Alien: Messrs Hill and Giler vs Dan O'Bannon



leading from

Still collating

a) Act of war
In September of 1978, Dan started negotiating and hassling for his screen credit. Meanwhile, Giler and Hill wanted the credits to read: Screenplay by Walter Hill and David Giler based on a screenplay by Dan O'Bannon from a story by O'Bannon and Shusett.

Dan called up Walter Hill telling him  "Walter, I said I'm begging you, please let me share credit with you

Walter replied "Well, Dan, I've been through these arbitrations before and you win some, you lose some, " before hanging up hung up on him.

In response Dan found himself saying perhaps to himself "Okay, arbitration, win some, lose some, then I must try to win this one."


http://www.wga.org/


b) Arbitration
Dan was thinking that they should have had enough experience themselves to know that this would not work, because Giler and Hill both had a couple of studio pictures in their background and were both Writer's Guild members, and they had been through arbitrations. In this case, thankfully it was his own script that was shot, and not Hill and Giler's rewrite, but still his script as shot was heavily bruised by them. He contacted the writers guild, he was new to this whole thing and had to find out how it was done, he was new to this stuff, he found out how they did it, he requested an arbitration, it was granted. And so he appealed to the Writer's Guild, and arbitration was granted. They told him to sit down and write his statement and the various other thing to do before he submitted it, and it was something that he worked harder on that anything before, including the scripts and the movies he had done in his life and then he handed it in.

c) Willing to share
Dan was willing to share credit with Hill and Giler, just so that he would have to take the blame for some of the things he considered silly and inadequate in the script. His original script was like clockwork, it had all the elements of a thriller and for him it gleamed. He saw it up there with Agatha Christie, but after they reworked it, it was severely dented, on the level of "I'll go down in the cellar after the cat just to that the monster can jump on me," Some of the resulting thing was his and some of it was theirs. However when they came after him with their maw dripping for the whole credit, he realised that it was war, that it was no holds barred, there would be no prisoners. He would go down the road of demanding all the credit for himself even if the result was that he would be expected to share it.

Walter Hill (source: Starlog #24)

d) Decision
Later the Writers Guild called Dan one Friday telling him that they had decided in his favour, although there was a fair amount of difference in the detail between what he had written and what was on the screen, the fundamental thrust and important elements originated from Dan, and since these were important elements of the movie, he got sole credit. Sole credit was more than he expected, he wasn't really sure how he felt about it, but he knew that he won. The arbitrations standards were pretty clear, and so he felt that Giler and Hill should have realised that no minor changes were going to get them the sole credit which for some reason they expected.

e) Giler's viewpoint
Giler thought that although the storylines were basically the same, what happened to the characters had been drastically changed. They turned the characters from military types to working class types, made two of them women, thereby adding the feminist elements that everyone would talk about, and they gave the characters texture and functions.  He thought that the difference between the scripts was like night and day. They changed all the dialogue as well. However he thought that this situation was something subtler than what the Writer's Guild was equipped to handle.

f) Hill's viewpoint
With his already prolific career as a film screenplay writer, Hill's idea about winning some, losing seemed to become a way of being philosophical when it happened to him, he was trying not to show himself off as someone either bitter or resentful of the outcome of the result of the Writer's Guild arbitration but he disagreed with the decision, he thought it was an unbelievably medieval process, in which there is a decision to which there is no appeal. He also thought that this basic system, unfortunately disenfranchised whoever wrote the actual script itself if it was based on another person's script, and so he would suggest to others comparing O'Bannon's original script to his own rewrite of the original and then the final shooting script by Hill and Giler, but no mention by him was made of a version of the shooting script rewritten by Dan O'Bannon in the role of a script doctor.

g) Trying to keep it under the covers
However beyond that Giler offered the point of view that there was no feud going on, they were not fighting or arguing over the whole thing over the phone or anything like that, but he just saw O'Bannon as a guy who was trying to make a buck and capitalize on the whole thing as much as he could and Giler could understand that. When Giler and Hill bought the Alien script, as far as Giler was concerned, that was the end of his association. And Dan was trying not to publicly knock Giler and Hill but he was talking about it behind the scenes and, Cinefantastique wanted to publish something about it in an article, Dan said no to this, but it came out through the mouths of Cinefantastique staff who tried to publish the information against his objections and other magazines were finding out.

David Giler (source: http://movies.wikia.com/wiki/David_Giler)


h) Giler and Hill's stupidity?
Dan just saw it as if they had stupidly targeted him as their victim, in the manner that he was "not a friend" and when their victim ended up not being victimised, they raged around 20th Century Fox in response. In the next breath of the call, the Guild revealed that Hill had submitted an appeal against th deicion, but he lost the appeal, and finally after months and months of hassel, the Guild decided that that the writing credit would read "A screenplay by Dan O'Bannon from a story by Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett." Dan was vindicated, but what about his design credit? The union didn't permit that.

i) Walter's point of view
Hill's basic public opinion was that he and Giler had written the script and it seemed to Dan as if he was saying that Dan had screwed him out of the credit using perhaps some sort of position of power that  didn't seem to exist, but people appeared to believe him. He also believed that on-screen credits often had very little relation to who did what on a film, and in this instance, the Writer's Guild had a rule whereby, you had to show that 70 percent of the material was your own and brand new. He was looking at the fact that Giler and himself carried the screenplay through five drafts to the final shooting and this was being considered immaterial, but of course, these things were very difficult to quantify

Dan O'Bannon: photo borrowed from https://horrorpedia.com/
j) Dan Strikes back again
Dan was unwilling to get involved in a public war of words because that would look terrible but Hill would spend several years telling everybody who would listen, any journalist, that he'd written Alien and that Dan stole the credit. Later Dan finally changed his mind, he realised that he would come out looking bad but it was the person who shouts the loudest who gets to write history, and really, Walter Hill was violating the Writer's Guild Rules, because when you lose, you're not supposed to come out and contest publicly. But Walter was still pushing and Dan was turning into a Donal Duck cartoon, but then he finally got fed up and had his lawyer shut Walter up for good and he said to his Lawyer, "You tell Walter Hill, and if he opens his mouth one more time in public, I'm going to do something rally awful."

k) Aftermath of Walter's silence
Walter then shut up, and Dan noticed that opinions started to turn in his direction, the public were giving Walter Hill less attention. It was something that he would have preferred happen when Alien was originally released, although he enjoyed it when it did finally did.

Source Quotes
  1. John Brosnan wrote an article about Alien where he exposed a quote from Dan O'Bannon that really ought to have been kept behind the scenes, he wrote about how Dan O'Bannon  was not too happy about the changes to his original script, that Dan had said "My story has been rewritten twice now, first by Walter Hill and then by David Giler ... when Hill came to work on the script, he said to me "My strength is that I don't know a thing about science fiction. " I never understood what he meant by that. It makes me nervous though. These people literally go back to step one, ignoring all that has happened in SF literature since the 30s. They are making the same mistakes that sf writers were making decades ago. If all you know about science fiction is Star Wars then all you can possibly do is rewrite Star Wars" (Starburst #14)
  2. Dan O'Bannon :You used a quotation by me in which I criticised Messrs Giler and Hill's rewrites. This particular quotation was a remark  I made to someone who worked for Cinefantastique magazine, which they attempted to print against my objections. I didn't want it printed because I didn't want to knock my colleagues publicly, editor Fred Clark grudgingly agreed to kill it. I wonder where you go hold of it. (Starburst 15,p41,  Dan O'Bannon's Unseen Alien)
  3.  O'Bannon: Back in September of last year, I started negotiating and hassling for my screen credit. Giler and Hill wanted the credits to read: Screenplay by Walter Hill and David Giler based on a screenplay by Dan O'Bannon from a story by O'Bannon and Shusett. They didn't shoot Hill and Giler's rewrite. Ridley shot my script.So I took it to the Writers Guild for arbitration. on a Friday I get a call from the WGA telling me that they've decided  in my favor. Then in the next breath they tell me that Hill has immediately submitted an appeal against the decision. Finally after months and months of hassle the WGA has decided  and the writing credit will read: A screenplay by Dan O'Bannon from a story by Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett. I've been vindicated. I still don't know about my design credit but we'll see.

    The problem with the money-men is that a lot of them don't care about making good films, and don't understand movies, yet they insist that you do it their way. The very people who say " I don't understand anything about it, i don't like it, " they rewrite it, they change everything you do, they don't let you do it yourself. That's what is so infuriating. They go "You know, six months ago I couldn't spell auteur and now I are one" I've got an insight for you. This is something that I've learned which has disappointed me very very greatly. (Fantastic Films US issue 11/ GB issue 1)  
  4. Dan O'Bannon "I called up Walter Hill and begged him to include me with the two of them in the credits, and I'll never forget what Walter said to me, he said "Well, Dan, I've been through these arbitrations before and you win some, you lose some, " and he hung up on me. So I appealed to the Writer's Guild. There was an arbitration and... The Writer's Guild felt that although there was a fair amount of difference in the detail between what I had written and what was on screen, that the fundamental thrust and important elements originated with me. And they were the important parts of the movie, and so I got sole credit. Walter raged around 20th Century Fox and appealed to the Guild but lost the appeal as well. (New Scriptwriter (date and issue?)
  5. Did you have any more input into AvP2: Requiem than just your credit as having created the alien character?
    Dan O'Bannon: No, no. You’ve got to understand that Walter Hill and David Giler, who have been attached to the project from the beginning, they hate my guts. Because they’re scoundrels. They thought that by pulling a couple of fast ones that they could steal my screenplay credit from the original Alien.
    Den Of Geek: This is where they rewrote the names of the characters in your original script?
    Dan O'Bannon: Yeah. They should have had enough experience themselves to know that that wouldn’t work, because they both had a couple of studio pictures already in their background, and they were both Writer’s Guild members, and they had been through arbitrations. The arbitrations standards are pretty clear, and they should have realised that no minor changes were gonna get them – certainly not the sole screenplay credit, which they expected, and in fact they ended up getting no screenplay credit. I don’t know – villains think as villains think; y’know – they’re stupid. When they failed to get that credit they both just flipped their lids.
    They’d already targeted me as a victim, meaning that I was ‘not a friend’. And then when the victim ended up not being victimised, they were just furious, just beside themselves. Walter Hill spent several years telling everybody who would listen, any journalist that he’d really written Alien and I stole his credit, until I finally got fed up and had my lawyer shut him up for good.
    So no, they were not about to have me involved in any of those sequels. They’re only interested in the money with those sequels, anyway. These are not artistic fellows.
    (Source: http://www.denofgeek.com/)
  6. Dan O'Bannon: What I learned on Alien, was that as a newcomer to the industry, you're supposed to undergo an initiation ritual - not too dissimilar to those that convicts are supposed undergo when they bend over the exercise bar. And I was not inclined to do it. So I fought as hard as I could and I made a lot of people at 20th century Fox real mad - because I wanted credit for my own script. (Los Angeles Times (date?)
  7. Walter Hill: In a sense, what was different from the O'Bannon/Shusett script is difficult to answer. There were certainly a lot of finite things ; the protagonist a woman, mixed gender crew, the Weyland-Yutani Company, the conspiracy theory undertones to the Weyland-Yutani company, the possibility of using the Alien as a biological weapon, Ash the droid, the idea of class lines beased on job descriptions - what we called "Truckers in space" (this became an instant cliché; you couldn't make a sci-fi movie after that without baseball hats); but the most significant difference in the two scripts was setting the mood, the environment, and what became the stance of the film. That said, we then added a rough contemporary quality to the characters that broke it out of the usual genre mold - the "kiss my rosy red ass" and "kill the mother fucker" kind of dialogue that historically you didn't find in Science Fiction movies. Remeber we were at the same studio that had made Star Wars (1977). The on-lot joke at the time was that were were the Rolling Stones to their Beatles. (Film-International #12) 
  8. If Cinefantastique has mistakingly done something wrong,  Glenn Lovell in his interview with David Giler for the magazine could only go further to fuel the flames when he asked David Giler to comment on the quote from Dan O'Bannon about his views on David Giler and Walter Hill's writing contribution.
    Cinefantastique: You mentioned that your rewrite changed some of the characters around. Can you be more specific?

    David Giler:Yes of course. We made the crewmembers 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.

    Cinefantastique: In the interviews just prior to ALIEN's release, O'Bannon argued just the opposite - that you guys took a nifty, low-budget idea and "inflated" it to the point that it lost all impact

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

    CFQ:Why this ongoing feud?

    David Giler: There's no feud. O'Bannon's a guy trying to make a buck. He's capitalizing 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 the script a couple of years ago. That was the end of my association with him.

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

    David Giler: 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 credits, 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 the 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

    CFQ: Why, if O'Bannon's contributions were so meagre, did the writer's guild award him sole screenplay credit? It doesn't make sense.

    David Giler: 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 arbitary 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 is the same. And yet, they're as different as night and day. It's something subtler 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. (Cinefantastique Vol. 9 No. #1)   
  9. Steven Biodrowski writes more about the problems with Dan O'Bannon's relationship with Cinefantastique from his perspective of the situation at the end of the obituary to O'Bannon on  Cinfantastique online
  10. Dan O'Bannon:When the picture was finally finished and all of it in the can, and I, you know, and I thought all the battling was over, I get this thing in the mail, this notice of intended writing credit from 20th Century Fox saying that the scr... Alien, the screenplay credit for Alien is going to be to Walter Hill and David Giler, and, I, I fell flat on my back and I picked up the phone and I called Walter Hill at his home, I actually had his home number in those days, I said, "Walter, " I said" I'm begging you, please let me share credit with you", and Walter said, I'll never forget the words, he said "Dan, I've been through these arbitrations before, and you win some, you lose some." End of conversation. I said "okay, arbitration, win some, lose some, then I must try to win this one", I contacted the writers guild, I was new to this stuff, I found out how they did it, I asked.. requested an arbitration, it was granted, they said, you sit down and write this thing and you do this and you do that and you submitted it, and I worked harder at credit arbitration statement than I ever done any script or movie in my life. Handed it in, the decision came down, because you see in fact, Hill and Giler had sufficiently bruised that script, and at that point I was willing to share credit with them. I was willing to have let's say screenplay Dan O'Bannon and Walter Hill or some such thing, just so that I wouldn't have to take the blame for some of the sillier and more inadequate aspects of that script, because I had an original script that was like clockwork, all the elements of a thriller. You know, I mean that thing gleamed. That was up there you know with Agatha Christie, or anybody, because I understood the elements of a thriller. And after they got done through,you know, bang-a-bang, crash-crash-crash-crash, it was like, "well I guess I'll go down in the cellar after the cat so that the monster can jump on me", it was on that level, and I, I wanted their names on that just so that I could say, well, you know, some of it was mine, some of it was there's, but when they came after me, with their maw dripping for, for the whole credit, I realised, this is war, this is not holds barred, this is no prisoners, I've got to demand all of the credit myself, if I even expect to share it. Well, writers guild came back, gave me all the credit and them not, which was more than I expected, and I wasn't sure how I felt about that altogether but I knew I had won. But Hill's basic public position was :He had written this script and I had screwed him out of the credit, I guess using my position of power, right, over him, and he kept saying this for years. As far as I could tell, everybody believed him too. And I said "I'm not, I'm not going to say anything or get involved in a public war of words", I said, "because that looks terrible." And nobody knows who to believe anyway and you just end up both looking bad and after about five years, I changed my mind, I decided, "no", I said "that's true that you come out looking bad, on the other hand the person who shouts the loudest is the one who gets, you know, who writes the history, "and so Walter Hill, by the way in complete violation of Writer's Guild Rules, when you lose an arbitration, you're never supposed to come out and contest that publicly. One too many times, Walter came out and said that he wrote it all and I screwed him for credit and I turned into, and I turned into some old Donald Duck cartoon, you know, quack quack quack quack quack and I picked up mister phone and I called my attorney as I had one about then and I said, "you tell Walter Hill, and if he opens his mouth one more time in public, I'm going to do something really awful", and he did so, and Walter shut up, and I noticed that opinions started to slightly turn my direction, I mean it's late in the game now, I could have used that after the picture had opened, gradually people started coming to me as the writer of Alien and giving Walter less attention and I thought, "huh, lesson to be learned", and so since then, I've not hesitated to tell the story in its fullness because shutting my mouth got me nothing except run over with a big steamroller. (O'Bannon's Fight For Credit (Alien Quadrilogy)
  11. Walter Hill: I've made the statement before that on-screen credits often have very little relation to who did what on a film. In this instance, the Writer's Guild has a rule whereby, in a case like this, you have to show that 70 percent of the material was your own and brand new in kind. The fact that David and I carried the O'Bannon screenplay through five drafts to the final shooting script is immaterial. And of course these things are very difficult to quantify. (Starlog #24, p94)
  12. Tied inexorably to the production history of any motion picture is the authorship of the screenplay. In the case of Alien, Dan O'Bannon wrote an original screenplay with that title and many of the resulting motion picture's events and images. The final shooting script, however, contains substantial amounts of new material, added jointly by Walter Hill and David Giler, partners with Gordon Carroll in Brandywine Productions. In parcelling out the credits, 20th Century Fox recommended to the Writer's Guild that  Hill and Giler get screenplay credit, asking that O'Bannon be credited with "story by" only. Such a request automatically triggers and arbitration, per Writer's Guild rules, to decide the matter. Opines Walter Hill, "An arbitration is an unbelievably medieval process, in which a decision is rendered to which there is no appeal. The basic system, unfortunately, disenfranchises whoever writes the actual shooting script." The WGA judgement awarded sole screenplay credit to O'Bannon, a decision that erred in accuracy as equally as Fox's original request to give O'Bannon no credit for the screenplay at all. The fact is that three people are responsible for the script that Ridley Scott put before the cameras. But this is an old story, one certain of repetition until new rulings come down from the Guild regarding arbitration procedures.(Cinefantastique Vol9, no.1)
  13. Walter Hill has been on either side of an arbitration in his time. In the past, he has gone out of his way to cite his own limited contribution to produced screenplays  (See Movie #26), that , due to the odd workings of the WGA, list him as the only writer. Hill has had a prolific career as Hollywood screenwriter. His firsr screenplay was HICKY AND BOGGS, starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. He wrote THE GETAWAY for director Sam Peckinpah, THE MACINTOSH MAN and THE DROWNING POOL for Paul Newman and THE THIEF WHO CAME TO DINNER which starred Ryan O'Neal and Jacqueline Bisset. Hill began directing his own scripts with HARD TIMES, followed by THE DRIVER and, most recently, THE WARRIORS, which he co-write with David Shaber. During our interview, Hill emphasized that he did not want to come off sounding either bitter or resentful about the outcome of the Writer's Guild arbitration over ALIEN's screenplay credit. While disagreeing with the WGA decision, Hill takes a somewhat philosophical overview of the dispute, figuring that he's won a few and lost a few. Hill did suggest something that had been taken up here, an examination of three drafts of ALIEN, - O'Bannon's original, Hill's own first rewrite of the original, and then final shooting script by Hill and Giler. (Cinefantastique Vol9, no.1)

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