AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Alternate Title: Watch the Skies
Director: Steven Spielberg (Dir)
Release Date:   14 Dec 1977
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 16 Nov 1977; Los Angeles opening: 18 Nov 1977
Production Date:   6 Mar--8 Mar 1975, 29 Dec 1975--Oct 1977
Duration (in mins):   134-135
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Cast: starring Richard Dreyfuss (Roy Neary)  
  with Francois Truffaut (Claude Lacombe) as "Lacombe"
  also starring Teri Garr (Ronnie Neary)  
  also starring Melinda Dillon (Jillian Guiler)  
  and Cary Guffey (Barry Guiler) as
  co-starring Bob Balaban (David Laughlin)  
  co-starring Roberts Blossom (Farmer)  
  co-starring Merrill Connally (Team leader)  
  co-starring George DiCenzo (Major Benchley)  
  co-starring Lance Henriksen (Robert)  
  co-starring Warren Kemmerling ([Maj.] Wild Bill [Walsh])  
  co-starring J. Patrick McNamara (Project leader)  
    Philip Dodds (Jean Claude)  
    Shawn Bishop (Brad Neary)  
    Adrienne Campbell (Silvia Neary)  
    Justin Dreyfuss (Toby Neary)  
    Amy Douglass (Implantee)  
    Alexander Lockwood (Implantee)  
    Gene Dynarski (Ike)  
    Mary Gafrey (Mrs. Harris)  
    Norman Bartold (Ohio Tolls)  
    Josef Sommer (Larry Butler)  
    Rev. Michael J. Dyer (Self)  
    Roger Ernest (Highway patrolman)  
    Carl Weathers (Military police)  
    F. J. O'Neil (ARP project member)  
    Phil Dodds (ARP musician)  
    Randy Hermann (Returnee #1 Flt. 19)  
    Hal Barwood (Returnee #2 Flt. 19)  
    Matthew Robbins (Returnee #3 Flt. 19)  
    David Anderson (Air traffic controller)  
    Richard L. Hawkins (Air traffic controller)  
    Craig Shreeve (Air traffic)  
    Bill Thurman (Air traffic)  
    Roy E. Richards (Air East pilot)  
    Gene Rader (Hawker)  
    Eumenio Blanco (Federale)  
    Daniel Nunez (Federale)  
    Chuy Franco (Federale)  
    Luis Contreras (Federale)  
    James Keane (Radio telescope team)  
    Dennis McMullen (Radio telescope team)  
    Cy Young (Radio telescope team)  
    Tom Howard (Radio telescope team)  
    Richard Stuart (Truck dispatcher)  
    Bob Westmoreland (Load dispatcher)  
    Matt Emery (Support leader)  
    Galen Thompson (Special forces)  
    John Dennis Johnston (Special forces)  
    John Ewing (Dirty tricks #1)  
    Keith Atkinson (Dirty tricks #2)  
    Robert Broyles (Dirty tricks #3)  
    Kirk Raymond (Dirty tricks #4)  
    Howard K. Smith (Self)  
    Dr. J. Allen Hynek (Scientist)  
    Willard Huyck    

Summary: A sandstorm batters the Sonora Desert in Mexico. Two vehicles arrive and discharge Mayflower Project operatives including David Laughlin, who explains that he is not a professional interpreter, but a cartographer. However, Laughlin translates for French scientist Claude Lacombe as project members rush to a mysterious circle of vintage WW II airplanes, which were reported missing in 1945. Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, Indiana, air traffic controllers monitor a strange aircraft in the vicinity of two airliners. There is a near miss, but the pilots don’t want to report an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO). Elsewhere, in Muncie, Indiana, a young boy named Barry Guiler is awakened by the wind. As his toys begin to operate independently, Barry goes downstairs, where he is delighted to find the front door is open and the house bathed in bright light. Barry’s mother, Jillian Guiler, awakens to see Barry running into the woods. Nearby, Roy Neary is at home with his wife, Ronnie, and their three children when the phone rings. Ronnie is told that there is a widespread power outage and Roy is to report to work at a substation. As Jillian looks for Barry in the woods, Roy parks on a country road, lost. Lights appear behind Roy’s truck and levitate as mailboxes shake and the truck loses power; gravity is momentarily reversed, then everything goes quiet. Roy sees a spacecraft flying away and drives after it while Barry runs down a road on Crescendo Summit and encounters a family watching the sky. Jillian finds Barry and grabs her son just as Roy’s truck comes around a bend, narrowly missing them. Three low-flying spacecraft fly past, followed by three police cars. The UFOs fly through a toll collection area, cross into Ohio, and disappear into the distance as electric power is restored across the valley. With his face half-sunburned, Roy heads home to collect his family and drives them back to Crescendo Summit, hoping to share another UFO event with them. The next morning, Roy is fascinated by the mountainous shape of his shaving cream and later receives a phone call terminating his employment. Despite Ronnie’s protests, Roy goes back to Crescendo Summit that night and gathers with fellow UFO witnesses, including Jillian and Barry, whom Roy observes making the same mountain shape in the mud that he saw earlier in his shaving cream. Although the crowd is excited by approaching lights, the aircraft turn out to be helicopters. Across the globe in India, Lacombe and his team record thousands of people chanting a series of musical tones. When asked where the sounds came from, the people point to the sky. Back in the U.S., Lacombe shares his breakthrough with an auditorium audience and demonstrates hand signals that correlate to the musical notes. A satellite dish in Barstow, California, beams the tonal sequence into space and a signal of repeating numbers is received in response. Laughlin, the cartographer-turned-translator, notes that the first set of numbers is a longitude and the team determines that the location is in Wyoming. Meanwhile, in Muncie, Barry plays the same notes on a xylophone while Jillian sketches the mysterious mountain. Taking out the trash, Jillian sees rolling clouds and the bright lights of an approaching spacecraft, then runs inside and barricades the house as it rattles. Despite Jillian’s efforts to grab hold of her son, Barry crawls away through the dog door and disappears. Sometime later at a U.S. Air Force briefing, Major Benchley and the Mayflower Support Leader debunk the sightings; however, a team of people in red jumpsuits and sunglasses are loaded on a bus in an unidentified military warehouse. Reviewing a map of a Wyoming mountain called Devil’s Tower, military personnel, including Major “Wild Bill” Walsh, debate possible cover stories to evacuate the area without prompting suspicion. Back at the Neary home, Roy continues to be haunted by the mountain shape; he sculpts it with mashed potatoes at dinner and later builds a clay model, but remains bewildered. In the morning, Roy knocks the peak off of his clay mountain in defeat and the flat plateau triggers recognition. After uprooting plants and collecting debris from neighbors’ yards, Roy’s obsession frightens Ronnie and she gathers the children to leave for her sister’s home. Constructing a mountain from mud, Roy watches television and notices a breaking news report about a train derailment in Wyoming that supposedly unleashed nerve gas. When the footage depicts a mass evacuation near Devil’s Tower, Roy is elated to recognize the flat-topped mountain of his imagination. Meanwhile, Jillian sees the same report and connects the Devil’s Tower to her own obsessive drawings. Sometime later, Roy drives a rented station wagon to Wyoming, where he rescues Jillian from being evacuated on a train. As Roy speeds away from the military checkpoint, Jillian updates him on the search for Barry. Arriving at a barbwire barricade, Roy and Jillian see Devil’s Tower in the distance and marvel at the mountain that had previously only existed in their minds. Continuing on the road, they observe what appear to be dead livestock; although Roy believes the evacuation is a government hoax, they don gas masks to be safe. Soon, the car is stopped by military vehicles. Roy and Jillian are separated and detained by soldiers dressed in hazardous material suits. Lacombe and Laughlin interrogate Roy, asking if he has had a “close encounter” and showing him photographs of eleven people, including Jillian. At a base camp below Devil’s Tower, Roy and Jillian are reunited on a helicopter with the ten other people who sought out the mountain, but Roy is convinced that the air is not contaminated with nerve gas and takes off his mask to prove that the story is a hoax. Meanwhile, Wild Bill Walsh berates Lacombe for allowing civilians into the restricted area; however, Lacombe defends the UFO witnesses and suggests that there may be thousands more. Back at the helicopter pad, Roy, Jillian, and a comrade named Larry Butler escape and soldiers give chase. Maj. Walsh orders helicopters to spray the sleep aerosol previously used on the area’s livestock to make the animals appear dead. Although the sleeping gas fells Larry, Roy and Jillian get away and discover a well-lit arena with a landing strip on the backside of Devil’s Tower. As scientists make preparations, lights appear in the distance and move toward Roy and Jillian. When four spacecraft fly over the arena, project members play the tones that Lacombe discovered in India and Jillian recognizes the tune from Barry’s xylophone. After repeating the musical sequence in response, the spacecrafts fly away and the scientists break into applause. As more spacecraft swarm overhead, Roy wants to get closer, but Jillian is afraid to continue. After kissing his companion farewell, Roy climbs toward the landing strip. In a moment of silence, an enormous mother ship arrives, casting a dark shadow. While the notes are reciprocated between the scientists and the spaceship, Jillian follows Roy into the arena. As the craft lowers its ramp, radiating a warm glow, figures materialize in the light, including the WW II pilots who went missing in 1945 and Barry, who runs to Jillian. Lacombe and the officials discuss Roy as a potential human representative for the spaceship’s next voyage and Lacombe admits envy. The spaceship’s ramp opens again, revealing a spider-like creature and other humanoid aliens, and an official asks Roy for his full cooperation. Following a church service, the team of astronauts in red jumpsuits walks toward the mother ship with Roy in tow, but two aliens pull Roy out of the line and lead him aboard the craft. When an alien exchanges hand signals with Lacombe, a calm falls over the observers. The mother ship ascends into the sky, with Roy aboard, and disappears into the darkness.

Production Company: Columbia Pictures  
Production Text: a Julia Phillips & Michael Phillips production
a Steven Spielberg film
a Columbia presentation
in association with EMI
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures  
Director: Steven Spielberg (Dir)
  Clark Paylow (Unit prod mgr)
  Chuck Myers (Asst dir)
  Jim Bloom (2d asst dir)
Producer: Julia Phillips (Prod)
  Michael Phillips (Prod)
  Clark Paylow (Assoc prod)
Writer: Steven Spielberg (Wrt)
Photography: Vilmos Zsigmond (Dir of photog)
  William A. Fraker (Dir of photog of addl American scenes)
  Douglas Slocombe (Dir of photog of India seq)
  John Alonzo (Addl dir of photog)
  Laszlo Kovacs (Addl dir of photog)
  "Fast" Eddie Mahler (Video tech)
  Nick McLean (Cam op)
  Steve Poster (2d unit dir of photog)
  Earl Gilbert (Gaffer)
  Pete Sorel (Still photog)
  Jim Coe (Still photog)
  Pete Turner (Still photog)
  Panavision® (Filmed in)
Art Direction: Joe Alves (Prod des)
  Dan Lomino (Art dir)
  George Jensen (Prod illustrator)
Film Editor: Michael Kahn (Film ed)
  Geoffrey Rowland (Asst film ed)
  Charles Bornstein (Asst film ed)
Set Decoration: Phil Abramson (Set dec)
  Bill Parks (Const mgr)
  Sam Gordon (Prop master)
Costumes: Jim Linn (Ward supv)
Music: John Williams [composer] (Mus)
  Kenneth Wannberg (Mus ed)
  John Neal (Mus scoring mixer)
Sound: Frank Warner (Supv sd eff ed)
  Richard Oswald (Sd eff ed staff)
  David Horton (Sd eff ed staff)
  Sam Gemette (Sd eff ed staff)
  Gary S. Gerlich (Sd eff ed staff)
  Chet Slomka (Sd eff ed staff)
  Neil Burrow (Sd eff ed staff)
  Steve Katz (Dolby sound supv)
  Jack Schrader (Supv dial ed)
  Gene Cantamesa (Prod sd mixer)
  Dick Friedman (Dial ed staff)
  Robert A. Reich (Asst dial staff)
  Bill Jackson (Asst dial staff)
  Colin Cantwell (Tech dial)
  Buzz Knudson (Re-rec mixer)
  Don MacDougall (Re-rec mixer)
  Robert Glass (Re-rec mixer)
Special Effects: Douglas Trumbull (Spec photog eff by)
  Steven Spielberg (Visual eff concepts by)
  Carlo Rambaldi (Realization of "extraterrestrial" by)
  Roy Arbogast (Spec mechanical eff)
  Dan Perri (Title des)
  Douglas Trumbull (Spec photog eff supv by)
  Richard Yuricich (Dir of photog-Photog eff)
  Matthew Yuricich (Matte artist)
  Robert Shepherd (Eff unit project mgr)
  Larry Robinson (Spec visual eff coord)
  Dave Stewart (UFO photog)
  Gregory Jein (Chief model maker)
  Robert Swarthe (Anim supv)
  Robert Hall (Opt photog)
  Don Jarel (Matte photog)
  Dennis Muren (Mothership photog)
  Mona Thal Benefiel (Project coord)
  Dave Berry (Cam op)
  Eugene Eyerly (Cam op)
  Maxwell Morgan (Cam op)
  Ron Peterson (Cam op)
  Eldon Rickman (Cam op)
  Robert Hollister (Tech)
  David Hardberger (Asst cam)
  Alan Harding (Asst cam)
  Bruce Nicholson (Asst cam)
  Richard Rippel (Asst cam)
  Scott Squires (Asst cam)
  Marcia Reid (Still photog)
  J. Richard Dow (Model shop coord)
  Jor Van Kline (Model maker)
  Michael McMillen (Model maker)
  Kenneth Swenson (Model maker)
  Robert Worthington (Model maker)
  Don Trumbull B.G. Engineering (Cam and mechanical des)
  John Russell (Cam and mechanical des)
  Fries Engineering (Cam and mechanical des)
  George Polkinghorne (Mechanical spec eff)
  Jerry L. Jeffress (Electronics des)
  Alvah J. Miller (Electronics des)
  Peter Regla (Electronics des)
  Dan Slater (Electronics des)
  Rocco Gioffre (Asst matte artist)
  David Gold (Eff elec)
  Ray Rich (Key grip)
  Charles Hinkle (Laboratory expeditor)
  Harry Moreau (Anim)
  Carol Boardman (Anim staff)
  Eleanor Dahlen (Anim staff)
  Cy Didjurgis (Anim staff)
  Tom Koester (Anim staff)
  Bill Millar (Anim staff)
  Conne Morgan (Anim staff)
  Joyce Goldberg (Prod secy)
  Peggy Rosson (Prod accountant)
  Glenn Erickson (Project asst)
  Hoyt Yeatman (Project asst)
  Joseph Ippolito (Ed asst)
  Bill Bethea (Transportation)
  Don Dow (Laboratory tech)
  Tom Hollister (Laboratory tech)
  Barbara Morrison (Eff negative cutter)
  Peter Anderson (Special consultant)
  Larry Albright (Special consultant)
  Richard Bennett (Special consultant)
  Ken Ebert (Special consultant)
  Paul Huston (Special consultant)
  David M. Jones (Special consultant)
  Kevin Kelly (Special consultant)
  Jim Lutes (Special consultant)
  George Randle (Special consultant)
  Jeff Shapiro (Special consultant)
  Rourke Engineering (Special consultant)
Make Up: Bob Westmoreland (Make-up supv)
  Edie Panda (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Dr. J. Allen Hynek (Tech adv)
  Kendall Cooper (Asst to the prods)
  Judy Bornstein (2d asst to the prods)
  Rick Fields (Asst to Mr. Spielberg)
  Gail Siemers (Prod secy)
  Janet Healy (Prod staff)
  Pat Burns (Prod staff)
  Shari Rhodes (Casting)
  Juliette Taylor (Casting)
  Sally Dennison (Addl casting)
  Seth Winston (A.F.I. intern)
  Charlsie Bryant (Scr supv)
  Al Ebner (Pub)
  Murray Weissman (Pub)
  Pickwick Public Relations (Pub)
  Steve Warner (Loc auditor)
  Joe O'Har (Loc mgr)
  H. L. Edwards (Veterinarian)
Stand In: Buddy Joe Hooker (Stunt coord)
Color Personnel: Robert M. McMillian (Col consultant)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Chances Are," words & music by Al Stillman and Robert Allen, published by International Korwin Corp., from the Columbia Records album Johnny Mathis' All-Time Greatest Hits; "When You Wish Upon a Star," words: Ned Washington/Music: Leigh Harline, © 1940 Bourne Co.; "The Square Song," words & music by Joseph Raposo, published by Jonico Music, Inc., courtesy of Pickwick International, Inc.; "Love Song of the Waterfall," words & music by Bob Nolan, Bernard Barnes and Carl Winge, published by Unichappell Music, Inc./Elvis Presley Music, from the United Artists Records album 'Love Song of the Waterfall,' sung by Slim Whitman.
Composer: Robert Allen
  Bernard Barnes
  Leigh Harline
  Bob Nolan
  Joseph Raposo
  Al Stillman
  Ned Washington
  Carl Winge
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. 16/11/1977 dd/mm/yyyy LP50006

PCA NO: 25062
Physical Properties: Sd: Dolby System Noise Reduction High Fidelity
  col: Metrocolor
  Lenses/Prints: Filmed in Panavision®

Genre: Science fiction
Subjects (Major): Abduction
  Aliens, Extraterrestrial
  Family relationships
  Mothers and sons
  Unidentified flying objects
Subjects (Minor): Air pilots
  Automobile chases
  Dismissal (Employment)
  Electrical apparatus and appliances
  Electrical power failures
  Flight crews, Military
  French language
  Gas masks
  Military intelligence
  Missing persons
  Roadblocks (Police methods)
  Single parents
  United States. Army. Military Police
  World War II

Note: The end credits include a “special thanks” to Johnny Mathis. Also included in the end credits are the following acknowledgements: “The producers wish to thank the following for their valuable help and cooperation… The Governors and People of Alabama and Wyoming; The Government of India; Kodaly Musical Training Institute Inc.” and “Excerpt from ‘THE TEN COMMANDMENTS’ furnished courtesy of Paramount Pictures Corporation, copyright © 1956 be Paramount Pictures Corporation, all rights reserved.”
       According to Joseph McBride’s biography Steven Spielberg, the filmmaker initially titled the project Watch the Skies from a line of dialog in The Thing (1951, see entry), before making a development deal in the fall of 1973 with Columbia Pictures. An early draft of the screenplay by Paul Schrader was titled Kingdom Come. Another draft, by John Hill, was called Meeting of the Minds . The title Close Encounters of the Third Kind came from the writings of astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who created the hierarchy of alien encounters.
       An item in the 5 Feb 1976 HR reported that Watch the Skies was the new title of Spielberg’s script, previously known as Close Encounters of the Third Kind. According to Ray Morton’s book, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic Film, this was in response to a letter from Hynek’s attorney. A settlement resulted in Columbia purchasing the rights to Hynek’s book, The UFO Experience, and Hynek being hired as technical advisor on the film. The 1980 version of Close Encounters, featuring new and reedited footage, was advertised as The Special Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. However, it was often referred to in the media as Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition. The onscreen title was simply Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
       A story in the 22 Apr 1976 HR referred to an upcoming Writers Guild of America (WGA) credit arbitration hearing concerning Spielberg’s original screenplay. According to producer Julia Phillips, Spielberg abandoned two early drafts written by Schrader and Hill, respectively, before moving forward with “a completely different version” of his own. Phillips did not expect Schrader or Hill to contest Spielberg receiving sole credit. While McBride stated that David Giler and Jerry Belson also worked on the script, Morton noted that Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, the writers of Spielberg’s theatrical debut The Sugarland Express (1974, see entry), also contributed; however, none of the writers are credited onscreen. According to Morton, Phil Dodds was a technician who went to the Mobile, AL, set of Close Encounters to install the ARP 2500 synthesizer. Spielberg offered him the role of “Jean-Claude,” the ARP musician in the film. For unknown reasons, Dodds is listed twice in the credits, once billed as Philip Dodds, playing Jean-Claude, and the other as Phil Dodds, “APR musician.”
       McBride contended that the origins of Close Encounters of Third Kind lay in two sources. One, a 1964 feature-length amateur science-fiction film called Firelight, which Spielberg made as a 17-year-old in Phoenix, AZ. He would later reproduce many of the film’s shots for Close Encounters. The second source was a short story called Experiences that the filmmaker wrote in 1970. A 13 Nov 1977 LAT article reported that Spielberg did his own research, interviewing “airline pilots, air traffic controllers, and housewives,” but avoiding what he called “loonies.” A news item in the 29 Mar 1974 HR listed Close Encounters of the Third Kind as part of Columbia Pictures’ upcoming release slate, stating that the film was one of several in “various stages of preparations.” According to a 29 Apr 1974 HR article, Spielberg had committed to directing Close Encounters for producers Michael and Julia Phillips. Spielberg described it as a “political movie with a science fiction background.” A 23 Jun 1975 DV column reported that Close Encounters would be filmed in Hollywood, CA, and set in OH, TX, and Brazil. The 12 Aug 1975 HR and other sources confirmed that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would be Spielberg’s follow-up to Jaws (1975, see entry), with shooting to begin in late fall 1975. According to a news item in the 12 Sep 1975 DV, Spielberg requested and received permission from Universal Pictures to use editor Verna Fields, who had been promoted to an executive position at the studio. However, Fields left the production in May 1976.
       The 14 Nov 1975 HR announced that Columbia had greenlighted Close Encounters of the Third Kind with “an open-end budget upwards of $7 million.” Filming was scheduled to start 15 Mar 1976, on location in WY and OR, with interiors to be shot at the Burbank Studios in CA. There was “no casting to date.” A 17 May 1976 LAT news item reported that the formal announcement of French director Francois Truffaut’s casting had been delayed because of “a contract hitch,” but the 1 Jun 1976 HR confirmed Truffaut’s role. Both publications stated that it was the first time Truffaut had acted in another director’s film. A news item in 25 May 1976 DV announced the hiring of Michael Kahn as editor. Kahn, replacing Fields, would go on to become Spielberg’s regular editor. News items in the 2 Jun 1976 DV and HR announced the casting of Melinda Dillon as “one of the two female leads,” only days before the shooting of her scenes was set to begin. Morton wrote that Dillon had been recommended to Spielberg by her Bound for Glory (1976, see entry) director, Hal Ashby. The 3 Aug 1976 DV and 5 Aug 1976 HR reported that newsman Howard K. Smith would play himself in the film and his part would be filmed in Washington, D.C., where Smith was based with the ABC television network. The 6 Aug 1976 DV and HR reported that Richard Dreyfuss’ nephew, Justin Dreyfuss, was cast as the actor’s son in the film. A 14 Mar 1977 LAT article reported that during production, Spielberg “relied heavily” on Hynek, the Northwestern University astronomy professor who served as technical advisor, and was “considered by some as the father of UFO studies.” According to Morton, Hynek appears uncredited in the film’s final scene as a scientist who moves forward to get a better look at the aliens. Spielberg also used several screenwriter friends in small roles according to a 7 Dec 1977 LAT news item. Barwood and Robbins are featured as two of the missing World War II pilots who reappear at the end of the film. Willard Huyck, best known for co-writing American Graffiti (1973, see entry) with his wife Gloria Katz and George Lucas, plays a man with a clipboard at the government base camp in another uncredited role. A 27 Aug 1998 HR article on the Collector’s Edition laserdisc, citing an included interview with Spielberg, reported that Steve McQueen was the first choice to play “Roy Neary,” but turned it down because he didn’t think he could cry on cue. The part was also reportedly offered to Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Jack Nicholson, before going to Richard Dreyfuss. Morton reports that Dreyfuss and Spielberg spent countless hours discussing the film while making Jaws, but the filmmaker had thought the actor too young for the role, which had been written for a 45-year-old.
       The budget for Close Encounters of the Third Kind was an ongoing story throughout production due to its size and the risk involved for Columbia Pictures. According to numerous contemporary sources, the future of the studio was widely viewed as riding on the success or failure of the film. A 19 Nov 1975 LAT news item listed the budget for Close Encounters at $9 million. Foreshadowing the secrecy that would surround the production, Spielberg said, “It is not a science fiction film, not a UFO film, not anything I can talk about in a few lines, except maybe to say it is about extraordinary phenomenon in our own backyards. That sounds good.”
       A 31 Dec 1975 HR news item stated that Close Encounters of the Third Kind began principal photography at Burbank Studios, but an article in 31 Dec 1975 DV reported that Close Encounters “unexpectedly began shooting Monday night [29 Dec 1975] in Palmdale.” The film, originally slated to begin shooting on 6 Mar 1975, went into hiatus after a second night of shooting. DV speculated that the odd start date was due to meeting an end-of-the-year tax shelter deadline. The 22 Apr 1976 HR stated that the film’s budget had escalated “from $2.8 million at concept to the current figure of $11.5 million.” Producer Julia Phillips cited “the IA [IATSE – International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Motion Picture Machine Operators of North America] raises … increasing cost of actors … enlargement of the scope of the picture. Some has to do with the kind of special effects we’re trying to achieve.” A 2 Aug 1976 HR article reported that several months into production, Close Encounters was a week behind schedule and the budget had increased from an “original estimate of $10 million” to upwards of $12 million. Both the production delay and the cost overruns were being blamed on special effects, which reportedly accounted for half of the film’s budget. Production in Mobile, AL, cloaked in secrecy and security, expected to be completed in five to six weeks, followed by more special effects and post-production work in Hollywood. A portion of the cast and crew, notably Truffaut, were scheduled to go to India for crowd shots. According to 14 Mar 1977 LAT, the India sequences were shot in the village Hal, near Bombay, and 3,000 extras were hired.
       As reported in the 5 Sep 1976 LAT, the producers spent $1 million to turn several hangars in Mobile, AL, into enormous soundstages to re-create a mountain and canyon that actually exist near Muncie, IN. The complex would also house the large alien mother ship and the interior of a suburban tract house. According to the 13 Nov 1977 LAT, Spielberg said “the [main] set took a week to design, four months to build, and another four weeks just to tear down.” Difficulties of another kind arose when a 26 Sep 1976 NYT article quoted Truffaut praising Spielberg, but blaming producer Julia Phillips for the delays and rising budget: “She is incompetent. Unprofessional,” the paper quoted Truffaut. The article triggered a letter from Spielberg that ran in the 24 Oct 1976 NYT, in which he defended Phillips and wrote that it was difficult to believe that Truffaut had actually made the statements. An 8 Nov 1976 DV column referred to Truffaut’s remarks and stated Spielberg’s confidence in meeting the planned Easter 1977 release.
       An article in 9 Dec 1976 DV quoted Columbia Pictures’ president David Begelman as saying, “ Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the most important film ever financed and distributed by Columbia.” He also acknowledged that the film was approximately 17% over budget at $14 million and behind schedule.
       Although the 14 Mar 1977 LAT reported that one last sequence was scheduled to shoot in Brazil in Apr 1977, a 12 May 1977 DV news item stated that the film’s crew was heading back on location, filming in Palm Desert, CA, rather than an originally planned “distant jungle site.” The 8 Jun 1977 issue of Var placed the film’s budget at more than $17 million. Most reviews cited a budget between $18 million and $22 million.
       A Sep 1977 Millimeter article reported that special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull took over a 13,500 square-foot building and converted it into a complete studio for filming, developing, optical printing, and editing. The piece describes the extensive use of miniatures rather than rear projection for shots that might diminish the “realism and veracity of the effect.” The most difficult of these were for the alien mother ship. The initial concept, to use an inverted pyramid, was “awkward and scrapped quickly.” The second concept, “a gigantic globular craft, city-sized and with city-like lights” was “highly impressive” when filmed. However, the film effects crew, most of whom had worked on Star Wars (1977, see entry), soon recognized that it was too similar to that film’s Death Star, and it was abandoned. The final concept used in the film was a literal flying saucer evocative of 1950s films such as Forbidden Planet (1956, see entry). Trumbull told the 21 Nov 1977 Newsweek that “putting a UFO onscreen is like photographing God. So the general look we went for was one of motion, velocity, luminosity and brilliance. We used very sophisticated fiber optics and light-scanning techniques to modulate, control and color light on film to create the appearance of a shape when in fact no shape existed.” Trumbull and his crew also built “miniature, solid UFOs. Powered by electronic motors that produced up to twelve simultaneous motions, they moved on horizontal and vertical tracks in a blacked-out room filled with smoke.” The dark skies, with rolling clouds caused by the flight of the UFOs over IN, were produced by injecting pigments into a large water tank. In a 5 Dec 1977 LAT interview, Trumbull said that he and Spielberg agreed that they “didn’t want hard edges” and “decided to work with light, suggesting rather than showing shapes.” Combining as many as eight superimposed exposures created the illusion of the alien spacecraft. The filmmakers started with clear plastic shapes illuminated by neon and then added smoke screens, optic-fiber lens flares and computerized synchronization. To add drama to the mother ship, originally conceived as an enormous black craft, Trumbull designed a brighter, multicolored version. Spielberg had originally shot the craft as a large black shadow passing over the landing area. In order to keep that shot, Trumbull “suggested that the ship makes its entrance without benefit of illumination, throwing the light switches only when it reached port.” The article also informed sharp-eyed audiences to watch for visual jokes planted on the exterior of the mother ship, where a miniature R2D2, a toy shark, a model of Darth Vader’s escape vehicle, a World War II fighter, and a tiny Volkswagen bus could allegedly be glimpsed. In a 2 Apr 1978 LAT article, Spielberg said he got his visual inspiration for the mother ship, “often described as a clean, well-lighted oil refinery,” from two sources. The filmmaker got the idea for the top half while passing an actual refinery on location in India. The other part came “when I was out driving along Mulholland Drive. I stopped, got out, stood on my head and looked out over the San Fernando Valley. So what we have is an Indian oil refinery on top and the San Fernando Valley, upside down, on the bottom.”
       Describing the “realization” of the aliens in a 7 Nov 1977 Time article, designer Carlo Rambaldi said noted that the creatures were “perhaps 100,000 years ahead of us in the process of evolution. They don’t use their arms anymore except to push buttons, but they do use their minds much more than we do. So the arms are small, but the head is very large. In their own world they probably communicate with fellow creatures by mental telepathy, so ears are very tiny. They don’t need larger ears to gather and focus sound waves the way we do.” It took Rambaldi three months to build the main alien, nicknamed “Puck” by the crew, who communicates with “Lacombe” in the film’s climax. Unlike the other aliens, who were machine-powered or moved by dwarfs, Puck was animated through a series of mechanical and hydraulic devices. Artificial tendons gave his face movement and an operator forty-five feet away moved Puck using levers. Rambaldi stated that “it doesn’t have a wide range of expressions because very great advances in civilization would gradually bring people to lose much of their emotional nature.”
       According to Spielberg in a 12 Nov 1977 LAT article, the opening scenes set in Mexico and shot by William A. Fraker were an “afterthought to the main action” filmed by director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond. McBride noted that Julia Phillips felt Zsigmond had “sandbagged” the film with excessive attention to the lighting and would not allow Spielberg to hire him for reshoots. She further tried to diminish his contribution by giving additional director of photography credits to Fraker, Douglas Slocombe, John Alonzo, and Laszlo Kovacs.
       The 13 Nov 1977 LAT reported that just days before previewing the film in Dallas, TX, Spielberg was still shooting film. A profile in the 26 Jan 1978 Rolling Stone described the influence of Spielberg’s middle-class, suburban upbringing on his aesthetic choices, and how he had to convince some of the actors that the lifestyle was not part of science-fiction. He reportedly gave Teri Garr, who played housewife “Ronnie Neary,” a copy of Bill Owens’ book of photos, Suburbia, and said “Pick your wardrobe.” In the same Rolling Stone article, Spielberg stated that preview audiences told him that they didn’t like the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio (1940, see entry) at the end of the film, but it was actually the inspiration for Close Encounters. “The whole movie began with that song. I made this movie because of the Disney song. That came first, that and the idea of a UFO movie.” Asked if he was inspired by an image from Pinocchio , the director responded, “No. Just the song, the lyrics and the feeling the song gave me when I was a kid listening to it. The song meant stars, magic.” A 9 Nov 1977 LAT news item reported that following preview screenings, Columbia persuaded Spielberg to take out “When You Wish Upon a Star.” However, Spielberg considering putting it back in after receiving favorable early reviews. The melody is heard on a music box in two scenes in the Neary home and then referenced musically in John Williams’ score in the final scene.
       The 26 Jan 1978 Rolling Stone article claimed that the movie’s sound set a “new standard.” Spielberg, “like a magician not sure whether he should reveal a trick,” reluctantly explained the “nerve-jarring tones” heard during the early scenes of the UFO messenger flying overhead were created by using 20 female a capella voices. “I could’ve put anything in there,” said the filmmaker. “But I didn’t want jet sounds. I wanted something that could be interpreted as silence. The sound of silence.” In an 8 Feb 1978 LAHExam news item, Spielberg revealed another secret. To get the look of awe on the face of Cary Guffey, the young boy who played “Barry Guiler,” Spielberg “had a crew member dress up in a bear costume and jump up and down just out of camera range.”
       A 7 Sep 1977 LAT new item reported that Columbia was planning to fly journalists from all over the country to Los Angeles for a 24 Oct 1977 press junket in advance of the planned 14 Dec 1977 opening. The 10 Oct 1977 LAT and 11 Oct 1977 DV reported that the press junket was delayed until November because the film was not ready. DV reported that screenings would take place 6 Nov 1977 in New York and 10 Nov 1977 in Los Angeles. According to a 2 Nov 1977 HR news item, Columbia Pictures objected to an article it termed as “inaccurate, biased and reached the wrong conclusions.” The article was written by contributing editor William Flanagan for the 7 Nov 1977 issue of New York after he attended, uninvited, a preview screening in Dallas. Flanagan wrote that he did not like the film, but the audience apparently did. The HR item stated that the article appeared to negatively impact Columbia’s stock price. The studio did not object to a favorable article by Frank Rich that appeared in the 7 Nov 1977 issue of Time. Rich also attended the Dallas preview, but it was not clear whether Columbia had given him access. A 5 Nov 1977 LAT article placed the Dallas previews on 19 and 20 Oct 1977 and quoted Flanagan as saying he thought Close Encounters would be a “colossal flop.” Flanagan also postulated that his pan sent Columbia’s stock into a “momentary tailspin” after Wall Street had banked that it would “follow the same trajectory traveled by 20th Century-Fox after the success of Star Wars (1977, see entry).” In a 9 Nov 1977 Var news item, Spielberg said he was “set back” by the premature reviews from New York and Time. “The sneaks were for changes, not for review,” said the director. After the previews, Spielberg trimmed seven-and-a-half minutes and other material was added for the release. A 13 Nov 1977 Var article reported a third breach of Columbia’s consumer press review date. The 11 Nov 1977 NYP ran a review by critic Judith Crist under the heading “Judith Crist Previews” giving Close Encounters “middling to low marks.”
       The 2 Aug 1976 HR reported that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was scheduled for an Easter 1977 release with exclusive engagements in Los Angeles and New York City, followed by a national release in the summer. A 9 Dec 1976 DV article on Columbia’s upcoming schedule positioned Close Encounters of the Third Kind as the studio’s Christmas 1977 release. A 12 May 1977 DV news item reported that the film was scheduled for 30 Oct 1977 openings at New York’s Ziegfield Theatre and the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. According to a 13 Jul 1977 DV article, Columbia expected $24 million in advance guarantees prior to Close Encounters 14 Dec 1977 national release. With projected cost between $20 million and $22 million, and a $5-6 million advertising and promotional campaign, the film was still not assured of financial success. The story set the film’s opening for 1 Nov 1977 in New York City and 3 Nov 1977 in Hollywood. The 11 Oct 1977 DV reported the film’s premieres would be 16 Nov 1977 in New York City and 18 Nov 1977 in Los Angeles, with a 14 Dec 1977 national release. The 28 Dec 1977 HR reported that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was chosen for the Royal Film Performance to be held 13 March 1978 at London’s Odeon, Leicester Square. Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh would attend the benefit for the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund.
       According to 11 Jan 1978 Var, editor Rudi Fehr would supervise the film’s dubbing for European release. An 8 Feb 1978 HR news item announced that Close Encounters of the Third Kind had been selected as the closing night film of the Berlin Film Festival on 5 March 1978 at the Zoo Palast Theatre and was to open a regular engagement at that theater the following day. The film was scheduled to open throughout Germany on 24 Mar 1978. The 18 Feb 1978 HR reported that the film would open 24 Feb 1978 in Stockholm and Paris, 25 Feb 1978 in Japan, and by the end of Mar 1978 would be playing in the United Kingdom, every country in continental Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The film would open in Latin America, Africa, and the remaining Far East markets in July. A 28 Feb 1978 HR reported that 24 U.S. government agencies had requested special screenings.
       Reviews for the film were mostly favorable with 4 Nov 1977 DV calling Close Encounters “a daring film concept … superbly realized.” The 4 Nov 1977 HR labeled it “a terrific movie, with every possibility of equaling the box office popularity of Star Wars (1977, see entry).” The 5 Dec 1977 New West review reflected the mixed feelings of some critics, acknowledging that the film was “entertaining and engrossing, but when it tries for cosmic reverberations, it seems dopey rather than exalting.” Questioning the raves, the 5 Dec 1977 New York review flatly stated, “the alien is wearing no clothes.”
       When the film finally opened mid-Nov 1977, it set numerous house records at both the Ziegfield Theatre in New York and the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, according to various HR news items. The box-office success continued when it opened wide on 14 Dec 1977, grossing between $1.3 and $1.4 million its first day, as reported in a 16 Dec 1977 HR article. News items in trade publications throughout 1978 reported that the film was also an international hit, breaking records in Paris, Tokyo, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Zurich, Geneva, Hong Kong, San Juan, PR, Caracas, and Buenos Aires. A 14 Apr 1978 HR news item noted that ^Close Encounters of the Third Kind passed the $100 million mark domestically on 11 Apr 1978 in its 17th week of national release. According to an 8 May 1981 LAT article, Close Encounters was to-date Columbia Pictures’ all-time highest domestic grossing film at more than $116 million.
       Close Encounters received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Actress In a Supporting Role (Melinda Dillon); Best Art Direction (Art Direction: Joe Alves, Dan Lomino; Set Decoration: Phil Abramson), Best Cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond); Best Directing (Steven Spielberg); Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn); Best Music (Original Score, John Williams); Best Sound (Robert [“Buzz”] Knudson, Robert Glass, Don MacDougall, Gene Cantamessa); and Best Visual Effects (Roy Arbogast, Douglas Trumbull, Matthew Yuricich, Gregory Jein, Richard Yuricich). It won one Academy Award for Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and received a Special Achievement Award for Frank Warner’s Sound Effects Editing. The film ranked 64th on AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies list in 1998, but fell off the list for its 10th anniversary in 2007. Close Encounters was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2007.
       A 28 Aug 1978 DV column reported that a new version of Close Encounters would be released in 1200 theaters in May 1979. Spielberg said that in addition to revisions, “I will shoot some new scenes – from the original script. They were scenes I couldn’t afford to shoot – I was unable to convince Columbia to okay them – because of budgetary reasons.” Spielberg planned to shoot the new sequences on weekends, while working on 1941 (1979, see entry). According to a 6 Dec 1978 NYT article, Spielberg asked for and received $1 million from Columbia to shoot new scenes that would be mostly “special effects that document the meetings between the earthlings and benign aliens that occur in the film.” The shooting was scheduled for Jan 1979. Spielberg also planned to make fifteen minutes worth of cuts.
       A 24 Oct 1979 DV article reported that Columbia planned to “retire” the original version of Close Encounters when it released the new version 1 Aug 1980. This was apparently news to Spielberg, who hoped both versions would continue to be shown. The director said that there would be seven minutes of new footage, with five minutes of old footage cut. “Another special effects-laden sequence” would be shot in Feb 1980 in White Sands, NM. A 21 Jan 1980 New York news item stated that Columbia “bought out two preview performances” at the Public Theatre of a new play, Marie and Bruce , starring Bob Balaban, so that the actor “would agree to shoot additional footage for Close Encounters. ” The 5 Mar 1980 LAT reported that Columbia Pictures had pulled all prints of the original version out of release until the new version appeared. A 1 Aug 1980 LAHExam article cited a report placing the cost of the new version at $2 million, with the scene set inside the mother ship alone costing $250,000. The 1 Aug 1980 DV reported that The Special Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind opened with a running time of 132 minutes, three minutes shorter than the original. Approximately sixteen minutes of old footage was eliminated, with seven minutes of previously discarded footage restored and about six minutes of newly photographed scenes added, according to producer Michael Phillips. Trimmed were scenes of “Roy Neary” at the power station where he worked, Neary and his son playing with a model train, and a sequence in which Neary gathers materials from his and his neighbors’ yards and throws them through the kitchen window. Other cuts were less noticeable and more in line with Phillips’ characterization that Spielberg “cut it more as an action movie.” Visible additions included the “discovery of a freighter ship in the middle of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert,” as well as “a large shadow passing over a landscape and a UFO lighting up a McDonald’s sign,” in addition to the previously reported interior shots of the mother ship at the end of the film. Director of photography for the additional material was Alan Daviau ( DV, as well as 1 Aug 1980 LAT review, misspelled his name as Davian). Robert Swarthe was supervisor for visual effects and Michael Kahn again served as editor. Sound editing was done by Blue Light Sound with Bob Rutledge serving as supervising sound editor, Robert S. Birchard and Scott Hecker as sound editors, and Craig Jaeger assistant sound editor. The DV appraisal cautioned that audiences might feel misled by the new version’s advertising campaign. That view seemed prescient a week later when the 8 Aug 1980 LAHExam reported that a Los Angeles woman filed a class-action civil law suit against Columbia Pictures for what she called fraudulent advertising of the special edition that led her to expect a more substantially updated version of the film.
       Critics were divided whether the changes had improved the film or not. The 1 Aug 1980 HR review of Special Edition claimed that Spielberg had “taken his 1977 flawed masterpiece” and transformed it into “an authentic masterpiece.” The 18 Aug 1980 Time review felt the new version was “different – and the same.” The 6 Sep 1980 New Republic review said: “It’s a mistake. The second encounter isn’t as good as the first.”
       Nearly twenty years later, a third version of the film was released. A 14 May 1998 LAT article described the home video release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Collector’s Edition as “a combination of the [earlier] two versions,” and restoring the original ending.
       A 21 Nov 1977 Box article reports that Spielberg told more than 130 journalists at a Los Angeles press junket that he had written a sequel, but gave no details. According to a 1 Aug 1980 LAHExam news item, producer Michael Phillips “did not rule out the possibility of a sequel sometime in the future.”

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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