These days there are plenty of people speculating about these visitors in their Tic-Tacs and other strange craft. Some are all in on extraterrestrials, thinking they’re Grays, Reptoids, Mantids, Nordics, AIs, etc. Others think they may be ultraterrestrials from another dimension. Maybe they even come from the center of the Earth. And now, more commonly, some are even saying that maybe, just maybe, they’re us from the future.
This future talk makes me think of my past. I wrote the first original film for Syfy (Sci-Fi Channel back then) called Official Denial in 1993 (based on a script I first wrote back in 1988 called Progenitor). And that movie was all about the big mystery revealed in the penultimate scene in the film.
It wasn’t where they were from, you see, it was when.
In the world of science fiction, time travel stories have always fascinated writers. Of course, they usually work best when audiences don’t think about the scenario too deeply — just as Sarah Conner mused in the voice-over to her unborn child while on the run in Mexico at the end of the first Terminator film.
Should I tell you about your father? Will it change your decision to send him here, knowing that he is your father? But if you don’t send Kyle, you could never be. God, a person can go crazy thinking about this…
Well, yes, a person could go crazy thinking about this. I’m Exhibit A.
The original draft of Official Denial was called Progenitor. The classic definition of a progenitor is a direct ancestor but that’s where the time travel loop came in. We are the progenitors of these visitors in a strictly linear sense, yes, but if they’ve come back to our present from their future and altered timelines then it could be argued that they were their own progenitors.
Have a headache yet? We’re just getting started.
Working as a young writer/producer in the entertainment industry in the late 1980s, I’d created a primetime network TV series, and was having a good run and decided to roll the dice. This led to a decision to spec (write it for free and then try to sell it) a screenplay on the abduction topic. Hollywood was ablaze at the time with the idea of the “high concept,” the core idea from which all else flowed. This had a good one.
What if the government knew that Strieber was telling the truth, for example, and knew that alien abductions were real? What if our military wired up his house so the next time these Visitors came for him, it would set off electronic trip-wires, and the military could target the craft and shoot it down?
“Operation: Forced Encounter” was the plan that the feds (or, in my movie, Majestic-12) came up with to use this poor, miserable abductee (Paul Corliss in my fictional story) as bait in a cosmic game. The government was willing to officially deny UFO reality at the same time it was deeply obsessing over it. So the main character was being made to feel he was losing his mind, jeopardizing his marriage, and his happiness.
The plan was to bring down the biggest damn UFO they could find, tear it apart, and interrogate the occupants.
Their plot worked. All the aliens but one died. The one who survived was dying and refusing to communicate. So they brought in the abductee, Paul Corliss, the only person they figured this strange visitor might talk to, in order to see what might happen. The human’s mind got controlled by the alien, they escaped together, and the search was on.
Being a fan of Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone, it made sense for it to have a twist ending, something in the neighborhood of Charleton Heston finding the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes.
Given that the film was made a quarter of a century ago, I think we can do without spoiler alerts.
They were us.
My twist ending was that the aliens were not extraterrestrial at all. They were evolved (or devolved) humans, coming back in time, to cause a ripple effect in the human bloodline that could keep them from making the mistakes they’d made and keep humanity alive. Although they were trying to stay in the shadows and not screw up time, the fact that we shot one of them down, changed the timeline. Then all bets were off.
That script, Progenitor, found its way to the top of L.A. Law showrunner David E. Kelley’s reading pile. He hired me to work on that show based on it and I wrote two episodes in 1991. It was obviously not about the American legal system but Kelley said it held his attention every page and that was the top priority for his show.
It took five years after that spec script was written to sell it and get it made. For a few years, particularly after its success at L.A. Law, my agent would report what a great writing “sample” it was. It got me work. Everybody wanted to read it, but no one was ready to make it.
That changed when a company named Wilshire Court Entertainment bought the script, and then sold it to the Sci-Fi Channel which had only just launched in September of 1992. It was fast-tracked to production, becoming the first original film ever produced by them. It aired just over a year after they opened up shop.
The first shooting script was dated December 5, 1992 (it’s incorrectly written as 1993 in this title page).
I specifically remember spending many hours with executive Matt Gross up in the company’s offices chasing around all the inherent contradictions in a time travel story. One day one of us blurted out, “The future is unwritten.” It became not only a key concept, but one that allowed us to make sense of the ending we both wanted.
Official Denial was made on a shoestring budget in Australia, and while some of the special effects were passably good for the time, the core challenge was the alien.
The decision was made to use a real person inside a rubbery alien suit to portray “Dos,” the sole survivor of the crash. It could have come out better, despite the fact that everyone gave it their all — from director Brian Trenchard-Smith to the young woman in the outfit, Holly Brisley, a 15-year-old dancer in her first major role. The experience taught me one lesson — get the aliens right — that impacted strongly how we set out to visualize the Grays from the alien Hive in my subsequent NBC invasion series, Dark Skies.
Finally, Official Denial aired on the Sci-Fi Channel on November 20, 1993.