Ridley Scott’s Alien has been called a masterpiece in the horror genre and the world of cinema. Scott’s collaboration with H. R. Geiger, Ron Cobb, Dan O’Bannon, Sigourney Weaver and many of the other cast members brought to life a cultural impact that is rarely done. The film kicked started a series of sequels, comics, novels, art, and obsession that has lasted—and will continue—for many generations. Different filmmakers from all walks of life have said that these movies have given the inspiration and jumpstart to a career in the film industry.
The 40th anniversary of Scott’s classic occurred this year and 20th Century Fox decided to do something special for the seminal film. The studio behind the Alien franchise decided to celebrate such occasion by producing several short films that take place in the Alien universe. These shorts were directed by carefully chosen unknown filmmakers—many of which were diehard fans of the franchise—and showcased online. ScreenGeek was invited to attend a special screening of these shorts.
Many were fascinated and helped bring in new life into this world of the Xenomorphs, colonial marines, space trucks, and corporations hellbent to find the perfect weapon. Noah Miller was one of the lucky chosen ones to create a short for the studio called ‘Alien: Alone’. The story centers around android left alone to survive on a decaying ship but would later find an unlikely companion.
ScreenGeek was fortunate enough to sit down with the director and discuss his background in film, the process before and during the production of his short, and his love for the Alien Franchise.
What’s your background?
Noah Miller: I guess it’s purely film-based. I guess I originally went to school to be an editor, moved into screenwriting, got a Master’s from the American Film Institute. Taught for a couple of years—film studies—and then realized I wasn’t really making things which is what I really wanted to be doing. So, I quit that job and moved into the industry and started working.
How’d you get involved with this project?
Noah Miller: They released it on a really strange, slim period of time. I think it might have been the 4th of July weekend? It was some holiday weekend. We’d been pretty busy on a different project and I sort of last-minute threw together a pitch while we were moving into the house we’re in now and sent that in as sort of a hail-Mary, and it happened to strick some nerves. Which was really helpful.
I heard that there were about 500 people who had—
Noah Miller: Yeah, the initial pitch, which was just like a couple of story beats that they were looking for was like 550 people. And then, out of that, they cut us down to 16. Out of the 16 we all got—I want to say it was $1,500, but I’m not sure if that’s the exact number—to throw together a pitch. I scripted out the entire story, had a storyboard artist in—I think she’s in Japan, a friend connected me up with her—create full storyboards. And I did animatics and voiceover for the whole thing to basically animate as much of the story as we could from beginning to end and turned that in. Because what I wanted was if I was going to get rejected, to be rejected for the full idea rather than just my ability to present that idea.
One thing that attracted me to your idea is the unique take on the whole ‘Alien’ universe. We’ve had a lot of stories where they followed scientists, truckers, miners, etc. This story follows an android and her living alone inside of a ship. The crew is MIA. Where’d you come up with this idea?
Noah Miller: There’s, like, a few different lines of convergence that made this idea exist. The most was ‘What can you actually do?’ So, you likely are not going to be able to handle an entire crew of a ship. You’re just not going to be able to hit that amount of characters in that amount of time, and that’s just a lot of people to cast, a lot of people to deal with. So, one person. That’s the easiest to do out of that. And that way you can really get to know that one person. But then, why is there only one person? Well, they’re on a ship and it’s junky because you can’t afford a really nice set. So you stick one person on a junky ship. Why are they on a junky ship? Well, it’s broken and everyone else left. Why did they get left alone? Because they’re an android or a synthetic that nobody wants to take with them. It’s a piece of machinery you leave behind. Once that existed then it was creating that character as somebody who could live in that world and why they would—what it would be like if you were left alone. Like, what that would do to you. That’s kind of where it grew out of once you have those pieces on the board.
During the short, you have little remnants of the crew, like a picture of them. So I was wondering if there is any extended footage that shows what happened to them of any mention of what happens to the crew?
Noah Miller: There’s not extended footage of them, but there was a story in place about why they left. It wasn’t really pertinent—it was just extra stuff that was taking up screen time. But it dealt with a lot of the reason that she was still there and a lot of the reason why she felt so, I guess, abused. But there wasn’t enough to make it—it wasn’t interesting enough, I guess. It was just backstory. It was good for my actress to have. Taylor did a great job with it. But it still isn’t incredibly pertinent to the audience because it’s not the story.
The actress was Taylor Lyons, right? Is there a reason why you chose a female droid as opposed to a male droid?
Noah Miller: One of the things that was one of the rules in the original tongal was to have a female character reminiscent of a Ripley, of some kind. If you noticed, all the shorts had female leads in one way or another. So that was kind of an already box that was checked. And then it was just what would be interesting for this particular character. Why should it exist as a female android? Because you only see one in ‘[Alien]Resurrection’, is the only time you’ve seen another one. Call’s character, I believe her name is. She’s interesting. But also there’s, like, a whole story about how she’s one that’s been made out of others—out of other synthetics. What do they call it, ‘robots making robots.’ But there hadn’t been one in, I guess what you would consider that core set of films. But there is a lot in the extended universe I’ve heard they dealt with. I just thought it would be interesting. Why would you leave someone behind who’s like that? What connections did she have with the crew, really, that character is that she was.
What made the actress stand out against the others?
Noah Miller: We went through a couple of different actresses as the production progressed. We lost one due to general rules with union actors. Another that I liked didn’t quite go through the Fox lines. Which was fine. It’s kind of the whole process. Taylor was a suggestion from a director friend of mine who had used her on another short. She came directly after getting off a flight from shooting and was just very very accommodating and upbeat and nice to work with. It took a while for us to figure out a way for her character to feel synthetic. I know some of the reviews got a little pushback because she’s too robotic, which I don’t disagree with but she’s too robotic because she’s breaking. That’s the point of it like she’s no longer able to sort of keep that façade up. There was one direction I gave to her that clicked, at least for me, which was that I asked her to pretend every action she was going through that she had to go through a list as if she had a heads up display that would allow her to make different actions. Which for me I liked that quite a bit. Gave me a different look to it.
The budget was very limited, correct?
Noah Miller: Yeah. $30,000.
If you would have gotten a bigger budget, would you have done anything different or would you have kept it as tight as it was?
Noah Miller: I made a joke because the original cut that I turned in was 25 minutes. So it’s a little different and it’s cut down for good reason. I mean, I enjoyed living in that world way more than I think an audience would. I’ll watch someone walk across a hallway for 2 minutes; I don’t think anyone else should. I made a joke that if you give me another $60,000 I’ll pump out a feature of that. I think I would have built a set if I had a much bigger budget. I liked the set we ended up with but I think it would have nicer to have something a little bit more customized to our needs. I definitely miss being able to put it firmly in the Ron Cobb Nostromo designs. Those things are gorgeous and hard to replicate, especially when you are modifying someone else’s set. So it would have been really nice to have had that.
How long was the shoot and were there any time-delaying hiccups?
Noah Miller: Shoot day was, I think well 3 days were the pre-light days, so 4 days altogether. I got told by my DP that I’m overconfident in what we can shoot. And that’s true. After the first day, I found myself cutting a lot of stuff. At least 2 scenes got sort of thrown to the ground that in the edit would not have come out anyway. There was where she takes apart Mother to repair a terminal and gets a bunch of information on what the face-hugger is and how it operates and learns more about it. The second one was her and the face-hugger bonding a little bit more by her warming up a plate as it’s getting sicker—a plate of metal—with the torch and then it gets on there and warms itself. It would have been nice to see; it also would have been a logistical nightmare to pull off with what we had. It was just me thinking, “Oh I can just figure this out on the day on top of everything else,” which is not true. So, those two kind of went by the wayside after our first day of shooting. But after that, we were running pretty smoothly. I mean we went a little bit behind schedule here and there, but we were able to wrap and get out in our allotted time and it worked out really nice.
Did you ever get to see any of the other directors’ work or process?
Noah Miller: No. I saw one shot that was shown to me. I can’t remember how I actually ended up seeing it. I saw one scene from ‘Night Shift’ where the light comes over and reveals the face-hugger. But that’s it. That’s all I’d seen. Beyond that, it was just doing the same thing I think every other director was doing which was slightly stalking each other’s social media hoping somebody would slip up and post something they shouldn’t have. I think I got a look at Chris Reeding’s set and got very sad because that thing is beautiful. ‘The Containment’ set that they constructed. They did an amazing job on that. But beyond that, no.
There was a tender moment near the end where the face-hugger had done its duty and the Xenomorph is out and was making eye contact with the droid, Hope. I got a feeling that it was kind of like “Hey, what’s going on? Thank you so much.” Am I reading that wrong?
Noah Miller: There’s, I guess, not an alternate ending but a slightly different edited ending in which the hand of the Xenomorph touches her shoulder and it cuts just before you know what’s going to happen. I had James who was in the suit at the time—
He was the guy who was in the spacesuit.
Noah Miller: He jerked his hand and I wanted to cut right at the jerk. Unfortunately, that suit, it’s a stunt suit so it’s not supposed to be this hero beautiful prop and it just didn’t quite look the way it should. But essentially it’s not supposed to be something you know the end. It’s up to you of whether or not—
Noah Miller: Yeah. Given the interaction between Xenomorphs and synthetics, my guess would be walking out the door. That’d be my thing. And it would just go on to do the same stuff. I have a lot of, I guess, maybe jokes for it. I kind of wanted to play ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ at parts and just let it end there. But that’s not what it’s meant to be. I just thought it would be funny.
That’s like your private cut.
Noah Miller: Yeah. Just my own little ‘haha’. There is Ben, except for ‘[Alien] Resurrection’. I mean technically Bishop didn’t particularly care for them but he admired them in a way. There’s Ben in a sort of love affair between the synthetics and the Xenomorphs in almost everything and almost every piece of media. I think, for me at least, it was Hope being able to see something that could continue to survive no matter what compared to her who is degrading and falling apart.
I wanted to touch up on your history with the whole Alien universe. What’s Alien’s influence on you?
Noah Miller: I absolutely adore ‘Alien’ as a piece of art. When I first started into screenwriting, my professor at the time handed me two scripts to learn from. One was ‘Point Break’ and the only thing I’ve taken from ‘Point Break’ is the way they write sound effects. They’re written like a comic book. If somebody were to cock a gun it would go “ca-chunk” or something like that and they’d write it in there. The other was Walter Hill draft of ‘Alien’. I was handed that. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, but it’s very very different than most screenplays. It’s written in this really staccato, almost poetic style. And none of the characters have genders. They’re just characters. And it’s far enough down the development line where it’s not like ‘Star Beast’, the original ‘Alien’ script. But it’s far enough down where you see the film that it’s going to be. But it’s the script I learned to write off of. So I’d read it over and over and over again to figure out how to structure screenplays, how to write, how to build stories. Because I knew that script so deeply, I then tore apart the rest of the production of ‘Alien’. And it’s one of the most well-documented productions out there so if you’re learning to make films, Alien’s perfect. You can learn everything you need to learn in film production in that and you can do it in a blending genre piece which is always fun.
I think it’s really interesting how H. R. Geiger, his style of art and set design really influences the feel of the movie and it travels for decades. You see something that’s even reminiscent of H. R. Geiger and you’re just like ‘boom’ Alien.
Noah Miller: The beautiful thing about that is essentially two different artists came together to sort of, I’m simplifying because there were a lot of people who worked on this film, but to slam two different worlds together. So you’ve got Ron Cobb’s world of human stuff. You’ve got the Nostromo designs. The guy who did ‘Blade Runner’ and all that. So it’s a very specific look of this lived-in retro falling—well not at the time retro—but falling apart future, very rusty and what-have-you. And then you’ve got Geiger’s techno-organic sexualized stuff. And the two slam into each other and they don’t fit, which actually makes it work because it really does feel like something really alien has come aboard this human world. So I’m a really big fan of that as a production style where they brought up very disparate voices that worked together to create something.
You love this whole Alien franchise. Is there another franchise you would love to tackle?
Noah Miller: I’m right in the middle of working on something—not actually working with Stargate—but with a Stargate fan thing. So I’d love to get in there. I’d love to work—well, I would have said Star Trek—but now I would say I’d love to get my hands into the Orville universe at this point. If I could just grab things to remake, almost every piece of genre that you could think of would be something I would find incredibly neat. I mean, I would love to take a crack at ‘The Thing’. You put any piece of Carpenter work in front of me, I’m going to say, “Yeah, I’ve got an idea for that.”
Yeah, it almost breaks my heart that ‘The Thing’ prequel didn’t take off as much as it was supposed to.
Noah Miller: I would’ve loved to have seen that go more practical in the effects and stuff but I’ll turn that thing on and watch it—I love it. It’s a good film in its own right. I’ve got quite a few.
What is your next project in the pipeline?
Noah Miller: Not, like, majorly in the pipeline. I’m overseeing a video install at the Hardrock London right now, but that’s a small normal work-based thing. I’m seeing where this can move us. It would be nice to step up the ranks and work on something a bit more media again.
What is your opinion on how the Alien franchise has turned out?
Noah Miller: I’ve got a weird answer to this. I’m one of the few people who actually like that ‘Alien’ allows for a very different voice almost every single time. I like that ‘Aliens’ is this action piece—it’s not dark horror which I absolutely love from ‘Aliens’. I like that ‘Alien 3’ essentially has Fincher’s thumbprint is all over that and it feels very different from the others. I absolutely love that ‘[Alien] Resurrection’ is essentially where we got ‘Firefly’ from. I think it’s an important part. If you’re talking specifically about ‘[Alien]Covenant’ and ‘Prometheus’, I think ‘Prometheus’ is an amazing science-fiction film that I think actually suffers from having the Alien name on it. I think if that didn’t have it on it, it would hold much more heart for people. They would be much more inclined, and we’d see three or four other films off of it.
‘Prometheus’ was kind of interesting. There are still a lot of problems with it. I thought they were going to fix that with ‘[Alien] Covenant’ and I was sorely disappointed in that.
Noah Miller: There are parts of ‘[Alien] Covenant’ I think are pretty amazing. The scene that everyone hates which I absolutely love is the scene with the two Davids—well David and Walter—when they’re playing the flute. I could have watched that for twenty minutes. I was just blown away. Like, you’re doing it. Go for it. I love it. I really think that those needed to feel their entire length I guess. That’s what I wish I would’ve seen. I wish I could see the end of those three as a series and then judge it.
Have you heard Neil Blomkamp’s take on what he would want to do with an Alien movie? Would you want to see that come to fruition?
Noah Miller: The same thing I just said. I would love to see all of them. There’s no reason why all of these things can’t exist. We make a lot of movies. Like I’d said with ‘[Alien] Resurrection’ and 2 and 3, I love seeing different thumbprints on these and I would have loved to have seen Blomkamp’s thumbprint on this as well.
If Ridley Scott came to you and said, “Here are the keys to the castle and the Nostromo, make the Alien movie you want to make, what would you make?”
Noah Miller: It depends because I’m much more inclined towards television. So I’d love to put it there. If this is a full hypothetical where I could do that, I would love to do that—to take all of the different elements and run them in different ways. I’d love to see a version of the Colonial Marines, or whatever the military happens to be—I don’t think it always has to be just those Marines. But, what does an essentially totalitarian space military look like on its day to day work? It doesn’t have to encounter aliens every single episode—it could do its own thing. What is life like in an oppressive work a day blue-collar thing? I’d love to see all those and have them slowly come together and have that have its own sort of impact on the alien universe. I think there’s a lot in that world to explore that hasn’t been done yet and I’d love to do that in tiny vignettes that then slowly weave their way together.
Are you hopeful for the Alien franchise since the Fox and Disney merger has happened that they’ll bring Aliens to the level it was? Or are you worried about it?
Noah Miller: I definitely am not worried. I think any chance to make material that hasn’t been touched in a while is great. I am one of those people who doesn’t think a franchise can be harmed by a bad film. Especially one like this. I mean, we went through—again I’m going to say I love these on their own. I watch them maybe every other year. But the AVP films are not gold by anyone’s standard. No one is going to sit there and defend them and say this is the most amazing thing ever made, but they’re fun and schlocky and nobody believes those stopped us from getting Prometheus, it didn’t stop us from getting ‘[Alien] Covenant’ and it doesn’t stop Alien from existing as a franchise. So that’s my feeling on it. As long as people are still making attempts, I’m happy.