Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
by Alan Jones
With a BAFTA award for Best Short Film tucked under his arm, British born director Peter Hewitt flew off to California to promote interest in his career.
His intention was to sell the idea of expanding his 30 minute short The Candy Show into a full length feature. What exactly happened took the 29 year-old by surprise. For producer Scott Kroopf saw the fast-paced special effects extravaganza, centered on one man’s addiction to television, amongst many sample directing reels. And out of the blue Kroopf offered him the chance to helm the sequel to Orion’s popular cult movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Eighteen months later Hewitt still can’t quite believe it all happened. But Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey is now on release proving it actually did! I caught up with Hewitt just after the movie opened in America to mixed reviews, but great box-office, to hear all about his Hollywood baptism by fire.
Landing Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey wasn’t quite the cut and dried affair the publicity machine would have you believe though, noted Hewitt. "I was chosen from fifty other directors and I did have to sell myself. I can’t remember how many producers I ended up seeing who were attached to the show. To begin with I didn’t know who was important and who wasn’t or what was the purpose of each meeting. Was it an important one or a lesser one? Because I had no idea I kept pitching myself differently every time. Then they gave me the job. To this day I don’t know why. I think I never imagined they’d consider me so I decided to say exactly what I thought about their script ideas: what I didn’t like and would want to change as much as what I wanted left in to build on. Perhaps they admired my honesty and the fact I wasn’t scared to speak my mind".
Once Hewitt was signed he refused to be daunted by the prospect of directing a £20 million sequel. As he pointed out, "When you boil it down every movie, even The Candy Show, is one camera, a set, and a few people standing around. The logistics are always the same. What I did do was meet each crew member one at a time to plan everything out to the last detail during the six months of pre-production available. If you become a family working towards the same goal, film-making is an easier experience". Minutely planning out the "Medium scale" production was essential according to Hewitt for another reason. "Orion Pictures insisted on it being a Summer film Stateside, but we couldn’t start the ten week shoot until January 7, 1991 because Keanu Reeves was busy on My Own Private Idaho. So we made sure everything was up to speed with regards the creature effects, matte paintings, miniatures and opticals. You name it, Bogus Journey had it and you can’t attempt this kind of special effects laden picture on the fly.
"The first script given to Hewitt was a lot similar to Excellent Adventure he revealed, although he didn’t see that movie until he’d read the sequel screenplay. "Bill and Ted went to Heaven and Hell bringing back from each place a bunch of historical figures to help them build a real live Wild Stallyn to defeat their evil robot doubles. That changed after my involvement to more or less what you see on screen now. Before I came on board there was an idea knocking around where Bill and Ted kidnap characters from famous novels to help them pass their literature exams. I would not have been interested in that concept."
And what does Hewitt himself put Bill and Ted’s appeal down to? Why have they become such a beloved cult creation? "Because they are true friends. We all have friendships where we are so in tune with someone just a look or a raised eyebrow is the only communication needed. Over and above that there’s the teen audience who can relate directly because they speak and act like them. Where that doesn’t apply, like in Britain, audiences key into their lunatic Pythonesque qualities. The one question I’m asked most is, ‘Being British, is it difficult to understand these California surfing dudes’ dialogue?’ The answer is no, of course. The only difference between Bill and Ted, as opposed to other trendy fashions, is they say the words ‘Excellent’ and ‘Triumphant’ instead of ‘Groovy’, ‘Fab’ or ‘Gear’. Once you’ve spent five minutes getting into that speech mode, you’ve got it, and you go along with it."
But did being British mean Hewitt could comment more on such an American lifestyle? "You draw your own conclusions when I tell you the first Bogus Journey cut was far darker than it is now. That’s a definite British trait. The humour was black comedy almost. The Evil Us’s were really evil! I went for it and had them running riot doing despicable things. But test screen audiences couldn’t take it. That approach turned them off Bill and Ted. My original cut would have played well in Britain. I’m to blame because I was so anxious to broaden the concept out. That’s why Joss Ackland plays De Nomolos like a Nazi and Death is a Czechoslovakian. Thanks to me those largely European elements found their way into the movie."
Originally Bogus Journey was titled Bill and Ted Go to Hell and Hewitt gives the reason why it was changed. "The Hell sequence was far longer in my original cut. At one point demon guards gave Bill and Ted hammers which they started bashing each other over the heads with. The joke was they enjoyed it so much they nearly decide to stay! Preview audiences didn’t like that either. But the title had to change simply because you can’t advertise anything with the word Hell in it on American television until after 9 pm. As half the target audience would have been in bed by then, the title had to go".
While Hewitt and company were shooting Bogus Journey, "Sometimes working 22 hours a day. I had rings under my eyes and resembled a panda!" Orion Pictures nearly went bust and had to be financially restructured. Even the vast fortunes Dances With Wolves and The Silence of the Lambs were accumulating didn’t help. That’s why their most costly production The Addams Family was sold to Paramount in America and Columbia-TriStar here. Hewitt shrugged, "We were aware of the problems but it didn’t affect us. We just forged ahead and kept making jokes. The running on-set gag was ‘If it’s 4.30pm, we’re with Universal, if it’s 5.00pm, Paramount’. Apparently Fox made an offer for the picture at one time as we were deemed a hot property. But Orion were anxious to keep hold of us so they were only accepting bids half-heartedly."
Next issue, Peter Hewitt talks about the appearance of Star Trek, an earlier version of the end, Death, Heaven, Hell and the effects.