the thing poster

The Thing is probably one of the scariest movies ever made. People haven’t always seen it that way since it’s not set strictly in the horror genre. But man, I remember watching this film as a kid and being freaked the hell out. When the spider-legs grew out of that man’s decapitated head and began walking around? That image is still burned into my brain. The screenwriting situation behind “The Thing” is kinda interesting. Bill Lancaster, the writer, is Burt Lancaster’s son. His credits include only 2 other movies, “The Bad News Bears” (the original), and “The Bad News Bears Go To Japan.” He also wrote the Bad News Bears TV series. That was back in 1979. He didn’t write anything after that and died of a heart attack at the age of 49 in 1997. I’m baffled as to why Bill didn’t write anything else when he showed a clear mastery in two completely different genres. Was this his choice? Hollywood’s choice? Did the pressures of having a famous Hollywood father play into it? I’d love to know more. But since I don’t want to depress the hell out of all of you, I’m going to break down The Thing.

1) Use Clip-Writing to spice up action sequences – Clip-Writing is when you write in clips, highlighting primary visual queues. Clip-Writing can be very effective in action scenes as it helps the reader focus on the centerpieces of the battle, fight, or chase. We see it in The Thing when a Scandinavian crew has followed an infected dog into an American base.


As it efficiently breaks through a windowpane and into the cold. A steady hand grips it firmly.


Getting closer. Kablam! Suddenly, his head jerks back. He falls to his knees and then face down into the snow.


Stare blankly, but relievedly at the fallen man. The dog whimpers in pain.

2) If Dialogue isn’t your strong suit, look to show more than tell – There’s actually some good news if you’re not a great dialogue writer. It means you’ll be forced to SHOW rather than TELL us things, which is really what you should be doing anyway. I noticed from reading and watching “The Thing” that a lot of the dialogue from the script was cut. Carpenter chose instead to focus on the visuals and the actions. For example, there was a scene early in the script where they’re walking to the helicopter and there’s a lot of explanation going on of what they’re doing. Carpenter cut a lot of that out, focusing instead on them simply getting in the helicopter and leaving. We know what’s going on. We don’t need a big long talky scene to explain it.

3) Only have your characters speak if they have something to say – This is an extension of the previous tip, and an important one. Your characters should be talking because they have something to say, not because you (the writer) have something to say. You might want to write a big monologue about how your character lost his sister or your opinion on the earth’s eroding ecosystem. That’s great. But would YOUR CHARACTER say that? I don’t think enough writers really ask that question. There’s nothing worse than reading a bunch of words coming out of a character’s mouth that you know are only there because the writer wanted to include them.

4) ALWAYS WORKS “There’s something else you should see” – I don’t care how bad of a movie or script it is, variations of this line ALWAYS work: “There’s something I need to show you.” You will have the audience in the palm of your hand until you show them what that character is referring to.  With The Thing, that line brings us to a giant mutated gnarled mass of a body. If you can milk the time after the statement until the actual reveal, even better, as our anticipation will grow.

5) MID-POINT SHIFT ALERT – The Thing has a great midpoint shift. The first half of the script is about the discovery of this alien organism invading the base. Remember, a good midpoint shift ups the stakes. So the shift here is when they learn that any one of them could be the alien entity. It’s no coincidence that this is when The Thing really gets good. A great mid-point shift will do that.

6) Carefully plot how you reveal information – Always be aware of what order you reveal your information in and how that affects the reader. One omission or one addition can completely change the way the next 30 pages reads. For example, here, the movie starts with an alien ship crashing. This gives us, the audience, superior knowledge over the characters. We know they’re dealing with an alien. This means we’re waiting for them to catch up. Now imagine had Lancaster NOT included this opening shot. Then, everything that happens is just as much a mystery to us as it is the characters. I don’t want to rewrite a classic, but the opening act may have been a little more exciting had we not received the spaceship information. We’d be equal amounts as baffled and curious as the characters.

7) SHOW DON’T TELL ARLERT – In the script, the characters have about a page and a half dialogue scene talking about how if the alien makes it to civilization, it could destroy the entire world. It’s not a bad scene. But they replaced it in the movie with a simple shot – Blair staring grimly at a computer chart that states: If the organism reaches one of the other continents, the entire world population will be contaminated within 27,000 hours.

8) Foreplays not Climaxes (Aka Don’t reveal all your fun stuff right away) – I see this all the time with amateur writers. They’re so excited about the cool parts of their script that they can’t wait to write them! So when it’s time, they drop all their reveals on you simultaneously, like a giddy kid who’s been waiting to tell you about his trip to Six Flags all day. For example, the Americans find the Norwegian crew’s video tapes from their destroyed camp and start watching them to figure out what happened. An amateur writer might have slammed us with all the crazy reveals immediately (alien ship, alien body). But Lancaster takes his time with it, showing the Norwegians having fun on the tapes, basically being boring. It isn’t until a handful of scenes pass that we see the Norwegians blow up the ice and discover the alien ship. If you throw all your climaxes at us at once, we get bored. Give us some foreplays beforehand.

9) Lack of Trust = Great Drama! – Once characters stop trusting each other, the drama in your story is upped ten-fold. You now have characters who are guarded, suspicious, not saying what they mean, probing. This ESPECIALLY helps dialogue, since it’ll create a lot of subtext. Whether it’s because they think another person is secretly a shape-shifting alien or because they think their husband cheated on them with their best friend, it’s always good to look for situations where characters don’t trust one another.

10) Use Cost/Value Ratio to determine whether a scene is necessary – There was an entire cut sequence in The Thing where the dogs escaped the compound and MacReady went after them with a snowmobile. It was a nice scene but it wasn’t exactly necessary. Producers HATE cutting these sequences after they’ve been shot because it’s cost them millions of dollars. Which is why they try to cut them at the script stage. This is where you can benefit from pretending you’re a producer. Simply ask yourself, “Is the VALUE of this sequence worth the COST of what it would take to shoot?” But Carson, you say, why should I care about the budget? I’m not the director or producer. That’s not the point. The point is, you’ll start to see what is and isn’t necessary for your script. If you say, “Hmm, would I really pay 5 million bucks to shoot this chase scene that doesn’t even need to happen?” you’ll probably get rid of it, and your script will be tighter for it.

These are 10 tips from the movie “The Thing.” To get 500 more tips from movies as varied as “Aliens,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “The Hangover,” check out my book, Scriptshadow Secrets, on Amazon!

  • Graham

    One of my all time favourite movies. Some excellent stuff to ponder there.

    On point 6 – I’m not entirely sure whether you are saying you ‘approve’ of the decision to have the spacecraft crash revealed to us; whether you think it would be better to have the audience in the position of the base crew (facing a mystery) or simply that there are pros and cons for both approaches ?

    I think there’s an argument to be made that such an opening scene also serves as a ‘genre flag’ / taster. This is what you will be getting to in due course, but we’ll building up to it again for a little while – so be patient. It’s like the initial shark attack in Jaws or – to use another early Carpenter example – the initial scene in which little Mikey cuts his sister to shreds.

    To contrast, no such scene (as far as i can recall anyway) in something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre where we discover the weirdness with the characters (although the movie title is a bit of a giveaway !!)

    Point I’m making is that it’s a probably a judgement call – build anticipation in an audience as they are ahead of the curve compared to the movie characters – or have them enjoy the WTF is going on moments WITH the characters.

    Maybe a case for writing one – and then deciding if it should be cut from the final version? See point10 !!

  • ripleyy

    Such a fantastic article and has helped me quite a lot.

    The part where they don’t trust each other is great but also being foreboding is great too.

    Build your horror in stages. Have something that forces them not to trust each other. Create enough paranoia and the dialogue – the scenes – will simply write themselves. Then throw in the midpoint, upping that stage, creating something that adds paranoia and then the third act you can watch that paranoia take a stranglehold.

    Horror is a different kind of sandbox in which you are allowed to be cruel and play God in a sense that it doesn’t seem inhumane.

    I also would love to have a Amateur Horror Week. Hint, hint ;)

  • Age_C

    These are shaping up as very nice little series of posts. Nice one, Carson.
    Loved ‘The Thing’, reminds me of watching horror movies with my father. Good times, then, not so much sleep!

  • Jonathan_D_S

    I have an issue about Number 6… My memory is telling me that in the movie the alien craft isnt revealed til after the KENNEL SCENE (one of the greatest moments in cinema). Not sure if you were only referencing the script there, but I think the screen version’s wtf-ness is the thing (no pun) that was so powerful.

    How brilliant is it to open with a poor husky running from crazed grenade-throwing Norwegians!? (Every film should start with that)(not really) You assume the dog is the victim, making the reveal even more wtf.

    • Avishai

      At the very beginning of the movie, there’s a shot of a spaceship crashing to earth.

      • Jonathan_D_S

        Really??? I must have been glancing over at scriptshadow or something during that shot.

        • garrett_h

          Me too lol…

      • garrett_h

        Are you sure? I’ve seen this recently and all I remember is them trying to shoot the dog from the chopper.

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          Yes. The opening shot is of a spaceship flying through space towards Earth.

          • Poe_Serling

            And doesn’t it wobble a bit as it approaches the screen? Implying it’s coming in for a crashlanding.

        • Avishai

          Before the opening title.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    Thank you, C :-)

    THE THING has been my number 1 favourite movie for the past 20 years. Even if it’s not, it’s still perfect. The story, the characters, the dialogue, the music, the directing and *that* ending…

    One of the most interesting things for me was comparing the script to the movie. As you say, Carson, Carpenter cut out lots of stuff, replacing it with just a few images. The one that impresses the hell out of me every time is the scene where the dog enters a guy’s room. The guy is shown in silhouette on the wall. He just turns his head and… Cut. Absolutely brilliant. The scene in the script is a tad longer and if I remember correctly, the guy has a line or two of dialogue. Carpenter is a master at that – replacing dialogue or an entire scene with just a few images. I like to study his movies when writing a script for that reason.

    Bill Lancaster could definitely write. This is a tight script, very well constructed. I like the original short story by John W. Campbell a lot, too – “Who goes there ?” Lancaster did a good job of keeping the essentials and reworking the story to fit its time. The sense of isolation and paranoia slowly creeping in, the growing conflicts between the characters, not showing us the monster every five minutes… And Carpenter did an amazing job with the movie which sadly came out right after E.T. The resulting BO crash unfortunately drew Carpenter’s career along with it and he never quite recovered, did he ? I’m not dissing his later work – I love Carpenter with all my little zombie heart :-) Well, maybe not the MoH segment “Pro-Life”, that was embarrassing…

    – Well, what do we do now ?
    – Why don’t we just wait here for a little while… Se what happens…
    Cue typical Carpenter music.
    Chills & Goosebumps.

    • Poe_Serling

      Here’s a recent and interesting quote from Carpenter in regard to working with Kurt Russell again:

      Q: On working with Kurt Russell again in the future…

      JC: Kurt is not one for nostalgia. If the material is good then he will make the movie…and if they pay him enough money. He doesn’t come cheap. You never know in this business.

    • gazrow

      “THE THING has been my number 1 favourite movie for the past 20 years.”

      You have great taste!

  • MelanieWyvern

    John Carpenter’s The Thing my be the finest horror movie ever made. There are countless factors that cause it to be so, but its brilliance is due as much to what’s commendably NOT in the film as to what’s actually in it. (I haven’t read the script, so I’m just going by the movie.)

    1. The main character, McReady (the Kurt Russel character) does not arc out a “flaw” of some kind.

    This is a good thing. It allows the movie to focus on what matters: the pure horror.

    There are no tedious, time-wasting scenes of him worrying about the wife/girlfriend family he left behind to be in Antarctica,
    or learning to “work well with others,”
    or gaining self-esteem,
    or standing up for himself,
    or learning to be less selfish,
    or gaining maturity,
    or finding Jesus,
    or overcoming loss, etc.
    And thank god there aren’t. He’s not even all that reckless (e.g., he only warily takes up the chopper when the weather is turning bad). And at the end, when he blows up the creature, he does not “resolve” some Psych 101 issue. Such hokey arc/flaw cliches would have only weakened the film.

    Sure, we get that bit of him dumping the drink in the computer, but that’s just a funny bit to make him seem cool, and kind of a small set-up for the finale (blowing up the monster). In fact, that’s all that’s established about him: he’s cool and capable. That’s all we need to know.

    Rather, his journey (I wouldn’t call it an arc) is desperately trying to puzzle out the terrible threat he’s facing, adapting his tactics to the growing menace, etc. He is in no way “static,” because he keeps having to adapt to new information and a deepening menace.

    Saddling the film with a totally unnecessary character arc just because “it’s a screenwriting rule” would have diminished the taut perfection of the film, and reduced its unrelenting focus on the plight of the men.

    2. There are no women in this film. I am advisedly saying that this is a good thing. You just know that these days, some development type would have demanded including a take-charge Ripley type in here. The film doesn’t need that. Leaving out romantic entanglements, gender politics, etc. also allows the film to focus on pure horror and not get distracted. Not every movie needs every type of character.

    3. No CGI. Thirty years later, the practical effects still look better than CGI.

    4. No digital grading. What a pleasure to watch a film with natural colors (minimal though they are) rather than having everything soaked in a teal/green wash. The stark, implacable barrenness of the setting helps the atmosphere.

    Lastly, I have to say that I think the opening spacecraft shot is not only desirable, it’s necessary. It creates anticipation and expectation in the audience: What are we going to see? Without it, the opening scenes of the dog-hunting and the lengthy focus on the dog in the camp would seem pointless, and the audience would grow impatient. This way, we always have at the back of our mind the question, what is that creature? It adds an undercurrent of menace that’s very effective.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      “2. There are no women in this film.”

      Just like the short story. Sadly, the remake has a woman for a protag and a very bad actress at that.

      • Poe_Serling

        I read once that Adrienne Barbeau was the computer voice… she was Carpenter’s wife at the time.

    • Zadora

      I agree 100%!

    • JakeBarnes12

      So for you, Melanie, a female character in a movie means “romantic entanglements” and “gender politics?”

      But having a man being the hero in a movie doesn’t involve “gender politics?” That’s just the natural god-given order of things, right?

      For me the natural order of things is having a MIX of characters exhibiting a MIX of qualities, not because some Hollywood “development type” wants to fill a quota but because in the real world women can be and are every bit as strong, resourceful, and independent as men.

      You know what would have changed about “The Thing” if Carpenter had put a good woman actor in the Kurt Russell role?

      Absolutely nothing.

      • MelanieWyvern

        What would change? The entire theme, if you believe this article:

        I wouldn’t have put it that way, but the article does present one interpretation that an all-male cast provides. Regardless if you believe that author’s hypothesis or think it’s out to lunch, the fact is that an all-male cast can create a particular dynamic simply be being an all-male cast — and yes, that does change when women are in the mix.

        • JakeBarnes12

          As you youself said elsewhere on this thread, we can’t trust what writers/directors say about their own work; the text has its own meaning.

          Now here you go running to Carpenter’s DVD commentary made decades after the movie.

          How about you stop hiding behind the director?

          • MelanieWyvern

            You can’t have it both ways either. In other threads, you wanted intellectual complexity in films, now when someone presents a complex argument that you don’t like, you dismiss it. You’re simply being selective.

            Same with the DVD commentary. The point is not taking the creator’s vision as gospel. You made the assertion that nothing in the film would change if the characters’ genders changed. Here are two arguments indicating how, in some interpretations, the film WOULD change, and change substantially.

        • J.R. Kinnard

          I think if you make the protagonist female you introduce the theme of reproduction. Having something inside of your body like a… baby.

          That’s just my take, of course. You can avoid all of those themes by focusing on men.

          I’ll always try to integrate my casts because male/female relationships are complicated on a much deeper level than just sex. But that doesn’t really work in a straight horror film like ‘The Thing”.

    • ElliotMaguire

      Excellent analysis. This is without a doubt one of the finest examples of horror filmmaking. If you think about horror around that time, for me the three most effective were The Thing, Alien, and The Hitcher.

      Now all three of these have similar elements:

      1. We aren’t given waste backstory or exposition for characters. No childhood trauma comes to light, they simply are who they are.

      2. A desolate, hopeless location. The Antarctic, Space, and the Borderlands.

      3. And they all have the bare minimum of ANY type of exposition. Simply a bare bones narrative.

      This, and a whole lot of other elements that both you and Carson cover are why these are so classic. Do writers today tend to overwrite because they feel that its standard? I think so.

      • MelanieWyvern

        “They simply are who they are.” Exactly — and observe that this does not automatically create a static character, because part of “who they are” is adaptive and ingenious, and watching the hero tapping into those abilities makes him incredibly dynamic.

        I agree with your analysis, and your bringing in of The Hitcher works very well.

        There’s something raw and primal about these stories. For all that they may be set in the present or the future, they hearken back to ancient tales of man struggling desperately against the monstrous predators that inhabited the ancient world and preyed on early man — beings that were stronger, faster, and deadlier than man, and against whom man needed to quickly develop tools and hunting techniques, or perish — along with early man’s dread of even more terrible, legendary creatures in the dark.

        The Antarctic setting of The Thing underscores this. Kurt Russell taking out the creature at the end of the film hearkens back to ancient man killing a Wooly Mammoth or a sabre-tooth; or, if you prefer, Siegfried slaying the Nordic dragon.

        Those survival instincts linger on in the human psyche, and films like these tap into them in a very visceral way.

        Spending time watching our hero “get in touch with his feelings” diminishes the experience.

    • Malibo Jackk

      “John Carpenter’s The Thing may be the finest horror film ever made.”

      The movie was not well received. After its release, the cover of one magazine asked the question–
      “Is this the worst movie ever made?” (See John Carpenter’s Youtube interview.)

    • RyanMFB

      Great point! Sometimes the goal of survival is enough!

    • BurntOrangeBoy

      I think some horror movies can benefit from character arcs but I agree with you that this one was better of without one.

  • Poe_Serling

    THING 1 and THING 2…
    Over the past few years I’ve mentioned numerous times my BIG LOVE for the original Thing and the ’82 remake. So buckle in, folks, because here we go —
    “So few people can boast that they’ve lost a flying saucer and a man from Mars -all in the same day! Wonder what they’d have done to Columbus if he’d discovered America, and then mislaid it.”
    – Ned ‘Scotty”Scott
    This 1951 production from Howard Hawks is a 5-star gem from start to finish, and it pretty much set the standard for similar films that would follow through the years.
    The setting – An isolated Arctic research post.
    The plot – A hostile alien encounter with the underpinnings of Cold War tension.
    Characters – Down-to-earth, memorable.
    Dialogue – See above, and how about this exchange:
    Ned “Scotty” Scott: Here’s the sixty-four dollar question – what do you do with a vegetable?
    Nikki: Boil it.
    Ned “Scotty” Scott: What did you say?
    Nikki: Boil it… bake it… stew it… fry it?
    The film is packed to the brim with iconic scenes, such as the opening title sequence, discovery of the spaceship, ice block thawing out, torching the Thing with fuel, detection of the alien with the Geiger counter, and, of course, the electrifying finale… all in a fast-paced 87 minutes!!!
    Biggest asset: The realistic approach to the material. I’ve always felt that the military personnel/scientists in the film handle the situation in a straightforward and rational way.
    “I dunno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”
    – Clark
    Forget E.T…. the only alien movie I revisit from 1982 is this one.
    Even though Carpenter’s version is special effects heavy and more stylistic than the original, it still fires on all cylinders with its classic mix of horror and sci-fi.
    Biggest Asset: The infusion of paranoia into the storyline. Here the alien can take the form of any of the men at the station. Now you’ve just upped the tension by 12 times.
    My ‘what I learned’ moment from reading the script: If you have to juggle a lot characters, here is what Bill Lancaster did with this project…
    Create character cheat sheet at the front of the script. For example:
    MACREADY, 35.
    Helicopter pilot. Likes chess. Hates the cold. The pay is good.
    GARRY, 46.
    The station manager. Stiff. Ex-army officer. Wears a handgun.
    CHILDS, 33.
    Six-four. Two-fifty. Black. A mechanic. Can be jolly. But don’t mess.

    BLAIR, 50.
    Sensitive. Intelligent. Unassuming. An assistant biologist.

    DR. COPPER, 45.
    Professional. A decent man. A good doctor.

    PALMER, 27.
    Second string chopper pilot. Crack mechanic. Long hair. Slight sixties acid damage.

    NAULS, 22.
    The cook. Bright. Black. Irreverent. But kindhearted. Roller skates.
    And so on… then when the character shows up in the body of the script, Lancaster just reintroduces him with a short intro:

    NAULS, the cook, appears in the doorway.


    • Marija ZombiGirl

      I like those character cheat sheets, actually. Short, to the point and very practical. I’ve seen them in other scripts, as well. Obviously, nothing replaces well-written characters but I also think it makes the reading easier. Char. descriptions usually slow things down (or maybe that’s just me ?). When we can see them in our mind right away, we keep them there so when they show up for the first time, we just need a quick reminder. Also, it makes the writer work a little harder to get across the essence of the characters.

      • Graham

        It’s something you will see very commonly in the texts for stage plays. Given the similarities, I’m surprised it’s not used even more in screenplays – especially if one subscribes to the ‘screenplays are merely ‘blueprints’ for movies’ angle….

      • Poe_Serling

        It’s always nice to have another weapon in your writing arsenal. ;-)

    • gazrow

      Re: “Create character cheat sheet at the front of the script.”
      They did this with The Warriors – one of my all time favorites and right up there with The Thing as a true classic.

      • Poe_Serling

        The Warriors is one of my first Walter Hill films I remember watching… Remember the pic’s lead actor Michael Beck went on to do that TV show with Michael Pare called Houston Knights.

        • AstralAmerican

          Michael Beck = Xanadu! Michael Pare = Streets of Fire!

          • Poe_Serling

            Hey, Streets of Fire… another Walter Hill film. He was a busy guy back then. I don’t have much hope for his latest Bullet to the Head with Sly Stallone.

          • MWire

            Streets of Fire! A guilty pleasure of mine.

          • Poe_Serling

            Great music, a young Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe as the villian Raven Sahddock…. all the ingredients for a cult classic!

        • gazrow

          Not familiar with Houston Knights. Was it any good? As for Michael Beck’s character, Swan, in The Warriors – he was the totally cool war chief. However, my favorite character was James Remar’s, Ajax, the guy was completely fearless!

          • Poe_Serling

            It was a short-lived TV series over here. I don’t remember much about it except that it starred Beck and Pare.

            And hey, if you ever get tired of your gazrow handle – Ajax might be the answer. ;-)

          • gazrow


          • Poe_Serling

            Thanks Ajax – oops, I mean gazrow.

    • ElliotMaguire

      Is the template I use for a first draft. You could start with a life story for your characters like is heavily advised, but for me, getting the bare bones character to life is the process. They take on a personality as I’m writing, and GAIN life experience with each rewrite.

      Obviously, if a character flaw is essential to the story, its in there, but I let it come out organically, which I think The Thing does beautifully.

      Don’t take my advice though, there are a LOT of books that tell you to do a bio of your character. But my way works for me.

    • RyanMFB

      great idea!

      • Poe_Serling

        Thanks. We owe Bill Lancaster a big thank you for the idea.

  • ThomasBrownen

    I’ve seen parts of the original and all of the recent remake/prequel, but everyone seems to think that this is the best version. I can’t wait until I get around to seeing it.

  • garrett_h

    Great article, Carson!

    Man, I love The Thing. Definitely one of my favorite movies. I too remember being scared out of my mind as a kid. And the intensity of the midpoint shift, where EVERYONE becomes a suspect… Just awesome stuff!

    And the amazing thing is, the creature effects still hold up to this day. They used practical effects instead of CGI, and it’s some of the best work ever done IMO.

    Also, for those that haven’t seen the prequel, check it out. My expectations were pretty low going in, and while it’s not as good as the original (was there ever a chance it would be?) I thought it was pretty solid. I enjoyed the callbacks to the original. I read a review with the writer back when it came out (Eric Heisserer, writer of Story of Your Life from this years Black List) and he described how they went back to the scene in the original where they visit the Norwegian camp and find the signs of a battle. They took those pieces and tried to craft what happened in their movie based on that scene. I was expecting them to abandon the original entirely and make their own random movie, like most productions would have done. So that was a pleasant surprise.

    • Graham

      Yeah I agree pretty much with what you say on the prequel. Assuming that they had to make one – and of course they didn’t – then in all honesty it could have been a LOT worse.

      The one let-down / mis-step for me was in having them enter the ship a) it smacked of a similar sequence in the X-Files movie (and yes, the X-Files was probably riffing on the Carpenter Thing in the first place) and b) more importantly it felt like ‘lifting the veil’ on something that should have remained profoundly mysterious. I recall reading an essay on fantasy by JRR Tolkien and he referred to is as something like – and I’m paraphrasing here – the ‘unattainable vista’ rule. If you portray a magical land and it has a distant hill with a beautiful tower then the last thing you want to do as a writer is actually ‘visit that hill’ – unless from there you can see something equally or preferably more beautiful or mysterious. But 99 times out of 100 you won’t – so why go there.

      As a sci-fi and fantasy fan I can understand the temptation to ‘mine’ these settings, explore and explain them, but it’s an urge that should be resisted because just about every time it happens the ‘magic’ is diluted. That’s why I’m interested to see if a ‘Star Wars’ reboot can happen – because Lucas and his acolytes have mined the hell out of that universe and absolutely drained the magic from it (midichlorians anyone?). Similarly with Prometheus – who feels better and more excited and more in awe of the universe for knowing the Space Jockeys are really just big albino humanoids ?

      Anyway – sidetracked there :) Rant over. The Thing remake/prequel. Not the worst in the world….

      • garrett_h

        Yeah, the spaceship sequence was easily the weakest part of the film. And that’s great advice by Tolkien. I’ve read a couple of recent specs where they “lift the veil” and the payoff is never as good as what the audience’s own imagination can conjure up. No matter how fantastic you make it, it’ll rarely (if ever) live up to that build up.

        I think The Matrix series suffered from that. All the things they set up in the first one were mysterious and had our imaginations running wild. For example, Zion. You keep hearing about Zion this, Zion that in the first one. It sounds so cool. When you finally get there in part 2, it’s like, this is it? A giant rave party? LOL.

    • Poe_Serling

      Hey Garrett-

      Gotta agree with your take on the recent prequel… I was mildly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. And like you said – the filmmakers did a nice job in tying it to Carpenter’s film.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    “Lewis Clark”… Is that a nod to EVENT HORIZON ?

    As for your question, I’d agree with you. The opening images of the spaceship never bothered me because we don’t know what’s inside, we don’t know how it’s going to affect the characters. The surprises come from discovering the Norvegian campsite which in turn leave us thinking that they’re in real deep :-)

    • Lewis Clark

      Haha no it’s just my name.
      Thanks for replying, I was worried I had said something stupid.

  • Jean Robie

    On the opening shot with the spaceship: I’ve seen a couple versions of “The Thing” on TV and some have the shot and some don’t. Also there’s one version that opens with shots of the individual characters and their names/jobs. Maybe Carpenter was forced to re-edit it for various different network standards.

    One of the things I really admire about the movie is there is no Dr. VanHelsing character–nobody to lay out all the facts. This thing just turns up and they have to deal with it if they want to survive. That’s often a great thing in horror–think about “Alien” or “The Descent”–the lack of knowledge, and subsequent unpredictability, adds to the terror.

    • DrMatt

      One of my favorite moments is when they’re all asking MacReady questions and he responds with, “I don’t know, because it’s from outer space.” There’s something so genuine about that response, and his lack of knowledge.

      • Deaf Ears

        I love how prickly MacReady is in general. That’s just the sort of idiosyncrasy that would get ironed out in development these days.

    • Citizen M


  • Avishai

    This is one of my favorite movies, period. And a lot has to do with the fact that it creates such an atmosphere with suggestion and secrecy. The Norwegian camp, for instance (and let’s not talk about the premake…): there’s an entire history here, and we’re not privy to the details. All we know is that it was terrible. This was scarier than any monster scene (although, those were pretty scary too.)

  • Bella_Lugossi

    Chapeau! Great article.

    Was The Thing one of the first found footage films?

    • Avishai

      Found footage?

    • DrMatt

      I’m not a fan of found footage films, but as a device in horror movies, used for a few minutes, I think it’s one of the best things you can use as a storyteller. You’re showing, not telling, you get a limited point of view, and you also have the reactions of your characters/actors to add to the tension and apprehension. It can be used to reveal information or set something up, like in The Thing, or used to shock, like in Signs. Or both, like in Sinister (not a great movie, but I thought all the bits with the film reels and tapes to be some of the best moments). Or simply to confound and creep the shit out of you, like The Ring.

      Either way, I’ve yet to see any decent horror or thriller film use that device and not have it be effective.

  • Pointbreak

    This is completely off topic, but I was hoping to get in touch with Jimithy_Christmas, regarding a post on the site from late December.

    I ask because he said my script URINAL VINYL was one of the best scripts he read last year. I was wondering how they got hold of the script and was kind of hoping to alert others to the script as word of mouth could hopefully get the script into the hands of the right people.

    Thanks, this is the original post:

    Jimithy_Christmas • a month ago −

    The best scripts I read in 2012:

    1. Straight Edge (Rich Wilkes)

    2. John Dies at the End (Don Coscarelli)

    3. Hidden (Matt & Ross Duffer)

    and in no particular order:

    Noah (Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel)

    The Equalizer (Richard Wenk)

    Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn)

    The Counselor (Cormac McCarthy)

    Viral (Dustin T. Benson)

    Out of the Furnace (Scott Cooper)

    The Driver (Zach Luna & Spenser Cohen)

    Bone Tomahawk (Craig Zahler)

    Urinal Vinyl (Jay Eden)

    The Wheelman (Frank Mugavero)

    Pompeii (Lee Batchler & Janet Scott Batchler)

    • Malibo Jackk

      You’re on the list with Cormac McCarthy!

  • Pointbreak

    Re: Pointbreak post from earlier.

    I forgot to add, if Carson or anyone else on the site would like to read my script URINAL VINYL, given someone I don’t know on the site rated it in their TOP 10 of 2012 list, just leave a message and I’ll get in touch.

    Thanks again.

    • Malibo Jackk

      How did it get on the list?
      Did you post it on some other site? Enter a contest?

      If you want more exposure, post it on send space.
      A really good script will get to Carson’s attention.

      What’s the log line for URINAL VINYL?
      (Do we need to wear gloves?)

  • NajlaAnn

    Excellent tips – thanks! I never thought of #9 before, but would like to implement it in a horror rewrite I’ve got on the back burner.

  • Graham

    Perhaps Bella refers to the sequence where they watch the Norwegians’ video tapes? ‘Found footage’ within the movie?

    I recall a similar sequence in ‘Event Horizon’.

  • Graham

    The ‘Oh you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!’ line was a stroke of genius.

    It acts like a kind of humorous stress relief. I remember watching ‘The Thing’ with my parents – this is back in the days of non-certificated video releases, where you basically watched a movie just because it was available in the video store – and our jaws were all hitting the floor at the ‘spider head’ sequence. That line allowed everyone to take a deep breath – nervously laugh a little – and then re-immerse ourself in it. Brilliant.

  • Keith Popely

    Good article, as usual. And, for the record, I like your new word “arlert.” It’s like an alert, but not quite as imperative. Kind of like your friend’s habit of wearing a dark tee shirt under a dress shirt is a fashion arlert. But that leak in the nuclear reactor is a get-the-fuck-out alert.

    • Poe_Serling

      Hey Keith-

      Since this is alien day on SS and you being a resident of Alaska, have you ever seen the pic The Fourth Kind? … just curious, that’s all.

      • Keith Popely

        Hey, Poe. No, I haven’t. I have to admit that I’m pretty strongly influenced by reviews. The reviews on that one, if I remember correctly, hammered it for being silly and a poorly executed attempt to mix “real” footage with dramatized, in addition to just being a bad story. Without having seen it, I’d say it sounds like they should have either gone full docu or full fiction with it.

        You seen it?

        • Poe_Serling

          Yeah, I’ve seen it. I’d give it a 6 out of 10… good production values, interesting cast, etc. … of course, you have to suspend your disbelief and go with the flow of the storyline.

          What intrigued my about the film is that the filmmakers tied it into “a real string of disappearances in Nome… with the FBI brought in to investigate in 2005. They looked into about 20 cases, finding alcohol and frigid temperatures to be causes. Nine bodies were never found.”

          • Keith Popely

            It’s funny you said that, because when I started reading your comment, “alcohol and frigid temps” was the first thought that popped into my head. Watch “Alaska State Troopers” and you’ll see what I mean. Not much to do out there.

          • Poe_Serling

            What’s it called… the Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation is usually the right one. :-)

          • Keith Popely

            Exactly. My favorite rule.

          • garrett_h

            Gotta say I hated The Fourth Kind. Keith Popely hasn’t seen it, but he oddly hits the nail on the head for me. The split-screen of documentary and re-enactment didn’t work at all for me. I think they should have found a way to go full found footage/documentary style, or just done a straight alien abduction pic with “Based on true events…” tagged on the poster and intro. As it stands, it feels like the filmmakers couldn’t make their minds up on how to shoot it so just decided to do both.

            There were a couple of good moments though. Like the creepy voice that comes through the tape. And some freaky scenes from the documentary. I think the premise is solid. I believe it actually did OK at the box office. But the aforementioned problems made it feel jumbled and disjointed to me. I couldn’t really get all the way into it.

          • Poe_Serling

            Hey G-

            All good points regarding the filmmakers’ ability to pull off a successful mockumentary.

            Have you ever seen Fire in the Sky – the ’93 film based on the famous alleged extraterrestrial encounter of Travis Walton?

          • garrett_h

            Yep, HBO used to play Fire in the Sky around the clock when it first hit cable. Just like The Thing, it really freaked me out. Especially when they stick the needles in his eyes… yeesh… Hurts just thinking about it!

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Oh, Fire in the Sky ! My favourite alien abduction movie. That whole part when he’s in the spaceship ? Absolutely creeps me out every time !

          • Poe_Serling

            Yeah, what’s up with those aliens… their abduction victims are always waking up at the worst possible time during those ‘probing’ sessions. You would think an alien race would use some advanced form of anesthesia to knock you out completely before dumping you back here on earth. ;-)

  • Michael

    For those of you who are still wondering about the opening to the film:

    I think it works either way, with or without the spacecraft. I can’t stand how bad a shot the guy with the rifle is, it reads as a manufactured moment. And the guys not speaking a word of english, please, manufactured moment number two. Still, it’s a great film. I watch it every time it’s showing.

    The original (The Thing From Another World-1951) is pretty good, an allegory for McCarthyism. The recent remake (2011) is unwatchable.

    Great review C.

    • ThomasBrownen

      So is there confirmation that original The Thing is an allegory for McCarthyism? I’ve heard the same thing about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but I’m never sure whether that was the creators’ intent, whether audiences widely interpreted it that way, or whether it’s just the theory of a film critic trying to read something seemingly profound into a movie.

      • MelanieWyvern

        I’m never sure whether that was the creators’ intent, whether audiences widely interpreted it that way, or whether it’s just the theory of a film critic

        It’s all interpretation, and these films can be read both ways — not just as an allegory of McCarthyism (the leftist view) but alternatively as an allegory of actual Marxist encroachment (the opposite view). After all, the films do show actual infiltrations, so reading them as metaphors for Marxist encroachment and Marxist influence is reading with the grain, while reading them the other way is interpreting against the grain.

        That’s the beauty of art — that it isn’t just some one-to-one metaphor, but yields multiple, even conflicting interpretations.

        Even the creators’ statements, pro or con, cannot be considered authoritative, as this is what’s called an intentional fallacy (e.g., multiple creators can vary in their intent, their beliefs can change over time, they can lie, etc.). The only measure is the text/film itself.

        • JakeBarnes12

          The original The Thing, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and countless other sci-fi movies from the 1950s reflect American fears about infiltration by Communists; the extent to which those fears were justified is another matter.

          • MelanieWyvern

            Change “reflect” to “can be interpreted to reflect,” also “are now commonly interpreted to reflect,” and your statement is accurate.

          • JakeBarnes12

            Can you make the argument that these 50s Sci-Fi movies do NOT reflect American fears about invasion or infiltration?

            Not without sounding obtuse.

            There’s a point where a particular interpretation is so ubiquitous that it’s stated without your Freshman English qualifications.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Not trying to argue here.
            But can we at least admit that during the 50s their was a lot more talk
            about sightings of flying saucers, men from space, close encounters and
            Area 51 conspiracy theorists.

          • MelanieWyvern

            Can you make the argument that these 50s Sci-Fi movies do NOT reflect American fears about invasion or infiltration?

            Not without sounding obtuse

            So anyone who disagrees with your interpretation sounds “obtuse”? Perhaps to your ears, as seem to consider your own interpretations definitive.

            But in fact, it is entirely possible to interpret ’50s sci-fi films strictly on the theme of relationships between potential alien life and humanity. I personally don’t believe in any such things, but I also don’t dismiss any creators or interpreters who are interesting in examining such themes in and of themselves, independent of terrestrial metaphors. If nothing else, I’m sure these intepreters find this an interesting intellectual exercise: asking questions such as, what would alien life look like, and how would we interact with it?

            I also don’t dismiss interpretations of these films as simply updates of classic man-vs.-monster stories, with an alien or aliens standing in for what once would have been a dragon — rich adventure stories, pure combat dressed in an updated form. I certainly don’t find such interpretations “obtuse,” and find any desire to view them this way as pathetically self-important and arrogant.

            There’s a point where a particular interpretation is so ubiquitous that it can be stated without qualifications.


            In communist nations, many works were ubiquitously denounced as western/capitalist/fascist propaganda, authors which we now interpret in a more nuanced way. In early medieval Europe, classical authors were ubiquitously denounced as heretics, before interpretations changed. All that a “ubiquitous” interpretation tells us is the dominant mindset of the chattering class at a given time, and these dominant mindsets often change, and interpretations of works change with them.

      • Michael

        Wow. Work kept me away. While I was gone it looks like I reignited the cold war.

        I don’t have time to generate direct quotes for those two films, but the most famous allegory of the area was Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”:

        With all due respect to Melanie’s point of view, I’m going to side with Jake. The reader or viewer is free to interpret a work any way they feel fit, but that’s not to say that the author didn’t have a very specific point they were writing to. Charles Lederer was one of the most diverse, highly respected writers in Hollywood, at the top of his game when he wrote “The Thing From Another World.” And lets not forget that Howard Hawks was involved as well. I don’t think there’s any possibility that the script/film doesn’t intentionally have the depth and point of view that reflects the political and social concerns and fears of the time. The intent of the filmmakers is clear.

        Now if anyone wants to tell me what’s up with all the flowing vegetation footage in Malick’s films, that’s open to ubiquitous interpretation.

        • Malibo Jackk

          Henry Miller reminds us that the Russians after WWII were the same people (communists) that we admired for fighting the German army.
          (Has he forgotten that the Russians changed sides only after Hitler attacked them?) (Has he forgotten the purges of Stalin?)

          If you really wanted to make an analogy with the witch hunts of McCarthy, why would you chose to talk about REAL monsters (as The Thing does) instead of perceived monsters like witches? And if that’s really your theme, why make a horror movie?

          • Michael

            I think you meant Arthur, not Henry, unless you’re disappointed there are no sex scenes with the monster.

            I’d agree Arthur cherry picked his argument in that clip and conveniently ignored pre-WW2 history. There is justification for fear on both sides of the argument, but McCarthy took it too far and created hysteria and unjustified persecution.

            Fear is a primal emotion regardless of the cause. What better place to make a point about fear than in a horror film. As Jake said, the extent to which those fears were justified is another matter. Both “The Crucible” and “The Thing” aptly make their points regardless of the politics, then or now. That’s why I wouldn’t agree that the works are open to interpretation. The filmmaker’s intentions are clear and they meant to provoke the very discussion we are having. We don’t have to agree with them, that is our choice as viewers.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    Yes, I know it’s a prequel ;-) But to me, it seemed more like a remake of ALIEN and THE THING than anything else. Well done, yes, and it’s obvious that the director loves Carpenter’s version but by wanting to pay too much homage, you block your own creativity. The movie may not be trash but as you say, it’s completely pointless. Uninteresting and adds nothing at all to THE THING. Nothing was needed, anyway, I mean, why explain what worked so well in THE THING ? The monster is just there, that’s all we need to know. And replacing the blood test scene with a “show me your teeth” scene ? Oh, “you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me” :-) No more tension, no more paranoia, no more conflict between characters not trusting each other. The ending was straight of X-FILES : THE MOVIE and showing the creature in all its glorious CGI beauty 10 minutes in almost brought tears of pain to my eyes. The only good thing was the post-credits scene with the dog and Carpenter’s music. But by then, it was all too late…

  • MWire

    In the case of Predator, I accidentally missed the first few minutes with the alien ship and the movie was much the better for it. That was way back when it was on HBO and I had somehow ignored all of the ads. OK, sometimes I’m oblivious to the world.

    I thought it was going to be some kind of Rambo flick and was then all “Whoa what the hell’s going on here?” when soldiers were getting skinned and stuff. It was great not being audience superior.

    That being said, trying to intentionally pull something like that off would be a massive problem for marketing. You can’t coax someone into the theater with the promise of a military shoot ‘em up and then toss a sci fi at them. Lots of folks would be pissed.

  • BoxGoblin

    Great notes.

    A point about your fourth note: “There’s something you should see.”

    I remember reading somewhere that a similar line existed in the early draft of AMERICAN BEAUTY when Ricky is going to show Jane his videotape of the paper bag. Alan Ball changed the original line from something akin to: “There’s something I want to show you.” to…

    “Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I’ve ever filmed.”

    I think the change to something more specific (“most beautiful thing” as opposed to “something”) really helps to make the scene more memorable.

  • grendl

    I’ll try and save you years of wasted anger.

    That’s the way it is, and the way it will always be. The gatekeepers revile outsiders because they’re one step from being outside the business themselves. And these are the people companies hire to serve as bouncers at the door of Club Hollywood.

    Crushing dreams is their job, and they rarely discriminate. The good writers and the bad alike, if you don’t have someone vouching for you on the inside, there’s no way to get in. Now if Rita Wilson attends your play and drags her husband Tom Hanks to it, and it turns out to be a smash as a film adaptation, you may get a career in screenwriting out of it like Nia Vardalos did.

    Mr. Hanks likes her you see, and they did the dreadful “Larry Crowne ” together.

    I’d give you Bill Murrays speech from “Meatballs” if I could remember all of it. The major thrust being ” it just doesn’t matter.”

    You could write your brains out for years, craft a great story with three definitive acts that hit every one of Blake Snyder’s beats, and even if god himself decended from the heavens and the two of you drove to CAA, ( maybe he’d fly you on a cloud or something ) with a golden script, the holy grail of narrative, the snot nosed assistant manning the front desk would ask both you and god ” And you are?”

    They’ll pretend like its sour grapes when someone complains about lack of access to the movie making machine. They’ll pretend no one outside the TMZ knows how to craft a story, and that’s why you see so many Nicholl winners not in the business. It’s a token to the peasants, breadcrumbs.

    But the people who have power, the money people by and large don’t know good stories from bad ones. Look at “Movie #43″ for proof of that. Or “Hansel and Gretel”, But Hansel and Gretel is going to make money. And “Movie #43″ was pre sold to the European market before its release and was guaranteed to make its money back.

    Bad films make their money back too often. When you have a movie going public of brain dead teens with ADD, who think Transformers constitutes coherent narrative, quality stories are not an issue. You look at Rotten Tomatoes and Box Office Mojo and there’s no correlation whatsoever between quality and box office receipts. None.

    It just doesn’t matter. Say it with me, it just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. Because even if you do manage to get someone on board with one of your scripts, land an option maybe even buy it outright , it still wouldn’t matter because the girls would still go out with the guys from Camp Mohawk, because they’ve got all the money.

    • Hem

      You got something to contribute about “The Thing” or Carson’s screenwriting tips, go ahead.

      You’re on here to spew one more rambling, meds-addled, anti-Hollywood rant, take it up with your therapist and stop wasting people’s time here.

    • scribbler

      grendl, i wish that you had been thoughtful enough to spare me that rambling mish mash of musty advice. i continue to believe that writing will prevail. money talks, baby! mish mash don’t.

    • scribbler

      and, just to let you know, i’ve never had a bad experience with an underling. i’ve called some pretty large studios and gotten nothing but pleasant advice from everyone who answered my call. universal, disney, mgm et al were very helpful to me, which is why i began to look for an agent. before that, i just figured that i could rep myself. featured artists agency (maybe i shouldn’t mention this here) even ok’d an unsolicted submission. so, to carpet bomb hard working gatewatchers is, in my view, not a very tactful, or true analysis of the problematic which i interpret to be the largest obstacle to access. grendl, i empathize with your years of sore noses and eyeshutting door slamming events, but this cat is going to use all nine of its lives trying. and if those don’t get it there, it’ll find a way to get some more try’s.

  • Robert Ward

    Well played sir. I learned a lot here today. Thanks.

  • Alexc

    When I am ‘carding’ out a story, #6 is one of the biggest
    causes for scenes being rearranged in the early stages, before I start the
    actual script writing.

    This article and the comments have made for a gem of a
    learning day. Thank you.

  • Bella_Lugossi

    Any idea which movie first used found footage?

    • Citizen M

      “While the genre dates back at least as far as 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust, it was popularised after the release of such films as The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007) and Cloverfield (2008).”

      • Malibo Jackk

        Not sure which came first —
        Blair Witch or the Paris Hilton sex tape.

        • Poe_Serling

          What about that Marilyn Monroe tape that was floating around a few years back?

  • ff

    So awesome man. I love this movie and your article rocks as usual. Thanks as always!

  • Bella_Lugossi

    That’s is why I re-stated the question. :]

    I don’t remember The first Thing well; did that already have found footage in it?

    (Poe, where you at?!?)

    • Poe_Serling

      As Ahnult pointed out above, The Thing from ’82 used found footage (video tapes in this instance) in that one scene to explain what the Norwegian team was up to.

      And, as Citizen M stated above, Cannibal Holocaust was one of the first films to use ‘found footage’ from a group of missing people to create a documentary-type of film around it to solve the mystery of what happened to them.

      Then you have the 1960 film Peeping Tom, which incorporates a little of everything. Here the main character watches his own films. Homes movies are shown of the main character’s abusive upbringing. Still, others discover and watch movies of him killing women.

      • New_E

        PEEPING TOM is fascinating on many levels – the least of them being that it effectively ended Michael Powell’s career.

        About THE THING, I saw it when I was a kid in the 80s and haven’t watched it again since. Don’t remember a THING about it (see what I did there?) other than a frozen and disheveled Kurt Russell running around in dark tunnels.

        Come to think of it, I don’t remember much from any John Carpenter films, including the HALLOWEEN series and films like ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. WTH?


        • Poe_Serling

          Hey New E-

          I can overlook all the John Carpenter stuff if you say you’re a fan of The Thing From Another World. :-)

          • New_E

            Had NEVER heard of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD before you mentioned it.

            I see I have ways to go. Need to catch up on my early sci-fi / horror flicks.


      • Bella_Lugossi

        Thank you.

        I have a dvd of Peeping Tom. That’s a good example.

        • Poe_Serling

          You’re welcome.

  • Rob B.

    Carson really loves horror flicks I’ve noticed.

  • Bella_Lugossi

    I simply dumbed down found footage to “finding tapes and watching them to find out what (horrible things) happened to people before.” :]

  • James Inez

    Hey Carson, there’s something I’ve got to show you… Hey, it works! Thanks for the great article. Question about number six, “Carefully plot how you reveal information.” Doesn’t revealing the aliens in the beginning make the audience more invested, since they know the stakes, and they know what the obstacle and conflict is going to be? I guess it could be a fine line between the two. The longer you hold off what the goal/obstacle is, the more restless the audience will get, no? I guess there are exceptions to every rule.

    • James Inez

      Reading the comments, I noticed this has been questioned and answered like five times already. Disregard.

  • carsonreeves1

    I think an argument can be made for either side honestly. Showing the spaceship obviously isn’t “wrong.” It just creates a different effect on the reader/audience.

    • Lewis Clark

      Okay, thank you very much!

  • Keith Popely

    Hey, klmn. Well, it should be noted that it’s a police show, so you’re only going to be seeing people involved in a situation that calls for the police to show up. It’s also important to note that there’s a significant difference between life in the cities and life in the small, rural communities, the same as anywhere else. But more to the point, yeah, you’re right. I moved here from LA and I can tell you that there’s a whole lot more getting pregnant, getting hooked on meth and getting drunk up here.

  • JaredW

    Nice tips, Carson. The Thing is one of my favorite movies, so it’s great to see it get a script breakdown, especially one that reveals cut scenes that I was previously unaware of. It’s interesting to learn about the liberties Carpenter took in order to strengthen the overall product. In retrospect, little things like cutting dialogue out of scenes really helped the first act. After all, the people at the base are going about their lives, not talking about stuff (a girl back home, etc.) that would potentially be needed to set them up as characters. Thus, the characters come off as normal people who are about to become victims in a crazy situation.

  • Xarkoprime

    I personally prefer the mystery in this sense.

    Dramatic Irony can create for some suspenseful scenes later on in a movie, but the mystery in the beginning lures the audience in. I have a feeling this conversation would get mixed thoughts, but I thought I’d give my opinion anyways.

  • Montana Gillis

    Good article! Just remembered how much I loved this movie. Gotta watch it soon…

  • Xarkoprime

    Since everyone has already expressed their love for The Thing in so many ways, I’ll refrain because I don’t think I could possibly add to what everyone has already said.

    I really like the foreplay before climax tip. Definitely something I’ll write down.

  • Poe_Serling

    It sounds like someone would have to write Kurt Russell a blank check to make that happen. :-)

  • carsonreeves1

    Okay, let’s quash the anger. Anger is not allowed near Scriptshadow 2.0. Only butterflies and rainbows and soft kisses.

    • JoeyK

      Really, Carson, you wanna go through all this again, waiting for this guy to start foaming at the mouth and insulting people?

      Only takes one disturbed troll like this guy to affect the whole atmosphere of a site.

  • nicohajj

    I think this is probabky one of the most intense Thriller ever made. The writing was good. I remember reading that script like 4 years ago. Impressive!

    But then when you watch the film. You measure the talent of Mister Carpenter in laking that writing piece even better.

    So It was a pleasure reading what made that script such a Masterpiece,
    Thanks for the ride Carson!

  • scribbler

    grendl, you oughta spend less time quotin’ others — especially movie characters, and more time making people quote you.

  • Citizen M

    Regarding showing the spaceship in the beginning (for the record I wouldn’t show it, the image of the dog being hunted is all you need), take Hitchcock’s example of two men talking and we know there’s a bomb under the table. That’s suspense.

    But what if we saw an earlier scene and someone put *something* under the table, but we don’t know what it is. That’s a different kind of suspense because there’s a range of possible outcomes. If it turns out to be a box of puppies and they are peeing on the one guy’s shoe, you get the necessary release from tension but with laughter rather than horror if the guys blew up.

    But what if you don’t know there is anything under the table, but you can see that one of the guys suspects there’s something there and keeps trying to look under the table without the other guy noticing. Or maybe one of the guys gets sweaty and anxious and keeps trying to leave so you suspect he knows there’s something wrong with the table. A different kind of suspense again.

    There are many different ways to play it for suspense. I think the essentials are A) you have to tip the viewer off that there is something not quite kosher about this scene; and B) the viewer has to have some sort of idea as to the possible stakes and implications.

  • ElliotMaguire

    My second favourite movie of all-time and you think of good ways of improving it. I tip my hat to you sir Carson.

    I think this is the movie that started my fascination with films set in arctic conditions, and is probably why I wrote one.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Any relation to zapgod?

    • Pointbreak

      I have no idea who or what zapgod is, sorry.

      • Malibo Jackk

        He was a blogger who put vinyl decals on urinals.
        (Not trying to be funny. That’s what you get when you google urinal vinyl.)

  • Guest

    Can you write atmosphere? From the get go this movie has oodles of it. The claustrophobic antarctic base is genius, and from the get go I knew I was in for a treat, which probably has a lot to do with John Carpenter’s confidence as a director. Head dropping off and crawling away was art!

  • Thunk24

    Can you write atmosphere? From the get go this movie has oodles of it. The claustrophobic antarctic base is genius and I knew I was in for a treat from the opening dog chase, which probably has a lot to do with John Carpenter’s confidence as a director. Head dropping off and crawling away was art!

  • LisaMcDowell

    Great Article Carson! Especially feeling number 10. I never usually think in terms of cost/value ratio and felt like a light bulb just went off for me there. I just thought of a scene I need to cut on on my script.

  • Deaf Ears

    I also learned from my skimming of Burt (father of Bill) Lancaster’s biography that Bill had a substance abuse problem – I know, an alcoholic writer, what will they think of next? Still, writing two classics is not a bad innings. Hell, I’ll be glad if I have one film of THE THING and THE BAD NEWS BEARS’ caliber in my obituary.

  • Blaine Tyler

    Whatever happened to Character lists before films. The Thing, Alien… This trend is due a resurgence.

  • Shayla

    Thank you for posting this article! My favorite sci-fi/horror movie…wow, thanks a lot Carson for breaking down the script.