As part of 20th Century Fox’s extensive Alien Day celebrations, an audio dramatization of Titan Book’s and Tim Lebbon’s novel Alien: Out of the Shadows was announced. The man behind the project? None other than Dirk Maggs, the man to bring to life the final installations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show. Over his illustrious career he worked on many notable projects with many big name actors including the likes to Benedict Cumberbatch and James McAvoy.
Dirk kindly took the time to answer our questions regarding his upcoming Alien debut.
AvPGalaxy – The Alien films are ones that tend to leave an impact on its viewers. When was the first time you came across our favourite acid-blood extra-terrestrial? Did the films affect you in any way?
Dirk Maggs – I had a very memorable first encounter with the creature. In 1979 I was in Toronto gofering on a feature film (‘Nothing Personal’, starring Donald Sutherland) when I decided to go to the cinema on a day off. It was a weekday so no-one else was in the place. The cinema in question was on Yonge Street, a huge, Empire – Leicester Square kind of place, and the film that was playing, ‘Alien’ sounded interesting (I was not aware of it up to that point). So I went in and, having this huge cinema to myself, sat in the middle of the stalls surrounded by hundreds of empty seats. Watching Alien. You can imagine how I felt in the darkness watching this movie with all that space around me! So a perfect introduction really.
AvPGalaxy – Can you tell us a little about how the idea of doing an audio dramatization of Tim Lebbon’s novel came around?
Dirk Maggs – It’s funny because in 1996 when I did a Fox movie/BBC Radio crossover called ‘Independence Day UK’, Fox were so pleased with the result that they asked if I would be interested in making an Alien audio production in advance of the release of ‘Alien Resurrection’. I wrote a treatment which they liked very much but sadly the rights position was not resolvable so it never happened. Flash forward nearly 20 years and Audible got in touch, asking f I’d like to adapt and produce an epic audio drama based on Tim Lebbon’s book. I said yes at once.
AvPGalaxy – How long did Out of the Shadows take from inception to completion?
Dirk Maggs – Well we started talking about it in 2014 while I was working on Good Omens. I wrote the scripts for Alien: Out of the Shadows in July 2015, they were approved by Fox – with very few changes thank goodness – in the Autumn. We went into studio second week of February 2016 and then I was in post-production until exactly one week before release, so it’s fresh out of the mix!
AvPGalaxy – I believe Out of the Shadows has a runtime of 4 hours, 20 minutes. That is a shorter period than it would take to read to read the book. How do you go about adapting and trimming a novel into an audio drama?
Dirk Maggs – The process really involves keeping the essence of the story – its tension, its atmosphere and its characters – and through those elements, finding ways to create a movie in sound that will grab and keep an audience – especially listeners who love the Alien Universe and want to revisit it.
AvPGalaxy – Did you have much collaboration with Tim Lebbon during production?
Dirk Maggs – As with Neil Gaiman, and at one time Douglas Adams, I made sure to let Tim know what I was doing, but he was kind enough to let me get on with it (as did Neil and Douglas), so anything in this production that is not up to Tim’s high standards is entirely my fault!
AvPGalaxy – Were 20th Century Fox heavily involved in the production? Was there anything that they requested be changed?
Dirk Maggs – Both Titan Books and Josh Izzo at Fox were monitoring progress on the scripts. I was very pleased that very little I introduced was changed, it was more a case of fact-checking stuff, like how long a facehugger takes to drop off and etc. I was very thrilled to write a little bit of new exposition and find Josh had made a note saying it was ‘awesome‘. That made my week I can tell you.
AvPGalaxy – Alien is a series that has powerful visuals associated with it. Did you have any difficulties in translating Alien to an audio format?
Dirk Maggs – Well my stock answer to such questions is that audio is really a visual format – it just happens to engage the brain’s visual circuits by sneaking in the side door … but I have to say that it was very much down to the sound effects, and although I usually create my own sound design, on this occasion I went elsewhere for the principal effects.
AvPGalaxy – It sounds like you’re using a lot of sound effects from Alien: Isolation?
Dirk Maggs – Yes, absolutely, there was absolutely no point in re-creating sound effects which had already been realised so brilliantly in the game. Byron Bullock, James Magee, Sam Cooper, Haydn Payne and Jack Melham and the team at Creative Assembly did such an astonishing job I just had to ask if we could use those sound effects. Fortunately it turned out we could, and they are an integral part of the final piece, forming a character in their own right.
AvPGalaxy – Considering that Alien: Isolation is also one of the best received Alien releases of recent years, did you look towards the game to give you any ideas on how to approach Out of the Shadows?
Dirk Maggs – Well all the “lo-sci-fi” sounds that Byron has described as heard in the first movie are of course familiar to me – I grew up in that era! – and generally I prefer more visceral and physical clunkier, thumpier equipment sounds to the modern equivalents, which are inaudible a lot of the time (you can’t hear anything when someone moves their thumb over an iPad for example). So the sort of ‘period’ feel was exactly what we needed for this story. I should add, however, I did build quite a few sound effects specifically for Alien: Out of the Shadows – dropships and etc.
AvPGalaxy – Out of the Shadows features several Alien alumni in the way of Mac McDonald and Andrea Deck. How did their involvement come about? Did you specifically go after actors who had had previous involvement with the series?
Dirk Maggs – I think over the years I have worked with every UK-based American actor who has been in the Alien movies; It’s a small community. I love Mac and it was a real treat to have him aboard. I had to have Andrea of course, she is so brilliant in the game and in both cases it helps to work with actors who don’t need the Alien Universe explained to them!
AvPGalaxy – The character of Ash is going to be played by Rutger Hauer of Blade Runner fame. I think it’s ingenious that you cast another of Ridley Scott’s artificial people to play Ash in lieu of Ian Holm. Can you tell us a little about how he came to be involved with the audio drama?
Dirk Maggs – Well Rutger was always someone I wanted to work with – and not just because I am half-Dutch! When it became clear that Ian Holm was sadly unable to join us, the idea that Ash’s disembodied AI could sound like Rutger because the only voice reproduction technology available was ‘an old Seegson model’ the opportunity was too good to miss.
We emailed Rutger the script and then he and I had several very intense conversations about the character. In the end I cut some lines and Rutger added others. It was a very creative process, not unlike the way he tells the story of finding a way to pay off the last scene with Batty in Blade Runner!
AvPGalaxy – Could you tell us a bit about the other cast members and how they became involved with the project?
Dirk Maggs -We had a long list of names and I’m very happy to say that pretty much all our first choices said yes. When Sigourney Weaver was unavailable I knew that Laurel Lefkow would deliver a really authentic Ripley – not just the voice, but the intonation and the attitude – and she was breathtaking.
Corey Johnson plays action types in big cinema features like the Bourne movies and ‘Mr Philips’ with Tom Hanks – he brings a real no-nonsense leading man performance to Hooper. Matt Lewis has completely transformed since his days at Hogwarts – he plays Baxter as a bit of a loose cannon, in some respects the comic relief, in others the gunpowder in the mix.
Andrea Deck plays Kasyanov, the doctor – it’s great to hear her delivering lines rather than mainly death screams! Kathryn Drysdale is great as Sneddon the Science Officer, very cool and detached – until there’s an alien growing inside her. Mac McDonald plays Lachance as a Cajun of French descent – he has such a lovable gruff quality it really works in a double act with Matt as Baxter. Nathan Osgood as Welford has one f the greatest voices in the business – he is partnered up with Abdul Salis who adds all the energy to this that he brought to ‘Flyboys’.
Regina Brandolino plays the medic, Garcia – I wanted an authentic accent as well as a good actress and and Regina is from Argentina. Finally Barbara Barnes as Captain Jordan only appears in one episode (though she plays several computers, along with the extremely versatile Tom Alexander, throughout), and the best tribute I can pay to her acting is that you miss her character when she’s gone!
AvPGalaxy – You did approach Sigourney and Ian about returning for the drama?
Dirk Maggs – Of course. Ian, sadly, was not well enough to take part. Sigourney was unavailable.
AvPGalaxy – Ripley and Ash are pre-existing characters who are associated with well-known actors. Does that pre-existence affect the way you direct the new actors?
Dirk Maggs – There was a certain amount of “what would Ripley/Ash do?” discussion as we recorded, but I have to say that Laurel in particular dropped so perfectly into the groove as Ripley that it just … flowed.
AvPGalaxy – What was the most interesting aspect of working on Out of the Shadows?
Dirk Maggs – There were some technical aspects which I hadn’t tried before involving how we mic’d and recorded the actors. It was on that level that anything out of the ordinary came up, though afterwards I had to prepare a version of the mix for Audible’s German studio for a German language version, that doesn’t often happen in audio and was an interesting new task!
AvPGalaxy – You have previously worked with 20th Century Fox on a tie-in to Independence Day. Would you like to do anything like that that ties into Alien: Covenant?
Dirk Maggs – Gosh, I don’t know. ID4UK was a side-story which made it fun to create. A direct adaptation of a movie story would be duplication of effort. I’d rather pursue parallel projects in the Alien Universe. Or any universe that would have me!
AvPGalaxy – Out of the Shadows is the first in a trilogy of Alien novels published by Titan. They’re also in the midst of publishing a new Alien vs. Predator trilogy also written by Tim Lebbon. Is it likely we’ll see some more Alien audio dramas after this? Maybe even original works?
Dirk Maggs – I, like you, wait with bated breath!
AvPGalaxy – If more stories are produced, what actors would you ideally like to feature in a new Alien story?
Dirk Maggs – Good ones, like these!
AvPGalaxy – Once again, Dirk, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to say to the readers?
Dirk Maggs – For the greatest possible impact, listen with headphones …
We would like to thank Dirk for taking the time to answer our questions. Alien: Out of the Shadows is available to download and listen to as of Alien Day.