Speaking to EW, Steven Spielberg reflected on his relationship with screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who died last month, and whose friendship with Spielberg began when she wrote E.T. the Extra-Terrestial. Spielberg recounts how he met her on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where she was visiting her future husband Harrison Ford (the couple divorced in 2001). He discovered Mathison wrote one of his favorite films, Black Beauty, but she considered herself a “failed screenwriter” and was retired. Spielberg then appealed to Ford to help him bring Mathison onboard E.T. with him:
I told him I had offered her a chance to write a movie with me and she turned it down. Harrison said, ‘Sounds like Melissa …’ I asked, ‘Can you help me?’ He said, ‘Let me talk to her tonight.’ And so the next day Harrison came into work, and the first thing he said was, ‘I think she’s had a change of heart.’ When I sat down to talk to her about the script again a few days later, she said, ‘I wasn’t really listening to anything you were saying to me before, so why don’t you start over again?’ [Laughs.] She started to brainstorm with me and added all kinds of new ideas to the mix. And that’s when I knew that I had a partner. Melissa was back in the writing game.
Spielberg developed E.T. with Mathison when she would visit him in the editing room for Raiders. When the script was finished, Spielberg said, “I could shoot this movie tomorrow” and that “of all the movies [he’s] ever made, E.T. went through the least amount of revision.” Thirty years later, Mathison and Spielberg teamed up for the Roald Dahl adaptation BFG and he described the process as “the same darn thing.” During the making of BFG Mathison became ill. In November, she succumbed to neuroendocrine cancer.
Melissa was like a kid when she was making these little breakthroughs. Like how to tell a story, or how to find the right line of dialogue. Or how to find sea shells in a desert.