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Story Notes for Contact

Weeknights during prime time on AMC, you can catch Story Notes — real time trivia and facts about your favorite movies! Below is the online version of the Story Notes for Contact.

Award Notes
Jodie Foster was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Contact.

Contact was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound.

Director Robert Zemeckis got his first Oscar nomination for another scifi classic. In 1985, he was nominated for Best Screenplay for Back to the Future.

Biography Notes
Jodie Foster graduated magna cum laude from Yale in 1985.

James Woods later played public prosecutor James Stark on Shark from 2006 to 2008.

Director Robert Zemeckis has been at the forefront of computer animation throughout his career. His 2004 movie The Polar Express was the first all-digital performance capture movie ever made.

Carl Sagan passed away before Contact was finished. The week before the movie came out, NASA renamed the Mars Pathfinder lander the Carl Sagan Memorial Station.

Contact is Zemeckis’ follow-up to his Oscar-winning Forrest Gump (1994).

In Carl Sagan’s 1960 dissertation, he proposed that Venus couldn’t sustain life due to its surface heat. He was correct, of course, and many credit this theory with launching his career.

Casting Notes
John Hurt (Hadden) knows a little something about alien contact. In Alien (1979), his character had one burst through his chest.

Producer Steve Starkey says James Woods was the only actor they ever had in mind for Kitz.

Rob Lowe’s character is based on Ralph Reed, head of the Christian Coalition in the ’90s. Lowe’s liberal politics were well-known at the time and it was considered inspired casting.

Russell’s kids are played by Alex Zemeckis, director Robert Zemeckis’ son, and Jane Peterson, his niece. Major Russell is actor Steven Ford, son of former President Gerald Ford.

Tucker Smallwood (mission director) is perfectly cast for a movie about science vs. religion. He has played both an alien (Star Trek: Enterprise) and God (The Sarah Silverman Show).

This was Jodie Foster’s first movie since Nell (1994), for which she received an Oscar nomination.

David Morse is Ellie’s dad. He’s best known for the TV shows St. Elsewhere and Hack.

Matthew McConaughey was suggested for this part after A Time to Kill (1996) made him a star. After a screen test of this scene, producer Steve Starkey says, “We never thought of another actor.”

Tom Skerritt had just taken a 5-year break from movies to star on Picket Fences.

Geoffrey Blake (Fisher) has been in other Zemeckis movies, including Forrest Gump and Castaway.

Angela Bassett had just won a Saturn Award for Best Actress for the 1995 scifi movie, Strange Days.

History Notes
In 1623, Galileo observed that the entire universe “is written in the language of mathematics.”

Ellie’s nickname (Sparks) is from radio’s early days, when Spark Gap wireless transmitters were used.

In 1993, Congressional funding for NASA’s SETI program was cancelled. It’s now privately funded.

The first SETI search was Frank Drake’s Project Ozma in 1960.

In Greek mythology, Cassiopeia bragged that she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. Her punishment was to be placed in the stars, upside-down.

Location Notes
The Kennedy Space Center has been in operation on Florida’s Cape Canaveral since July 1, 1962.

Plot Notes
Ellie’s arm patch said “IMC.” That stands for “International Machine Consortium.”

Pop Culture Notes
“Encyclopedia Galactica” was a term Carl Sagan coined; it’s the title of an episode of Cosmos (1980).

Press Notes
Entertainment Weekly describes Palmer Joss as a “Billy Graham-meets-Bruce Springsteen pop priest.”

Quote Notes
Director Robert Zemeckis: “I always had this idea in a film… of images being put on monitors….of telling the audience the story through the use of the media.”

Carl Sagan: “This search for extraterrestrial intelligence is a search for a cosmic context, a search for who we are, where we have come from, and what possibilities there are for our future.”

Carl Sagan on making alien contact: “I think it would be fantastic, not just a major scientific discovery, but a transforming experience in human history.”

Producer Steve Starkey: “There wasn’t anybody on the set who didn’t say ‘O.K. to go’ at least once in their day.”

Foster looks at “O.K. to go” as Ellie’s way of saying she’s accepted she may not survive.

This was the first time Jodie Foster had ever worked with blue screen technology. Foster: “It was a blue room… blue walls, blue roof. It was just blue, blue, blue… it was really tough.”

Director Robert Zemeckis says he always thought of Ellie and Palmer as a classic film romance. Two people who were physically attracted to one another but separated by their ideology.”

Contact author Carl Sagan: “Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

Carl Sagan: “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”

Director Zemeckis: “She doesn’t do the typical science fiction movie female heroine situation. She knows she could possibly die and that’s what she plays in this walk.”

Foster says if she were given the opportunity to go to space — but not come back — she would pass.”I’m perfectly happy to be ignorant. Let the mysteries of the universe be clear to someone else.”

Zemeckis: “Look at what they did to Galileo. It took a [while] for these concepts of science to be accepted. And they can be compatible with spiritualism, in my belief.”

Robert Zemeckis says the human race “has always pondered its place in the universe. And, to me, the idea of not knowing everything, being okay, is what the movie is about.”

Director Zemeckis: “Ideologies become ideals.We have to live our life as humans connected to other humans because we won’t ever know everything.”

Director Robert Zemeckis: “Our intention was to have people debate what really happened.”

Director Robert Zemeckis: “The universe in the glint of an eye is a theme that runs throughout the film.”

Matthew McConaughey: “It was the first script I’ve ever read that made me say, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ I kept running upstairs to my attic to get my old college papers on technology and society.”

Random Notes
Bryant Gumbel hosted TODAY from 1982 to 1997.

Contact came out in 1997, the 50th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. Conspiracy theories suggest that an alien ship crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 during a storm.

Set Notes
The film put out a call for “UFO enthusiasts.” Most of these extras brought their own wardrobe and props.

Foster was recorded ahead of time, so the actors in the control room had to time their lines to fit.

To get the zero G effect, the set and camera are upside-down. John Hurt is actually right side up.

Jodie Foster’s research included visits with Carl Sagan and Dr. Jill Tarter, director of SETI. Sagan also held a little symposium for cast and crew, outlining the history of astronomy.

The crew built two replicas of the VLA control center — down to the wall posters and the carpet color.They even borrowed photos of researchers’ families.

To get the technical jargon right, Jodie Foster asked for cue cards for the first time in her career.

Script Notes
Zemeckis says Hadden is based on what would happen if a Bill Gates-type loses his mind.

Ellie is based partly on real radio astronomy pioneers and extra-terrestrial intelligence researchers.There’s also some Carl Sagan in her. He wanted a female hero to inspire girls to pursue science.

The Message is received over a longer period in the book. Scientific advisors worked out a new idea for the movie, with Carl Sagan’s approval.

Source Notes
Contact (1997) is based on the 1985 novel by astronomer Carl Sagan. It actually started out as a movie treatment Sagan co-wrote with his wife, Ann Druyan, in 1979.

Symbolism Notes
Ellie will travel through the color spectrum of the chakras, which represent human energy.

Eleanor is Greek for “shining light.” So Ellie Arroway points the way to enlightenment.

Trivia Notes
More than 25 news reporters from CNN play themselves in Contact.

Occam’s Razor is attributed to William of Ockham, a 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar.

The same year as Contact, Jodie Foster “appeared” on The X-Files. She provided the voice for a Bettie Page tattoo that drives its owner to kill people.

When you call “CQ” on the ham radio bands, you’re reaching out to any station that might be listening.

Vega is also known as Alpha Lyrae. It’s the brightest star in the Lyra constellation.

A prime is a number that is only divisible by itself and 1.

5 X 5 is an old ham radio term for a signal check; it means “loud and clear.”

Tom Skerritt was 64 when Contact came out, which would have made him the oldest man in space, until a year later, when 77 year-old John Glenn went up in the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Ellie’s field is radio astronomy. Telescopes collect radio waves that are emitted from celestial bodies. Computers then map out the stars, and we have a chart of the galaxy.

A pulsar is a rapidly rotating neutron star, the remnant of a star that went supernova.

“Eminent domain” means private property may be legally taken for a public purpose.

In 2011, Jodie Foster was part of a group of private donors that saved SETI’s telescope array in California.

The remote island of Hokkaido is on the northern-most end of Japan, totally surrounded by sea.

Wardrobe Notes
Zemeckis: “We had a really hard time trying to figure out what Hadden would be wearing… and we came up with this idea of a kinda ‘dried blood’ look.”

The filmmakers used Joan of Arc as a model for Ellie’s spacesuit. They wanted it to look like armor.

Ellie’s supporters are in blue, symbolizing serenity and showing they’re all linked to her.

Ellie’s “really great dress” was designed by Joanna Johnston, the movie’s costume designer. She’s worked with Robert Zemeckis on eight movies, beginning with Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

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