Cowboys & Aliens Set Visit: Bob Orci Interview

Orci spoke a bit more about Steven Spielberg’s input into the making of the film.

Orci: We’ve been very well protected, not only just with good suggestions, but then also just whenever we go outside of the bumper rails, they’ll push us back into the center. You know, I think we talked about – of course, Spielberg’s screened several movies for us, even did commentary in the theater with us. He got a new print of “The Searchers,” and he took me and Jon and Alex and Damon to the Warner Brothers Theater. And he sat behind us and he’s like, “Okay.”  And he – it was just a DVD commentary live, with Spielberg behind us. It’s like, “Okay, where’s the horizon? Why do you think the horizon is there? What is the horizon’s relationship to the actors mean about the scene?” You know, just – and we’re like taking notes.

Q: Is that like film school?

Orci: Yes.  Of course, it’s film school. I would have paid for that class. [laughter] Totally film school. It was crazy.

Q: And what do you learn from that that you and Jon were able to use on this?

Orci: To be cautious of what you’re trying to say with your framing, you know. We have a great environment here. So one element tends to be how you’re dealing with nature. Aliens are another facet of nature. And so how you move through the movie, and where you are in relation to nature – are you up against it? Are you down against it? Are you winning? Are you losing? Is it beating you? Or are you beating it? That becomes a conscious thing that’s subliminal to the audience, but it still affects how you feel about the transition. Because in a way, this is a road movie, too. They’re traveling across to get to what they need to get to. And so how the environment changes and how they change in relation to it was, you know, a big lesson from that day.

Q: As far as shooting here and shooting on location, was there – did you look at Canada? Was there never a second thought? Or how did that process go?

Orci: Spielberg was pretty adamant from Day One that it had to be either like Monument Valley or here. So it was just like what’s going to be the most legitimate. And we wanted it to take place in the Arizona Territory. 

Q: How about the portrayal of the Apaches and sort of their culture? I mean, just – I’m a big Old West buff and just – it’s a real amazing thing, just to see these guys looking so period accurate.

Orci: We got some great consultants. There’s obviously Apache around here. A lot of the people we have working are from around here. And in getting Apache consultants, we actually augmented the Apache story to be even more – I don’t want to say sensitive – not only better for the story, but something I think the Apache will be proud of. 

We of course had to chat about the casting of legendary film star Harrison Ford in this unique movie.

Q: Now, this is not blatantly obvious, but as a big nerd, having Harrison Ford walk around in a vest…

Orci: Is he in this? [laughter]

Q: Shooting at aliens and then saying, “I’m your father.” Are you aware of the “Star Wars” references?

Orci: I am, but it’s not a surprise that he’s his father. But I’ve seen him shoot a gun. You can’t help but see a little Han Solo there, he’s got a little…

Q: ‘Shoots first’, right?

Orci: Yeah. [laughter]

Q: Is there a ‘shoots first’ moment in this?

Orci: Yeah. [laughter] There is.

Q: Right. It’d be really gratifying.

Orci: We’re gonna fix that. [laughter] Yes, there is.

Q: So what’d it take to get him on board for this?

Orci: I don’t know. I don’t know how it happened. I’m assuming Spielberg called in some kind of a favor, because we were shocked to hear that he was interested. We found out that he’s been interested in doing a Western for a long time. He was skeptical about the genre blend, and agreed to a meeting. And it wasn’t until he actually came in and saw the artwork and saw what the amazing production design the team had done, and saw the – because you read the script and you get some sense of tone, but you’re thinking, “God, a cowboy on what’s gonna be like – like a flying saucer is gonna land on the cowboy? What’s this gonna be?” And it wasn’t until he saw the production design and what the aliens look like and what the ships look like and how they looked in relation that he said, “Ah, now I get it.” And that’s when he agreed to join, when he came in and really saw the stuff on the walls.

Q: What about that dynamic between Daniel’s character and Harrison’s character, and he sort of – what sort of bond do they form, or what sort of, like just chemistry is going on there  Because you’ve got one guy – the big cheese in town and Daniel is just the tough guy stranger, so…

Orci: Well, that’s what’s great, is that if aliens hadn’t landed, this movie would be about how Daniel and Harrison are adversaries. And actually, Harrison would be the villain. And so that’s the trajectory that the movie’s taking. It’s only the interruption of this other genre that forces them to work together. So hopefully, it’s not something we – we don’t break the ice between them soon at all. It’s something that they have to – they have to continue to butt heads throughout the movie and really earn whatever thinning of the ice and chemistry they have. And hopefully by delaying it and by having them have to witness each other at their best and at their worst, by the end of the movie you really feel like they’ve earned each other’s respect.