Alien: Dan the Script Surgeon

leading from 

a)  Identifying a weakness
As the script went forwards through it's various transformations, what Ron Cobb the concept artist took note of was the weakness of the characterisation. 

The crew of the spaceship to him seemed almost as empty as the astronauts of 2001 A Space Odyssey and he thought that it would make it hard for the audience to identify with these people.

b) A slither of an opportunity  
Two weeks before the filming started, David Giler and Walter Hill were trying to interest Ridley with their other different ideas such as the cylinder script and their script featuring characters such as Hercules, Jack the Ripper and so on, whereas Ridley wanted to go back to the script structure that Ron Shusett and Dan O'Bannon had been working. 

Shusett remembers Ridley having to stand his ground and say "I can't be here having to satisfy the different master, they want their draft shot and I'm choosing not to shoot that"

Ridley and everyone else were fed up with Giler and Hill's failure to make any of the promised revisions that they said they were going to make,  and so it finally got to a point where the main producer, Gordon Carroll, and Ridley Scott called Dan O'Bannon in, and so a sliver of an opportunity opened up.


Dan said "You know, I'll fix it if you'll let me"

David Giler and Walter Hill found themselves having to leave the project behind in pre-production because there was friction building up between themselves and Ridley Scott over the script.

c) Coherency restorations
If Dan had his way, the best way for him to fix the script would have been to present Ridley with his very own original draft that he sold to Brandywine before David Giler and Walter Hill proceeded to alter it, but the powers-that-be on the movie would not allow him to do this. 

With that he started making the revisions, there were two weeks of frantic mutual work between them all he wasn't allowed to put it back to the way he had been originally because that wasn't allowed but he near enough patted it together a little bit into a shape that they liked, restoring some of its coherency before turning it over to Ridley to direct. 

Thus Dan and Ron felt a lot better about the script because of the substantial input that they were being given. Ron Cobb thought that they were strengthening it considerably and quite well. 

By the time they were done, what they had on the screen was, as Dan found to be, in a sense very close to the original draft.

Source quotes
  1. Dan O'Bannon: So I have had the experience of writing stuff and watching somebody go out with, apparently, a very dim, if any, perception, of all that was on the page. The only true exception, I'd say was Ridley Scott, and there was another problem there, which was that There was another problem there, which was that Ridley was not permitted by the powers-that-be on Alien to film what I wrote (Scifi entertainment, Feb 1996, p41)
  2. Ron Shusett: And to Fox's credit, they looked at his commercials, they said this guy's a visual genius, we'll got with it. He shot that down. And there were other things he wanted to do which Ridley thought about hard and finally said "no no" these are just attempts, honest attempts, sheer attempts on your part to make it better and it's getting worse. So I'm gonna just go back to the Shusett - O'Bannon draft with the exception of the robot's head, and that, of course that antagonised them and then eventually they didn't choose even though they were... I was executive producer, and they were producers with Gordon Carroll, their third partner, but they eventually had to leave the location in preproduction because there was too much friction with the director and Ridley said, "I don't have... I can't be here having to satisfy the different master, there, they want their draft shot and I'm choosing not to shoot that", so they just decided to go back, and they both went back, and Hill went on to make another very good movie right after that himself.  (http://www.askmrkern.com/page3.php October 27, 2012) 
  3. Ron Shusett: So they tried every level through eight drafts making it more outlandish to make it more realistic, but Ridley kept coming back to the structure we had which was working superbly in every way and they wrote a lot of dialogue that later remained, but structurally only one thing they did remained. And that was a masterpiece of an idea I thought. The second best idea in the whole movie.( report from what was additionally said in the interview for "Alien Evolution", 2001)  
  4. Dan O'Bannon: And then two weeks before we started shooting, he left for mysterious reasons. He left the production, and the director called me in and there were two weeks of frantic mutual work between all of us trying to put the script into a shape that they liked. By the time we got done, it was maybe 80% of the what the original draft was. What we got on the screen was actually very close to the original draft. (Rocket's Blast Comic Collector # 148)
  5. Dan O'Bannon: And finally at the last minute, I saw that everyone, including Ridley, was so fed up with Giler and Hill’s failure to make any of the promised revisions, that they said they were gonna make, that a little sliver of opportunity was created. I was standing there, I said, you know, I’ll fix it if you’ll let me and I went in and didn’t put it back to what it had been originally, politically this was not permitted, but I kind of patted it together a little bit, I gave it back some of its coherency, before turning it over to Ridley to direct.  (as reported from the interview for Alien Evolution)
  6. Starburst: What kind of problems did you encounter in the film
    Rob Cobb: I think the biggest problem of the film is that the people working on it who might find themselves at home with the kind of film don't have the power, and the people who have the power don't particularly like this kind of film. It creates a strange tension. Everybody wants it to be as good as possible but there's a limit to the input we can each put into the film and you can only go so far in representing a potential audience to the director and producer. One of the problems I foresee for the film is in the weakness of the characterisation. The crew of the spaceship is almost as empty as are the astronauts of 2001: I think it's a shame because it's going to be hard for the audience to identify with these people

    Starburst: Do you think that might change by the time shooting has finished.
    Ron Cobb: It's amazing. The whole film is in a constant state of flux. Script revisions are going on every day. Things that haven't been shot are still being rewritten and that's why Dan is feeling better, because he and Ron Shusett re having substantial input into these last minute script changes. They're fixing it quite well, strengthening it considerably.(Starburst #16)

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