“This time it’s war” ran the tagline for wunderkind James Cameron’s Aliens,a surprise belated sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien. But getting through the production was almost a war in itself: on one side the unknown Canadian auteur, and on the other, the tea loving Brits from Pinewood Studio.
Jim Cameron was an unknown element to the faithful Ridley Scott crew at Pinewood, who viewed him at first as a brash upstart, piggybacking on the success of Alien. He had only been in the movie business for less than ten years after being blown away by Star Wars (as was Ridley Scott, who was then inspired to make Alien). He learnt the hard way, grafting from the shop floor in Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and other films, working on models and matte paintings, amongst other things. He had three scripts under his belt, including Rambo 2, before his success with The Terminator persuaded Fox to grant him the keys to the kingdom.
This counted for naught with the Pinewood crew. Apart from their loyalty to Scott, the in-house, unionised crew were just used to doing things their own way, in their own time. Their craftmanship and professionalism were second to none, but Cameron was on a tight budget and schedule. He later said:
“The interesting thing about shooting in England wasn’t just the culture clash. For me, it was also a transition from a non-union guerilla-filmmaking mentality…to an actual union picture. They (the local crew) had permanent employment. A lot of people on the crew were, to use a charitable term, comfortable. if you did Pinewood, you had to use their people.”
The first casualty of war was director of photography Dick Bush. He didn’t see eye to eye with the headstrong director. As he saw it, it was up to him how the set was lit, not Cameron. The crunch came when Cameron wanted the marines approach through the devestated corridors to be eerily lit by only their shoulder rigged lamps. Bush instead had multiple lighting rigs everywhere, showing off too much set detail. He also said there was no way he could meet the tough schedule, and he had no intention of trying. Cameron’s then wife, producer Gale Anne Hurd, told her husband Bush had to go, and they parted by mutual consent. Adrian Bickle, Ridley Scott’s D.P was able to take over, and he fortunately clicked with Cameron’s vision immediately.
To get the local crew’s trust and understanding of his vision Cameron would arrange screenings of The Terminator, which hadn’t been released in the U.K yet, but few bothered to turn up at first. Then when he and 1st Assistant Director Derek Cracknell clashed and he was also let go, it almost provoked a walkout. Lance Henriksen (Bishop) didn’t get the local culture either. He recalled Cracknell saying “Bring on the artistes.” This after a previous minor confrontation. He told Cracknell “Man, you really are being a wise guy,” because he thought it was a put down, rather than typical “luvvie” speak so prevalent on English sets.
Speaking of “artistes”, actor James Remar was originally cast as Corporal hicks, but for whatever reason, Cameron felt he wasn’t right. He quickly replaced him shortly after filming began with Michael Biehn, who memorably played Kyle Reese in Cameron’s The Terminator. Remar can still be seen in several shots where the squad enter the alien den, although his face cannot be identified.
Possibly the biggest clash, although it may have been exaggerated over time, was over the infamous tea trolley. In the words of that late, great Englishman Noel Coward, “Everything stops for tea.” Frustratingly for the director, at 10 a.m the huge studio doors would part, releasing painstakingly created atmospheric smoke, and in would trundle a “little old lady” as young Carrie Henn (Newt) put it, with the tea and snack trolley. Henn would often help her, as the crew dropped whatever they were doing and rushed for refreshments. Somewhat understandable, as they had an early start with no breakfast. Cameron simply wasn’t used to this, but he was probablv running on pure adrenalin. Apparently one day, the tea caddy was sabotaged, but it was swiftly replaced.
Carrie Henn was a US Army brat, her father stationed in England at the time. Together with her brother Christopher (who only appears in the extended cut, with scenes of the pre-overrun colony) this was her only acting experience. Although a total natural, she had an impish sense of humour. During the scene where she slides down the chute as Ripley tries to grab her, she kept blowing the scene so she could slide again, until Cameron said if she did it right, she could slide later all she wanted.
Another practice that irked Cameron was recalled by Bill Paxton (Hudson). “Jim was simmering-he’d got two shots done and it had been one delay after another. It happened to be a Friday night, when they go around with a jar and everyone throws in a pound for a raffle. And God, I remember this poor old geezer from Costume goes up to Jim. he says “For the whip, Guv’nor?” There’s a long pause as Jim looks at the little jar. Then he slowly says “Does that have anything to do with what we are trying to accomplish here? Get the fuck out of my face!”
For the scene where Vasquez and Gorman (Jenette Goldstein and William Hope) are attacked by aliens in the air duct and she jams an aliens head against the wall and shoots it, that is not Goldstein doing the shooting. Cameron knew his wife and producer Gale Anne-Hurd was familiar with firearms (one of their first dates was on a firing range), and had her do it exactly the way he wanted, further reinforcing her tough as nails reputation among the grumbling crew.
Cameron’s vision was also his curse. He knew exactly what he wanted, and expected others to deliver it. The film was being completed with edits, effects and music cues right up to the wire. James Horner had just two weeks to complete his score, for which he received his first Academy Award nomination. The first time many of the crew saw the completed film (there was no time for previews) was at the premiere. Grudgingly, many of the talented people who worked long hours would agree that the aggravation was worth it to create such a landmark film.
The identity of the tea caddy vandal remains unknown to this day.
Originally posted 2012-06-29 12:42:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter