscure?

No. I don't think so. First of all, the ad people never saw the film with that sequence in it. In fact, they worked up the present ads before they saw any of the film. As far as we're concerned, it's just an esoteric image. It's not supposed to be specific at all; the egg is a metaphor for the Alien. A very general symbol for it. Originally, we had a Giger egg that we liked very much for the ad prototype. But the ad people couldn't reproduce it well enough. We showed them Giger's egg, but they ignored it and came up with their own version of it.

Hasn't anyone expressed confusion over not finding the ad egg in the film?

No one has mentioned it – except, of course, you.

Do you feel the success of ALIEN, with its R rating, validates the concept of “adult” science fiction?

I couldn't say. I have really no idea. Of course,n would like to think we have aimed for a more intelligent science fiction audience than many of the Fifties' grade-B science fiction films. So in that respect, I would hope any breakthrough made by ALIEN will be reflected in future science fiction films. I do know, though, that if we'd have gone for a PG rating, we'd have to soften this movie. The same with the EXORCIST, I suppose. That had some really strong stuff, too. I mean JAWS certainly should have been an R. It was really violent. I mean that opening shark attack and all. There;s a lot of blood in JAWS – especially in Quint's attack – than in our picture.

Wasn't Fox leery of an R rating, and wasn't there pressure to tone down the violence, gruesomeness, blood and gore, and sex?

No, just the opposite. They weren't leery of the R rating. Everybody knew from the start we'd get an R. It was always assumed. The rating aspect of our film has been inflated all out of proportion. I'm asked more about that than anything else. I can't figure out why.

Wasn't Walter Hill originally scheduled to direct? Does he have any regrets now?

No, he doesn't regret not directing. He doesn't regret it at all. The reports have been that he stepped down because of a schedule conflict with THE WARRIORS, which he finally directed. Again, this is a media misconception. Conflict or no conflict, science fiction really isn't Walters bag. He has no particular interest in science fiction. Never has. Nor is he particularly interested in terror. Of course, I may be absolutely wrong. He may call me tomorrow and say, “What are you talking about?” But I get that impression.

What exactly was Hill's contribution to the actual shooting of ALIEN?

A certain amount of Hill's contribution was flat engineer work – editing, casting, etc. But he wasn't at the studio at all during the shooting. His responsibilities were mostly in the preliminary stages. He had an awful lot to do with selecting the actors. W e talked about it all the time. Though he wasn't involved with the actual shooting of ALIEN, his contributions, in my opinion, are not to be underestimated.

To what extent were you involved in the physical production of ALIEN?

I was involved in all the preproduction work. All the casting and that stuff. When they started getting behind in production, I joined them in London. I was there from late August [1978] to the finish – straight through the editing. I worked side-by-side with Scott in the editing room. Ridley and I got along very well.

The viewer is led in the end to think the cat has been taken over by the Alien. Ripley's foolhardy return to save Jones, then the emphasis on the pet being safely stowed in the shuttle supports this suspicion. Did you ever consider going with this trick ending?

Not really. We wanted a SLEEPING BEAUTY ending. We thought it would be better to have a more lyrical ending, instead of going with the stock Hitchcockian twist.

And you've left yourselves open for a sequel...

Absolutely. We're involved in a preliminary discussion right now. But it's still too early to say how it will unfold. Hill and I are working on it. I know a lot of people who think we intended the closeups of the cat in the shuttle as a hook for the sequel. Not so. It probably won't have anything to do with the cat.

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