Steven Spielberg shot most of the film from the eye-level of a child to further connect with Elliot and E.T. With the exception of Elliot’s mom, no adults’ faces are shown until the last half of the film.
Most of the full-body puppetry was performed by a 2′ 10 tall stuntman, but the scenes in the kitchen were done using a 10-year old boy who was born without legs but was an expert on walking on his hands.
The filmmakers had requested that M&M’s be used to lure E.T., instead of Reese’s Pieces. The Mars company had denied their request and so Reese’s Pieces were used instead. As a direct result, Reese’s Pieces sales skyrocketed. Because of this, more and more companies began requesting that their products be used in movies. Thus, product placement was born.
ET’s face was modeled after poet Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein and a pug dog.
The end of the film was one of the most significant musical experiences for composer John Williams. After several attempts were made to match the score to the film, Steven Spielberg took the film off the screen and encouraged Williams to conduct the orchestra the way he would at a concert. He did, and Spielberg slightly re-edited the film to match the music, which is unusual since normally the music would be edited to match the film. The result was Williams winning the 1982 Academy Award for Best Original Score.
According to the film’s novelization, E.T. is over ten million years old. Steven Spielberg also stated in an interview that E.T. was a plant-like creature, and neither male or female.
E.T.’s voice was provided by Pat Welsh, an elderly woman who lived in Marin County, California. Welsh smoked two packets of cigarettes a day, which gave her voice a quality that sound effects creator Ben Burtt liked. She spent nine-and-a-half hours recording her part, and was paid $380 by Burtt for her services. Burtt also recorded 16 other people and various animals to create E.T.’s “voice”. These included Spielberg; Debra Winger; Burtt’s sleeping wife, who had a cold; a burp from his USC film professor; as well as raccoons, sea otters and horses.
Steven Spielberg’s original concept was for a much darker movie in which a family was terrorized in their house by aliens. When Spielberg decided to go with a more benevolent alien, the family-in-jeopardy concept was recycled as Poltergeist (1982).
Steven Spielberg worked simultaneously on both this film and Poltergeist (1982) in 1982 (which was directed by Tobe Hooper but produced by Spielberg), and both were made to complement each other. “E.T.” represented suburban dreams, and “Poltergeist” represented suburban nightmares.
Corey Feldman was originally scheduled for a role in E.T., but over the course of a script re-write, his part was eliminated. Steven Spielberg felt bad about the decision and promised Feldman a part in his next planned production which turned out to be Gremlins (1984).
ET’s communicator actually worked, and was constructed by Henry Feinberg, an expert in science and technology interpretation for the public.
Harrison Ford was initially intended to have a cameo role in the film as Elliot’s school headmaster, but the scene was cut.
Steven Spielberg shot the film in chronological order to invoke a real response from the actors (mainly the children) when E.T. departed at the end. All emotional responses from that last scene are real.
Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison came up with the concept of a sequel called “Nocturnal Fears”, where Elliott and his friends are kidnapped by aliens and E.T. would help them out. E.T.’s name would be Zreck, and his species was at war with the other aliens.
At the auditions, Henry Thomas thought about the day his dog died to express sadness. Director Steven Spielberg cried, and hired him on the spot.