“Although I have only a small driblet of fame and fortune, it’s enough. My life has gone very well in all spheres except for my physical health.”
Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon died earlier this month after a 30 battle with Crohn’s disease. He’ll be most remembered in film history for writing Alien.
O’Bannon was born in St. Louis and stated that his early creative influences were comic books, monster movies of the 1950s, and H.P. Lovecraft novels. He would go to Washington University in St. Louis and MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, before going on to USC where he earned an MFA.
William Froug, in his book The New Screenwriter Looks at The New Screenwriter, had this to say about O’Bannon, “Looking back over twenty years of teaching at both USC and UCLA, I single out Dan O’Bannon as the most original, unique student I encountered. Dan was a quiet, modest young man, quite a bit undernourished, gentle, and soft-spoken. Dan was also something of a loner. It was clear he had his own vision, and it was the vision of an iconoclast. I was fond of him from the first time we met in one of my non-writing classes.”
O’Bannon met director John Carpenter in film school at USC and they made a student film together called Dark Star that they later expanded into their first feature film. After Alien O’Bannon went on to make several other films including The Return of the Living Dead, Total Recall, and Blue Thunder.
In an interview that he did with Froug I’ve pieced together what O’Bannon said was his way of working;
“I’m a structuralist myself. We believe in discipline, hard work, and architecture. Writing a script is like carpentry…In my early days of writing, I was afraid that working it all out in advance would destroy the creative impulse. Now I don’t even start seriously writing until it’s all worked out on paper…I keep retyping from the beginning. I list all my scenes. Then I rearrange them into three acts. I just keep working on it until I run dry of stuff that should go into an outline, and then I start on the script. I don’t start writing the script until it’s completely working in an outline. Until all the pieces are there…So the first big thrust is to get the structure first and then the script goes fairly quickly.”
O’Bannon was part of solid list of writers & filmmakers from Missouri. (See post Screenwriting from Missouri.)
There is a Dan O’Bannon website that is up and running as well as being in the process of being further developed and is sure to be a wealth of info on his writings.