John Carpenter played an indirect role in the project’s early formation.
All filmmakers have to start somewhere; for Dan O’Bannon, that “somewhere” was the University of Southern California, where he enrolled in 1970 to learn the ins and outs of moviemaking. And it didn’t take long for O’Bannon to make a very close, personal friend who shared his love for genre flicks: John Carpenter, who, of course, would go on to direct the classics Halloween (1978), Escape from New York (1981), and The Thing (1982).
Carpenter, working on a science-fiction-themed student film called Dark Star (released theatrically in 1974), asked O’Bannon to play the project’s protagonist, a kooky astronaut whose ship gets invaded by an alien. Made on the extremely cheap, Dark Star nonetheless showcased Carpenter’s talents to the masses once it screened for people outside of the USC campus, but what outsiders didn’t realize was that O’Bannon, on top of acting, helped to write and edit the film, as well as design the sets and conceive the visual effects.
And, as both Alien Vault and Shock Value tell it, Carpenter wanted to keep it that way. The Dark Star overseer refused to share directing credit with O’Bannon, thus creating a rift in their friendship and an end to their behind-the-camera alliance. The anger and bitterness caused by his Carpenter drama led O’Bannon to start writing his own sci-fi script.