We’ve already run our interviews with the stars of the film, as well as one with producer, Michael Costigan; below, for your reading pleasure are the film’s screenwriters, Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts, who talk about Ridley Scott’s influence, where the franchise might go in the future, and the fake script that was floating around the internet.
DAMON LINDLEOF – SCREENWRITER
Ridley has such an influence on his films, how much input did he have over the script?
A tremendous amount. I think when you’re working with an iconic, visual director like Ridley, the job is asking them a bunch of questions like you’re asking me now, and getting them to answer them in a way that will give you a very strong sense of the story they want to tell. You go back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth, until you get the ball as close to the goal as possible.
Technology plays a huge part in the film, where do you get your inspiration for the technology we see on screen?
I think a big part of it is just Ridley’s obsession with technology; he has an amazing production designer, Arthur Max, and for him, it’s really how everything looks, but it has to have a real functionality to it, so when you walk on the set, it’s not just computer screens that are running fancy data, they’re actually hooked up to hard drives, and people can operate them. So on a writing level, you basically say, ‘there’s a lot of flashing lights here, there’s a hologram of a map here’, but you leave the design work to the designers.
All your projects tend to be surrounded in secrecy. Now that this film is coming out, do you have a favourite rumour about the project?
I think my favourite rumour was that this was actually a secret Blade Runner prequel, or a cross-over. That in fact, Michael Fassbender was not playing an android, but a Replicant. That would be the sweet spot, that would be a super-prequel. That it’s not a prequel to Alien, it’s a prequel to Blade Runner, but it’s not unfortunately.
Talking about it being a prequel, the film feels a lot like what was done with Star Trek – we go back to territory that predates what we know, and spin off on a familiar, but different tangent. Is that an accidental result of having had you on board for both films, or was it a deliberate choice on the part of yourself and Scott?
The word prequel is a word that we didn’t start hearing until about 20 years ago, when George [Lucas] said he was going to do the first three Star Wars films, and for me the issue with the word ‘prequel’ is that you know how it’s going to end – it’s going to end at the beginning, Obi Wan Kenobi isn’t going to die. So I said, if we’re going to revisit the Alien universe, that’s cool, but the end of the movie shouldn’t be the original Alien, this movie should go off in it’s own direction, so if there was a sequel to Prometheus, it would not be Alien. You’d understand a little bit more, Alien might have context, certainly in reference to the Space Jockey, but it still stands on its own, you don’t mess with Alien, you don’t mess with Aliens. Let’s try to do something that’s about something different than Alien. Alien was about unleashing a killing machine with acid for blood and surviving it, this is going to have certain themes in common, but it’s going to be about something slightly different.
JON SPAIHTS – SCREENWRITER
You wrote the original draft of this script…
Five original drafts in fact.
How much did it change from your original idea?
At once a great deal, and not that much. The cast of characters, the mythology, the structure of the story, those were very much in place from my first drafts. Damon introduced some interesting complications in the relationships between the major characters, and he shifted the mythology somewhat, in ways I can’t be too specific about quite yet, which largely involved taking half a step back from the Alien universe, and relying on novel threats in the space in which we go exploring.
There are quite a few ideas in the film. Some are seen through, some are clearly being carried over for a sequel. Is there anything in there that isn’t fully realised that you would like to have seen in Prometheus?
I think every writer who tackles something as epic as this in its scale, and mythological in character, ends up doing more work than appears in the film, and we all wish we a little bit that we could expose the rest of that mythology to an audience. There was, in my first draft, a slow build to the story in which we gave more play to the archaeological backdrop, the argument that our scientists made for their first search beyond earth for the agencies that meddled in ancient human history. I’d love to give that more road.
How do you describe this movie’s relationship to the Alien franchise? What is your short take on it?
Essentially it’s a cousin to that first story. It’s less a prequel than a spin-off. It leaps back into that universe we know from the original Alien, but rather than following that plotline, or going backwards to set that plotline up, it sets off sideways, to investigate a new set of questions, and open up a whole new arm of the mythology.
What kind of realistic things do you look for inspiration from?
It’s an exciting time for us now in space exploration, we’re seeing the beginning of corporate space flight. Even as we speak, right now a rocket has reprovisioned the International Space Station as the first orbital flight with that kind of function, sponsored by a corporation. And so the Weyland Yutani companies we see in the Alien universe are prefigured by these private space faring companies.
If we could explore that a little more, Alien is very much based on an extrapolation of real world technology – in 1979 it seemed like we might have long haul space flight in the not too distant future, so how much of a burden did you feel to not have fantastical concepts?
You always, I think, want to be as grounded as possible in the reality of science, and you bide those constraints. You give yourself a little ground that makes the story possible – we’ve got faster than light travel here, we’ve got suspended animation – those are largely imaginary things – but within that framework you hue as closely as you can to scientific reality; to notions of practical quarantine, to the structure of spaceflight, even to the financing of it, and the rigorous imagination of what privately funded space flight might look like.
How important was the mythology of the franchise when you were writing the film?
We went to great lengths to honour and to mind the archetypes and the cannon of story ideas that had been established by the original film, in particular that first one, possibly the first sequel, but wherever possible, the franchise as a whole. Not just established facts like the ecology of the Xenomorphs, or the planet from which they hail, but also the archetypes in the storytelling – the android, and the cold corporation, and the alien menace. The claustrophobic darkness of that franchise. We tried to honour all of those storytelling archetypes.
Were there any moments when you were writing, when you laughed to yourself, as you realised what the actors would have to go through?
There is a particularly horrifying sequence in the film which has a medical character, which is one of the things that helped me to get the job in the first place. It has changed a little bit in its content and shape from draft to draft from my work and Ridley’s – and Damon’s, should I say, but it was at the very beginning, and remains, one of the grimmest things in the movie. Certainly I imagine, my God, that’s a hard day for an actress.
Over the course of the filming, there’s been a lot of speculation. Have you had a favourite rumour leading up to this?
The best thing for me has been, at least one screenplay has circulated on the internet, with my name on the cover page, purporting to be the script of the film. 120 pages of pure nonsense, written by somebody else, with my name and a fake e-mail on the cover, I’ve gotten any amount of e-mail about that.
You can read our Prometheus review here.