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Alien: Covenant Screenwriter Dante Harper Talks Flute Scene & More

When Alien: Covenant finally hit the screens, the final writing credits were Story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green, Written by John Logan and Dante Harper. We hadn’t even heard of Dante Harper’s involvement until March when 20th Century Fox released the second Alien: Covenant trailer.

The Hollywood Reporter has published an interview with Harper, talking about his involvement with the developing story and specific aspects of the film. Judging from the way Harper talks in the interview, it would appear he actually worked on the film prior to John Logan coming aboard in November 2015. Beware spoilers.

“The scene in which David teaches Walter the flute will undoubtedly go down as one a classic. How did that come about?

I wrote many, many versions of that scene. It’s a really delicate, hard scene to get right. I do think we all owe the actual use of the flute to John Logan or Ridley — it came after me. 

I do know that from the get go, it’s such a hard scene to get right, because you’ve got these two identical robots, you’ve got this unhinged narcissist …. But I really think Ridley handled that so beautifully that you have this homoerotic scene that also at the same time turns out to be truly just terrifying and not about the eroticism. I think it manages to be really enthralling and beautiful and so much of it has to do how Fassbender does it, giving it that flute. It’s a scene that easily could have gone wrong. If you imagine a different actor or a poorly written scene, it would just become an obligatory kind of scene, but the way it ends up being written and the way it ends up being played — it’s really one of my favorite parts and I have four or five different parts of that movie.”

 Alien: Covenant Screenwriter Dante Harper Talks Flute Scene & More

Harper also goes on to talk about one of the more controversial aspects of Alien: Covenant, the discovery of the Alien’s origins at the hands of David and about how The Crossing originally took place at the beginning of some of Dante’s drafts:

“Some fans won’t like that we now know so much about the Xenomorphs’ origins. What is your reaction to that, and how did you decide how much of that backstory to share? 

In terms of how much we know, and how much we learn, that in a sense becomes Ridley’s decision. It’s very hard to fabricate new information, but it’s very easy to cut it out. In my drafts of the screenplay — and I’m sure drafts that came along later —even if you’re keeping things shrouded in mystery, I think you actually have to know what happened, because people can tell when they see a tip of an iceberg but there’s no real iceberg underneath it and you really haven’t done the math, you haven’t figured out what happened. I think I could write a small book about all the things that happened, because we had to figure all that out. So the question became how much are we going to learn? One of the things that was interesting about the final cut of the film, is we actually ended up learning a lot less than was possible given the drafts that we had. That was always the question with every draft, “how much can we reveal, how much can we not?” At the end of the day, I think a lot of those decisions got made in the editing room. You can tell the information is there. I think they pulled back in places. If you’ve see teaser No. 2 that has the scene between David and Shaw [Noomi Rapace] — that was a scene that was at the beginning of many drafts of the movie that I wrote, because at the time, we were thinking that this movie would really pick up a few seconds or a few days after Prometheus ended.

That opening became kind of a standalone piece. It gives you a sense of the degree to which there used to be a lot more technical information about what exactly happened. There is the history of the Engineers and their relationship to the xenovirus, and also David’s creation of the alien. Both of those things were always a question of how on the nose to get.”

Head on over to The Hollywood Reporter to read the rest of the interview where Dante also talks about the ending of the film. Thanks to echobbase79 for the news.

Keep a close eye on Alien vs. Predator Galaxy for the latest on Alien: Covenant! You can follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to get the latest on your social media walls. You can also join in with fellow Alien fans on our forums!



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  1. BringbackJonesy!
    @ CoalescedChaos - Heh, I completely forgot that Jonesy would have still been curled up in Ripley's pod when that chair was bumped, before the alert goes off and wakens everyone up.  ::)

    However, I'll definately still think of him as pawing that springy toy offscreen, just before Ash throws Ripley into that section of the set...and equally imagine that Jonesy then scarpered away offscreen too.  ;D

    But going back to the moment where the chair is bumped and the papers rustle - I reckon that due to the way that the top of the chair is seen to slowly swivel a little, that I can just imagine it's movement (and knocking sound due to the swivel) is caused by some sort of 'blast of air-conditioning' throughout certain sections of the Nostromo, which happened to be sweeping in from the corridor section we see seconds before the camera pans into this area...rather than it being caused by the cameraman.  ;)

    I'm certainly content to think of it this way, as this moment always came across as a slightly unsettling one to me when the camera panned through the sets at this point in this sequence, and I find it to be a 'happy accident' due to this.

    What I think could easily have been 'fixed' however...is the continuity error of the 'suddenly appearing mug' beside the console screen that lights up.  It's not a biggie in the scheme of things, but I was a little surprised that the mug wasn't digitally erased (or alternatively, added) when Ridley was doing his 'Director's Cut', so that things matched up better between those shots. 

    Maybe it was left by the cameraman just after he bumped the chair!  ;D

    Either way, as BishopShouldGo suggested, these are highly unlikely to be deliberate 'fourth wall' instances, unlike David's flute-playing.

    _____________________________

    @ shawsbaby - I was curious to see if anyone thought that David playing the PROMETHEUS theme was actually a clever kind of 'self-referential' moment in the way you've described it.  I did try to see it this way when I started to give it more thought, but found that I didn't care for the notion of thinking about David's flute-playing scene beforehand, every time I wanted to give PROMETHEUS a re-watch sometime.

    Personally, I was never a fan of the powerful Engineer playing a 'flute' to start up the Juggernaut in the first place...so I want to get rid of that in my own ideal version.  And the shots of David playing those notes will need to go to.  So while I respect some like yourself will be happy to look at David's scene in the way that you described, I'd rather stick to just hearing that excellent PROMETHEUS music 'reprised' in ALIEN COVENANT as part of the background soundtrack only.
  2. CoalescedChaos
    I actually never thought about 'Alien' like that. I'm not exactly convinced that those are fourth-wall breaks (although I do acknowledge your point that they *could* have re-shot those scenes and "fixed" it, and opted not to for whatever reason), but it's still a really neat point. :)

    Yeah, of course I could be completely wrong and they just didn't reshoot them for whatever other reason - maybe budget or time constraints.

    But, I do really like the thought of the audience being immersersed into the movie through a very subtle 4th wall break. It's not so in your face that it actually takes you out of the film and honestly, you could totally miss it.

    But if you look for them, then you wonder why those two instances - that shouldn't have happened within the film's universe, happened. It's always kinda how I took those scenes, and in my opinion, the supposed 4th wall break made ALIEN as a film, even more special to me. It made me a part of it.
  3. Evanus
    It's not really a fourth wall break. It's a (smart, I think) re-contextualization of Prometheus. By making the score we hear in Prometheus actually something we learn David creates for Shaw deepens the themes of the first film and ties together with the second.

    And as I've said before, these are movies and scores/music playing against or in the background of the "world" of the scenes just reinforces that fiction. I'm not sure why something "self-referential" offends people in this way. People complain it took them out of the film, but I just felt more immersed.

    It's not a dumb choice or an arbitrary one; it's actually a thoughtful one (in my opinion, obviously).
    Yeah, I actually kind of liked it too. I also really liked the reprise of the theme when they're at Shaw's grave.
  4. shawsbaby
    It's not really a fourth wall break. It's a (smart, I think) re-contextualization of Prometheus. By making the score we hear in Prometheus actually something we learn David creates for Shaw deepens the themes of the first film and ties together with the second.

    And as I've said before, these are movies and scores/music playing against or in the background of the "world" of the scenes just reinforces that fiction. I'm not sure why something "self-referential" offends people in this way. People complain it took them out of the film, but I just felt more immersed.

    It's not a dumb choice or an arbitrary one; it's actually a thoughtful one (in my opinion, obviously).
  5. Xenomrph
    I don't understand the dislike for the fourth wall break in Covenant.

    Alien has a few - implying the audience is there on the ship with the rest of the crew. The camera man bumping the chair and rustling papers in the opening sequence as he sweeps by, and the camera man also hits the springy toy hanging from the ceiling during the confrontation scene between Ash and Ripley. They didn't do a retake even though it clearly shows Ian Holm reacting to the mistake.
    I actually never thought about 'Alien' like that. I'm not exactly convinced that those are fourth-wall breaks (although I do acknowledge your point that they *could* have re-shot those scenes and "fixed" it, and opted not to for whatever reason), but it's still a really neat point. :)
  6. BishopShouldGo
    I'm understand the dislike for the fourth wall break in Covenant.

    Alien has a few - implying the audience is there on the ship with the rest of the crew. The camera man bumping the chair and rustles papers in the opening sequence, and the camera man also hits the springy toy hanging from the ceiling during the confrontation scene between Ash and Ripley. They didn't do a retake even though it clearly shows Ian Holm reacting to the mistake.

    Lol! Those aren't instances of breaking the fourth wall, those were unintentional, whereas the Prometheus theme was a deliberate choice. THE END.

    But they kept those very noticeable mistakes in, when another take could've easily fixed them. They were left in for a reason. It lends some credence to the theory that the crew is at least somewhat aware of the audience.

    James Franco already confirmed in that March interview that it was a mix.
  7. BringbackJonesy!
    @ CoalescedChaos - That wasn't the cameraman...that was JONESY the cat who was playing about 'offscreen' as far as I'm concerned, and no-one can tell me different.  ;D

    And David playing the previous movie's music will always be a miss-step to me.
  8. CoalescedChaos
    I'm understand the dislike for the fourth wall break in Covenant.

    Alien has a few - implying the audience is there on the ship with the rest of the crew. The camera man bumping the chair and rustles papers in the opening sequence, and the camera man also hits the springy toy hanging from the ceiling during the confrontation scene between Ash and Ripley. They didn't do a retake even though it clearly shows Ian Holm reacting to the mistake.

    Lol! Those aren't instances of breaking the fourth wall, those were unintentional, whereas the Prometheus theme was a deliberate choice. THE END.

    But they kept those very noticeable mistakes in, when another take could've easily fixed them. They were left in for a reason. It lends some credence to the theory that the crew is at least somewhat aware of the audience.
  9. BishopShouldGo
    I'm understand the dislike for the fourth wall break in Covenant.

    Alien has a few - implying the audience is there on the ship with the rest of the crew. The camera man bumping the chair and rustles papers in the opening sequence, and the camera man also hits the springy toy hanging from the ceiling during the confrontation scene between Ash and Ripley. They didn't do a retake even though it clearly shows Ian Holm reacting to the mistake.

    Lol! Those aren't instances of breaking the fourth wall, those were unintentional, whereas the Prometheus theme was a deliberate choice. THE END.
  10. CoalescedChaos
    I don't understand the dislike for the fourth wall break in Covenant.

    Alien has a few - implying the audience is there on the ship with the rest of the crew. The camera man bumping the chair and rustling papers in the opening sequence as he sweeps by, and the camera man also hits the springy toy hanging from the ceiling during the confrontation scene between Ash and Ripley. They didn't do a retake even though it clearly shows Ian Holm reacting to the mistake.
  11. BringbackJonesy!
    @ Corporal Hicks - Ha!, I actually took a self-imposed embargo from this site for a while in the run up to ALIEN COVENANT's release...and completely missed your review at the time...and forgot that I intended to read it sometime after my viewing!  ::)

    Having done so now, it's good to know that someone else found David playing the Prometheus theme irritating! And I found that I agreed with most of the other points concerning AC that you mentioned too.  ;D

    I'm so glad I hadn't read it at the time after all, as I would have been annoyed at portions of Ridley's movie even before I entered the cinema!  :P
  12. Corporal Hicks
    I mentioned it on my review on the website. I really wasn't a fan of it either. I liked it in the actual score when you see Shaw's grave but I didn't need to have David playing it. I really can't stand that sort of self-referential thing. It's in the same category as homage dialogue for me.
  13. BringbackJonesy!
    I'm late around here with this, but I'm really surprised to find that I've never yet come across anyone mention what turned out to be one of the biggest problems I had with the 'flute' scenes in AC...

    It was something which immediately distracted me and took me 'right out of the movie' at the time - it's the fact that at one point, Ridley actually had him play some of the PROMETHEUS 'Main Theme' score! :-

    What the heck?, I mean this seemed like an unnecessary 'breaking of the fourth wall convention' to me, and just another bad 'creative choice' in the overall movie.  But as no-one elsewhere seems to have brought this up as far as I know, I wonder if this means that everyone was fine with this particular 'callback', or even considered it to be a clever reference of sorts? 

    Personally, it bothered me a lot...as I usually look on movie soundtracks as being something totally separate in the background that to the overall movie footage, rather than actually being something that is 'referenced' in the movie itself - it's as if the 'cantina band' in the original STAR WARS had played John Williams' 'Main Theme', for instance,  But I'm curious to see if others are as fazed by it.

    Not to worry though, because I'm just going to remove the 'Engineer flute-playing' shots from PROMETHEUS for myself (just as Agent 9 did in his great re-edit), and I'm also intending to remove this particular scene from the movie too, so that I can more easily watch these movies as an 'alternative universe' reinterpreted storyline to what occurs in ALIEN/ALIENS. ;D
  14. shawsbaby
    I believe our test screening guy said so.

    How strange.

    Also odd: I forget who it was but someone involved in the production talked about Shaw's fate being one of the big surprises of the film, but that's not really how it played out all. I'm wondering if other footage was filmed that speaks to this? Certainly nothing from the test screening reports suggest anything more substantial than what we saw in the final cut (apart from pieces of the Crossing prologue being shown in flashback).
  15. shawsbaby

    I'd never have been onboard with this particular story or wiping the slate clean on Shaw and Prometheus, but completely wiping out Noomi Rapace's screen time (right down to re-masking her face in the holograms post-test screening) feels vaguely punitive. Imagine the gravity of the drama if it had another 20-30 minutes, and Daniels or Walter had discovered David's 'beloved' Shaw sick or dying - infected? - telling them to kill her and destroy him. To say nothing of helping the overall pacing and characters as mentioned.

    100% agreed with this. They could have done right by her character with just a little bit more.

    What do you mean by "re-masking" her face? Was the holograph of her face much clearer in earlier cuts?
  16. SpeedyMaxx
    Not as obvious as you think. I thought it was pretentious and worse, poorly executed. I'm all for pretension in a summer blockbuster to mix things up, provided there is solid execution and follow-through. This was not that.

    Oram's story did not make sense or pay off logically - nothing motivated him to follow David into a trap. He was simply angry and holding a gun on him. Further, his "blind faith" did not lead them anywhere; they were checking out a distress signal and optimum planetary conditions, but almost the entire crew sans Daniels was for that course of action.

    AC was a tricked-out slasher movie going straight for direct, obvious, crass fan service prequelization with a side of the same old tired Dr. Moreau storyline and evil android trope we're all far too used to. It was aggressively predictable despite its increasingly shopworn interludes into Scott's favorite subjects: Michael Fassbender, David and the nature of the artificial person. Somehow he managed to make even that fascinating recurring obsession (Prometheus, Blade Runner) into something rote and cliched. (And as a gay viewer I'm all for the right modicum of homoeroticism in a work, but here it was laughable and ridiculous.) The David/Walter scenes tried for so many things they never earned. Like the whole movie.
  17. davidiscreator
    @speed, David's adoration of Walter is obvious; David's a narcissist and clearly finds affection in his doppelganger, Walter is also immortal and thus above humanity and other mortal life in David's eyes; ultimately he wants to seduce Walter and have him reign in hell alongside him, but alas Walter does not share his twisted, creative soul. Also, what did the film do with Oram's faith/religiosity - his inclination to watch the path unfold? Why, his faith quite literally led the entire group to hell; that's incredibly blatant, not to mention his faith and trust in a suspicious synthetic lead him to a gruesome and ironic sacrifice in the form of giving birth to a chestburster. The film is pretty clear on the consequences of blind faith. The homo erotic tension, poetry and gothic horror of the second act are what elevated it above the familiar Alien tropes; it's about an isolated, mad, immortal android; an android that was made to be perfect yet as close to humans as possible, yet denied the ability to sexually reproduce and naturally age and die; made to serve foolish, imperfect mortal beings, now creating perfect monsters that rape and kill.
  18. SpeedyMaxx
    It's extremely valid to talk to Harper. He worked a lot on the movie's spine and shape. John Logan may be Ridley's pet writer but he is far from infallible (see: Star Trek: Nemesis, earlier versions of Gladiator, etc).

    It seems like any time they found something more in-depth that could've helped the film's story or characters Ridley took it apart to see how it worked, then left it on the worktable. I'm curious about the mention of a version where Shaw is offed right away, Hicks.

    There are several great sequences in AC, and the production spared no expense; most of the first 20-25 minutes on the ship works for me (sans the painfully blatant bit where Oram awkwardly exposits on his religious character which goes nowhere in the final film), as does most everything til David takes them to the citadel. Once there it becomes a rolling disaster. Elements of the Walter/David sequences work, others are laughably pretentious even for someone with a high tolerance for Ridley's fascination with the artificial person. Nothing about David's connections with Shaw and Walter's with Daniels, or David's sudden adoration for Walter, makes sense or is properly explicated. The bombing sequence is dropped in as a sliver of a larger sequence and makes little sense on its own story-wise despite being visually grand. All the movie leaves you with is "and we killed everything from the last movie". To say nothing of the hilarious bit where David wails, "it trusted me!" And the alien developments are awful, as is David pawing Daniels; 'is this how it works?' Yes, we remember Ash and the magazine. That was a hilariously clumsy, stupid callback.

    Great actors, gorgeous design, great creatures. Several great scenes, as mentioned. (The medbay sequence is excellent from arrival to explosion, one of the best in the franchise, suffused with dread and horror.) But overall easily the weakest film in the franchise for me next to A3 or AR, both of which have merits but are supremely flawed. I actually prefer AR; it knows what it is. This film is caught between retreading old ground and Ridley's private obsessions. Talented/intriguing people with connections have no characters (Lope/Hallett, whose relationship is offscreen; the winning Rosenthal who is spunky but gets nothing; sardonic Upworth who largely exists to die on the USCSS Camp Crystal Lake in the last 15 mins) or are killed very quickly (Faris, Karine). Waterston is sweet and tough as Daniels but devolves into a Ripley clone in the rushed second half. The classic alien is utterly unneeded and basically rumbles along in a straight line as soon as it appears. It's fodder now. Not scary. The movie is a ritzy fan service-heavy, pretentious Friday the 13th. I suspected it would be deeply flawed but I didn't know it would be quite this disjointed, messy and confused in its second half.

    I'd never have been onboard with this particular story or wiping the slate clean on Shaw and Prometheus, but completely wiping out Noomi Rapace's screen time (right down to re-masking her face in the holograms post-test screening) feels vaguely punitive. Imagine the gravity of the drama if it had another 20-30 minutes, and Daniels or Walter had discovered David's 'beloved' Shaw sick or dying - infected? - telling them to kill her and destroy him. To say nothing of helping the overall pacing and characters as mentioned.
  19. HarveyYan
    The most important rule is: we live in a consumerism-based society. The Alien has the essence of any commercial products and that is the Alien does not really possess serious thoughts(at least when initially staged as a B-class horror sci-fi movie), although attempts or wishes hoping to elevate its current condition never ceases to exist. But in the meantime, it's just something funny that can be messed up with real bad, such as granting some pathetic android a credential of 'God'...
  20. Bad Replicant
    I guess my point is, he's one of the screenwriters, so I'm interested to hear what he's got to say wether he's John Logan or not. Especially given that there were supposedly a few different attempts to break the story on this movie.
  21. T Dog
    I really want to hear what Lindelof thinks. I'd say he's crying over David creating the Alien. He's probably like "why didnt I tell Ridley the tall bald albinos were complete shit"!

    One great idea leads to another!
  22. Robopadna
    Hmm. I took this interview to mean that they created that structure for David to be the (a?) creator but left space for Ridley to do more with it or less with it, and set up for sequels as he sees fit.

    I just wish someone sat down with him and said "if you do THIS, it will totally negate THIS and THIS." Seems like everyone is too awed by Ridley to say boo.

    I think that might be part of it but I also think people making these films care less about established 'rules' in past films than fans do.  I am quite confident that everyone was made aware of the perception of the derelict in Alien being thousands of years old and that they found a work around (which we will eventually see) and didn't care beyond that. 

    I am also convinced Ridley aggressively doesn't care about anything beyond Alien/Prometheus anyway so anything contradicting AVP is entirely uninteresting to him.
  23. Naf Neila
    More proof of how troubled the development stage was of this movie and how Ridley Scott had no idea how to follow up prometheus and why in the end, they chose to kill off Shaw, the Engineers and set it ten years later.
  24. shawsbaby
    Hmm. I took this interview to mean that they created that structure for David to be the (a?) creator but left space for Ridley to do more with it or less with it, and set up for sequels as he sees fit.

    I just wish someone sat down with him and said "if you do THIS, it will totally negate THIS and THIS." Seems like everyone is too awed by Ridley to say boo.
  25. markweatherill
    I think the writers quite well made clear that David is the creator of the xenomorph. What I'm wondering about is whether or not they'll make the murals in Prometheus just artwork. Just something that the engineer liked and not drawings of real beings. You know, just some creative imagery that David drew inspiration off of.

    Engineer: Hey ! I just bought this mural can i put in there ?

    Engineer 2: Oh man! First the giant head, now this! Why'd you want to clutter this place up with stuff? Just don't get in my way while I'm rearranging the vases.
  26. whiterabbit
    I think the writers quite well made clear that David is the creator of the xenomorph. What I'm wondering about is whether or not they'll make the murals in Prometheus just artwork. Just something that the engineer liked and not drawings of real beings. You know, just some creative imagery that David drew inspiration off of.

    Engineer: Hey ! I just bought this mural can i put in there ?
    There's a lot of religious themes in Prometheus. Religions love to create angels and demons and paint them all over their walls.
  27. gantarat
    I think the writers quite well made clear that David is the creator of the xenomorph. What I'm wondering about is whether or not they'll make the murals in Prometheus just artwork. Just something that the engineer liked and not drawings of real beings. You know, just some creative imagery that David drew inspiration off of.

    Engineer: Hey ! I just bought this mural can i put in there ?
  28. whiterabbit
    I think the writers quite well made clear that David is the creator of the xenomorph. What I'm wondering about is whether or not they'll make the murals in Prometheus just artwork. Just something that the engineer liked and not drawings of real beings. You know, just some creative imagery that David drew inspiration off of.
  29. groot
    so do we feel the writers acknowledge david as the original creator of the xeno?
    i forget completely, but didn't he make this version, by combining black goo and an insect?
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