6 things we learned from the creators of Cowboys & Aliens

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

Cowboys & Aliens sounds pretty obvious, right? There are cowboys and there are aliens. In the graphic novel, cowboys and Apaches join forces to fight off an alien invasion. The movie will be something like that.

Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Iron Man) wrote the first script that attracted Robert Downey Jr. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were producing, and they worked on a rewrite with Damon Lindelof. Downey eventually left the film, and now Jon Favreau is directing Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde and Adam Beach.

Orci and Kurtzman took one night off from shooting the film to attend the Saturn Awards on June 24. They won the George Pal Memorial Award for their body of sci-fi work, and they also got to watch some of their Fringe actors and Star Trek makeup artists win Saturns. (Trek lost Best Science Fiction Film to Avatar, grrr.) Anyway, while Orci and Kurtzman celebrated, they shared six things with us about their upcoming film.

Not much has changed since Robert Downey Jr. left

Cowboys & Aliens was originally going to star Downey, but he had to back out to make Sherlock Holmes 2. Orci and Kurtzman continued developing the script with Daniel Craig, but it's basically the same story.

"It's not that it changed dramatically," Kurtzman said. "It's just that it became more specific. We had been talking broadly with Downey beforehand."

Orci added, "The story and the structure are the same, but the voice changes. Once you get an actor, you tailor it to their strengths and what makes sense for them."

Harrison Ford gets to play another Indy type

Somewhere around the '90s, Harrison Ford stopped playing fun-loving action heroes. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull wasn't even the same Indy we loved in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Orci and Kurtzman have written Ford a character that actually lets him be fun again.

"It's a strong, energetic role," Orci said. "He's definitely a crazy presence, using the things we love him for but also seeing him in a new way."

Kurtzman specifically said they had the original Indy in mind. "It's a throwback to certainly a lot of what we loved about Raiders," Kurtzman said.

There's still room for more aliens

The script is done and they've started shooting, but there's always room for more aliens. Since a lot of the creatures will be added later with visual effects, the writers and producers can always tell the effects artists to add more.

"That is the one thing that might still be up for grabs, because some of it is an effects movie," Orci said.

Kurtzman said they're still dreaming up different aliens, inspired by their own favorites. "We drew inspiration from the alien movies that we loved as kids," Kurtzman said. "Everything ranging from Predator to Alien and what about those movies was so special, the unique challenge those aliens posed to humans."

Where the Indians fit in

This is the Old West, before they had politically correct phrases like "Native American." Adam Beach is playing a traditional western Indian.

"Adam plays someone who's kind of in both worlds," Orci said. "He is someone who's born Apache but has actually become a cowboy. So he helps to be one of the bridges between what you call your traditional cowboys in our movie and what turns out to be the Apache nation."

It's not really like the comic books at all

Let's face it, Cowboys & Aliens didn't have the kind of circulation of Batman or Spider-Man. The writers could change the specifics and most people wouldn't know. As long as there are cowboys and aliens in it.

"I think that even fans of the comic book acknowledge that it is a template," Kurtzman said. "The brilliance of the comic is that it really sets up a world and a theme, and you really have to make a jump when you're making [a movie]. It's very different. So hopefully fans of the comic will see the spirit of the comic embodied in the movie, but it really is its own thing."

As in real westerns, they don't talk much

For all this talk about the script, the biggest thing is to keep the talking to a minimum. Cowboys like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood didn't explain themselves. Kurtzman says Daniel Craig is playing that kind of western hero.

"The thing that's so wonderful about Daniel is that he says an enormous amount just with his expressions, with his face," Kurtzman said. "That's his incredible strength as an actor. I think the western is typically a genre that is very sparse in dialogue in general."