I love reading and learning about film history. There are so many great writers and directors who often collaborated behind the scenes, helping one another achieve their best work. Recently, a friend sent me an article on how Paul Schrader worked behind the scenes with Steven Spielberg on a near draft of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I went on a deeper dive and found some audio discussing his work on the film and the ideas in general.
Check out the recording, and let's talk after the jump.
Brief spoilers for Close Encounters to follow.
What Did Paul Schrader's First Draft of Close Encounters Look Like?
Most writers don't want to talk about their failures. I have a long list of them that I hate going over.
When it comes to Schrader's draft of Close Encounters and what he did on the script, there have been varying reports. The general consensus is that 99% of the work was tossed out or not agreed upon. Schrader says in the video that he denies authorship over any part of the script and that all the work that hit the screen is Spielberg's.
So what was his original draft about?
He described it as something more biblical. It followed the story of a man named Paul who has a close encounter and then spends the rest of his life trying to recreate it and get into contact with the alien species.
When it came to finally meet the aliens again, Spielberg and Schrader had their disagreement that ended his work on the film. Spielberg wanted this to the story of an everyman who leaves everything. Schrader thought it was crazy to have an average man head into space. No real details on why he was above average, but they differed greatly there.
I decided these answers were not good enough, so I did some digging. In an earlier interview my friend sent, I found out the original idea for the movie was about an Air Force member who went around debunking UFO sightings. He would collect the facts from the witnesses and find out what really happened. Of course, he then sees a UFO, and the U.S. government confirms to him that they in fact think they exist.
The character of Paul is then put in charge of trying to make contact with the aliens. He spends the next 30 years searching for them, only to realize that aliens were never on the planet, but actually in his mind. They were real, but operated at such a higher consciousness, that they only occurred in his brain.
Honestly, that sounds like a pretty epic story.
The only thing Schrader does take credit for is that he convinced Spielberg that the movie should be spiritual, and not so much about science. Honestly, it is one of the best changes from what I have read, because the movie does become so much more about a higher calling than anything about UFOs.
I find all of this fascinating.
It's amazing hearing how two people could use the same prompt and come up with two widely different ideas. I would love to see the Schrader idea come alive one day, but I doubt he will ever revisit it.
Let me know what you think in the comments.