John Flynn, Author, Dissecting Aliens

John Flynn, Author, Dissecting Aliens

By happenstance John Flynn contacted me to pass along the news of the new edition of his book called Dissecting Aliens: Terror in Space, so when the opportunity came along I jumped at the chance to setup an interview with him. Site staffer, and forum moderator, SiL took the job and ran with it, covering all the bases for both our site and his literature-based site SO937. Let’s get to it:

Alien Experience: First off, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Would you care to tell us a little about yourself?

John Flynn: My name is John Flynn, and I was born and raised in Chicago, IL. I have a BA and MA from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D. from Southern California University. I have been a teacher and an administrator in higher education for most of my life; in the early 80s, I owned a comic book store in MD called Galactic Enterprises. I went to my first sci-fi convention in 1972, and I have been involved in SF fandom ever since. I am a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and I have written 12 books, two optioned but as yet unproduced screenplays, and lots of short stories and articles.  In 2002, I was nominated for my first Hugo, this is the award for excellence given in sci-fi writing; I was nominated agin in 2003 and 2004, but I have not yet won.

AXP: For those of you who don’t know, what’s your relation to the Alien franchise?

JF: I am merely a huge fan of the Alien franchise.

AXP: How did you come about writing the first edition of ‘Dissecting Aliens: Terror in Space’ in the 1990s?

JF: In the early 90s, I knew a publicist at Fox who got me onto the lot and showed me around. He also told me about the development problems with Alien 3 and gave me copies of many of the scripts that were not used. I pitched the book to several publishers, wrote the book, and had Boxtree publish it in 1995.

AXP: What part, if any, did 20th Century Fox have in its creation?

JF: Little. At first, they seemed to be very excited that someone was interested in the Alienfranchise. I received presskits and photos, etc. But when they read the chapter about Alien 3, they lost enthusiasm.

AXP: How long did it take to write the book?

JF: Nine months to a year.

AXP: Could you give a rough outline of the kind of research you did for the book?

JF: I watched all of the films, read the books and comic books and just about anything I could get my hands on related to the Alien movies. Of course, I had the presskits and my publicist friend to give me materials. I also interviewed Michael Biehn and met/spoke with Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett at a sci-fi convention in Washington D.C. Of course, not long after the book came out, I received a fan letter from H.R. Giger. He loved the book and appreciated how I gave him credit where the credit was really due him.

AXP: For people who read the original edition, how has the book changed for the latest version?

JF: The latest version includes material on the Predator films as well as chapters on thealien movies that came out in the 1950s and 1960s and the alien movies that came out after Alien. I have chapters on Alien: Resurrection and AVP 1 and 2. I wanted the book to be more inclusive of other alien movies so that we have a context in which to judge the Alien films.

AXP: When and why – outside the obvious that new films had been made – did you decide to revise the book?

JF: I decided to revise and update the book for the most obvious reason…the new Alien films. Also, I wrote another book titled Future Prime: The Top Ten SF Films with Bob Blackwood. We polled thousands of sci-fi fans to learn what their choices were for the top ten sf films of all time, and we were surprised to have both Alien and Aliens on the final ten list. It seemed that there were far more Alien fans now than when I wrote the first book.

AXP: I recall you said in the first edition that you talked to Dan O’Bannon. Did you get to speak personally with anyone else?

JF: I tried to get to anyone I could…like Michael Biehn. As I stated above, I also heard from H.R. Giger after the first edition came out. He is the real genius behind the Alien movies because of his design of the alien and general production] design.

AXP: Did you get to speak with anyone for the revised edition?

JF: Just Giger, after the first book came out. You’ll find quote-unquote interviews in the new book.

AXP: The first edition gives a synopsis for each written version of the film, including all the rejected Alien 3 drafts. Were you given the outlines, or did you base them from personal readings?

JF: Yes, I had the original scripts, and I felt that fans should know what was written and rejected.

AXP: Were you given sources to work with, did you hunt down your own information, or was it a little of both?

JF: Outside of my publicist friend, who I ran into at this year’s San Diego Comic Con (after many years), I had to hunt down the information on my own. Also, after the first edition came out, Stuart Hazeldine (a terrific screenwriter!) sent me a script he had written for Alien 4. It treated Alien 3 like a dream and brought back Hicks and Newt and placed them on an adventure that took place on space stations that were in fact mile-high skyscrapers above the Earth. His script was fantastic, but alas, he was just a beginning screenwriter and had yet to make a sale in Hollywood. His script should have formed the basis for Alien 4, but unfortunately the script never went anyplace.

AXP: You did an overview of the AvP project in development in the mid 90s that was terminated because, as you wrote, everyone involved thought it was too much like the Godzilla film ‘Destroy All Monsters’. What information did you have to work with for that part?

JF: I had the original script from Peter Biggs. And of course I had read the original comic book.

AXP: If you had the original script, was it complete?

JF: All available versions of Peter Briggs’ AvP script are missing two pages in the middle. You know, there may have been two pages missing in the version that I read, but it was so long ago that I don’t remember.

AXP: What was your reaction when AvP finally went into production in 2003?

JF: I was at the San Diego Comic Con when Fox announced AvP and brought out Lance Henrikson to validate the film. I was quite dubious as to whether it would be any good. Of course, when I saw it in the theatre, I loved it. It has its faults, but on the whole I liked most of it. Read my complete take on AvP in the new edition of the book.

AXP: Did the Alien Quadrilogy, and the wealth of information therein, inspire you to go back and take another look at what you’d originally written regarding the first three movies?

JF: I loved the Alien Quadrilogy. But I had written most of the update before I had purchased it. You see, I already owned this terrific boxed set of the Alien films, and hesitated buying it yet again. I really hate it when studios realize multiple DVD sets years apart. Of course, I know the reason–$. So, I actually didn’t buy the set until after I had written most of the book. When I did finally watch all of the extras, they helped to validate what I had already written.

AXP: In the original edition, ‘Predator’ and its sequel were mentioned only as outlines in the chapter regarding films that the Alien franchise inspired. Now that AvP has tied the franchises together, did you expound on those films, or is the book still very much about the Aliens?

JF: Yes, I have a chapter devoted to Predator. Of course, I had written a book in 1993 titled The Films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I had a chapter in there devoted to Predator.  I lifted many of the quotes from the interview I did with Arnold and some of the material for this chapter.

AXP: It’s said that the latest edition of ‘Dissecting Aliens’ contains information regarding the second Alien vs. Predator film due out in December. Can you give us a run down on what things the book covers in that regard?

JF: I have material on AvP up to whatever information was generally available in Jan-Feb of this year. Since the book was due at the printers in order to make the release date in July at the San Diego Comic Con, I had to stop writing and just let the material stand as it is.

If I write another update, I’ll include more material once the movie has come out. And regrettably, I’ll just ask you to purchase the book to see what I cover.

AXP: What other new information will we see, in terms of the other Alien and Predatorfilms, in the updated edition?

JF: If I told you that, no one would buy the book. So I will ask your readers to trust me and buy the book.

AXP: Not long ago another book was released on the same topic – detailing the making of all the Alien and Predator films (including AvP) – called ‘Beautiful Monsters’. Have you read the book? What are your thoughts if you have?

JF: I try not to read other author’s books on the same subject. I don’t want to be influenced by their writing style, nor do I want to unconsciously take their material. So I have not read this book. Maybe now, I’ll get to it.

AXP: As someone who’s looked into the history and making of these films, what are your thoughts on their progression since the original in 1979? Do you think it’s been positive, negative, or a bit of both?

JF: I loved the original film from 1979; in fact, in my brand new introduction, I discuss how that original film affected me. I also loved James Cameron’s sequel. I think I would have preferred Fox to follow the Cameron film with something similar, like the comic book series from Dark Horse. We’d be up to Alien 5 or 6 if they had. Alien 3 was a mess. Alien: Resurrection was better, but seemed more like a pilot to a new series, like Firefly.  AvP was inevitable. And I think the AvP films can exist in the same universe as the continued series of Alien and Predator films.

I have written a treatment for an Alien film, which I may or may not turn into a screenplay. It all depends on whether my two optioned screenplays (one a sci-fi film like 2001/Contact and the other a thriller like Basic Instinct) make it into films and I earn a name worthy enough of Fox paying me for a script or treatment.

I’ve tentatively titled it Alien: First Contact (not very original but alas it is a good description). In my treatment, the Alien beasties were initially brought to Earth aboard the Roswell UFO in 1947. They got loose and terrorized the military base at Roswell, which was the first base with nuclear weapons. But our heroes fought them with conventional WWII weapons. The story concludes with the arrival of an alien cargo carrier with the space jockey (to borrow the dead alien character from the first movie) and his friends. Once the military has killed the last of the Aliens, they take the remaining eggs aboard and head out to deep space. The incident is classified top secret and only a handful of people know what really happened.  Of course, the treatment concludes with the space jockey’s ship crashing on Acheron, and setting up the storyline for the first Alien picture.

AXP: As far as background and behind-the-scenes material goes, what film did you find the most interesting to learn and write about?

JF: The original Alien.

AXP: What, so far, has been your favourite film?

JF: That’s tough…I love both Alien and Aliens. Perhaps Alien because it started it all.

AXP: And lastly, as a point of interest, did you watch ALL of the movies that inspired/were inspired by the Alien films listed in the first edition of the book?

JF: Yes, and more…now that the second edition is out. In fact, I own all that are available on DVD. Makes for an interesting film library.

AXP: Thank you so much for your time.

JF: Thanks…and I will just plug my appearance at DragonCon Labor Day weekend.