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20th Century Fox Television
20th Century Fox Television

16 Out-of-this-World Facts About Roswell

20th Century Fox Television
20th Century Fox Television

Based on a young adult book series by Melinda Metz, Roswell was a series about a group of teenage aliens posing as humans in present day Roswell, New Mexico, trying to keep their identities as extraterrestrials a secret from everyone other than their new human friends and lovers.

During its three seasons on the air, the series acquired a devoted, cult following thanks to its unique mix of teen drama and science fiction. The intense starring performance of Jason Behr, and the efforts of future stars Katherine Heigl, Shiri Appleby, and Colin Hanks, didn’t hurt either. On the 15th anniversary of the series' finale, we're taking a look back at the cult series.

1. THE BOOK SERIES AND TV SERIES WERE DIFFERENT.

Melinda Metz wrote the Roswell High book series. Metz and her editor Laura J. Burns were hired as staff writers during the show’s third season. The two were credited as TV writers for the first time in the episode “A Tale of Two Parties,” which aired on New Year's Day in 2002. Metz and Burns noted that the books were aimed at 10- and 11-year-olds, whereas the TV series was for 17- to 18-year-olds. Also, Liz’s last name was changed from Ortecho to Parker, Alex from Mannis to Whitman, and the character of Jesse was created exclusively for television.

2. HEATH LEDGER AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF MAX EVANS.

Executives were hesitant to hire Ledger after the failure of his short-lived series, Roar. Jason Behr was chosen instead, in part thanks to his performances on other teen shows 7th Heaven and Dawson’s Creek.

3. SHIRI APPLEBY AUDITIONED FOR ALL THREE MAIN FEMALE ROLES, MANY TIMES.

She got the part of Liz at the end of her sophomore year at USC; she spent her time in the waiting room before her fifth audition studying for a final exam.

4. BRENDAN FEHR MOVED FROM CANADA TO PLAY MICHAEL.

The Winnipeg-raised young actor was shocked when a burger he ordered on his first day in the U.S. cost him $15. "I couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks,” recalled Fehr.

5. THE PILOT WAS THE HIGHEST TESTING PILOT AT 20TH CENTURY FOX IN HISTORY.

It was shot on a $2 million budget in 12 days. Director David Nutter was happy he was able to shoot something that was like a high school version of The X-Files (which was another show he directed on occasion). The pilot was shot in mind for the Fox network, but The WB offered a 22 episode order, leading creator Jason Katims and producers to decide to go to the new channel instead.

6. NICK WECHSLER WAS NERVOUS DURING THE PILOT.

The actor was not sure how to play Kyle Valenti in the beginning. "I would try to entertain myself," Wechsler explained. "I would find moments to do weird sh*t, or give it a slightly weird read … I look back on this time so fondly, because I loved not knowing any better."

7. JASON KATIMS ADMITTED THAT THE WRITERS DIDN’T SPECIFICALLY PLAN A LOT DURING SEASON ONE.

The general beats of the inaugural year were plotted out. On a day-to-day basis though, the show's creator/executive producer admitted that the writing staff was “totally winging it.”

8. STAR TREK'S COMMANDER RIKER WAS AN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER.

Jonathan Frakes played himself in three episodes, and directed five. When the series ended, Frakes admitted that he felt that too many of the characters knew the aliens on Roswell were aliens.

9. A FAMOUS STAR TREK LOCATION WAS USED IN THE SERIES.

The Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce, California was where the Metrons staged the Captain Kirk/Gorn showdown in the episode "Arena." The location was used for three other episodes of the Star Trek original series, and it was planet Vulcan in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Blazing Saddles and many other TV shows and movies also shot there. It’s where Max, Isabel, Michael, and Tess crash landed. Most of the rest of the series was shot in the California town of Covina. The Crashdown Cafe is now a Casa Moreno Mexican Grill.

10. AFTER WRITING FOR STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, AND BEFORE RUNNING BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, RONALD D. MOORE WAS BROUGHT ON IN SEASON TWO.

Katims and company wanted, and succeeded at, putting in many more science fiction storylines to the series in the second season. To help, Katims assembled an almost completely new writing staff. The new writers believed it would ramp up the stakes for the personal relationships, too. Ronald D. Moore ended up writing 10 episodes of the series, including a co-writing credit with Katims on the series finale. He also became a co-executive producer.

11. THE TABASCO SAUCE WAS ACTUALLY V8 BERRY SPLASH JUICE.

The aliens on the show enjoyed putting Tabasco sauce on their food and in their drinks. Fehr claimed the actors usually tried to avoid actually eating any food in any scene. Once, the actors tried to use the actual Tabasco sauce. The take ended with the actors in tears and running for water.

12. FANS SENT NETWORKS TABASCO SAUCE TO KEEP THE SHOW ON THE AIR.

In an attempt to convince the WB to renew the show for a second year, fans sent bottles of the stuff to network executives (in addition to spending $2,500 on a full-page ad in Variety.) The next year, a reported 12,000 bottles were sent to UPN to convince them to pick up the series.

13. ALEX WAS KILLED OFF BECAUSE COLIN HANKS NEEDED TO FOCUS ON A MOVIE.

Tom Hanks’s son was killed off in order to co-star with Jack Black in Orange County.

14. THE ACTORS DATED ONE ANOTHER.

Behr and Heigl played siblings on the series, but dated in real life. Fehr and Majandra Delfino (Maria) initially didn’t get along, but ended up having an on-again, off-again relationship for two years.

15. FEHR ONCE PEED HIS PANTS ON SET.

Fehr was too lazy to get up to use the facilities, and Behr said he would pay Fehr $100 if he went number one in his pants. Delfino was an accidental witness to Fehr following through and earning his money, which he still has framed.

16. SNOOKI FROM JERSEY SHORE IS A HUGE FAN.

She traveled all the way from New Jersey to Austin, Texas to witness the show’s reunion at last year’s ATX Festival. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi asked the cast if they believed in aliens (Appleby and Delfino said yes).

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

We are not alone. Here are a few facts about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, on its 40th anniversary.

1. IT WAS INITIALLY A VERY DIFFERENT FILM.

Spielberg’s initial story outline involved UFOs and shady government dealings following the Watergate scandal, which became a script entitled “Watch the Skies.” The idea involved a police or military officer working on Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s official study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s, who would become the whistleblower on the government cover-up of aliens. There were numerous rewrites—Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader even took a crack at it, penning a political UFO thriller titled “Kingdom Come” that Spielberg and the movie studio rejected—before the story we know today emerged.

2. IT’S NAMED AFTER LEGITIMATE UFO RESEARCH.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg partly based his idea on the research of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book who eventually admitted that 11 percent of the study’s findings about unidentified flying objects could not be explained using science.

The title (which is never specifically explained in the movie) is actually derived from Hynek’s own alien close encounter classification system: A close encounter of the first kind is sighting of a UFO; the second kind is physical evidence to prove the existence of an alien; and the third kind is actual contact with alien life forms.

3. THERE’S A CAMEO FROM THE GODFATHER OF UFO RESEARCH.

Hynek, who also served as a technical advisor on the movie, makes an uncredited cameo in the final scene of the movie. You can spot him pretty easily—he’s the goateed man smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit who pushes through the crowd of scientists to get a better look at the aliens.

4. NOBODY WANTED THE STARRING ROLE.

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Columbia Pictures

The director first offered the part of Roy Neary to actor Steve McQueen, who turned it down because he said he couldn’t cry on cue, something he saw as essential to the character. Spielberg then went to Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, and James Caan who all turned him down as well before asking his friend Richard Dreyfuss, who previously worked with Spielberg on Jaws, to take the part.

5. BUT IT WASN'T THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE TO CAST.

Spielberg approached French actors like Lino Ventura, Yves Montand, and Jean-Louis Trintignant to play Claude Lacombe—who was based on famous UFO researcher Jacques Vallée—before settling on director and sometimes-actor François Truffaut. The initially skeptical Truffaut, who was nervous about appearing in a big budget Hollywood movie, accepted the role because he wanted to compile research for a book about acting (he never did write the book).

6. MERYL STREEP COULD HAVE PLAYED ROY'S WIFE.

Many actresses—including a then-unknown Yale Drama School grad named Meryl Streep—auditioned for the part of Roy’s wife Ronnie, but he ultimately cast actress Teri Garr because he saw her in a coffee commercial and loved the way she was able to convey a wide range of emotions in a 30-second clip.

7. THEY SHOT IN A DISUSED AIR FORCE HANGAR.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg wanted to shoot in real suburban locations rather than studio backlots, but the production had trouble finding locations. The biggest question: Where could Spielberg shoot the climactic canyon sequence with the mothership?

The production looked for huge indoor enclosures that would allow for the massive scale of the scene, though they only found ones with center support dividers that spoiled the openness Spielberg wanted for the UFO runway. The only location producers found without center dividers was a 300 foot by 300 foot disused hangar that had been used for dirigibles during World War II at Brookley Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama.

8. THE TEAM BOUGHT A HOUSE FOR THE PRODUCTION—AND SOLD IT FOR A PROFIT.

The Nearys' house, which is located at 1613 Carlisle Drive East in Mobile, was actually purchased by the production for $35,000 so they could do whatever they wanted with the interiors. It was later sold for $50,000 after production wrapped, netting a $15,000 surplus that went back into the film’s budget.

9. THE MEMORABLE 5-NOTE TONES TOOK A LONG TIME TO FIGURE OUT

Composer John Williams worked with Spielberg to come up with the movie’s distinct five-note musical method of communication between humans and aliens—which Spielberg partly based on the Solfège system of musical education—a year before shooting began.

Williams initially wanted a seven-note sequence, but it was too long for the simple musical “greeting” Spielberg wanted. The composer enlisted a mathematician to calculate the number of five-note combinations they could potentially make from a 12-note scale. When that number proved to be somewhere upwards of 134,000 combinations, Williams created 100 distinct versions, and they simply whittled the combinations down one by one until they had a winner.

10. SPIELBERG USED TRICKS TO GET THE PERFORMANCE OUT OF HIS CHILD ACTOR.


Columbia Pictures

Cary Guffey, who plays little Barry Guiler, had never acted before, so Spielberg set up ways to coax a performance out of the 3-year-old. To get a shot of Guffey reacting to the aliens first approaching the Guiler house, Spielberg slowly unwrapped a present for the young actor just off camera, making him smile. Guffey even exclaims “Toys! Toys!” in the final take.

To get the boy to react to the aliens offscreen, Spielberg had Guffey walk up to his mark where—unbeknownst to the little actor—two crewmembers were dressed as a gorilla and a clown standing behind cardboard blinds. When Guffey entered the kitchen, Spielberg dropped the first blind revealing the clown to scare him, and then dropped the other blind to reveal the gorilla, which scared him even more. The gorilla then took off his mask, revealing the film’s makeup man, Bob Westmoreland, who Guffey recognized, causing him to laugh and smile in the final take.

11. THE MOVIE NEARLY FEATURED VERY EARLY CGI.

Spielberg originally toyed with the idea of using computer generated images to create the aliens and their ships, even going so far as to have animator Colin Cantwell create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test, which took three weeks to complete and was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film, proved to be unfeasible for the whole movie—so the idea was dropped.

12. THERE WERE SOME UNORTHODOX IDEAS FOR CREATING THE ALIENS.

Spielberg wanted the aliens to be non-human beings that glided instead of walked, and he had a weird idea to pull it off: An orangutan dressed in a specially-made suit. For a screen test, the production team outfitted an orangutan in grey spandex and strapped it into roller skates. The orangutan immediately took off the skates and crawled to its owner, so a full test couldn’t be completed, and the team scrapped the idea. The majority of the small aliens in the final movie were played by local elementary school girls from Mobile in specially made grey suits and masks who were heavily backlit to create the final alien silhouette effect.

13. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FEATURES A PRECURSOR TO E.T.


Columbia Pictures

To create the alien who bids farewell using the musical hand signals at the end of the film, Spielberg enlisted the help of Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who designed a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Guffey. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

Puck would help inspire E.T. after Spielberg asked himself, “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” Rambaldi would also go on to design the character of E.T.

14. SPIELBERG BET AGAINST HIS OWN MOVIE—AND REALLY CASHED IN.

Spielberg and his buddy George Lucas both had new movies coming out in 1977; Lucas’s was a little movie called Star Wars. Lucas thought his ramshackle space movie wouldn’t make back its budget, and he knew his friend’s new movie would break box office records just like Jaws had done, so he offered Spielberg a friendly wager. Both agreed to give the other 2.5 percent of the profits of their respective films. Lucas grossly underestimated his movie, which went on to become the second highest grossing movie of all time if adjusted for inflation (in comparison, Close Encounters is #71). The difference ended up being $40 million.

15. SPIELBERG DIDN'T LIKE THE VERSION THAT WAS INITIALLY RELEASED.

Spielberg wanted to release Close Encounters in the summer of 1978, which would have given him ample time to edit the film and finish its special effects—but Columbia Pictures, which was going through major financial troubles, insisted he have it ready for a November 1977 release, leaving the director with a final cut on a movie he didn’t feel was completely ready. 

Three years later, the company allowed Spielberg to “finish” the movie under one condition: That he show the inside of the mothership, which would give the studio’s marketing department an angle to sell this new version. The director capitulated, adding new scenes and cutting others to create a “Special Edition.” The director was unhappy with the scene, though, and later cut it for the Collector's Edition home video release.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:Blu-ray special features; Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic FilmClose Encounters of the Third Kind Diary.

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