This last weekend I had booked myself a ticket to see Terry Rawlings, a film editor who was giving a talk about his 50 years of work in the industry. The talk was taking place in Colchester and we planned a day around visiting the town to do some shopping and, as the talk was due to start around 3ish with a showing of Alien at the end, it was going to be a pretty long day for everyone. To keep the ladies off the street in the evening, I got them two tickets for ‘Dark Shadows’ at the local Odeon and trotted off to the Signals art centre.
Terry (who was a very entertaining speaker) began with explaining how he got into the industry. He told a similar story to one I’ve heard before when talking to industry veterans, that people getting into film would be taken on in an apprentice position and then moved around different departments while learning on the job, you would pickup skills rather than be taught in a school and if you had any skill in one area you would most likely end up there. He talked about his early work as a sound editor and mentioned many of the films he’s worked on like ‘The Jokers’, ‘Bedazzled’ (Pete and Dudley) and ‘Women in Love’ (yes, the one with Oliver Reed wrestling butt nekkid) before working with Ridley Scott on the Duelist and then breaking into film editing with working on ‘The Sentinel’ then his first full editor job which was ‘Watership Down’. At this point he knew what we wanted to hear so started to talk more indepth about Alien. There was roughly around 40 people there and it was an obvious demographic, a few ladies but mainly male, youngish age (do I really think late 20’s/early 30’s as young? Jeez i’m getting old) and one guy even had a ‘Last Exit to Nowhere’ nostromo t-shirt. He talked about his early meeting with the producers (who mainly quizzed him about Watership Down) and then talked about how the film was shot and edited. One interesting thing he mentioned was that the film looks like its in slow motion the whole way through, there are lots of long movements with the camera and it drifts slowly around the ship and the mood builds slowly throughout but its very slow.
Someone asked him if he thought the newer cut of the film (from around 2003) added much back to the film and he admitted he hadn’t seen it but he remembers some of the bits being filmed. He talked about Ripley finding the cocooned crew with Dallas strung up but still slightly alive being not important to the story. Killing Dallas when he begs her could be seen as a mercy killing but I take his point in that its a diversion that doesn’t push the tension of the film as he said that she was in the process of blowing the ship up anyway. He made a good comment about directors cuts in general which is something that I’ve heard before, they are the bits that are cut out not to shorten the run time, but to make the story flow better. Often these bits are stuck back in just to make a selling point for the DVD but they also make the story clunky and I’ve got to admit that I’m guilty of buying a DVD just because it has extra material in it but how often are they really the version the director wanted? He said he was once sent a copy of Alien which has every single sweeping added back it, all the crappy quality sections in there that don’t add anything to the story. The two films he said the directors version are actually the version the director wanted are ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Legend’. I Don’t think anyone would argue over the first but the second one is something I would have to reserve judgement on until I’ve seen the directors version. ‘Legend’ is a film I have trouble with as while its visually rich and has some wonderful characters in it (Tim Curry’s Darkness is iconic) I struggle with Tom Cruise in it. He seems so out of place. I remember seeing it many years ago on TV when BBC 1 showed ‘Krull’ then straight after BBC 2 had ‘Legend’ I was more taken with ‘Krull’ and it has stuck with me longer. Coincidentally Derek Meddings (another of my heroes from my yoof) worked on ‘Krull’ and Goldeneye was his last film while Terry worked on Goldeneye as well.
At the end of the talk he produced an A4 red covered book which contained his original shooting script of Alien and allowed us to look at it and while many people seemed to be gripped in some bizarre form of religious mania, I wasn’t impressed. No really I wasn’t. Nope. Not at all. Awww who am I kidding, I held… no I cradled that thing like it was made of the finest gossamer.
Inside the pages was a collection of notes, scribbles, crossings out and production information about the film. Several of the pages even had bits of (now brown and flakey) sellotape holding scraps of paper over them. Some had huge sections crossed out and one guest asked what the notes about scenes that came after Ripley went to sleep at the end are in reference to. Yup, there was a mention at the end just before the end credits to a set of shots/scenes which had been removed from the script. Terry explained that a number of pages are different colours which represented amended pages and that the last few pages all had different colours. He had never had a copy of the first draft so he didn’t know what those scenes could have been. GRAAAAAAAAA! There was something there at the end and only in the the fevered dreams of the collective geekdom can we begin to imagine what it was.
While most people looked up the chestburster scene, talked about Veronica Cartwright screaming and about blood squirting all over the place, I went for Kane finding the egg. For me thats the point at which the film changes its tone as it goes from sci-fi into horror along the lines of the old dark house style film it mimics. Kanes natural interest in the egg is what drives the story for me and its a part of human nature in everyone even though a little voice in out head (or in this case its Dallas over the radio) is telling us “no, don’t do it”. Time for a slight diversion here but many years ago I met Alan Bryce who was a visual effects artist living in retirement that I had written to. I was trying to get into the VFX industry anyway I could and was writing to anyone who’s address I could find to try and get a lead. He invited me to his house where, as a wide eyed teen, I saw several awards for the films he had worked on and heard a few legends from his working days on films like the early Dr Who films (with Peter Cushing), Superman and his tiny speaking role in ‘Empire Strikes Back’. Alan had been part of the on set effects team and talked at length about the making of the scene when Kane peers into the egg as he had been underneath the egg with a pair of marigold gloves on. Glued to the gloves was bits and pieces to mimic the shape of the facehugger and filling the egg was all the slop and tripe from a local abattoir. The only way to get his hands in and out of the egg to move the legs around was through a rubber valve they built into the bottom and when pulling his hands out he got a huge face full of guts. He was also the first person to tell me the now legendary story about nobody knowing about the chestburster. One thing he did tell me which have never heard from anywhere else is that John Hurt was in a huge amount of pain due to being in a rather uncomfortable harness under the table. To keep him happy he was fed a steady diet of cigarillos and wine. By the time they came to film the chestburster sequence he was too pissed to know what was happening.
Terry also said that the facehugger model was stored in his fridge every night. Alan had already told me that the legs of the prop had shellfish superglued into them to provide the twitch when they had the electrical current run through them on the autopsy table on the ship, but I can only begin to imagine the smell that must have had after a few days under hot studio lights.
The music for the film was scored by Jerry Goldsmith and Terry, who had worked in music editing, cut together a temporary track from some of Jerry’s previous work. The studio liked some of that music so much they actually used it in places rather than the music which was written specifically for the film. The end score over the credits is Howard Hanson’s 2nd symphony and the studio even preferred that, which Terry added as a temp track over Jerry’s piece, much to Jerry’s disgust.
Terry also spoke of his time on Alien 3 which I have to admit I do like, while I like Aliens I’ve always found it to be a little too gung ho for my tastes as i’ve grown older and Alien 3 tried to bring some of the mystique back to the franchise. He said that the studio had given David Fincher a huge budget but had little faith in him as it was his first film. He was constantly being plagued by the studio and in the end they ran out of time resulting in the slightly choppy final edit. The studio attempted to remove a few key points (Golic releasing the alien from the trap being a prime example) and the final result was a mess so it wasn’t until sometime later when it was given a chance to be sorted out and the story being polished more before it made sense. While its still slightly disjointed I still think the film shows much of Fincher’s dramatic film making skills and several scenes stand out really well. Ripley walking into the mess hall with a shaven head, bright walls and long stares from the inmates is a wonderful example of how to make an entry.
Other films mentioned included Blade Runner (he was the main editor, but because it was being edited in the US and the union wouldn’t let him work on it in a studio, he had to do much of his work in a motel just outside the studio. His assistant (another union rule) was apparently not very good), Legend (cut from a 2 hour runtime to 90 minutes and Jerry Goldsmiths music was replaced by Tangerine Dreams), The Saint (in the original version the main female lead is killed off at the end of the 2nd act leaving the final act to be fueled by revenge. the studio loved it until the test audiences hated it then the studio hated it and it had to be recut which removed a huge battle at the end) and Goldeneye (the first Bond film with the editor mentioned on the poster thanks to Terry’s insistance).
At the end of the talk I had a chance to say thank you and I also got an autograph (faaannnnboooooyyy) on the ticket for the talk. Sadly I had forgotten to bring one of the many Alien books I have, but at least I’ve got something to remember it all by (as well as this rambling post). Ducking out at the end I ran round to the Odeon and managed to grab a ticket for the same showing of ‘Dark Shadows’ as the other two. Down come the lights, on come the trailers and up pops the trailer for Prometheus… a perfect tie in to the days events.