Melissa Mathison dies at 65.

By writing her Oscar-nominated screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial (1982) she did the groundwork for one of the most beloved film classics of all time – also serving as associate producer.

Mathison wrote screenplays for Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion (1979), Caleb Deschanel’s The Escape Artist (1982), the second segment in Steven Spielberg’s Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983), the TV film Son of the Morning Star (1991), and Frank OzThe Indian in the Cupboard (1995). Mathison had a particular feeling for children’s literature, telling stories about children who she portrayed as sensitively heroic.

She recently reunited with Steven Spielberg to write the screenplay for the Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG (2016) which is currently in post-production. After hearing of her death, Spielberg says in a statement:

“Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.”

On the 2002 DVD special edition, Spielberg describes her contribution:

“Melissa delivered this 107-page first draft to me and I read it in about an hour. I was just knocked out. It was a script I was willing to shoot the next day. It was so honest, and Melissa’s voice made a direct connection with my heart.”

Mathison explains:

“I would write for four or five days in my little office in Hollywood, and then drive out to Marina Del Rey where Steven Spielberg was editing in a little apartment on the beach. I’d bring him my pages and we’d sit and go through them…It took about eight weeks for us to get the first draft, which was quite fast, I think.”

Her screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1997), a movie about the Dalai Lama’s childhood and growth into a young man, reflected her decades-long interest in Tibet. With the help of Richard Gere, a supporter of Tibetan causes, she and Harrison Ford met with the Dalai Lama in Santa Barbara in 1990. She later pitched the notion of a film based on his early years.

Mathison was born on June 3, 1950 in Los Angeles and attended U.C. Berkeley. She interrupted her studies in political science for a job in the movies with a family friend. The friend was Francis Ford Coppola, whose children she used to baby sit. Mathison became his assistant on the set of The Godfather, Part II (1974). After Coppola urged her to write, she came up with her script for The Black Stallion (1979).

She had two children, Georgia and Malcolm, from her marriage to actor Harrison Ford. They divorced in 2004 after a 21-year marriage. From 1983 to 1985, Mathison, Ford and their children lived on a 700-acre ranch outside Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the screenwriter put her career on hold.

“I didn’t want to be missing their childhood while I was away, busy writing about children.”


Martin Scorsese
’s The Departed is a remake of the Hong Kong crime-thriller Infernal Affairs (2002). The Departed stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg, with Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, and Alec Baldwin in supporting roles.The screenplay is written by William Monahan

Throughout the film, Scorsese uses an “X” motif to foreshadow death in a manner similar to Howard Hawks’ classic film Scarface (1932). Examples include shots of cross-beam supports in an airport walkway when Costigan is phoning Sgt. Dignam, and the taped windows of the building Queenan enters before being thrown to his death. On many occasions, Director of Photography Michael Ballhaus has to shoot with very little light, walking a thin line between what you can still see and what you cannot see anymore.

A critical and commercial success, the film wins several awards, including four Oscars at the 79th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Wahlberg is nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

The film marks the first time Scorsese wins an Oscar after six previous losses. He is presented with the Oscar by his long-time friends Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (videoclip). Many feel that Scorsese deserved the Best Director award years earlier for efforts such as Goodfellas (1990), Raging Bull (1980) or Taxi Driver (1976).

Steven Spielberg casts Ray Winstone for the part of George “Mac” McHale in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

Lost in Translation
, written and directed by Sofia Coppola – starring Bill Murray, and Scarlett Johansson – centers around an aging actor (Murray) and a college graduate  (Johansson). Both of them are lost in the Japanese culture and lost in their own lives and relationships. After a chance meeting in a Tokyo hotel (video clip), they spend some time together.

Coppola’s inspiring comedy-drama, set in the time of globalization, is co-produced by her father’s company American Zoetrope.

Sofia Coppola writes the screenplay with Bill Murray in mind, saying she would not have made it without him. Johansson is 17 years old when she is offered the part (immediately accepting), and Coppola is happy with the maturity she brings to the character.

Tokyo is the secret star of Lost in Translation, depicted in stunning images by cinematographer Lance Acord who (just like Coppola) has spent some time in Tokyo and draws from his everyday experiences. He tries to maximize available light during shooting and refrain from artificial lights as much as possible – especially when shooting night-time exteriors.

Sofia Coppola on her motivation to do the film: 

“Tokyo is so disorienting, and there’s a loneliness and isolation. Everything is so crazy, and the jet lag is torture. I liked the idea of juxtaposing a midlife crisis with that time in your early 20s when you’re, like, What should I do with my life?”

Overall, the film is largely shot in an improvised, “free-form” manner, which Coppola describes as “stealthy” and “almost documentary-style“. Principal photography is completed after just 27 days.

Lost in Translation receives widespread acclaim by critics and audiences. Against an independent film budget of only $4 million, Lost in Translation is hugely profitable, grossing $119.7 million worldwide. 

The film is nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Bill Murray, and Best Director for Sofia Coppola; Coppola wins for Best Original Screenplay. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson each win a BAFTA award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role respectively.

Bill Murray calls Lost in Translation his favorite film that he has worked on.

In his best-selling book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind, former executive editor of Premiere magazine, blames Spielberg and Lucas for the decline of “New Hollywood”. He cites film critic Pauline Kael, who initially belonged to Spielberg’s admirers and now claims that Lucas and Spielberg are “infantilizing the audience, reconstituting the spectator as child, then overwhelming him and her with sound and spectacle, obliterating irony, aesthetic self-consciousness, and critical reflection.” – a phrase that Spielberg’s detractors will repeatedly use.

Directors Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, and Francis Ford Coppola who are also quoted in the book publicly criticize the author’s dubious methods.

Altman considers the book as "hate mail. We were all lured into talking to this guy because
people thought he was a straight guy but he was filling a commission
from the publisher for a hatchet job. He’s the worst kind of human being
I know.”

Spielberg who is not interviewed for Biskind’s book states that “every single word in that book about me is either erroneous or a lie.”

For the next Akira Kurosawa project, Steven Spielberg joins forces with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola – together, they convince Warner Bros. executives to fund Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams.

Due to the political nature of his criticism of nuclear power in the
film, Kurosawa has trouble getting financing from studios in Japan.

For his film, Kurosawa writes the screenplay, based on his dreams.

Martin Scorsese plays Vincent van Gogh.

Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now
– an epic charge against the Vietnam War, starring Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando.

Coppola ruins his health and personal fortune. He asks Spielberg for financial support which Spielberg declines. The “New Hollywood” era is coming to an end.

Spielberg will cast Martin Sheen in Catch Me If You Can (2002).

George Lucas
American Graffiti: The semi-autobiographical film tells the story of a group of teenagers and their adventures in one night before they choose different paths of life. Producer Francis Ford Coppola has a strong influence in the genesis of the film.

Actors include Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Candy Clark and Harrison Ford.

American Graffiti is a brilliant study of the cruising and rock and roll cultures of the early 60s (just before the outbreak of the Vietnam War and the peak of the counterculture movement) and is praised by the critics.

The film is nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Candy Clark) and Best Film Editing (Verna Fields and Marcia Lucas).

Made for a shoestring budget of $ 777,000, American Graffiti has earned well over $ 200 million in box office gross and home video sales and has become one of the most profitable films of all time. The studio insists on several cuts which results in Lucas’ urge to become an independent player in the movie industry.

The script is written by George Lucas who shares credits with Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (who will later pen the second Indiana Jones film).

The introduction sequence of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is an homage to American Graffiti.

Spielberg casts Richard Dreyfuss for his next movie Jaws (1975).

Francis Ford Coppola
’s The Godfather – the epic crime drama, starring Marlon Brando, storms the box office and gets rave reviews. Coppola will direct two sequels.

In an interview with the New York Times in 1999, Spielberg says: “I’ve never made a movie anywhere near as good as ‘The Godfather’.”

Abel Gance’s silent film Napoléon premieres in Paris. It has a running time of 330 minutes (conceived as one of six films about Napoléon Bonaparte) and features state-of-the-art photography and editing. The finale is filmed in Polyvision as the projection screen was to be expanded into a triptych. When MGM buys the rights, the film is heavily edited and trimmed.

In 1981, Francis Ford Coppola finances a restoration of the film. He realizes the triptych concept and adds a new soundtrack composed by Carmine Coppola. This version is screened at venues such as Berlin’s ICC Congress Center. In 2000, another restored version is created which includes lost scenes.

In 2013, Steven Spielberg announces plans to pick up Stanley Kubrick’s unrealized film project Napoléon and develop a TV miniseries based on it.