Having decided that the tone of Night Skies was too dark and frightening, Spielberg recalled conversations he’d had with his father. A fan of pulp sci-fi, the elder Spielberg maintained that advanced civilizations should logically possess advanced ideals. The director would later say, “My dad always put it into my head that if there is something out there, it’s good, not bad.” Taking this optimistic viewpoint and meshing it with some of the components of John Sayles’ Night Skies script, Spielberg added the idea of the alien being an ugly duckling, a gentle creature that only a mother could love — and from this, the E.T. we know and love was born.
All this happened in Tunisia, while Spielberg was shooting Raiders of the Lost Ark. He shared his ideas with Melissa Mathison, the girlfriend (and future wife) of Harrison Ford, who was staying with Ford on set. Mathison, as luck would have it, was a screenwriter with a gift for presenting unusual relationships; her first film, The Black Stallion, was well received by critics and audiences. As Mathison began shaping her script, Spielberg became more involved — the sci-fi/horror film he only wanted to produce soon turned into a sci-fi/family film he very much wanted to direct. The two even wrote a role for Ford: Spielberg actually shot footage with Ford playing a school principal who summons Elliott to his office. Sadly, those scenes were not used in the movie.(MORE: Tweets in Space: Contacting E.T., 140 Characters at a Time)