Actor Jeff Bridges studied ornithology and the behavior of birds to prepare for his role as an alien in human form for this movie. Bridges, particularly used the sudden jerky head movements, amongst other nuances and mannerisms, of birds for his Starman character. Bridges figured that the alien would not have human characteristics and being encased in a human body, would act with base primitive animal instincts.
This script was being developed at Columbia at the same time as another script about an alien visitation. The studio did not want to make both, so the head of the studio had to choose which film to make; he decided to make this one and let the other script go to a rival studio. The other script was for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). After 'E.T.' became such a huge hit, apparently 'Starman' sat on the shelf for almost three years before the Columbia Pictures studio agreed to release it.
When Jeff Bridges walks outside the house naked and uses a 'marble' his hair seems to stand on end. This effect was actually created by shooting Bridges hanging upside-down and then matting the shot onto the background the right way up to give him a surreal look.
The rendezvous crater location where the Starman was to meet and return to the mother ship is a place situated just outside of Winslow, Arizona. According to the National Geographic, the site is one mile wide, 570 feet deep, and about 49,000 years old.
The film's two leads, Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges, sang a duet in a new rendition of "All I Have to Do Is Dream" which was included on the movie's soundtrack. The song is heard in the film in an abridged acoustic version. The song was also recorded and filmed as a music video which is available on the DVD.
According to John Carpenter in the audio commentary on Big Trouble in Little China (1986), the main reason he directed 'Starman' was due to the box-office disaster of The Thing (1982); he needed to make a movie that was tonally the complete opposite of 'The Thing' to ensure his employability in Hollywood.
In an interview with 'Starlog' magazine, actress Karen Allen said: "The role is a complete study in imagination. I spend the film building and sustaining an emotional state. What happens to Jenny never has and won't happen to me . . . [director John Carpenter] is a really nice guy. The people working with him have a really nice thing going. They've developed this strong support system. He has chosen a good group of people. They stay with him film after film. They can bounce things off of each other in order to get the film made. I had a good time making Starman (1984)".
'Jeff Bridges' was considered for director John Carpenter earlier work in movies like The Thing (1982) and Escape from New York (1981). Bridges was considered to play both R.J. Macready and Snake Plissken respectively, but the parts went to Kurt Russell who Carpenter was good friends with. Bridges became friends with Carpenter after working together on this picture.
Producer Michael Douglas couldn't have been more pleased with the choice of' John Carpenter to direct the film. Douglas said: "John's a great choice for 'Starman'. He's got a great sense of style and deals with action masterfully. I knew he was looking forward to directing a film that's essentially a love story, one that depends exclusively upon handling the relationships between people and their character development". Carpenter was known at the time largely for his great success as a director of horror films such as Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), and Christine (1983), but had the opportunity to flex new muscles with "Starman". Douglas added: "Of course, people haven't seen this side of John, and they will be surprised to see how well he handles a love story, a comedy, a tender touching romance, and [an] adventure".
Actress Karen Allen is seen drinking a can of Coke in her car in this movie. This appeared to be a very deliberate product placement. Columbia Pictures was owned by the Coca-Cola company around the time the movie was made. In 1985, home video cassettes of Ghostbusters (1984) were released with an advertisement for Coke on the tapes.
Director John Carpenter was extremely enthusiastic about the opportunity to show America at its most beautiful. Producer Larry J. Franco commented: "There are an awful lot of films today that focus on the things that are wrong in America. We had an opportunity with 'Starman' to show the good side of America . . . its beauty and the beauty and potential of its people".
Some movie posters for this film featured a long text preamble that read: "He has traveled from a galaxy far beyond our own. He is 100,000 years ahead of us. He has powers we cannot comprehend. And he is about to face the one force in the universe he has yet to conquer. Love."
According to director John Carpenter on the film's original 'Making-of featurette', the production on the road in Tennessee was marred by a lot of very difficult conditions whilst the production went cross country. This was mainly bad weather which included rain and mixtures of both fluctuating hot and cold temperatures.
The film's director John Carpenter wanted to use the United States of America as "our very own back lot" so the cast and crew traveled from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, then Winslow, Meteor Crater and Monument Valley, Arizona, east to Nashville, Chattanooga, and Manchester, Tennessee, upstate New York, and Washington, D.C. The film company then returned to California to complete filming at The Burbank Studios.
In an interview with 'LA Weekly', director John Carpenter once said: "It's all the classic stories of star-crossed lovers, the lovers who can't really make it together but have a bond of love, like in Brief Encounter (1945). It really works on that level, because it touches a little thing inside of us. It was easy for me to tap into that, real easy. It's a departure, because people haven't seen something like this from me before".
Writer Dean Riesner wrote seven uncredited re-writes of the movie's screenplay working with six different directors. Writers Diane Thomas and Edward Zwick also wrote for the film uncredited. According to Riesner, he did not get a screen credit because "the Writers Guild, in their infinite wisdom, decided I didn't contribute 50 percent of the screenplay".
"Starman" was in no way an uncomplicated logistical film. According to co-producer Barry Bernardi, "there are some amazing things about this film, including a dramatic finale with sixteen helicopters airborne over [a] meteor crater, a raging forest fire staged in Tennessee to create the effect of the crashed space ship, and a massive road block in Nevada which required closing an interstate [freeway] for three days to complete the shot".
When the large Sikorsky helicopter (a model never used by the US Army, in spite of its markings) lands at the airfield, that airfield is the Tennessee Army National Guard's Army Aviation Support Facility #1 (AASF #1) at the Smyrna, TN airport. Among the helicopters in the background is an Army UH-1H "Huey" painted both white and olive drab. That particular Huey was outfitted with airline seats and other amenities for use by the Tennessee governor. With a nod toward the tradition of Tennessee moonshine, it was known as "White Lightning." [Source: Personal knowledge as a pilot in the TNARNG when "Starman" was filmed there and flew "White Lightning" numerous times from that airfield.]
The picture was in development for four years at the Columbia Pictures studio before it actually started production. Executive producer Michael Douglas had several projects going simultaneously, one of which was his then recent hit Romancing the Stone (1984). Ultimately, the directorial reigns of "Starman" were assigned to John Carpenter, with Larry J. Franco producing, and Barry Bernardi co-producing, the film began.
Special effects coordinator Roy Arbogast had his hands full on "Starman" as he staged everything from a forest fire and a freeway tanker-truck crash to various otherworldly materializations and happenings. Arbogast had to "rig" Big Bertha, an enormous one-armed bandit pokies machine in Las Vegas' Horseshoe Casino, to get the giant slot machine on cue to pay out a half a million dollars.
The alien visitor character of "Starman" or "The Starman" played by Jeff Bridges has no personal name and is billed in the credits only as such. However, the human form he takes did have an actual name which was Scott Hayden.
When director Tony Scott was attached to the movie, Scott wanted to cast Philip Anglim as the Starman. And in true Scott fashion, he was more interested in style than the film's story and its narrative momentum.
"Starman" is also the name of a song sung by David Bowie but the tune was not used for this movie. The song was first released in April 1972 and was a late inclusion for Bowie's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" album. The song though was not included in the movie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) either. Bowie, like Jeff Bridges in this Starman (1984) movie, has also played an alien visitor to earth, in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), which had been made and released about eight years earlier.
Writer Dean Riesner removed the film's political story elements, what he has called the film's ''heavy political implications'', from the original script at the request of director John Carpenter. Riesner also took out some of the more outrageous story elements such as scene where the Starman makes his metamorphosis into replicant human form by way of genetic cloning.
According to Nathaniel Thompson in an article at the TCMDb website, the picture was developed "around the same time as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) . . . (also originally a Columbia project) but took longer to reach the screen due to extensive talent assignments behind and in front of the camera".
The movie features a clip from the earlier Columbia Pictures studio film From Here to Eternity (1953) which was at the time about thirty years old. The segment shows the famous beach love scene that featured Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster passionately embracing on a beach with the ocean waves tiding in. In the same 1984 year that this movie was released, this film's lead star Jeff Bridges, also starred in another Columbia Pictures film called Against All Odds (1984). That picture's main movie poster has been likened to From Here to Eternity (1953). The Against All Odds (1984) love beach shot on the movie poster also became very famous though it did not feature sea water like the earlier picture.
One interesting aspect of the movie's filming locations in various American states in the USA, and a challenging one at that to say the least, was that the chosen shooting locations were not only used to sometimes "play themselves", but more often than not were also used to "double" other locations that were in other American states, and in some cases, thousands of miles away. These included Nevada for Nebraska; Los Angeles for Wisconsin; Barstow for Arizona; Nevada for Colorado; and Nashville for Wisconsin.
According to a January 1985 edition of the 'Chicago-Tribune' newspaper, science-fiction experts accused the movie of plagiarizing the "final mother-ship encounter from an obscure 1982 release" called Wavelength (1983).
No stranger to the challenge of creating supernatural effects, special effects coordinator Roy Arbogast had at the time most recently given a 1958 Plymouth Fury vehicle human characteristics in "Starman" director John Carpenter's then previous film, the thriller Christine (1983). According to co-producer Barry Bernardi, "the 'Starman' effects were a great undertaking and Roy is equal to the task".
The lighting challenges were immense, but easily accomplished by cinematographer Donald M. Morgan. One of the most inspiring and moving parts of filming "Starman" came for Morgan when he brought together six cinematographers and camera operators, all colleagues, who worked together like a symphony orchestra for the climactic crater sequence, with some of the men in airborne helicopters. Morgan also called on his early experience as an aerial photographer to help coordinate the special needs of that scene.
To help coordinate the complicated location requirements, the production team and unit production manager enlisted the invaluable aid and support of Governor Richard Bryan, Representative Harry Reid, and Film Commissioner Robert Hirsh, all of Nevada, Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, and Jane Word of the Tennessee Film, Tape and Music Commission, and John Horton of the District of Columbia Film Commission.
Second consecutive back-to-back picture released in consecutive back-to-back years directed by John Carpenter made for the Columbia Pictures studio. The previous year prior to Starman (1984) opening in cinemas, Carpenter's Christine (1983) for Columbia had debuted.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In the narrative behind the Starman giving Jenny the last silver sphere to give to their baby and that he will know what to do with it. The silver sphere would tell their son about who his father and where he comes from and that Jenny must give the silver sphere to their son when he is older and when the time is right.