Ron Shusett, Part ThreeComplications Ensue
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Crafty Screenwriting:   Could you talk about the ALIEN franchise? How has that developed?
Ron Shusett:        Not that well. The second was brilliant. I think James Cameron is on the level of Steven Spielberg as a director. He did a smart thing. He didn't try to compete with the first. He concentrated more on action. Brought the little girl in. It was the perfect complement to our film. The exoskeleton and the queen being larger than any of the other aliens. That was a superb evolution.

From there, some very bad things happen. The critics and the box office prove it. 3 and 4 were quite failed, flawed movies. Audiences didn't like'em.

The one later sequel that did work was the first ALIENS VS. PREDATOR. It had a great inspiration based on comic books. It was like "Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man," two unbeatable creatures fighting. It grossed over $200M and was not extremely expensive.

Unfortunately, they didn't refresh the franchise on the second AVP. Just too many repetitive elements from one AVP to the other. I’m just happy that I got a shared story credit on only the first one in 2004.

CS:    Which brings us to PROMETHEUS.
RS:    I read the script for that, and I thought, it's got a lot of great scenes, but the ending is gonna undo it. There are some things you can't follow. Why would they destroy a race they created?
CS:    Why would an advanced race of super-powerful aliens need to destroy humanity by dropping aliens on us? Why not nuke us from orbit? It sort of felt to me like a classic visual director's movie:  one scene that's cool after another, but nothing holding it all together.
RS:    Some directors, when God gave their visual talent, maybe He did something to impede their story talent.

CS:    What themes bind your work together?
RS:    If I had to choose one thing to bind my work together, it would be:  I want to amaze the world. I don't want to make a movie that is something they've seen before in any other movie. I'm a writer and a producer, and those two always fight each other. The showman in me cares less about the story working great than the audience going bananas. Usually the showman wins, but I'm working with partners who excel at character, and they keep me on track.

CS:    How has the environment changed since you came up?
RS:    Those that make the decisions on big budget films seem less interested in original material, more inclined to lean heavier than ever on sequels and remakes.  But still we see from time to time hugely creative original material that does get made successively.  That gives me and others I know the courage to continue and go for highly imaginative ideas.

I heard Dick Zanuck say seven years ago, you can't figure out what a good script is. Intelligence and craftsmanship count, but the only way you really know is gut instinct. Your brain can talk you out of some of your best ideas. And he was in both eras, at Fox under his father, and then at Warners. He did JAWS and THE STING.

Was TOTAL RECALL too complicated? Financiers said it wouldn't work.  They felt the action audience will be annoyed by the convoluted story structure. They'll find it too cerebral. For eight years, everyone said "6 people will come and see it". Arnold wanted to do it, but he couldn't do it until he became number one at the box office. And people thought ALIEN would not get made—it was too bizarre. 

These days it takes a major name to do something original. Joss Whedon's AVENGERS did a billion seven hundred thousand because they let him do it the way he wanted. Cameron, Spielberg, Christopher Nolan—they have the clout to do the outrageously imaginative. No one wanted to do INCEPTION, but "How can we turn down the guy who made a billion on BATMAN?" I was thrilled when the executives said in an interview, "We wouldn't have done it if it wasn't Christopher Nolan." That took a lot of character to admit.

I can't go by logic. I have to trust my own instincts. Do I like it myself? It's that simple.

That's why I'm having difficulty now. The business people are trying to go by logic. To sell a script, you have to do things that the buyers don't think are too crazy. But the things that do the best, if they're done well, are the things that are too crazy. 


Great interview.

Interesting comparing Cameron and Spielberg.

Also, while "Alien" and "Aliens" feel quite different, the structure of the sequels second half matched that of the original's quite closely.

By Blogger David, at 4:36 PM  

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