Dean Alioto on the making of Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County
“Here is the whole unedited strange story of how my 1989 $6,500 video entitled UFO Abduction became the UPN special, Alien Abduction: Incident In Lake County.
In 1988 I was headed for my 25th birthday and I had not yet made my first feature film -- this 25th year mark is crucial for most filmmakers as it was the age that, Orson Wells, Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg all had made their first films by. Unlike them, I had a budget that equaled the size of craft service for a day on a studio feature film. One night after reading the latest books on the UFO phenomenon (Communion, Missing Time, and the books of Jacques Vale), I came up with the idea of making the most realistic movie on UFO abduction ever made. The best part of the idea was that it could be done for my miniscule budget. I wrote an outline of twenty action beats based on the claimed abduction experience. I hired a group of skilled improve actors, except for myself who played the 16 year old shooting the video, and shot the direct-to-video movie in one night, in one continuous take, on 8mm video. The guy who created the UFO craft and aliens has since gone on to be the production designer for the recent live-action Scooby-Doo films -- Bill Boes.
Here's where things get "strange". The video actually got distributed. However, a few months later the distribution company burned to the ground. I lost my 1 inch master tape and all of my artwork, leaving me with my original tapes and a 3/4 inch copy. I figured, "Oh, well -- time to move on" and forgot about my first attempt at a feature film. Five years later, 1994, I begin getting calls from Unsolved Mysteries, Hard Copy, and a show called Encounters. They all want to know if I knew who had found some mysterious UFO tape that had been passed around the UFO community for the past five years. The tape, without a title or credits, was believed by many people to be real footage of an alien abduction.
When I finally stopped laughing and told them no one had found the tape, that I had made it and own the rights, they told me what my little video had been up to. Apparently, someone -- much more crafty than myself -- had made an edited bootleg copy of my video and injected it into the UFO community, hyping it all the way to the 1993 International UFO Congress Convention where it brought the house down. A Lieutenant Colonel with 40 years military intelligence, who was on the panel at the convention, determined right there that the tape was real! When I tried to ascertain how all this happened no one was able to find "patient zero" -- the person who bootlegged the tape. I was aware that a few sample copies were made in 1989 by the distributor, before the company was burned, and that these copies were sent out to a few mom and pop video stores around the country. That's was it.
After I was interviewed on Encounters (by the same guy that would go on to produce Alien Autopsy), and the local news, Mr. American Bandstand, Dick Clark, would enter into this strange story. In 1995 I got hired to direct on a crime reenactment series called US Customs: Classified. There, I became friends with Paul Chitlik, the head writer. Paul had heard me mention the tape once and insisted I let him see the video. After I finally got around to showing it to him (I delayed giving it to him because, at the time, I was a little too embarrassed to show him something that wasn't as slick as my current directing samples), he told me he could get us a made-for-TV movie deal with the video. I laughed at him and flippantly said "Yeah, okay, Paul. I want a story by credit, you can write the teleplay, I'll direct it, and we can produce it together." He said okay and a week later we had a deal at Dick Clark to remake my little first feature. A year and a half later of turn-around nightmares at Showtime we ended up at UPN.
This time around I had a $1.2 million dollar budget and the guys from The X-Files were creating our space ship and aliens. Like in my original, we used little kids to play the aliens. We shot the remake in Vancouver in a week -- the first ever made-for-TV movie shot in 5 days. We did twenty minute takes and floated three weather balloons with lights in them above the house set so I could shoot 360 degrees without seeing a light. I directed the whole movie from a small remote camera monitor in a room in the back of the house. I gave camera directions to the cameraman and the actors followed preset precise blocking movements, like a play. I have to admit it was a blast. We came in $300,000 under budget and left feeling like we had created the most original alien story since Orson Well's version of H.G. Welles' War Of The Worlds. Then the you-know-what hit the fan.
While we were up in Canada making our movie, Paramount replaced all of the big execs at UPN. This sucks especially hard if you're a creator of a show that the new execs didn't green light. It is the ritual of all new execs to piss on the tree they didn't plant. I heard from the head of TV movies guy that the first big exec screening of Alien Abduction (which still had the imaginative title of The McPherson Tapes) was the worst screening of his career. The big boys were actually throwing food at the screen! A decision was reached by Dick Clark productions and UPN to dump Paul and I and bring in someone else to cut the movie down to one-hour and add several new interviews, one of them was poor Stanton Friedman. They ended up having to pay myself and Paul union damages for cutting us out. However, the worst thing they did was to remove the commercial bumper tags which were to read, "The program you are watching is fictional", like the ones used on the CBS movie Special Bulletin. This caused much outrage in the UFO community and even incited a nation wide boycott of UPN.
The last laugh would be enjoyed by myself however. The show aired and became the highest rated show ever for UPN's Tuesday primetime slot. Their website, which normally receives 10,000 hits a day, got 300,000 hits during the hour that the show aired. It was a hit! When they put back more of my abduction footage for the second showing they pulled in more great numbers and ended up with 1.3 million website hits! Another satisfying note is that my two-hour TV movie version was the one that was distributed in Europe. It has amassed quite a following and I still, five years later, get occasional e-mails from places like Denmark, asking about the movie. The original UFO Abduction has gone on to air on a Japanese Unsolved Mysteries type show and won them the best primetime network ratings for the week, even beating out ER.”