Thirty five years ago today, cast and crew assembled at Shepperton Studios in England to begin principal photography on what would become one of, if not the greatest science fiction films ever made, Alien.
Written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett the film would be directed by up and coming director Ridley Scott and would go on to win a number of awards, including an Oscar for best effects, visual effects and further recognition from Bafta and the Golden Globes.
To date Alien has grossed in excess of one hundred million dollars worldwide and remains a landmark in film science fiction.
In honour of this 35th anniversary I thought it would interesting to look back at the shooting schedule for the film, published on the 20th of June, 1978, an original copy of which I acquired some years ago.
I think it’s fair to assume there would have been some drift with dates and likely revisions during the shooting schedule, we know for example a number of scenes were never filmed. However principal photography was scheduled to begin on Monday 3rd July 1978 and the first scene to be filmed, scene 14, involved Kane, Ripley, Ash, Lambert and Jones the cat on the bridge, with the crewmembers checking the ship’s position having been woken from hypersleep.
The actual scene of the crew waking from hypersleep, which would be the first scene involving the actors seen in the theatrical release was scheduled to be shot on the 21st of July.
July 4th would see the shooting of the landing scene including the rough descent and subsequent damage to the Narcissus. July 5th the crew discuss the damage and likely time for repair.
On July 6th Dallas calls for volunteers for a planet walk whilst Ripley and Ash film their discussion regarding Ripley’s suspicions that the transmission they have picked up from the planet is a warning. The 7th of July would see the filming Ripley’s refusal to allow the EVA crew to re-enter the ship with Kane now infected by the face hugger.
After two rest days the cast and crew reassemble on the 10th of July to shoot the take off of the Narcissus and Kane’s funeral. The following day a number of scenes involving Ripley opening and closing airlocks are shot along with the scene where Brett hands out the tracking devices.
July 12th mainly involves the shooting of Ripley’s attempts to catch Jones.
On the 13th we get the first glimpse of Mother with Dallas shooting a scene with the ship’s computer.
Also filmed is the extraordinary fight between Ash and Ripley, with stunt doubles used for the first time. Special effects notes include ‘Ash arm thru monitor.’
On the 14th we see the term ‘chest burster’ used for the first time as some scenes involving Dallas, Ash, Brett, Ripley, Lambert and Parker searching for it are shot. Also scheduled for the 14th are the tracking shots of the seemingly deserted ship, the very first scenes of the theatrical release.
Two more rest days and then on the 17th July the exterior shots of the planet walk are filmed and here we learn that child doubles are used in place of Dallas, Kane and Lambert, presumably for scale. The actual actors also shoot the scene of them dragging Kane into the lift.
On the 18th the interchange between Ripley and Ash is filmed with Ripley enquiring as to how the planet walk is going and Ash responding with mild irritation. The 19th sees the filming of the planet walkers enter the derelict structure with the principal actors and child doubles both in use.
On the 20th Ash and Ripley film some general scenes and on the 21st we have the aforementioned wake from hypersleep.
The 22nd the 23rd are rest days and on the 24th we have the continuation of the crew waking up from hypersleep and having their first meal.
On the 25th more shooting in the mess with Dallas explaining to the crew that something is wrong with the ship.
On the 26th & 27th we see the shooting of the infamous chest bursting scene. Interestingly the scene description simply reads ‘Kane Dies’ although we can see in the remarks column that the special effects required are listed as Kane chest burster and false chest piece.
Speaking to Empire magazine in 2009 Weaver recalls that the actors’ script simply read, ‘This thing emerges’ whilst Cartwright who according to Shusett passed out when the blood hit her, remembers being shown a mock-up of the chest burster but not how it was going to work.
Cartwright’s look of sheer terror has become an iconic image from the film and the scene itself has entered in movie folklore, often voted as one of the most memorable on film.
Friday July 28th would see the crew filming discussions on how to kill the Alien. There is then a break in shooting with the cast and crew returning on the 8th of August.
On the 8th and 9th scenes in the infirmary are shot including Ripley querying Ash’s decision to let the planet walkers back on board, we also see Kane with the face hugger having been removed and placed in a vacuum tube.
August 11th – 16th, with rest days on the 12th & 13th sees more scenes of the planet walk being shot. Then until the 21st we see many of the preparation for and hunting of the Alien scenes shot with various characters.
On the 22nd scene 132 simply reads:- Int. Undercarriage Room – Brett Gets It. Special effects required, Kirby Wire.
The 23rd to the 25th see a number of Parker and Brett’s scenes filmed with some involving Ripley. On the 29th a scene in the Undercarriage Room, redressed as Alien’s Lair sees Dallas, cocooned by the Alien, pleading with Ripley to kill him which she does.
This scene didn’t make it in to the theatrical release but has since been seen on DVD extras. Although this scene provided insight into the life-cycle of the Alien, Scott felt its inclusion spoiled the pacing of the film and it was omitted from the final release.
On the 30th we see the memorable scenes of the Alien’s acid burning through floors of the Nostromo in addition to some more scenes of tracking of the Alien.
On the 31st the pivotal scene of Ash overriding Ripley and allowing the planet walkers to re-board the ship with Kane infected by the face hugger.
From the beginning of September through to the 6th we see the scheduled shooting of several scenes that were actually never filmed. These involved a failed attempt by Parker to trap and eject the Alien from an airlock. The only parts filmed involved Parker’s interaction via radio with Ripley and Lambert on the bridge.
On the 7th Parker and Lambert are filmed gathering supplies and being attacked by the Alien. Following some rest days, on the 12th through to the 15th we see Kane, Lambert and Dallas film their investigation of the derelict ship and subsequent infection of Kane by the face hugger.
On the 18th we see scheduled another scene that would not be filmed, described simply as ‘Ripley & Dallas Make Love.’ The 19th sees Ripley making her way with Jones and flamethrower through the ship.
The 20th – 22nd are set aside for the shooting of Ripley’s encounter and subsequent ejection of the Alien from the Narcissus finishing with Ripley signing off.
After some rest days we return on the 25th for Dallas to shoot some of his scenes in the airshafts with flamethrower. On the 27th we see stunt doubles filming parts of the fight between Ripley and the Alien.
On the 29th the ejection of Kane’s corpse and the incineration of the Alien in the Narcissus’ engines are filmed.
Finally, Saturday 30th September 1978 marks the completion of main shooting.