In the second part of our interview with master artist William Stout, we’ll discover how he learned the art of screenwriting — the hard way — as well as working for Roger Corman and a project that he nearly made with Jim Henson.
B&S About Movies: So what came after Conan?
William Stout: First Blood, which was also produced by Buzz Feitshans. I said, “There are lots of storyboard guys out there…Why’d you hire me?” And he answered, “You’re cheap.”
I think I was making 500 bucks a week back then on those two films, as opposed to when I was doing advertising at the same time I was making about between $4,000 and $6,000 a week.
B&S: So you were single then.
Stout: Yeah. (laughs)
B&S: Then comes Conan the Destroyer. And I’ve been wanting to tell you, it doesn’t get the same level of notice as the first movie, but I’ve always loved it. It has more monsters and adventure.
Stout: Thank you. I think that’s the strength of that film. Because the script was horrible. It was embarrassing. I remember I ran into Mako, who played Akiro the Wizard, at LAX.
He said, “Yes. Second film shit!”
I said, “You got that right, brother.”
B&S: And then, Red Sonja.
Stout: Well, Red Sonja was originally going to be a Conan film. And the script was so atrocious that Schwarzenegger said, “If you hire me to be in this movie, I will refuse to do it if you call me Conan. You’ll destroy the franchise.”
B&S: How did you get into scripting Warrior and the Sorceress?
Stout: There was a free hippie newspaper called LA Free Press. Occasionally I would scan the classified ads in the back of the newspaper and see if there was anything, because every once in a while there’d be some sort of art job. There was an ad in which they were looking for someone – it was kind of vague – who was needed to work on a sword and sorcery film. I called the guy up and we got together and had lunch. And he asked, “Are you familiar with Gor?” I thought he was talking about g-o-r-e and I said, “Oh yeah, I love that kind of stuff.”
What he was talking about was Gor, a series of sword and sorcery novels with a heavy sadistic/masochistic content. I didn’t realize that at the time. He was looking for someone to write the screenplay; so I started writing it.
It was a really brutal learning experience because I would write the screenplay and then he would just rip it all to shreds and make me start over.I did this about twelve times. It felt after all those times like I was flaying the skin off my own body. I learned a lot, though, and I finally ended up with a screenplay that he was happy with. He wanted to direct it. He took it over to Roger Corman, then told me that Roger had rejected it.
He was lying to me, because Roger actually gave it a green light and let him shoot it down in Argentina. I was doing advertising for Corman – Up from the Depths, The Lady In Red, Rock ‘n Roll High School – and I called the art director just to see what was going on. And he said, “Oh, we’re making this new film. It’s called Kane of Dark Planet.”
“Do you have a copy of the script?” I asked.
He said, “Yeah, got it right here.”
“Can you read to me what it says on the first page?”
“Sure! Kane of Dark Planet. Screenplay by John Broderick.”
My name wasn’t on it! I called my attorney. Roger Corman is a very honest guy. He immediately paid me for my script. Of course, he took it out of the director’s salary.
Then, John called me up from Argentina in a panic saying “What the hell’s going on?”
I said, “The script doesn’t have me credited.”
He said, “It’s easier to sell a script when there’s only one name on it.”
And I knew that wasn’t true. But that was my introduction to film writing.
Not too long after that, Jim Henson was on vacation with his daughter Lisa in the Bahamas. She still wanted to do a film about Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, two rival paleontologists back at the turn of the century. He was looking to make his next “serious” Muppet movie, following Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, which were totally different styles than his regular Muppet movies.
Jim decided he would direct a Muppets dinosaur movie. That might help Lisa with her project. They were in the Bahamas, on the beach looking at a big stack of dinosaur books. And their maid came out and she looked at what they’re doing. She said, “You think those are dinosaur books? I’ll show you a dinosaur book!” And she went back into the house and she brought out The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era.
They looked through it and they loved the book. Then on the last page, in my bio, they saw that I had worked in film. So, Lisa promised her dad that once she got back to LA, she would contact me.
I wrote a script that both Jim, Lisa and Warner Brothers liked. Warners gave us $5 million just for research and development to make the Muppet dinosaurs and then another $20 million to make the film. I began designing the film. Around the same time, they found out that Lucas and Spielberg were doing The Land Before Time. Ironically, the look and story for The Land Before Time was taken from my award-winning children’s book The Little Blue Brontosaurus. Jim was told that they would have their film finished before ours (which was a lie). Jim Henson did not want people to think that he was ripping off George and Steven. So, he dropped the project.
It got me into the Writers Guild, though, so that was great.
Previous parts of this interview:
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