Posts Tagged ‘From Concept to Classic’

“He lost. He’s alone. And he’s three million light years from home.”
Trailer for E.T., The Extra Terrestrial

“In the beginning, E.T. was never going to be the story of a little lost alien. Instead, I had intended to tell the story of the effects of a divorce on a young boy, a purging of all the pain children suffer and them must endure when a seismic event divides a family. I had been pondering this ever since I became a director, but it wasn’t until I was actually shooting the final scenes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind that a new idea seized me, one that could be blended with my personal story of divorce.”
Steven Spielberg
Introduction to E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, From Concept to Classic, 30th Anniversary Edition

In my last post, Tootsie at 30, I mentioned that Tootsie was number one at the box office the week it came out in December of 1982. The weekend Toostie was release, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial came in at number 7 at the box office. That may seem surprising. But as they say, “a number without a reference is meaningless.”

I doubt E.T.’s director Steven Spielberg was disappointed by being beaten out by Tootsie, or even Airplane II: The Sequel (which came in at #6), because E.T. was released way back on June 11, 1982. Spielberg says in the book E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, From Concept to Classic, “Never in my wildest, wishful thinking did I imagine that our film would reach beyond a handful of family and friends.” So the fact that E.T. was still in theaters—and in the top ten moneymakers—six months after its release is pretty amazing.

The movie went on to have a worldwide gross of just under $800 million. And who knows how many more hundreds of millions in merchandising?


From a screenwriting perspective what you’ll like about the book on the making of E.T. is not only Melissa Mathison’s screenplay, but the rules of E.T.’s universe that were set in place in telling the story. Things like, “All adults in the movie are shot from the waist down, except for mom,” and “Everytime E.T. says a word he has to say it twice.”

“Melissa delivered this 107-page first draft to me and I read it in about an hour. I was just knocked out. It was a script I was willing to shoot the next day. It was so honest, and Melissa’s voice made a direct connection with my heart.”
Steven Spielberg

E.T. received nine Oscar-nominations, including Mathison for her screenplay, and won four (Best Visual Effects, Sound Effects Editing, Original Score, and Best Sound).

“I would write for four or five days in my little office in Hollywood, and then drive out to Marina Del Rey where Steven Spielberg was editing in a little apartment on the beach. I’d bring him my pages and we’d sit and go through them…It took about eight weeks for us to get the first draft, which was quite fast I think.”
Melissa Mathison
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, From Concept to Classic, 30th Anniversary Edition

Here’s a a 10 minute clip I found on The Making of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial where Speilberg comments about a scene that was cut from the finished film, “I think every scene needs to advance the story. And anytime a scene doesn’t advance the story, if it’s just fun for the sake of fun, it doesn’t really belong in the movie.”

Related posts:
E.T. & Emotional Autobiography
E.T., Mel & Easter
E.T. was from Youngstown (Kinda)
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter (Opposing views on personal storytelling)
Writing as Self-Exploration (Tip #67)
John Ford’s Advice to Spielberg
Filmmaking Quote #21 (Spielberg)

Scott W. Smith



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