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Done Deal Interview w/Dan O'Bannon

Dan O'Bannon Screenwriter & Director
AKA "The Billion Dollar Man"

Over ONE BILLION DOLLARS
in boxoffice world wide from
Dan's films!

CONTACT:
Gallagher Literary Management

Dan OíBannon has been a screenwriter of note since 1979, when his film ALIEN stunned international audiences with its creativity, vision and sheer story-telling genius. His film career continued with well known films such as BLUE THUNDER, TOTAL RECALL, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, and DARK STAR. His career total box office receipts in first-run theatrical domestic release amount to over one billion dollars. Less well known is his deep interest in, and study of physics, history and arcana which inform and add richness to his work. He is currently completing a book, OíBANNONíS RULES OF WRITING: The Definitive Guide to screenplay Structure. Another work, based on The Necronomicon, has been several years in the writing and is impatiently awaited by the cognoscenti.

WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTERESTED IN FILMS? THEN WRITING?

The first movie I recall seeing was THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD when I was five years old. We lived in the Ozarks and had no television back then, but we went to the movies two or three times a week. There was one theatre, and a drive-in outside of town. Movies were probably the single most important influence of my childhood; I loved them and wanted to make them, but I had no idea how one would go about getting to be a filmmaker. Hollywood seemed as remote as the moon.

WHERE DID YOU GO TO COLLEGE AND/OR DID YOU EVEN STUDY FILM/WRITING?

I did indeed attend film school, the USC Cinema Dept. back in 1968-70, when it was a hotbed of ambitious young would-be filmmakers including among others George Lucas, who was a year ahead of me and therefore not of my tribe. But my first college was Washington University in St. Louis, the School of Fine Arts, where I studied to be the next Norman Rockwell. I soon learned that the world only needed one Norman Rockwell, so I decided to try for the movies.

TELL ME ABOUT WRITING YOUR FIRST SCRIPT? WHAT WAS YOUR APPROACH LIKE?

Ponderous. It was called THE DEVIL IN MEXICO and was about the disappearance of Ambrose Bierce into Mexico during the Revolution of 1917. I thought I was writing a western but now I know that my screenplay didnít address the classic themes of westerns shoot-out on main street, etc. - I had in mind it would be directed by David Lean. Orson Welles did see it, liked it, and passed it around, but nothing came of it.

YOUR FIRST FEATURE FILM WAS "DARK STAR" WHICH YOU WROTE WITH JOHN CARPENTER. HOW DID THIS SCRIPT COME ABOUT? WHAT WAS THE WRITING PROCESS ON IT LIKE?

This was Johnís idea. It just grew out of hand. The two of us would talk through the film, making lots of jokes, then we would go off and independently write scenes. I gave Carpenter what I wrote and he stitched it together.

HOW AND WHEN DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST AGENT? WHAT WAS THAT LIKE FOR YOU?

I wasnít able to get an agent until after ALIEN opened. Iíve had several agents and managers over the years, with both good and bad handling. I am now with Rob Gallagher, who is great for me. I signed with Rob because I liked his multiple front attack attitude to the business and his personal involvement with his clients. Because of Robís experience as an agent, development executive and recently in distribution, he has the inside knowledge and contacts necessary to handle a complex career like mine, with its various co-writers and contractual complications. Robís a real go-getter, and Iíve had meetings all over town and many potential deals in the works since signing with him. Iím also getting into game design thanks to his Japanese connections, something Iíve wanted to do for a long time.

YOU WROTE THE SCREENPLAY FOR ONE OF THE ALL-TIME SCI-FI HORROR CLASSICS, "ALIEN." YOU AND RONALD SHUSETT DEVELOPED THE STORY TOGETHER, THEN YOU WROTE THE SCRIPT, YES? WHAT WAS IT LIKE DEVELOPING AND WRITING THAT SCRIPT? WHAT RESEARCH DID YOU DO? WHAT DID RIDLEY SCOTT BRING TO THE TABLE IN TERMS OF WRITING OR CHANGING THE SCRIPT DURING DEVELOPMENT AND/OR PRODUCTION?

Ronnie helped with certain story elements and I did all the actual writing. Ridley didnít come onto the project until after the picture was at Fox, so he wasnít around during the "spec writing" period, and didnít change the script at all. I was lucky that Ridley was open to seeing the artwork of H R Geiger, who I had met in Paris while working on DUNE a few years before. I also showed Ridley TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE to show him "state of the art" horror. He brought a lot of class to ALIEN.

FOR "BLUE THUNDER" YOU AND DON JAKOBY SHARED WRITING CREDIT. WHAT WAS THE GENESIS OF THIS PROJECT? WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN DEVELOPING IT? WHAT CHANGES WERE MADE DURING THE PROCESS OF BRINGING IT TO THE SCREEN?

We had in mind "Taxi Driver in the Sky" - an LAPD helicopter pilot goes nuts and shoots up LA. The producers liked the action scenes and rewrote everything else. I plan to offer the original screenplay to those interested in seeing it whenever I get my website up and going, which is taking a long time because of other commitments. The website is taking a long time because I want to be on it very actively, and communicate with those who enjoy my work. That needs a clear stretch of time for me, something I donít have right now.

YOU WROTE AND DIRECTED THE HORROR CULT CLASSIC "RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD." RUDY RICCI, JOHN RUSSO AND RUSSELL STREINER ALL RECEIVED STORY CREDIT FOR THE FILM BUT YOU TOOK THE SOLE SCREENWRITING CREDIT. HOW DID THIS PROJECT COME ABOUT? WHAT WAS THE STORY THEY BROUGHT YOU? WHAT DID YOU CHANGE OR ADD? WHAT WAS IT LIKE TRYING TO REINVENT THE ZOMBIE GENRE AS WELL AS PUT YOUR OWN STAMP ON IT? WHAT WAS IT LIKE DIRECTING YOUR OWN MATERIAL?

Russo and co. had originated the project and I thought it was only fair they should share writing credit. I had written it for Tobe Hooper to direct, but he went off to do LIFEFORCE, so I took over directing. I would have written it a bit differently if I had known I was going to direct it.

YOU AND DON JAKOBY WROTE "LIFEFORCE." IT WAS BASED ON A NOVEL BY COLIN WILSON. WHAT WAS ADAPTING THE BOOK LIKE? HOW DID THIS PROJECT COME ABOUT AND EVOLVE? WHAT WAS TOBE HOPPERíS INFLUENCE ON THE SCRIPT?

This was a Menahem Golan special. He bought the book and hired Tobe to direct it and me to write it, and I brought in Don to co-write with me. The novel wasnít structured like a movie and I had to rebuild it. Tobe didnít try to have any screenplay input, he just shot what was written.

(Iíll ASSUME AT THIS POINT THAT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HOPPERíS "LIFEFORCE" WAS GOOD SINCE YOU AND DON WENT ON TO WRITE THE REMAKE FOR "INVADERS FROM MARS.") WHAT WAS IT LIKE DOING A REMAKE OF A CLASSIC SCI-FI FILM? WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF UPDATING THE FILM? HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE OVERALL?

The pleasure of remaking a classic is the opportunity to do fine detail work, to give a jeweled surface to a rough diamond. However, difficulties during and after production kept this from being the best it could be.

WITH "TOTAL RECALL" YOU WORKED WITH RONALD SHUSETT AGAIN. WHAT WAS IT LIKE ADAPTING A SHORT STORY THE SECOND TIME AROUND? WHAT ISSUES DID YOU FACE? HOW DID THE STORY CHANGE? WHAT WAS YOUR PROCESS IN DECIDING WHAT WAS ADDED TO FLESH OUT THE MATERIAL?

Phil Dick is tough to adapt. But I always made up my mind that I wasnít going to throw out anything good, no matter how difficult it was to keep it in. The ending of TOTAL RECALL as seen on the screen is very different from the ending I wrote. Naturally, I think my ending is better, and I hope to offer my version of the screenplay to those interested on my website, so they can judge for themselves.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU KNOW NOW THAT YOU WISH YOU KNEW WHEN YOU WERE FIRST STARTING OUT? DOS AND DONíTS?

Ah, too many things to mention, and itís different for everyone. Each writer has to find his own path, so what I needed to learn isnít necessarily of any use to another writer.

WHATíS A TYPICAL WRITING DAY LIKE FOR YOU? WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS?

I work in a room with no windows, usually late into the night, so there are no distractions. I keep going until Iím too tired to continue. I keep a notebook beside my bed for those times I wake up with good ideas, which often come just as I fall asleep. This continues until I finish, so many weeks are taken up with the script my only consideration. My wife actually manages to tolerate this.

DO YOU OUTLINE ALL YOUR SCRIPTS FIRST? WRITE TREATMENTS?

I write twelve-page "Story Outlines" which I use to structure the acts. As the screenplay is being written, unexpected elements appear (AKA "good ideas") that have to be reworked into the beginning of the story, so itís constantly being revised from the beginning, even as it is being written.

HOW DO YOU APPROACH REWRITES OF YOUR OWN MATERIAL? ANY METHOD OR PATH THAT YOU TYPICALLY FOLLOW?

All of my scripts are under permanent revision until they are filmed, if ever. Scripts benefit greatly when put aside for a time. When you return to them, you can see them with fresh eyes.

DO YOU HAVE ANY RULES FOR YOURSELF WHEN WRITING? DOS AND DONíTS YOU LIKE TO FOLLOW?

No rules, just work habits. Mainly, keep going.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE SCRIPTS? SCRIPTS YOUíD SAY EVERY WRITER SHOULD READ AND LEARN FROM?

I have a screenplay which hasnít yet been produced called THEY BITE. I have included it in my book OíBANNONíS RULES OF WRITING: The Definitive Guide to Screenplay Structure, which is at several publishers now. I hope it will be out next year. THEY BITE is a great structural example which is why I put it in the book. IFilmís Lone Eagle publishing is considering putting it out right now. If youíd like to see it, contact Jeff Black at IFilm (hcdonline.com) and urge him to publish it.
 
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