BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT
Writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon
on the birth of a phenomenon.
By Steve Biodrowski
It all started inconspicuously enough,
with a simple little improv sketch. In 1983, Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson
were students at U.C.L.A., where Matheson directed Solomonís one-act play, The
Last Angel. Solomon had been on the writing staff of the situation
comedy, LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY; Matheson, of course, is the son of noted fantasy
author Richard Matheson. With a few fellow students, Matheson and Solomon
formed an improvisation workshop in which they came up with the idea for Bill
and Ted, playing the characters themselves. "One day, we decided to
do a couple of guys who knew nothing about history, talking about history,"
said Solomon. "The initial improv was them studying history, while
Tedís father kept coming up to ask them to turn their music down."
After U.C.L.A., Matheson moved to a
graduate school in San Diego to study theatre arts, while Solomon stayed in Los
Angeles to become executive story editor on ITíS GARRY SHANDLINGíS
SHOW. They wrote letters to each other as Bill and Ted, and formulated the
premise that would eventually lead them to write BILL AND TEDíS EXCELLENT
ADVENTURE, during a long distance telephone call. "We considered Bill
and Ted to be these innocents who would wander wide-eyed into any situation and
treat everyone exactly the same - completely open, completely friendly,"
said Solomon. "Theyíd treat the guy sitting next to them in math
class the same as Abraham Lincoln, with no sense of the context in which they
lived." Aware of some of the criticism leveled at the first film,
Solomon added, "Itís by no means a glorification of idiocy - itís just
ignoring the context."
Matheson and Solomon used the concept
for BILL AND TEDíS TIME VAN, a sketch for a comedy film along the lines of
KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, initially working with former improv group member Ryan
Rowe. Later, Matheson and Solomon expanded the sketch into a
feature-length script at the suggestion of Mathesonís father. Rufus, in
the improv sketch, a 27-year-old waste case sophomore at San Dimas High School,
was at first equipped with the van without explanation, later made an emissary
from the future in rewrites. Matheson and Solomon originally wanted to
make Bill and Ted responsible for historical disasters, but realized it was not
a good idea for their heroes to be the catalyst for the loss of millions of
In polishing the script - written in
seven days at Lake Tahoe - Matheson and Solomon refined Rufus by patterning him
on former Van Halen rock musician David Lee Roth. "That was back when
Roth was actually considered cool," said Solomon, "before he started
looking like the old, Jewish man that he is." As a final, last minute
joke, prior to sending the script out for consideration, Matheson and Solomon
added the idea that Bill and Ted go on to become idolized by future generations
as a result of passing their history test. The decision would come back to
haunt them during rewrites when executives, missing the joke, continued to ask
for some sort of logical justification. Noted Solomon, "We had to
fight at every turn the thinking ĎDonít we need to see how theyíre going
to become the greatest people who ever lived?í No! The point is:
they have no idea why thatís going to happen, and we have no idea why."
A producer friend of Mathesonís
father gave the script to Robert W. Cort, an independent producer at Interscope
Communications, which took an option. When Warner Bros also expressed an
interest, the writers embarked on a year of development, attempting to tailor
the script to the studioís demands. "We did a series of rewrites,
continuously making the script worse, in my opinion," said Solomon.
"We didnít know any better - it was our first deal. They kept
saying, ĎThis is a summer teen movie comedy which will only appeal to kids, so
we have to emphasize that.í" Warner Bros eventually put the project
into turn around after deciding that the teen-comedy genre was dead.
Interscope had little trouble finding a
new financing partner, D.E.G., who signed Steve Herek to direct.
"They wanted to change the van, because they thought it was too close to
BACK TO THE FUTURE," said Solomon. "Of course, it ended up
nothing like BACK TO THE FUTURE. Steve [Herek] came up with the idea of a
phone booth. Nobody at the studio had heard of DR. WHO, but I have to
honestly say that I actually didnít know about it myself."
The casting of Alex Winter and Keanu
Reeves resulted in a slight modification in the characters, who were originally
to be unpopular nerd-geeks. "Bill and Ted were conceived in our minds
as these fourteen-year-old skinny guys, with low-rider bellbottoms and heavy
metal t-shirts," said Solomon. "We actually had a scene that was
even shot, with Bill and Ted walking past a group of popular kids who hate
them. But once you cast Alex and Keanu, who look like pretty cool guys,
that was hard to believe."
D.E.G. went bankrupt before they could
finish BILL AND TEDíS EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and were in the process of selling
the film directly to HBO for cable airing when it was rescued by Rick
Finkelstein, a former D.E.G. executive who had moved to Nelson
Entertainment. Nelson made D.E.G. an offer that was slightly better than
what D.E.G. would have gotten from HBO, and put $1 million into the film to
complete its effects and do some reshooting prompted by favorable audience
previews. Nelson sold it to Orion for release and the rest, as they say,
Though a hit with teenagers in
theatres, the film eventually reached a broader audience on video, the audience
for which Matheson and Solomon had intended it. Recalled Solomon, "I
wanted to go to everyone whoís ever seen it and say, ĎIím sorry - the
movie could have been a lot better.í A lot of the mall stuff we werenít
real happy with. Some of it is okay, but I found Joan of Arc doing
aerobics excruciating to watch. Our idea was to put Lincoln and Freud in a
room together and have them play foosball, as opposed to the continuing
pressure, which was, ĎLincoln should give a speech like his Gettysburg
Address.í We always tried to do the weirder, less obvious choice.
"Iím not saying that people who
like it are idiots; I just wish they could have seen a version that really let
Maybe, with BILL AND TED GO TO HELL, they can.