E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL
About The Filming
Principal photography of E. T The Extra-Terrestrial began
on September 8, 1981 in and around Los Angeles, at Laird Studios (now The Culver
Studios) in Culver City and in the suburban bedroom communities of Tujunga and
Northridge. The redwood forest scenes would be filmed near Northern California's
Crescent City, close to the Oregon border. Filming was scheduled for 65 day's,
and for security reasons and to maintain a cloak of secrecy over the project,
the shooting title was the utterly nondescript A Boy's Life.
And that first day presented both director and young star with
a huge challenge: how to get 10-year-old Henry Thomas to kiss a girl on the lips
as part of the scene in which Elliott liberates the classroom frogs from their
terrible fate of dissection. "Henry absolutely did not want to do
this," said Spielberg, "and if he had to, he didn't want to be a movie
actor. At that moment, I saw him giving up his entire career over the matter of
Thomas confirmed Spielberg's memories: "That was the one
part of the script that I had a big problem with. I remember, when I read it for
the first time, I thought 'Spaceship...cool. Alien...cool. Kissing a girl?? No
way!!! I have to do this???!!"
Finally, Thomas screwed his courage to the test, puckered up,
and the scene went perfectly. (The young actress on whom he bestowed the kiss
was Erika Eleniak, who has, like Thomas, gone on to a fine career as a grownup).
The look of the film was very-carefully devised by Spielberg and director of
photography Allen Daviau, who had previously worked with the filmmaker on his
short film Amblin and for whom E.T. would be a most auspicious feature film
debut. They decided upon a very naturalistic look which then takes on a fantasy
element as E.T. interacts with Elliott and his family. Daviau also worked
closely with production designer James D. Bissell, who created an appropriate
world both familiar (the domestic niceties of suburbia) and otherworldly (the
misty, mysterious opening in which E.T. and his fellow
alien botanists study- samples of the redwood forest).
"One of the things that Steven knew from the very beginning," said Daviau, "was that
E T. would be a very shadowy, hardly-seen figure in the early stages of the film, and that we
would take a while to discover him. We experimented with different color tones, and his brownish skin with
purple overtones evolved out of those early tests. For the first stages of the
story-, we developed a procedure of using strong backlight on E. T.. his face
largely in shadow and just the glint in his eyes.
"And once we had E.T. 's lighting down," continued Daviau, "we examined how
to light the scene around him so that it all made sense. One of the first things I said after reading the script was that
everything to do with Elliott's house, neighborhood and family had to be very,
very real. Everything had to be naturally motivated because the magic would happen with the presence
of E.T. The house would remain the same outwardly, but Elliott's room would be
transformed into a magical place."
One remarkable aspect of the production was how the fabricated E. T.s were treated
by cast and crew: as if they were real. This was particularly gratifying for his designer. Carlo
Rambaldi. "During the shooting, everybody forgot about his
mechanical insides," he said. One day, a visitor to the set not connected to the
production made fun of E.T.... and was instantly castigated by the silence of the very unamused cast and
crew. Another time, an assistant makeup man in charge of spraying the full-sized
E.T. to keep him looking fresh and moist jokingly asked him to turn his head... and the
operators complied, scaring the makeup man half to death.
Because no matter what he was
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