A long time ago… in this galaxy… during the mid-to-late seventies and early eighties, it wasn’t so easy for a movie buff to own a film they’d enjoyed in theaters. DVDs and the Internet weren’t invented; and Beta/VHS tapes, which did exist, weren’t as abundant or readily available as DVDs are now or that VHS would be only a few years later.
But one thing that fans of “Alien”, “The Black Hole”, “The Thing”, “Clash of the Titans”, and many other films did have were novelizations: books (usually paperbacks) that covered the scripted story but also provided insight into back-story, character-development, and scenes that didn’t make the film’s final cut.
One man, Alan Dean Foster, wrote some of the best novelization-movie tie-in novels ever. Author of his own original science fiction/fantasy since 1972 (and having written several “Star Trek” Log books), he was the perfect candidate as ghostwriter for a young filmmaker named George Lucas, who had embarked on a risky science-fiction project titled “Star Wars”.
To this day Alan Dean Foster continues writing novelizations and his own original stories as well.
How did George Lucas come to you about ghostwriting the novelization for “Star Wars”?
Negotiations ensued, with my participation for two books being agreed upon. One of the conditions was that George's name be on the cover and that, if asked, I deny having done the book. I had no problem with this... it's George's story, and business is business. But it was difficult having to occasionally lie to friends. I don't think any of them hold it against me.
You were the first to write an “Expanded Universe” novel from “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker”, something that is quite common today… The book was “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye”… How did this come about?
He was always thinking ahead, and in this regard he felt that if the first film was only a modest success, he would still be able to do a sequel with existing props and such. That's why the film takes place on a fog-shrouded planet, underground, etc....eliminates the need for expensive backdrops (no cgi then, remember). When SW was the overwhelming hit that it was, he was free to pursue any visions he desired.
Was a Chewbacca cameo ever discussed for “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye”?
Provide a glimpse into each of the following novelizations and how you went about expanding on them from the original source…
DARK STAR: Guys sitting around in a spaceship talking about how bored they are. Hardest film novelization I've ever had to do. I had no choice but to explore their thoughts in detail... sometimes endless detail. There was nowhere else to go. The cheap beachball alien posed a problem, xenobiology-wise, until I realized I couldn't describe it as anything other than what it was. So I just called it the beachball... and lo and behold, it worked.
I was able to add a good deal about the space jockey ship, how it was found, and in particular I was able to novelize the scene that shows Ripley finding Dallas wrapped up in the alien cocoon, which is critical to understanding the alien's motivations. I wrote the book in three weeks, often at night looking over my shoulder.
ALIENS: Alien was all about atmosphere; Aliens about action. Readers should know that I kept Cameron's language intact and in fact added to it in the dialogue I created. It was Warner that decided to bowdlerize the talk and have the Marines saying things like "Darn!" An absurd piece of censorship, but as it was a work for hire I had no control over the final edit.
After I finished the book I made a list of 75 changes that I felt could be made to the picture in post-production to improve it and turned it in to my contact at Disney. Nothing was heard. Years later I ran into the same guy and said, "I guess no one at the studio ever saw my suggestions." "Oh no," he replied. "They had a meeting about it. There was a lot of anger expressed". I was hardly surprised. How dare some cheap-ass novelizer make suggestions about their big-budget extravaganza!
See, in certain areas of the film business the only thing worse than being wrong about something is being right.
KRULL: A truly disappointing film. One of the big problems dealing with Hollywood types who want to make science-fiction and fantasy films is that they don't understand the difference between the two. It's something that's always bothered me about a lot of SF-related Japanese anime. Krull lost me when the bad guys stop sword-fighting, turn their weapons around, and shoot death rays from the other end. Why not do that in the first place? Ask the screenwriters and the producers. If not for the crystal spider sequence the film's pretty much a total loss as far as I'm concerned. As usual, I tried my best to rationalize the lethally incongruous portions of the story.
STAR MAN: Lovely film. Great performance by Jeff Bridges. Excellent example of how to make a good SF film without exploding spaceships and laser battles but still preserve a real sense of wonder and otherworldliness. In the film, due to budget constraints among other things, we mostly see the alien in its human form. I was able in the book to take a deeper look at his alien-ness.
Knowing that I knew my way around a screenplay, and had already done two novelizations for Ballantine (LUANA, DARK STAR) she asked if I could novelize the TV scripts. I agreed. But when I received them, each twenty minutes in actual length, I told her there was no way I could get a book out of each short script. I suggested using three scripts per book and tying them together as best I could. We did this for the first six books.
She then called me and explained that the books were selling so well that I had to get a book out of each of the remaining four scripts. I struggled with the idea, but eventually decided to use one script as the basis for the first third of each book and then write original material to fill it out. So the last four books contain mostly original material.
Fortunately, I had saved what I felt to be the best scripts for the last, including two by actual SF writers, Larry Niven and David Gerrold… I remember wondering if they would cut the scene I added in one book where a love-struck (or actually lust-struck) ensign chases Uhura around the tree at an on-board Christmas party. They didn't…
When you write something in the book that isn’t in the film, is this from a scene that was deleted from the film’s original cut, or is it something you come up with on your own?
I once asked George why he cut it. He explained that at that point in the story, the character of Luke has not yet been established and that Biggs overpowers him in that sequence. So he cut it. Makes perfect directorial sense.
What are you provided with to prepare for writing a novelization?
In the case of THE BLACK HOLE I spent a day on the set... very boring, if you know anything about the actual process of film-making. STAR TREK was unique in that I was able to see the finished film before beginning the book.
Have you ever had to describe characters before an actor/actress was cast for the movie?
How long had you been writing before getting your first novel published in 1972?
Any advice to aspiring writers?
Of you original work, which are your favorites?
How does your original work end up influencing the novelizations (or vice versa)?
What’s in the future?
Interview by James M. Tate
ADF’s Official site www.alandeanfoster.com