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The Making of Aliens: Mutiny, Lawsuits, and James Camer-who?

Written by on August 31, 2020

When James Cameron’s Aliens was released in 1986, it was an unknown quantity, a sci-fi/action/war film coming some seven years after Ridley Scott’s iconic outer-space horror picture. Did Alien even need a sequel? And how could a follow-up possibly match the 1979 Scott film? In an age when quality sequels were less than a sure thing, Cameron and Aliens faced an uphill battle.Of course, 34 years later Aliens is a bona fide classic itself, a worthy successor to the original Alien that not only continued the story of Sigourney’s Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, giving her an emotional arc that she was lacking in the first film, but which also fleshed out the world of the Xenomorphs in way that ensured that Alien would become a franchise for decades to come.And now the detailed story of how Aliens was created, including the many ups and downs Cameron and his producer Gale Anne Hurd faced, has been told in Titan Books’ The Making of Aliens by J.W. Rinzler. Rinzler is well known among fans of behind-the-scenes filmmaking tomes, having authored the definitive making of books on the original Star Wars films as well as a variety of other works on iconic movies like Planet of the Apes, the Indiana Jones series, and Alien. The author spoke to IGN recently about the process of writing The Making of Aliens, and the challenges Cameron and Hurd faced while bringing their vision to the screen.
From Star Wars to AlienRinzler began working at Lucasfilm in 2001 and was hired as the nonfiction editor, which is what led to his penning what would become the acclaimed Making of books on the Original Trilogy. First, he undertook a book on Revenge of the Sith, which was in production at the time, but eventually, he pitched George Lucas on doing one on A New Hope. Lucas liked the way the first one turned out and gave the OK to follow-ups on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi… and Rinzler hasn’t looked back since.“And then when I left Lucasfilm, I was able to keep writing for Fox because my ex-boss at Lucasfilm was working at Fox [as the] head of publishing,” says Rinzler. “And then other people I knew offered me other projects. So I’ve been fortunate in that regard.”Rinzler’s books are usually easily identified by the specific style and look of them, all hardcover pieces of a certain shape and heft that also guarantee vast behind-the-scenes archival imagery and insight.“Lucasfilm obviously had its own archives,” says the author. “Fox has much more limited archives, but they’ve done their best to get me stuff. And I go to other archives, like for the Planet of the Apes book. And then [legendary make-up artist] Rick Baker had his own archive, so that was easy. And in terms of the size of the making of books, I was lucky. I had to fight for Planet of the Apes because they really didn’t want to do it. But luckily Fox was on my side. They’re the 800-pound gorilla and they said, ‘That’s how we’re doing it!’” The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler.When it came time to tell the definitive story of the making of the Alien films, Rinzler had luck on his side again.“The Alien book wasn’t my idea,” says Rinzler. “It was a Fox executive [Steve Asball] who was good friends with Ridley Scott, and he wanted a book to get down all of Ridley Scott’s great stories. So he arranged that. Then it was a natural. But there is no Alien 3 book. They only wanted to do the first two.”Who Needs a Sequel to Alien Anyway?Seven years is a fairly long stretch to go between sequels, but that’s exactly how long it was between 1979’s Alien and 1986’s Aliens. Rinzler explains that there was a combination of things that led to the follow-up taking as long as it did. For starters, Fox executive Alan Ladd Jr., who green-lit Alien, left Fox.“It happens at every studio and the new team comes in and they just don’t want to have anything to do with whatever the old team was doing,” laughs Rinzler. “It’s just pure territorial stuff. Quality or rational thought goes right out the window it seems. It’s really like a bunch of wolves coming in and kicking out the other wolves. Although not even that, because the other wolves would still eat the meat if they left the meat, and Alien was meat!”Another issue was that the producers of Alien were suing Fox over their cut of the film. That needed to be worked out before what would become Aliens could proceed. And then there was also just the general leeriness towards sequels during that era.“Even though they did make sequels back then, they didn’t make as many sequels because the general rule of thumb was that a sequel cost twice as much and made half as much,” says Rinzler. “So they just weren’t sure if they wanted to do one. And it was really [producers] David Giler and Walter Hill who were the people who were going to be fighting for a sequel, and they weren’t really fighting for it that much. It was sort of a fluke that it happened eventually because finally another [studio regime] came in and were looking at things to do. And they said, ‘Oh, why haven’t we made a sequel to Alien? That seems like a good idea.’”James Camer-who?Aliens writer-director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd had both been working in the industry for years at this point, but they had yet to prove themselves on a project of the scale of Aliens. Still, their work on the first Terminator certainly helped, especially for Cameron.“The one thing that Cameron did that blew everybody away was he wrote so well,” says Rinzler. “He was such a great writer. David Giler read the Terminator script and just thought, ‘Oh my God, this guy can really do it.’ So then they signed him up to do a treatment and then a rough draft or first draft for Aliens, and they liked it. But then he wanted to direct, so then they had to wait until Terminator came out and they saw he could direct. And Terminator was a hit, which helped [and] sort of cemented his role as director.”In the case of Hurd, Rinzler says the execs thought, “‘This person was Roger Corman’s assistant and producer,’ but they really didn’t believe in her.” (Cameron had also worked with the famed low-budget production powerhouse Corman.) So Hurd asked a variety of industry folks to call the Fox powers to convince them that she really was a producer.Interestingly, Cameron and Hurd had to fight to get Sigourney Weaver back for Aliens.The 15 Best Deaths in the Alien Movies“The, whatever it was, fourth [Fox] administration didn’t necessarily want to use Sigourney Weaver because they wanted to save money and she was going to be expensive,” says Rinzler. “And then she had to be convinced that they weren’t just doing it to fill Fox’s coffers and it wasn’t just going to be a [cash-in] because so many sequels are terrible. And again, Cameron really was sincere and he wrote the drafts with a picture of Sigourney Weaver on his desk. He was writing for her because he believed in the female hero sort of role. He had one in Terminator. He also knew that it made his film different from the run-of-the-mill action movies.”Another concern Weaver had was the extensive use of guns in the film. The author says the actress was “really horrified” when she got to set and realized that, unlike in the first movie, Ripley would be brandishing futuristic machineguns and blowing away aliens. Of course, Cameron eventually convinced Weaver of the importance of the guns in the film, but it took some doing.“His first thing was, ‘Well, she hates the aliens. They killed her crew, and now she just wants to kill as many of them as possible,’” says Rinzler. “And she’s saying, ‘Well, that doesn’t really work for me and also it’s horrible.’ What they bonded on was she was doing it now to save this little girl. And as most fans of the franchise know, originally there was a scene with her learning about her daughter’s death, which was cut but then reinstated in the longer version. So it became about something else, so she had a higher reason for doing the massacres. And let’s be fair, the aliens aren’t exactly nice creatures.” James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver on the set of Aliens.The Aliens MutinyAliens was shot at Pinewood Studios in England, which of course meant that Cameron was using a British crew. It was not a happy shoot.“[Cameron] came in kind of like George Lucas did 10 years before [when making Star Wars], this American guy with a beard and sneakers,” laughs Rinzler. “But in Cameron’s case, super-aggressive, who knows exactly what he wants and gives as much as he got from anybody. So there was a lot of tension. At one point they fired the first assistant director, Derek Cracknell. And the crew, there was a mutiny. Pure and simple. And it was Sigourney Weaver who saved the day.”As Rinzler explains, Cameron came from the Roger Corman school of filmmaking where, “If I want to move the light, I move the light. And if I want to go paint something and the guy’s not doing it right, I’ll paint it.” But that’s not how the English crew worked. Not that Cameron cared…“Most of it was they were given the crew who was used to working at the studio and for them, it was a job,” says Rinzler. “They work on one film and they work on the next film and the next film. And they were a very tight crew for the most part, and here was this guy coming in and violating a lot of union rules. And also somebody who freaked out about the whole tea trolley tradition, because he was losing roughly an hour a day of filming, which is huge. It adds up. That’s five hours in a week. That’s practically a day of filmmaking. So he was ready to strangle this poor old lady, who was just doing her job [bringing around tea]. And George [Lucas] would interiorize his anger at some of this stuff [on Star Wars] and was, I think compared to Cameron, more passive. Cameron would just grab a camera and go film something somewhere else while, as far as he was concerned, these guys just dilly-dally part of the day away!”Titan Books’ The Making of Aliens by J.W. Rinzler is available now. The author also has a new historical fiction novel out called All Up, as well as a book on Star Wars and Indiana Jones producer Howard Kazanjian coming next year.
Talk to Executive Editor Scott Collura on Twitter at @ScottCollura, or listen to his Star Trek podcast, Transporter Room 3. Or do both!Was this article informative?Read More


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