Unless you really want to make movies yourself, going to film school is expensive, time consuming, and, at times, rather technical. But in his numerous making-of books, writer J.W. Rinzler has made it sound like making movies is, well, expensive, time consuming, rather technical, but also really fun to read about. In the following email interview, Rinzler discusses his newest, The Making Of Aliens (hardcover), about James Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi sequel, as well as All Up (hardcover, Kindle), his new historical UFO novel.
It’s obvious from the title what this book is about — it’s a sex manual for mating with extraterrestrials, right? — but for someone who hasn’t read any of your movie making books, what is the approach you take to yours, what makes them different from other people’s?
I don’t know how others write their books, but my approach is to do a lot of research first, interview as many people as I can in the time allotted, and write, usually, two to three drafts.
I would also say that one of the defining qualities of your movie making books is that they’re fun reads. So much so that I’d consider reading one about a movie I didn’t like. Is that intentional?
I’ve always felt that a writer’s first duty is to entertain. Entertain, and keep the story moving, like the Warner Bros. gangster movies of the 1930s, and inform.
When you wrote your Star Wars books — The Making Of Star Wars: A New Hope, The Making Of Stars Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and The Making Of Stars Wars: Return Of The Jedi — you took a bit of an oral history approach, something you did less of in your more recent books, The Making Of Planet Of The Apes [which you can read about by clicking here] and The Making Of Alien. Is that also true for The Making Of Aliens?
For my Star Wars books, I was blessed with either a lot of interviews already done, or the time to do new interviews myself, or both. With the newer books, because I’m freelance now, I have to do everything in three or four months, which means fewer interviews. Consequently, I have to write more connective tissue myself. But I’d hope the books remain more or less objective in their storytelling, more or less relying on the interviews to tell the story.
Another thing I’ve noticed about your movie books is that you don’t go into anything gossipy about the cast. Like, if filming was stopped on Aliens because Sigourney Weaver and Paul Reiser got into a fist fight, you’d mention it. But if they had an affair that didn’t impact the filming, you wouldn’t. Is that a conscious choice on your part, or is it just that no one tells you that kind of stuff?
My books are licensed, so there’s no space for that material, unless it directly relates to the making of movie. To write something like the non-licensed Easy Riders, Raging Bulls [Peter Biskin’s book about Hollywood in the 1970s], I’d have to go into it looking for that kind of material. Normally interviewees are not going to volunteer that kind of info. And really, it’s not my cup of tea.
The Making Of Aliens comes almost exactly a year after you released The Making Of Alien, which seems like a really quick turnaround. Though The Making Of Alien came a year after your previous book, The Making Of Planet Of The Apes, so what do I know? Anyway, did you do all of the research for your Alien and Aliens books at the same time?
Since I left Lucasfilm I’ve had to work within the economics of the publishing industry, which doesn’t leave you much time to research and write. So, no, I didn’t do research for Aliens at same time as Alien.
So when you wrote The Making Of Aliens, did anything come to light that should’ve been included it in The Making Of Alien?
There’s also fun tidbits in these books. Did you learn anything while writing The Making Of Aliens that really surprised you or made you laugh out loud?
Sigourney Weaver didn’t want be “Rambolina” (her word) in Aliens, but felt pushed in that direction because of all the guns. She and Cameron worked it out, and how they did so — the whole process — was interesting and is in the book.
Aliens, even more than Alien, has spawned a number of comic books, video games, and so on. Does The Making Of Aliens talk at all about that aspect of the film’s legacy?
I don’t have time on these books, generally, to research the influence of the movie. That would be a big subject. And even if I did have time, the book itself wouldn’t have the space / pages to hold that research. The biggest cost in producing these books is paper, so page counts are strictly watched.
Having written The Making Of Alien and The Making Of Aliens, the next logical step would be for you to do The Making Of Alien 3. Is that the plan?
Fox has told me they don’t want to do a book on Alien 3. I don’t know why.
Unlike Alien and Aliens, Alien 3 was not a success commercially, nor a big hit among fans. But it seems like it could make for a good Making Of book, in part because of all the production problems, and in part because director David Fincher is an interesting filmmaker. How much of your decision to write one of these books is based on how good a story it could be?
These decisions are made based on many variables — but it mostly comes down to what the studio wants to promote.
So if some publisher wanted you to do one of these books on a popular film, but you knew the production was fairly typical, maybe even rote, would you still do it, or would you not bother?
I am a hired gun, for the most part. Studios / publishers hire me for specific films if they think I’m a good match. I’ve had three publishing runs: one at Lucasfilm; the other at Fox; and a third doing books with Prop Store. I’ve written books that they want to do. I’m also interested in those films and / or filmmakers, but generally they are the motor.
That said, once I commit to a project I do my best to tell the most detailed, informative, and entertaining story possible.
On the flipside, if someone wanted you to do one of these books on a movie that didn’t do well, but the production was a disaster in interesting ways, how about then?
Most movies have interesting stories behind the scenes. There have been interesting books on failed movies, such as Bonfire Of The Vanities, so I’d be open to that.
Now, along with The Making Of Aliens, you also recently put out a novel called All Up. Which — I assume, based on your movie books — is about a young man who follows an old man to a planet of gorilla people so he can fight insect-like aliens while looking for his asthmatic father. Is that what it’s about?
Actually, All Up is not sci-fi, and not alternate history. It’s based on documented history, seven years of research. Only about 30 pages out of 630 could be deemed unofficial history, but still documented. Personally, I wouldn’t call any of it sci-fi, though others still think of UFOs or alternate dimensions as such, even though quantum physics have proved the latter, and the number of military and gov’t officials who have attested to the reality behind UFOs have proved the former.
Given that it’s based on documented history, why did you decide to do it as a novel and not non-fiction?
All Up is the result of seven years research and writing. The reasons behind it are many. Perhaps the most compelling, personally, was that the general public is for the most part unaware of the incredible behind-the-scenes stories of the first Space Age, from WWII to Apollo 11. I wrote All Up as a novel in order to explore the main characters’ thoughts, Wernher von Braun and Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, and in order to include ancillary storylines about flying discs, Freemasonry, gov’t cover-ups, assassinations — the underside of history that doesn’t often make it into the nonfiction versions. However, All Up is about 90% verifiable, documented history, condensed into a page-turning thriller.
And does All Up have the same breezy style as The Making Of Aliens?
Well, in both cases, the point is to keep things moving, yes. To keep readers interested and entertained.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on All Up but not on anything else you’ve written?
For All Up, I read many memoirs by those involved, German, American, Russian; and many history books, but All Up isn’t influenced by any single writer — except possibly a few of its action scenes. Because while I was editing All Up, I was also reading the Alien scripts by Walter Hill and David Giler, particularly Hill’s way of writing action scenes may have had an influence on parts of All Up.
What about non-literary influences; was All Up influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games?
One or two scenes in All Up were influenced by the early Sean Connery James Bond films. Generally I write visually; I’m taking historical moments and hoping to make them visual and exciting for the reader.
Finally, to go back to The Making Of Aliens, you spoke earlier about how it’s not up to you what movies you get to write The Making Of books about. But if it was, what movie that you’d normally never get to write a book about would you like to write a book about?
I’d write a book about Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, one my favorites and one that really merits a wonderful coffee-table treatment, a deluxe edition.