Sunday, March 15, 2015

JOHN FASANO ON WRITING 'ALIEN 3'

John Fasano was a highly prolific and experienced screenwriter and producer, working in the sci-fi, fantasy and action genres, with over forty credits to his name. His credits include ANOTHER 48 HRS. (1990), UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN (1999), DARKNESS FALLS (2003) and SNIPER: RELOADED (2011). John also worked on a fair number of high-profile blockbusters without credit. One of these was the troubled ALIEN 3 (1992). I spoke to John about his work on the film (and also ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, 2004) in 2012, and sadly, almost two years later to the day, John passed away from heart failure. He was 52. This is John's side of what happened in the writing of one of the most controversial movie sequels.


At what point in your career were you when you were hired to work on ALIEN 3?
I had been in the business for two years. I had sold a spec script to Morgan Creek for half a million dollars ('Tailgunner'), and I had written the first draft of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992) for Michael Mann. My first movie, which was ANOTHER 48 HRS. for Walter Hill, hadn't come out yet. Walter had produced all the ALIEN films, and I was working on a script that would become LAST MAN STANDING (1996).

How did you get involved with ALIEN 3?
When I started talking to Walter at Fox about the film, Renny Harlin was the director. I was still working on ANOTHER 48 HRS. I had meetings with Renny, but I never wrote anything for him because he had quit within the month. I thought the project was dead. But then I got a call from Walter that Joe Roth at Fox was on the line and wanted to talk to me. Joe said ''You wanna write ALIEN 3? We need a script in like two weeks.'' Walter asked me about two directors, Phillip Noyce and Vincent Ward. I had seen Ward's THE NAVIGATOR (1988) but I hadn't seen Noyce's DEAD CALM (1989). I thought THE NAVIGATOR was a really cool idea. Little did I know but they then hired Vincent Ward. Vincent came to California (from New Zealand), and he stayed at the Four Seasons. I drove there every day from the Valley for two weeks and I wrote the first of many drafts for ALIEN 3. This was early 1990.

When you joined the project did you already sense it was a troubled project?
Well, they had had about ten writers before me, and each of them was working on a different version of the movie! (I was the twelfth writer on JUDGE DREDD!) In fact, when they hired Vincent and me, David Twohy had been writing an ALIEN 3 script for Renny Harlin. When Renny left I think at first David thought he was going to get to direct his script. When he found out that they had hired me, he was told it was for ALIEN 4 and that they just wanted to have a script ready for the next movie. When you get a job in the business, the requirement is that if you are rewriting someone's script then you are supposed to call them and tell them. So I met David at his house and when I told him that I wasn't writing ALIEN 4 but that I was writing ALIEN 3, he threw a hissy fit. They were lying to him, and they then told him ''OK, we'll make yours ALIEN 4.''

Did you read any of the previous ALIEN 3 scripts?
No, because they had nothing to do with the story we were doing.

What was the nature of your writing collaboration with Vincent Ward?
I was the first writer on the movie that eventually got made. I wrote on the movie until Fincher was hired. They had one writer (Larry Ferguson) come in for one draft. That was one of the bones of contention because they were trying to say that that the draft that I wrote to give Vincent a story credit on the film separated him from me as a writer. That's like an arcane thing about the Writer's Guild. Getting credit is all about what position you're in when you wrote and so on. Walter, David Giler and Gordon Carroll were all really involved in the story. Vincent pitched the story but I wrote the first draft. There was no Vincent draft. After I had handed in the first draft, and we were working on the second draft, I asked Fox to move Vincent to a motel in backwoods California, near where I was living. I had been driving eighty miles a day.

Do you remember what inspired you the most in your early story discussions with Vincent?
The first thing he said was that the characters would live on this planet made of wood. These monks had tossed out new technology in favour of pre-technology information. They went into space with the physical books. In the Middle Ages, the Church was the repository of all information. They controlled who got the books. If you look at THE NAVIGATOR, it's very religious. It's about these monks who go into a cave and end up in 1984 New Zealand. Christianity is just coming in, and they're looking for the person who has stolen the cross off their tombstone. It was a low-budget movie, but the ideas were good.

What were some of the intriguing visual elements in your scripts? 
Vincent was in love with Hieronymous Bosch, kind of like Gilliam with TIME BANDITS (1981). In America, people didn't know what you were talking about when you talked about Bosch. But when Vincent went to England, the art department knew exactly what he was talking about. That was funny. They thought Bosch was groundbreaking over here, but it was old hat in England!

How did you feel your story fit in with the other two films?
The way I see the series is that the first film is about corporate interests and blue-collar workers. The second movie is about the military. The other part of society left is religion. I think the ALIEN movies were a way to comment on the different aspects of our society. This would be the religious story. Since religion is so sensitive to people, the way to do it is to not take it entirely seriously. In our story we didn't have Christians or Muslims or Jews. We had these pre-Industrial Revolution Luddites, with the irony being that this wooden 'planet' they lived on was really hi-tech, an old spaceship sheathed in wood. The characters just didn't want to admit that. The twist was kind of like what M. Night Shyamalan did with THE VILLAGE (2004).

What do you feel was the reason Vincent did not ultimately end up directing ALIEN 3?
THE NAVIGATOR took him two years to shoot, on weekends with friends. Sometimes they wouldn't shoot for a month. Fox wanted this movie done immediately. They wanted him to do it to a certain release date. They always thought he'd work quicker, and he always thought that when they saw how good it was going to be they would give him more time. By the time Vincent got to England it was clear that Fox were not going to do that. The main thing is that Vincent wanted it to be perfect and Fox wanted it just 'done'. The truth is also that Vincent did not have the sensitivity to make ALIEN 3. If you look at WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998) and MAP OF THE HUMAN HEART (1992), they're the kinds of films he wants to make. What happens in my business is like with Jonathan Liebesman and DARKNESS FALLS (2003). Jonathan didn't want to make that movie at all. He didn't like horror movies at all. He wanted to make dramas. But your agent tells you ''Look if you direct a big studio movie then the next movie you can do what you want.''

How different do you think Vincent's ALIEN 3 would have been?
His ALIEN 3 would have been a really great, quirky film, more quirky than ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997), if he had been given the chance to do it. He had some great kills in it, which were disgusting. He didn't have the sensitivity to work in the studio system at that time. He was living in New Zealand with Maoris, where they kept the meat hanging over the table, and as you ate, maggots would drop off the meat. You'd brush them off and keep eating. Then he's at the Four Seasons or the Mansion in Sunset Boulevard and they're throwing money at him. That's not the best way to enter the film business.

Have you been in contact with Vincent since the film?
I haven't seen him since then and I miss him. He was a really nice guy. We had a great collaboration. I wrote some great drafts working with him.

How many of your ideas found their way into the Fincher version?
It's the same idea, basically. Fincher's movie is my script but set in a Luddite prison instead of a monastery. I have not seen the film since 1992, but the idea of the big furnace at the end that Ripley jumps into was very important to me. So was the idea that the alien came out of a dog and was a quadped. The only reason that the alien was bipedal in the first movie is because it's hatching in humans. It's this creature that can go into any planet and be the best opponent for the inhabitants.

Was it Fincher's idea to kill off Newt and Hicks?
No, that was in our script. Originally the idea was to bring back Newt but the reality was that the character would be too young. In one of my drafts, she and Hicks are killed on the ship. When Ripley finds Newt's body, it has a chestburster hole in it. So the alien that came onto the planet came from Newt. Bishop was still alive, but only the upper half of his body. The monks made him a pair of wooden legs. 

What are your memories of Fincher's involvement?
Fincher went to England and he asked ''What's the budget?'' They said ''It's $40m.'' He said ''Well, that's good for 45 minutes.'' They thought he was kidding. He was extrapolating the budget based on his Madonna 'Metropolis' video ('Express Yourself'). He went to England and shot the film, and when they put it together it was like 50 minutes long. They then shot an additional 30 or 40 minutes at Fox in LA. The original shoot in England did not produce the amount of footage they needed. The interesting thing is that ALIEN 3 could've ended Fincher's career but he was an infinitely better director than that.

What was your interaction with Sigourney Weaver?
It was one of those things that Sigourney wanted her character to die in the movie. They had people writing scripts for years after ALIENS (1986), but every time they showed the scripts to Sigourney, she'd say no. I met with her and she had just had a baby. She was nursing her baby in the meetings. She said ''Look, I wanna die because I have beaten this thing in two other movies and it's ridiculous.'' When we went to Fox with the draft where she dies at the end, they were like, ''This is impossible.'' So I changed the ending so I had this one monk, John, giving her CPR and taking the alien baby out of her. He died, and she lived. After they fired Vincent, I asked Fincher what they were going to do and he said ''I'm going to shave her head and I'm going to kill her.'' They all said ''Well, that's genius.'' I thought ''Well, they've cut off the only thing that makes her look like a woman and they've killed her, which was a source of huge fights with the previous director.'' It's like when they made the GODZILLA remake at Sony and they fired Jan De Bont because he wanted to go over $120m. They hired Roland Emmerich and they ended up spending $140m.

How many drafts did you write with Vincent?
I wrote like ten drafts with Vincent. Fincher was hired to direct our script but make it his own. When Vincent was fired, the art department was building his sets, but Fincher wanted the sets to look like he wanted. They were going to start shooting in less than a month. Fincher came in to try and put his own brand on the same story. In my drafts we had monks, and in the film they're priests. I mean, basically, they're the same. The reveal in our script was that the monks were all political refugees and political prisoners. I guess they figured that since they had a script where they were in a penal colony before, they's change it to prisoners. They had people writing scripts for years after ALIENS (1986), but every time they showed the scripts to Sigourney, she'd say no. Twohy's script had an actual prison. I think because they had bought his script they could just use the aspect of it that was a penal colony. The way the penal colony was run in the film is exactly the way it was run when it was a monastery in my script.
 
Why was another writer brought in?
Entirely because of the back and forth, I turned to Fox and said ''I can't do this anymore'' and they brought in another guy for a month, who was gone after that. Then I went back on it, and worked on it for about another year and a half. I read this one article that said I wrote one draft and then another guy came in. That didn't happen. When I got ALIEN 3 I was at my office at Paramount and I had just made a new friend, Larry Ferguson, who wrote HIGHLANDER (1986) and BEVERLY HILLS COP II (1987). When I told him I was going to write ALIEN 3 he said ''Don't do it! That's gonna be a crappy job!'' When they replaced me, they hired him! He went to England and he didn't even finish a draft. They got rid of him, and Walter Hill and David Giler really finished the script.

Ironically, because he was the first writer to work with Fincher, the Writers Guild considered that the film started with him, even though he was working off a script that I wrote. So I didn't get any credit on the movie, even though 60-70% of the narrative is still mine. What happened was that I was getting ready to go to England. I was still the writer, even though Fincher had flown to England to try and get Robert Bolt, who eventually told him ''I'm not going to do ALIEN 3!'' I was getting ready to go but then I found out that they had hired Larry Ferguson and that he was going. I was still writing at this time. When I heard this, I quit. That was my stupidity because if I had finished the next draft, I would have written the first draft for Fincher and would've gotten a credit. I was so freaked out that he had replaced me without telling me. I could have ended my career right there. Luckily I didn't. That's the kind of fuck-up you don't usually walk away from. Walter and I had a bad relationship after that for like twenty years. I felt so betrayed because he also knew. I remember that Walter had an ALIEN pinball machine in his office. It had been made without getting the rights to the movie, so they had to stop making them and give Fox all the machines that they had made. I would sit in his office for hours after everyone had gone home and play the pinball machine to avoid the evening traffic. 

Did you manage to salvage your friendship with Walter?
I talk to Walter every now and again. He just did a film for Stallone. We're going to revitalise some low-budget scripts we wrote in the past. But he was my mentor, and it will never be the same.

So how would you describe your ALIEN 3 experience in a nutshell?
ALIEN 3 was like the best or the worst thing that I ever did because I loved the ALIEN films (I'm surrounded by the monsters in my office) and I really wanted to do that movie, but at the same time it was a total fuck-up on the film and I got fucked over pretty big time. Until I found out Larry Ferguson was going to go to England, writing on ALIEN 3 was a ball.

What are some of your happiest memories of working on the film?
We had a birthday party for Vincent in my crappy condo in Chatsworth. We had them make an ALIEN cake for him. That was a cool experience. It was cool to have meetings with Sigourney Weaver while she was breastfeeding her baby! One of the things that I did on that film was that I convinced Walter to hire Amalgamated Dynamics, who had just left Stan Winston, to do the film. They were the guys who had done ALIEN and had opened up their own company. It was good because they were friends of mine. They gave me a fibreglass cast of the glove puppet from ALIEN as a present, and later on an actual puppet, which was just for me. There wasn't another one like it. And working with Vincent ... We were trying to do the Monty Python version of ALIEN. It was pretty extreme, pretty funny. Vincent was talking about getting John Cleese, Michael Palin and all those guys to play the parts of the Luddites. Specific characters were meant to be comic relief.

What effect did working on ALIEN 3 have on your career?
It didn't have a positive effect because the film wasn't well-received. I'm a good writer, so other people hired me. But it strained my relationship with both Walter and Fox. It was a weird thing because it wasn't a success financially. Would it have been better to have had my name on it and have people say ''Oh, you wrote the bad ALIEN movie'' or to have people not know that I worked on it? It worked out in a weird way.

Did you like the film when you saw it?
I'm going to be very honest. If there's a problem with any of the films I worked on and didn't get credit on – DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (1995), JUDGE DREDD (1995), ALIEN 3, LAST OF THE MOHICANS, TOMBSTONE (1993) - then I never have fun watching them. There's no upside to it. If I enjoy them but I got hosed on them, then there isn't a positive aspect.

Are you a fan of ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997)?
I love it because it's THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995) with aliens in it. Guillermo Del Toro could've directed ALIEN RESURRECTION. It's like HELLBOY II (2008). ALIEN RESURRECTION is a very funny movie. It reminds me of the second RIDDICK movie (THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, 2004).

How was your experience working on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)?
I did the story for ALIEN VS. PREDATOR but they fired the director. I didn't hear anything about it and then I heard he was going his own way. Then when I saw the trailer I saw it was my story and various other people were credited. There were lawsuits and lawsuits. They took my original outline and they blew it up on cards at meetings, but I didn't get any credit on that. I grew up loving monsters. I came to California and I'm told I can work on horror and SF. I get completely fucked over but when I do an action movie, I get credited. The irony is that I never watch action movies. I'd never have gone seen ANOTHER 48 HRS. if I hadn't written it. I'd rather watch ALIEN.

Can you watch the AVP movies?
When Walter, Gordon, David and I sat around for two years working on ALIEN 3 we talked about all kinds of concepts, including AVP. I do like Rodriguez's PREDATORS (2010). I do enjoy the idea, which I put in my treatment, that Predators had brought humans to this planet tens of thousands of years ago to populate what was basically their game preserve. When one of the Aliens is dying in my treatment it is revealed that they're the ones who brought the dinosaurs here so they could hunt them. The Predators find that the Aliens are uncontrollable. Billions of years later in London they are digging a subway station and they find a spaceship. In it you see that the Aliens took apes and pushed their evolution into human.

How did you feel about PROMETHEUS (2012)?
I've just been writing a movie about The Chariots of the Gods by Erik Von Daniken, and a lot of the concepts in PROMETHEUS are taken from it. I found the film frustrating because it was similar to what happened with the prequel to THE THING (2011) – some of it was prequel, and some of it was a remake. It was like a 'premake'. The script for PROMETHEUS is nowhere near as smart as the script for ALIEN or even ALIENS. If you're going to have someone get lost on a ship, it shouldn't be the guy whose job it is to navigate the ship. If you're going to have him get lost with a guy who's a botanist, that guy shouldn't want to pet an alien. Everything in the first film is flawless in its logic. But in PROMETHEUS, characters only do things because the writers want them to do them. Their actions make no sense at all. It seemed like the writers were working narratively backwards. ''We need an alien on the ship. Let's get it on there.'' I loved the way they shot it but there wasn't a single surprise in the movie.

How tough do you have to be to be a Hollywood screenwriter?
You have to have the skin of a rhinoceros, and simultaneously a giant ego and no ego at all. I didn't let my experiences destroy me but I was hurting for like a year, because here's my hero, Walter, who founded me, discovered me, and I did one film for him, and on the second one I got hosed. I was very upset. You can't control whether you get credit or not. I just wrote HOSTEL: PART III (2011). They weren't going to make that movie until they read my draft. You would think that would give me a leg up, but the Writers Guild determines who gets credit. It's such an arcane system. I rewrote the movie TOMBSTONE. When the trailers came out it had me and the original writer credited. When he saw this, the original writer said he would sue the studio if I got credited as a writer, and so they gave me a producer credit instead. Now I always ask the studio to hire me as a producer as well as a writer so I know if people look at the credits they can see I worked on the movie.

I spoke to John by phone on 24th July 2012.

RIP John Fasano 1961-2014.

Thanks to Edie King Fasano.