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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


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The Write Stuff:

The Art and Craft of Screenwriting
  Fall 2014


Final Shooting Script
(June, 1978)
Walter Hill / David Giler 
Dan O'Bannon / Ronald Shusett


     Contrary to popularly accepted belief, that legendary “Xenomorph” first encountered on planetoid LV-426, which would forever alter the course of all future science fiction and horror films, was not given birth by gestating larval / parasitic-like within the belly of the Nostromo’s Executive Officer Kane, then violently bursting forth upon reaching physical maturity.  Uh, uh!   But rather it’s original incubator was the fertile mind of late science fiction author (and eventual film director) Dan O’Bannon (1946 - 2009), who’s own years long battle with the gastrointestinal disease “Crohn’s Syndrome” served as inspiration for what has become one of the most memorably disturbing single sequences in the annals of cinema history - ALIEN's now legendary "chest burster" scene. 

     Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1946, O’Bannon, the son of a carpenter, possessed an indelible creative streak since childhood.  After high school this would lead him to Washington University in St. Louis where he created make up for student theatrical productions, wrote and performed stand up comedy routines, and illustrated for the school’s newspaper.  It was also there that he’d room with future THE BIG CHILL, PULP FICTION producer Michael Shamberg.  With a more focused interest in film he  then attended USC (The University of Southern California) where, with good friend (and future HALLOWEEN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE THING director) John Carpenter he’d collaborate on the sci fi / comedy student film, DARK STAR, which the two later expanded into a feature, … with none other than O’Bannon himself in the role of “Sgt. Pinback”

     Gaining a reputation as a filmic jack-of-all-trades, he’d turn down an opportunity to head up the special effects department on George Lucas’ then-in-production STAR WARS for the opportunity to do the same on Chilean filmmaker / playwright Alejandro Jodorowsky (EL TOPO, SANTE SANGRE)’s legendary attempted mounting of Frank Herbert’s DUNE.  For DUNE Jodorowsky had commissioned numerous concept illustrations by Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger, best known at the time for his disturbingly elegant blending of “steam punk”-like industrial designs with blunt sexuality into a unique mélange the artist referred to as “Biomechanical.  With sets constructed and millions already poured into the production, Jodorowsky’s DUNE collapsed as a film project, and O’Bannon, now associated with what was a major failure in the eye’s of many in Hollywood, returned home to the U.S. homeless and penniless.  He’d be taken in and allowed to live on the couch of good friend and fellow aspiring screenwriter Ronald Shusett.

   Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shusett (circa 1978)

     Like O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett was possessed by the creative arts from an early age - he producing stage plays at UCLA during the 1960s, and penning numerous published short stories.  Also like O’Bannon however his “big break” as a L.A based screenwriter always seemed to be agonizingly just out of reach.  While O’Bannon crashed indefinitely in Shusett’s living room, the two decided they’d perhaps stand a better chance of success by combining talents and energies; and they decided to do so by collaborating on a thriller.  O’Bannon had for some time toyed with the idea of a monstrous “invader” aboard some kind of vessel (a notion which would also see life a few years later in his similarly themed World War II “B-17” segment of the animated film HEAVY METAL), and the two struck upon the narrative-empowering conceit of using the public’s discomfort with “sexually themed imagery” to burrow their story under the skin of the audience’s sub-conscious, not unlike a parasite surreptitiously burrowing it‘s way beneath a dog‘s fur. 

     With this in mind O’Bannon remembered H.R. Giger’s subtly erotic (if one looked closely enough) conceptual work on the aborted DUNE.  With what little resources they had, O’Bannon and Shusett commissioned good friend, illustrator / designer Ron Cobb (of STAR WARS, then later THE LAST STARFIGHTER and CONAN THE BARBARIAN), to “flesh out“ a series of concept sketches depicting the technological look, feel, and most importantly TONE of the story‘s future setting.

     But in regards to their monster, for all intents and purposes the star of their film, the writing duo would refer to a copy of the Swiss painter / sculptor’s recently-published-to-critical-acclaim coffee table book, H.R. GIGER’S NECRONOMICON: the artist’s bio-mechanical images here inspired by the works of renowned early twentieth century horror author H.P. Lovecraft  

  Giger on Jodorowsky's DUNE

      Born in 1940 in Chur, Graubünden to extremely practical parents, Hans Rudolf “Ruedi” Giger rebelled by becoming a practitioner of what his chemist father referred to as “a breadless profession” - the arts.  Moving to Zurich in the early 1960s he’d study industrial design and architecture at that city’s School of Applied Arts, then work various jobs and commissions until in 1968 he was convinced to abandon his nine-to-five lifestyle in order to devote himself fully to his art. 

     He designed and built his first film “monster” during this time for the 30 minute short SWISSMADE; then over the next six years his work ignited the European (and
 underground American) art world, causing sensation … and controversy at numerous museums and exhibits.  This attention peaked the admiration of more than a few recording artists who hoped the surrealist genius would design one-of-a-kind graphics for their albums.  And one of his most famous would be the cover illustration for Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1973 progressive rock compilation - BRAIN SALAD SURGERY.  

                                                                                                                                                Director Ridley Scott on set
     While O’Bannon and Shusett’s hybrid sci-fi / horror “creature aboard a vessel” script garnered attention around Hollywood, it still hadn’t garnered enough for any major studio to actually commit to it.  That is until it landed on the desk of filmmaker multi-hyphenate Walter Hill.  A life long fan and practitioner of the cinematic pulp milieu (western, crime drama and science fiction), Hill had begun his career writing for Sam Peckinpah on films like THE GETAWAY and assistant directing on classics such as THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR and BULLITT before becoming director of the minimalist (and visually striking) cult favorites HARD TIMES, THE DRIVER, THE WARRIORS, SOUTHERN COMFORT and THE LONG RIDERS. 

   Brandywine Productions' Walter Hill, Gordon Carroll and David Giler

     With broad appeal hits such as 48HRS., RED HEAT and JOHNNY HANDSOME just around the corner, in the late 1970s Hill founded Brandywine Pictures - based at 20th Century Fox, with fellow filmmakers writer / producer David Giler (THE PARALLAX VIEW, FUN WITH DICK & JANE) and producer Gordon Carroll (COOL HAND LUKE, PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, BLUE THUNDER). 

     Enamored by more than anything in O'Bannon and Shusett's script, it was the now legendary "chest burster" scene which caused Hill to champion it to then 20th Century Fox head Alan Ladd Jr.   Ladd had in recent years become a hero at the studio when he himself championed both THE OMEN (1975) and George Lucas’ original STAR WARS (1977) to the company brass when no else believed in either project and execs eventually became eager to pull the plug on both.  They would of course go on to become two of the studio’s most long enduring and lucrative franchises. 

ALIEN (1979) - Theatrical Trailer B

 * ALIEN - Final Shooting Script (Pt. 1)  scriptALIENfinal1.pdf
25.2 MB

 * ALIEN - Final Shooting Script (Pt. 2)  scriptALIENfinal2.pdf
25.8 MB

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The ALIEN creature's visual design papa, H.R. Giger (1940 - 2014)

     Just before O’Bannon and Shusett signed a deal with “B” movie impresario Roger Corman, Hill and Brandywine optioned their script - now titled “ALIEN” and brought it to Fox.  And as the studio felt the story was little more than a clever reworking of a say FRIDAY THE 13TH in space - with a killer (albeit an extraterrestrial one) knocking off victims in rapid succession, Hill and Giler undertook a “stem to stern” rewrite designed to “make things more interesting between killings“.  And in a rare instance of industry acknowledgement, original ALIEN creators O’Bannon & Shusett actually admired and gave credit to what Hill and Giler’s rewrite brought to their original conception: the new draft now featuring a female protagonist in (what was originally a secondary character) Ellen Ripley, as well as a subplot concerning “the Company” actually wanting the Nostromo to land on LV-426 in order to come into contact with the “Xenomorph” as executives believe the creature’s biology may possesses attributes conducive to the their current research into biogenetic military weaponry.  Hill and Giler’s revision also gave birth to the android crewmember Ash, portrayed in the film by respected British character actor Ian Holm.

"ALIEN": INCEPTION - Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shusett
(excerpt from THE "ALIEN" SAGA - 2002)

      An accomplished designer / illustrator in his own right (famously known for pre-production storyboards which his crew affectionately refer to as “Ridleygrams”), Scott was impressed by the technical design contributions brought to the project by Ron Cobb.  But he was absolutely floored when O’Bannon introduced him to the bio-mechanical world of H.R. Giger via the Swiss artist’s NECRONOMICAN.  Most inspired by a painting dubbed “Necronom 4”, Scott welcomed Giger aboard as part of the film’s FX team (which also included KING KONG’s Carlo Rambaldi and 2001: A SPACE  ODYSSEY’s Brian Johnson), and instructed them to pattern the ALIEN creature after the “Necronom #4” design. 

"Necronom #4"


"ALIEN": PRODUCTION - Brandywine & Fox
(excerpt from THE "ALIEN" SAGA - 2002)


     Opening on May 25th, 1979 ALIEN was a box office hit during it’s initial release, returning nearly $105 million worldwide on it’s $8 - $11 million budget, and today clocking in at approx. $204 million (not including ancillaries).  If there was any doubt beforehand, when the film took home the Oscar for Best Visual FX at the 52nd Annual Academy Awards the following April, the years earlier story conception of Dan O’Bannon - born of his own physical malady, had (through various collaborations, inspirations and alterations) proven it’s stripes and status with film fans, … and even learned cineastes, as having provided film history with one of it’s greatest horror characters and narratives; ALIEN today a part of that exclusive club of truly terrifying (and artistic) classics such as THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE EXORCIST and JAWS, all of whom welcome O’Bannon’s monstrous kin as beloved family.

(excerpt from THE "ALIEN" SAGA - 2002)

Academy Awards presenter Farrah Fawcett flanked by ALIEN Visual FX Oscar winners
(left to right) H.R. Giger, Carlo Rambaldi and Brian Johnson

     From our GullCottage archives we’re proud to present the Walter Hill / David Giler FINAL SHOOTING SCRIPT draft (April 1978) of Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett’s ALIEN, accompanied by excerpts from the acclaimed 2002 Fox-VanNess-AMC produced documentary THE ALIEN SAGA - narrated by John Hurt. 

                                                                                                                     CEJ (10/29/14 - rev. 5/22/17)


We dedicate this page to the memory of Hans Rudolf Giger.
(1940 - 2014)

For more on H.R. Giger visit the artist’s official website.

     All film clips rights held by copyright owners.   Presented here for educational / criticism purposes only.

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