Original Screenwriter Jon Spaihts Talks 'PROMETHEUS' Ideas & Inspirations!

Original Prometheus screenwriter Jon Spaihts recently gave an interview with Forbes & discussed at length how he got involved with the film, working alongside iconic director Ridley Scott & some of the main ideas & inspirations for the years most highly anticipated release. Ridley Scott's Prometheus arrives in 2D, 3D & 3D IMAX theaters this June 8th & also stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Sean Harris, Logan Marshall-Green, Kate Dickie, Patrick Wilson, Rafe Spall & Guy Pearce. Hit the jump for the details.
Synopsis: "In the distant future, two superpowers control Earth and fight each other for all the solar system’s natural resources. When one side dispatches a team to a distant planet to terraform it for human colonization, the team discovers an indigenous race of bio-mechanoid killers. Ridley Scott, director of ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner,’ returns to the genre he helped define. With PROMETHEUS, he creates a groundbreaking mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race."
Jon Spaihts is the canny screenwriter behind one of the most hotly-anticipated films this year, the sci-fi thriller “Prometheus.” Directed by Ridley Scott, it serves as a prequel to his landmark film “Alien,” and stars “Girl With A Dragon Tattoo” actress Noomi Rapace, and Michael Fassbender. Recent reports suggest the story avoids being too closely intertwined with the original “Alien” narrative, laying out an entirely new adventure in which a few hapless humans will no doubt find themselves splattered at some point with blood and alien guts.The budget is big, the storyline under wraps and “Prometheus” has been getting a heavy dose of marketing by 20th Century Fox. But its screenwriter may appear a little unconventional: he has only one produced film to his name, the mixed-reviewed “Darkest Hour,” and earlier this week predicted that humans would never reach another star. Not what you’d expect from someone who writes stories about flying to distant planets. But it turns out you don’t need a past blockbuster hit, or even an optimistic take on space travel to work with a veteran like Ridley Scott. You just need a solid idea.

Spaihts got the job of writing “Prometheus” thanks to a one-off meeting in late 2009 with Scott at the offices of his Scott Free production company. As Hollywood meetings go, it wasn’t unusual. Spaihts and Scott got into small talk, tossing around ideas and flitting between gossip and general riffing. There was a rapport. About an hour in, Scott mentioned off hand that he was thinking of making a prequel to “Alien.” Did Spaihts have any ideas? “I hadn’t thought about it,” Spaihts remembered in an interview earlier this week. But once Scott had posed the question, Spaihts began offering a stream of opinions about what a prequel could look like. “It was a magical, fertilizing question.” For the better part of an hour, Spaihts laid out a mythology and “bridge” that would tie together the long-running “Alien” saga to “the human story,” along with set pieces and character turns that would remain in the finished film. Spaihts reckons his “bridge” is what piqued Scott’s interest. Till then, the 74-year-old movie-maker had reportedly turned down other script ideas for the Prometheus story, but this time he ended up giving Spaihts the job.

Spaihts is still mystified about how he comes up with ideas like the ones that occurred to him in the room that day, now three years ago. “To be a writer is to rely on a process in your own mind that you don’t understand,” he said. “I have no idea where a story comes from. I just rely on it continuing to happen.” Of course, the hard work was still to come. The big studio behind Prometheus, 20th Century Fox, was so excited about the film’s pitch that it originally gunned for a release in December 2011. (That aggressive deadline eventually slipped.) “I came out sprinting,” Spaihts said. Soon after his meeting with Scott, Spaihts wrote up a 20-page, single-spaced, “extremely detailed outline.” He then wrote the first draft of the screenplay in just three-and-a-half weeks, handing it on Christmas morning of 2009. Within 12 hours, Ridley Scott and his team had sent back notes. The winter holidays went out the window. From then on there were more curve balls coming from Scott, best known for his heavy, stylistic imprint on other blockbusters like “Gladiator” and “Blade Runner.”“He thinks on multiple story levels all the time,” said Spaihts, who attested to Scott’s reputation as a very visual director. “His pen is always moving, always sketching images with a phenomenal draftsmen’s eye.” Scott would see an image in his mind, and Spaihts’ job was often to make it happen in the story. “Sometimes my job was to push back. ‘No, someone can’t float around in the scene, we have gravity here.’”But sometimes Spaihts also had to bend the rules of his reality to make an image possible. “There were some interesting story developments that flowed from Ridley Scott’s pursuit of the image,” said Spaihts. “Sometimes that bridge was very beautiful and instantly durable.” Here’s an example: if you’ve noticed a point in the Prometheus trailer when a 3D alien star map fills up a huge room, that owes its visual inspiration to a 1766 painting by Joseph Wright, called “A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery.” The painting is of a scientist showing a mechanical planetarium to a group of enthralled adults and children, and by dramatic candlelight. “In a conversation we were talking about star maps and the story-necessity for the navigational instrument we would see, and Ridley Scott started talking about a painting he had in his mind,” Spaihts remembered. “Circles in circles with a candle lit image,” Scott had said. 

Spaihts thought of the Wright painting and did a Google image search. “Yes, that’s the painting I mean,” Scott exclaimed. “Scientist, scholars and children.”That was Scott, “making the leap from a star map, to an Enlightenment painting, and then back into the far future. His mind just multiplexes in that way,” said Spaihts. “For a writer it’s like riding a f***ing bronco. That kind of interplay is one of the great joys of screenwriting.”At one point when Spaihts was writing full-time out of Scott’s LA offices, he’d find himself in a room with the film’s production designer, Arthur Max, and four other full-time artists, talking about scenes late into the night between sips of wine. “I’d go home, then come back the next morning, and on the wall there would be a four foot-wide painting of the scene I had talked about the night before,” he remembered. “That’s the luxury of working at the level at which Ridley Scott works.”

A final word on how Spaihts set out to create the world that Scott hoped to visualize for Prometheus: “Every writer takes a different road into a story. In the case of this return to Ridley’s ‘Alien’ universe, there were a couple of fixed points – mainly the mysteries in Ridley’s original film that remained to be resolved and Ridley’s personal interest in return to that time, doing a prequel. I think the fundamental insight that drove me in the development of that story was that all of the mysteries in ‘Alien’ are distinctly alien in nature.” At the beginning of “Alien,” for instance, members of the ship Nostromo explore the wreckage of an abandoned space craft, and discover the remains of a large, unknown alien whose ribs appear to have exploded from the inside out. (You may well know the rest.) This unfortunate, otherworldly victim was “part of another species of alien greater that our own,” said Spaihts. “All the mysteries have alien players: the exoskeleton nightmare and giant pilot of the ship, the elephantine titan that was called the ‘space jockey’ in the fan literature. How do you make anyone care about events between creatures like this?” It is, indeed, hard enough to get audiences to care about human characters in a story.

The only way, Spaihts said, was “if that story is somehow ours, and deeply enmeshed with the human story. That story changes meaning within our own life, things of such significance that we think of our own lives differently… and our future. The great task was figuring out how to connect these alien tales to our story past and future.”

Interview Courtesy of Forbes [via]

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