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Dan O’Bannon, Part Three – Bits & Pieces

Dan and I attended the cast and crew premiere of Lifeforce, a film that Dan had written (with Don Jakoby) that Tobe Hooper had directed. I much preferred the film’s less pretentious and more honestly descriptive working title, Space Vampires (its title in the UK). In many ways, Lifeforce was a space program/sci-fi version of The Return of the Living Dead. I highly recommend Lifeforce, if only for the abundant nudity of the exquisite Mathilda May.

I was working with Tobe on the remake of Invaders From Mars (that Dan had written with Don Jakoby) at the time. Early on, Dan would visit me in the Invaders art department and suggest things to include in the film. I could tell that Dan was creatively frustrated and eager to direct again.

If you haven’t seen Dead & Buried, a 1981 film Dan wrote with Ron Shusett, definitely track that baby down. It’s got one of the best openings in horror cinema. The rest of the film plays out like a classic Twilight Zone.

Dan told me he wrote Blue Thunder in response to the police helicopters that would hover over his abode at night. They drove him nuts. He used to stand on his rooftop and angrily flip off the cops above him as they shined their Night Sun down on him.

Total Recall was a Philip K. Dick adaptation (from We Can Remember it For You Wholesale) by Dan and Ron Shusett. Originally, the lead character was a meek little Walter Mitty kind of guy (which makes much more sense, dramatically, than the film’s final incarnation if you think about it). When Arnold signed on for the lead (which turned Total Recall into a hot “go” project) nearly everything had to change, script-wise, obviously.

Let me end with a bit about my experience with Dan in recording the commentary for The Return of the Living Dead DVD:

Dan and I met at the recording facility. He was anxious. Dan was carrying what looked like a large briefcase. I got distracted by one of the producers. When I turned back to Dan, he had vanished.

Getting close to our taping time, I decided to use the restroom. I found Dan inside. His case was on the sink, opened. It was a thoroughly stocked professional makeup kit.

“I just can’t trust anyone to make me look good, so I always do my own makeup for camera.”

I watched as he skillfully applied various substances to his neck and face.

“You know,” he confided, “I’ve never done this before, this commentary thing.”

“Don’t worry, Dan,” I replied. “I have. I’ve done this live at conventions. They’d begin our film and hand me a microphone. I did live commentary throughout the entire movie. It’s not so hard and the fans love hearing all of that behind-the-scenes stuff.”

“But I’m worried I’ll just clam up, that I won’t be able to think of anything to say.”

“You’ll think of things.”

Dan seemed truly worried.

“You’ll cover for me if that happens, won’t you? I’ll be depending on you. Really.”

“Sure; not a problem, Dan.”

We entered the sound stage. Each of us were miked and our volume levels were set. They projected our film on to a huge screen. All we had to do was begin talking about whatever came into our mind about the making of the film, triggered by the images we were seeing.

Dan had no need to worry. From the very first frame of the movie, Dan was off and running; I could barely get a word in edgewise. He was stepping all over my favorite TROTLD stories but I figured Hey! — this is Dan’s movie, it’s his moment to shine. So, I pretty much just filled in the few gaps where Dan took a break to breathe or when he actually paused for some other reason.

That same day we shot the DVD’s Designing the Dead documentary (on my production designing of the movie), so I ended up getting my own proper face and voice time anyway. We both had a lot of fun that day.

And that DVD of our little film became MGM’s biggest selling DVD of the year!

Bless you, Dan. I’ll always think of you with amazement, awe and a smile. I am very, very lucky to have known you and to have counted you as one of my friends. Sleep well, my brother, at last.

3 thoughts on “Dan O’Bannon, Part Three – Bits & Pieces

  1. Bill,

    Thanks. I still don’t know the man, only some of his work, but at least I have a better idea of him.


  2. We should all have someone like you to eulogize us Bill! Thanks for giving us a personal, heartfelt portrait of your friend.

  3. We should all have some to eulogize us – period. 🙂

    Seriously, Dan O’Bannon will be missed. I kept hoping he would get another shot directing a film.
    It really hurts hearing about the tantalizing plans he shared with Bill,..that will never be.

    Besides his obvious talents as a writer and actor (Sgt.Pinback forever!) Dan O’Bannon’s most invaluable contribution to film
    was his amazingly keen eye for upcoming artists. His hit-list of artistic discoveries gives Dan an unbeatable record as a talent scout.

    I miss him, and wish I could have met him.


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