BILL AND TED GO TO HELL
The excellent duo are back in a big-budget summer sequel.
By Steve Biodrowski
Across the freeway from Magic Mountain
Amusement park in Valencia, California, an hour north of Hollywood, is a large
tract of fairly new, ordinary-looking warehouses that comprise the Santa Clarita
Studios Production Center. Sprawling across all six of the studio’s
stages and most of its parking lot last January was the production of BILL AND
TED GO TO HELL, the sequel to BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, which
reunites Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in a script by Chris Matheson and Ed
Solomon, the writing team responsible for the 1989 Orion sleeper hit. Also
returning is George Carlin as Rufus, their mentor from the future. The
sequel is directed by Peter Hewitt, a 28-year-old British filmmaker in his
feature film debut.
With a budget of $20 million, and a
ten-week shooting schedule which began January 7, BILL AND TED GO TO HELL was a
production racing to be ready for opening July 19, a potentially lucrative
summer release date selected by Orion. Looming in the crush of production was a
possible title change to BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE II (to avoid
problems with television advertising) and the rumored sale of the film to
another distributor because cash-strapped Orion had insufficient funds for
prints and advertising needed to mount its wide summer blitz.
faces in the cast include former blax-ploitation star Pam Grier as a rock
promoter who books Bill and Ted’s group for a Battle of the Bands contest;
Joss Ackland (LETHAL WEAPON II) as the villainous Denomolous (sic), who sends
robot duplicates from the future to kill and replace Bill and Ted; William
Saddler (sic) (the noirish executioner of Walter Hill’s episode of
TALES FROM THE CRYPT), as the Grim Reaper; and Faith No More guitarist Jim
Martin, as himself.
On the set, Winters and Reeves were seen
filming one of the weirder makeup gags required by the
script: as a sick joke, the evil robot duplicates unzip the artificial skin from
their foreheads; rather than revealing a robotic interior, the edited scene will
surprise audiences by showing the evil Ted robot has disguised himself as Bill
and vice versa. With a two-camera set up, Hewitt filmed each actor in
separate close-ups, performing simultaneously. Viewed live, the
skin-peeling effect, devised by Kevin Yagher, who worked on the original, is
gruesome in a bizarre kind of way. "It could look a little
gross," admitted Yagher. "But it all happens so fast I don’t
think it will - we’ll see when it’s cut together."
For a film with such an ambitious
schedule, the atmosphere on set was surprisingly relaxed. While Hewitt
directed the crew, setting up the next shot, producer Scott Kroopf explained the
sequel’s genesis. Working for Interscope Communications, Kroopf had
produced the original for Dino DeLaurentis’ D.E.G. Company, which went
bankrupt and sold it to Orion. "All the arrangements for a sequel had
been made with D.E.G. on the first film, and they had all lapsed," said
Kroopf. "It was not the easiest deal to put together, for any number
of reasons. The most significant was our insistence that we have the same
writers, that we have Alex and
Keanu, and that Nelson Entertainment and Orion,
our financing partners, agree to let us open up the movie - to make a movie not
just for kids but a movie that works for everyone. That meant that the
storyline was going to be a bit more sophisticated, and the scope was going to
be bigger. The first was a non-union, low- budget film; this one is a
union film with a really good budget.
"Nelson and Orion supported us,"
said Kroopf. "We got Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon to write the
screenplay, which I thought was the key to putting the whole thing
together. With them and a really good story idea, we then got Alex and
Keanu. Their careers have moved on, and they’ve grown up, so they were
concerned they not be locked into playing these two teenage characters. We
said, ‘Bill and Ted can grow five years older, because the comic spark between
them is not a particularly youth-oriented thing. They’re classic clowns,
like Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, and they should go on having
adventures until they’re senior citizens."
According to Kroopf, Stephen
directed the original, was approached with the sequel but was unavailable.
The producers chose to go for a first-time director as opposed to a more
seasoned, safer choice, because, said Kroopf, "We wanted to find someone
for whom this was going to be the most important film they’ve ever done.
I went through fifty directors, looking at everyone’s reels."
Kroopf was impressed by THE CANDY SHOW, Hewitt’s short film which won the
British equivalent of the Academy Award. "It reminded me slightly of
a Terry Gilliam film," said Kroopf. "It looked like he had not
compromised a single thing in it. He’d done it on a feature-film scale,
and the budget was only £18,000, which is between $30 - $40 thousand."
Between set-ups, Hewitt said he was given
the BILL AND TED GO TO HELL script to read after he’d
made a deal with Interscope and Nelson to turn THE CANDY SHOW, into a feature
film. Hewitt had never seen BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.
"It was weird to read because they talk in a particular way, which is more
recognizable to Americans," said the British director. "There
was dialogue set in a university 700 years from now where students are talking
about the language of Bill and Ted ‘Excellent means really good,
right?’ - and I thought, ‘This makes no sense!’"
Despite the language barrier, Hewitt said
he managed to connect with the chemistry of Bill and Ted. "It’s
interesting that an English person is directing this. The fact that it’s
about two valley guys is not what’s important. I don’t think that’s
why it was so popular; it was because it was two guys who got on so well with
each other. Everybody at some point has had a friend they’re so in tune
with they almost don’t even need to speak. Bill and Ted are the ultimate
version of that - one person in two bodies."
Helping to visualize the Bill and Ted
concept on a grander scale is production designer David L. Snyder and visual
effects superviser (sic) Richard Yuricich (both Oscar nominated for BLADE
RUNNER). Amazingly, despite the bigger scope and budget, the sequel’s
schedule is only three days longer than the original’s. "We’re on
a sprint," said Kroopf. "Because of the actors’ availability,
we couldn’t start until January 7th. While we’re shooting first unit,
Richard Yuricich is directing the second unit / effects unit. We’ve got
a two ring circus going at all times here - actually, a three-ring circus if you
count all the guys at Video Image who are churning out the opticals."
Kroopf would have preferred holding off on
the effects until post-production, but that wouldn’t have allowed time to test
the film with audiences. "Because this is a comedy we didn’t want
to fall into the same trap as a lot of movies that race to a release date, which
is not getting an opportunity to preview the movie," said Kroopf.
"We had many lessons from the first movie about why previewing is
important. One thing that we know is that when we preview there’s got to
be enough to look at so the audience can follow the story and get at least a
flavor of what the final product will look like. So we’re shooting
effects elements simultaneously with the live action - we’ll see the initial
test runs halfway through the shoot. That’s the other reason for hiring
a young, eager director: we needed someone inexhaustible, to keep up with this
Writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon
arrived on the set separately to observe the filming as
welcome visitors. The action of the evil Bill and Ted robots unzipping
their foreheads is one of their favorite gags - representing the kind of bizarre
humor which they said was toned down in the first film. The success of the
original gave Matheson and Solomon a little more leeway on the sequel, but it
remained an uphill battle to write the screenplay their way. In
particular, Orion failed to see the wisdom of killing off the main characters
and sending them to Hell. Orion asked them to develop an alternate idea in
which Bill and Ted enter famous works of literature in order to pass their
"The literature idea sounds different
from time travel," said Solomon, "but it ends up being the same thing:
Bill and Ted go into historical settings and meet famous characters, except now
the characters are fictional."
After a frustrating attempt to develop
Orion’s idea, Matheson and Solomon were convinced there was no mileage in it,
so they decided to form an alliance with Winter and Reeves, "We knew Alex
and Keanu didn’t want to do the same thing over again, so we pitched our idea
to them," recalled Matheson. "They really liked it and told
Orion that’s the one they wanted to do."
Said Solomon, "To be honest, Orion
didn’t really care whether they had us or not. But they wanted Alex and
Keanu; if they hadn’t, we probably wouldn’t be here now. We got to do
things our way, so if it doesn’t work it’s our fault."
Matheson and Solomon’s script is set
five years after the events of the first film. Bill and Ted have graduated
high school and moved into an apartment together, but their music ability has
not improved dramatically. Robot duplicates kill them and take their
place, in order to sabotage their appearance at a Battle of the Bands contest -
presumably the event that launches them on their way to the legendary status
they enjoy in the future.
The script’s most noticeable departure
from its predecessor is its broader scope. A walk around some
of the sound stages at Santa Clarita, filled with $1 million worth of sets in
various stages of completion, was evidence of how lavishly the script is being
translated to the screen. A huge wooden frame formed the skeleton for what
will eventually be the head of a giant gargoyle statue. Across the stage
is what appeared to be a meteor. In the film, the full-scale prop, with
Bill and Ted perched atop, will be drawn by a chain toward the flaming mouth of
the gargoyle. The rest of the stage is networked with a maze of low
corridors through which Bill and Ted try to find a way out of Hell; in the film,
behind each door will lurk a private hell, based upon some guilty incident in
the character’s past.
Outside, a large area of the studio’s
parking lot is covered with white Mylar, providing the background for a
high-angle live-action plate to be composited later with a matte painting of
Effects supervisor Richard
perched atop one of the studio buildings, trained his camera down on doubles for
Winter and Reeves’ standing on a rusty-red, metallic platform. The shot
provides an over-the-shoulder view from behind a towering demonic figure as he
peers down at Bill and Ted. The problem for Yuricich, besides time and
geometry, is getting a steady image which will register seamlessly with the
optical elements to be added later.
"Every time we’re about to shoot,
we have to tell the guys in the editing department not to walk down the
corridors, because we get vibrations on the roof," said Yuricich.
"You know the old story about Disney studios? The bank wouldn’t
loan Walt Disney the money to build it unless the buildings were designed so
they could be used for something else, in case the studio failed and the bank
had to foreclose; so if you’re ever walking through, you’ll notice that all
the corridors are laid out like a hospital. It’s the same thing here: these
buildings are not really studios; they’re warehouses."
The bigger scale of BILL AND TED GO TO
HELL results in part from the need to depict Matheson and Solomon’s fanciful
settings, which include Heaven as well as Hell, a lure for Hewitt on the
project. "A lot of my favorite films involve Heaven and Hell, ghosts
and angels," said the director, citing Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL
LIFE and Michael Powell’s STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN. "When Bill and Ted
meet God, the staircase is straight out of that film," said Hewitt,
"We’re going to include statues of [director] Michael Powell and [its
star] David Niven."
spent six months of pre-production planning how to portray Heaven and Hell in a
way that would be instantly recognizable but not completely stereotypical.
"We started off with lots of drawings," he said. "We had
two or three conceptual artists and I did a load of
drawings myself. The initial conceptual drawings became key storyboards;
then we had four or five storyboard guys come in, and it was a matter of doing
the inbetweening, thinking about how to get Bill and Ted from this drawing to
"It’s a big film, but it’s not
that big a budget, so it had to be planned well," said Hewitt.
"We storyboarded pretty much the whole film; I can’t think of any other
way of doing it. I was anxious that the storyboards not be a bible.
We’re going by them a lot, but if we stuck with them so religiously that the
actors only had to step in line with each drawing, the whole thing would be
"One major concern was that the scale
of the whole thing not eclipse Bill and Ted, which would defeat the whole
purpose of the film," said the director. "I kept my eye on that
very carefully. For that reason, the film is not ‘jokey’ or ‘gaggy’
- it’s going to be incredibly funny, but it’s very straight-faced. All
the sets are serious - the humor comes from Bill and Ted goofing off in a ‘real’
Heaven and a ‘real’ Hell. There’s far more mileage in that
approach. Doing it that way, you can be much bigger and not eclipse the
two guys, because you’ve got this huge raging vista that is Hell and into it
come these two bright, colorful dots that are Bill and Ted. Whereas if you
have a bright, colorful Bill-and-Ted- type Hell, you’d never notice them.
"The whole film is incredibly
extreme. With so many different settings, another concern was that it
would look like seven or eight different films, a mess, cutting from one weird
set to another, that it wouldn’t hold together. To combat that, there’s
this very rigid stylistic theme running through the designs.
We’re basing everything architecturally on domes, spheres, and circles.
I don’t know whether it’s going to ‘read’ on screen, but it makes me
feel better knowing it’s there. Hell is a spherical planet with smaller
round objects going around it. Heaven is a large disc, with the skies full
of discs on which cities are propped. The future is all domes.
Heaven is one color - white with a shade of lilac blue - and Hell is deep red,
so Bill and Ted will ping right off the screen. By using these
techniques, I hope to link it all together visually. It has to look like
one film from the ground up - not only in the way it’s lit, not only in the
way the camera moves, but in every single thing that’s built."
Interviewed midway through the film’s
ten-week shoot, the film’s tight schedule did not appear to be
wearing Hewitt down. In fact, the director maintained that he regarded
some of the schedule’s necessities, such as editing the film while it’s
still in production, as luxuries. "That’s something which, because
I’ve never done it before, doesn’t really bother me," said
Hewitt. "Everybody was saying, ‘You can’t shoot a film and cut it
at the same time.’ We’re cutting as we go along; we shoot five days a
week and edit on Saturday. That seems sensible to me: you shoot something;
it’s fresh in your mind; you go in, check it out, and put it all together; and
if you find you need something, the set is still there.
"This is my first film, so I’ve
been lucky. I had no idea of some of the things that could go wrong, so I
just plowed on, oblivious. No one told me I couldn’t do this, so we’ve
Also taking the production crunch in
stride is makeup supervisor Kevin Yagher, whose shop was simultaneously
overseeing the effects for two other productions - RADIO FLYER and CHILD’S
PLAY 3. Said Yagher, "On the first one they called me and said, ‘What
can you put together in a week?’ This time I had about four months to
create all kinds of characters. I’m still making new things - every time
I turn around they’re asking me for something else."
Yagher’s shop is providing the film with
a devil, a toy Easter bunny that transforms into a giant, evil monster, and
prosthetic makeup for Alex Winter to play Bill’s own grandmother - one of his
nightmares. " Alex has been a prince about wearing the makeup," said
Yagher is also supplying the effects for a
sequence where the robots take off their heads and play basketball. And
then there’s Colonel Oates, one of Ted’s nightmares from Hell - Yagher takes
the drill sergeant, played by Chelcie Ross, and exaggerates his features into a
visage of cartoon evil. Yagher is also supplying background aliens for a
sequence he likened to "the cantina sequence in STAR WARS - we’re going
to slop together whatever we can find."
One of Yagher’s more prominent
contributions to the sequel is "Station," a Martian ally Bill and Ted
find in Heaven and bring to Earth to help defeat their robot duplicates.
Named after the only word the character speaks (although the meaning, apparently
is always different), Station is actually two identical small characters, a sort
of Tweedle-Dee-Tweed-Dum, who fuse together. "They’re full-body,
foam rubber suits with little actors inside," said Yagher. "When
they fuse we have a tall actor inside a suit with a sleeker - looking
Yagher summed up his work on the film this
way, "The stuff is done in a funny way, like in BEETLEJUICE. Peter’s
approach to the characters is sort of cartoony, which is fun for me because I
usually end up making a guy burned from head to toe or a devil doll like
Chucky. They’re real quick gags; we’re not going to stop the movie for
a major effects scene. It’s a fun picture."
The sequel’s rushed schedule is
indicative of the extent to which the filmmakers believe a following for Bill
and Ted has grown since the first film. Said producer Scott Kroopf,
"The original came out on President’s Day, which was terrific for
us. I don’t know if we could have competed in summer. There is no
question this time, given the level of interest, that Bill and Ted have worked
their way into the mass consciousness, so Orion is determined to get it out in
summer. Starting in January, they knew June was totally impossible.
They would have liked us to go out July 4th, because it’s a four-day weekend,
but we picked the 19th as the earliest viable date. We have a shot at
that. It all depends on the crucial point when we preview the movie.
If we have to make a big adjustment, we could punt back a couple of weeks into
Like everyone else involved with the
project, Alex Winter believes that Bill and Ted will expand their appeal beyond
the original’s core audience of young fans. "I think we’re doing
what Sam Raimi did with EVIL DEAD II, where the sequel improved on the original;
the first film was small but successful, so on the second film we have the
budget to make the film we wanted to make the first time."