Interview with William Stout Part 3

In our last thrilling episode, we learned how William Stout nearly made a dinosaur movie with Jim Henson. This time, get ready for more about Roger Corman and Return of the Living Dead

B&S About Movies: You mentioned Corman back there and I love the work you did on the Rock ‘n Roll High School poster.

Stout: Yeah, that one was fun. I loved doing movie posters for Roger! When I would do a movie poster for any other client, I would have to do a couple dozen roughs, a few black and white comprehensives (or “comps”), and a full color one. By the time I had to do the final poster, I’d already drawn it two dozen times.

But this final finished poster art was the one that the public was going to see. So, I had to get all juiced up and get all the energy flowing and make this the best possible version of the work. Roger, however, did not want to spend all that money on all of those roughs, however. With Roger, I would just show him a single rough sketch in my sketchbook and he’d approve it.

When I went in for the Rock ‘n Roll High School gig, he said, “Bill…do whatever you like — as long as it looks like Animal House.” (laughs)

A great look at William Stout’s art with no logo for the movie. From Heritage Auctions.

B&S: It matches the movie, which is a live action Mad Magazine

Stout: During that movie, I started visiting Allan Arkus and Joe Dante who were editing the film just down the street from my apartment in Hollywood. Walking into that room…it was like seeing two kids in a candy store. They were having so much fun. They were just brimming with excitement and they couldn’t wait to show me some of the footage they had just cut. And that was how I first became friends with both Alan and Joe. 

Joe’s career took off and if you look at those early films, I’ve got work in almost every single one of them because they would call me up if they needed to dress a kid’s room and I’d send them some of my dinosaur posters. 

It was a really great time to make movies. They weren’t really expensive back then. You had guys like Roger Corman or later on Cannon, who you could fairly easily approach. Roger and the president of Cannon would give you their time for you to make a pitch. And if they liked the pitch, you got to make your movie. 

You wouldn’t get much money — but you’d get your shot at making a film.

B&S: Oh man, Cannon Films.

Stout: That was the wildest company to work for. I did two films for them: Invaders from Mars and Masters of the Universe, which might have been their very last movie. 

B&S: What was working with Tobe Hooper like?

Stout: One of the guys I was sharing my office with was a guy named Keith Crossley, who worked a lot with Tobe. He told me, “He’ll take a look at anything you’ll do. But here’s the thing. If he doesn’t like it, he’ll say, “Could do, could do.” But if he likes it, and he’s going put it in the film, he’d say, “Can do, can do.”” So, I learned that code. Really nice, sweet guy. And we were working from a script by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby. I worked with Dan on Return of the Living Dead. There was a lot of talent on board.

A wild scene from Invaders from Mars.

B&S: Return of the Living Dead was a big movie for you.

Stout: I was the production designer for the entire film. I designed all the sets, all of the zombies. Some of the costumes, the special effects. That was my first deep dive into actually production designing a film. It was brutal. Really brutal. The work I had previously done as production designer on an American Godzilla movie was much more kicked back.

B&S: It’s the closest any movie has come to a Warren or EC comic. Even more than Creepshow

Stout: That was one of our goals. Dan O’Bannon, the director and writer of Return of the Living Dead, and I are both huge comics and EC fans. It was Dan, who when he was trying to find a production designer, told the producer that he didn’t want a traditional production designer. He didn’t want an architect. He wanted someone really familiar with comics because he wanted his movie to look like one. So, he handed our producer a really short list: Me and Bernie Wrightson.

The producer did his homework and found out that I already had a whole rack of film credits. And Bernie didn’t have any at the time. I think he was just starting out on Ghostbusters. The producer lied to Dan O’Bannon, because I think Bernie was Dan’s first choice. He said Bernie passed on this but that he got Stout. I found out later that he had never even talked to Bernie.

I mean, how amazing is William Stout? Tarman design courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

The film is more popular today than when it came out and that’s just amazing. For the 20th anniversary of the film I toured with the cast. We did every convention across the country. That movie is a lot of peoples’ favorite movie. It’s one of those rare combinations of comedy and horror. Scary and funny at the same time.

B&S: Plus, Linnea Quigley doesn’t hurt to have around. 

Stout: Oh yeah. Absolutely. 

In our next chapter, we’ll learn all about Masters of the Universe! I can’t wait!

Previous parts of this interview:

Want to learn even more or purchase some art? Visit The Worlds of William Stout to get started.

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