Alex Winter Breaks Down Lost ‘Bill and Ted’ Scene, 30 Years Later
The opening of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure featured a futuristic George Carlin narrating how he had to go back to 1988 to help out high school headbangers “Bill S. Preston, Esq.” and “Ted, uh, Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan” save the world.
Bill (played by Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) then proceeded to rock out on their Strats, making a home video for their drummer-less, bass-less heavy-metal band Wyld Stallyns until their amps literally blew up. The two guys then head to school and embarrass themselves when their history teacher asks them some basic questions (“Who is Joan of Arc?” Ted responds, “Noah’s wife?”). It’s endearing and it perfectly sets up how their most excellent journey through history could turn them into triumphant saviors of the universe. But the opening wasn’t so clear-cut in the original script.
Winter, who is now an award-winning documentarian with a highly anticipated Frank Zappa film set to premiere at South by Southwest, was recently going through an old hard drive when he found a number of photos of the movie’s original opening sequence. The pictures show the guys air-guitaring in front of a school bus, posing like rock stars, and facing off with the jocks.
Winter tweeted them out Wednesday, saying the sequence was “an actual choreographed rock jam,” causing a stir online about what this scene was like and — with the coming release of a new sequel, Bill & Ted Face the Music, due out August 21st — if the lost scene would ever be released. Although it’s unlikely the sequence will ever see the light of day, Winter tells Rolling Stone it was worth going back in time to revisit.
So, this was supposed to be the opening of the film?
The opening of the film and the very ending of the film both changed from what was originally scripted and even what we shot. The opening was an almost surreal rock number where Keanu and I are at a bus stop waiting for the school bus in the morning and we start to air-guitar and rock out. And it turned into a whole dance routine.
Then it ends up with us kind of getting into a skirmish with the school jocks and you meet our characters that way. All of that stuff was shot and none of it made it into the film.
I found an old hard drive with a bunch of BTS shots from Bill & Ted 1. These are from the opening dance number (yes an actual, choreographed rock jam) and face off with the jocks at the bus stop that didn’t make it into the movie: pic.twitter.com/xFSSeVAzSy
— Alex Winter (@Winter) February 19, 2020
What was the dancing like?
We rehearsed that dance number for weeks, and the funny thing about it was that we shot most of the movie in Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona. I don’t remember who choreographed it — I want to say it was Kenny Ortega, but I could be wrong — it was someone like Kenny Ortega, like some really big, Eighties music-video rock/hip-hop/dance choreographer of some renown.
How did it go? Were you a dancer?
I started out dancing, but by no means at that time was I any kind of a dancer, and they looked at me and Keanu like, “Oh, God. What are we gonna do with you guys?” So we rehearsed this number for weeks in, of all places, Stevie Nicks’ house in Phoenix. Because for some reason, Stevie Nicks had a full ballet studio in her desert ranch house, with a full ballet barre and mirrors and wood floors, literally the whole thing.
So there were me and Keanu and whoever this choreographer was, day after day, pounding out this routine, like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. We did it with full gusto. Like, we just went for it. You know, we were in character. But I remember wondering how the hell that scene would work, and I guess, ultimately, it didn’t [laughs].
How long did you spend filming this?
It was not a big-budget movie. So a few weeks of rehearsal would mean, “Go for an hour in the morning before we’re going to do whatever else we were doing that day.” And I can’t imagine we shot that thing for more than a day. We were moving at a clip.
What song were you dancing to?
That was what I was asking myself at six o’clock this morning as I groggily looked at these things. Like, what the hell was it? My memory is so fuzzy. I don’t remember who did the music.
There were a number of rock people that we had because it was an Interscope movie. So we had Jimmy Iovine and a lot of people from the music division who had an eye on this movie. I want to say it was something Winger-esque. It wasn’t Winger, but some band like that: a loud, triumphant, anthemic Eighties hair-rock song that we were air-guitaring to. And I don’t think it’s anything that ended up on the soundtrack, from what I recall, but I’m not even sure [Bill & Ted director] Stephen Herek would remember, but I’ll probably have to ask him one of these days.
Last one, little more of the bus stop jam and BTS shenanigans. pic.twitter.com/JBcOIMJddS
— Alex Winter (@Winter) February 19, 2020
So you guys are rocking out and the jocks come up and pick on you?
Yeah. I think it was a way to illustrate how much the characters of Bill and Ted just existed in their own heads, and that they were unflappable. The skirmish with the jocks continued in another scene that was cut, in a shot of me standing against a school locker.
If memory serves, when the film was being built, Steve Herek realized, I think not unexpectedly, that the movie worked better if we weren’t treated like pariahs, outcasts, or weirdos. It was one thing to mock us in class when we’re failing at coming up with the names of these historical figures; I think it’s quite another to represent us as geeks or miscreants or people that people thought were just terribly uncool. That’s my guess about why it went.
The movie isn’t groundbreaking or anything, but it doesn’t follow the standard John Hughes tropes of the school outcasts. I think that these scenes, in their own goofy way, played toward that. That’s just not what the movie is. It’s not, “Here are the nerds and here are the jocks, and they’re gonna get in the faces of the nerds.” I just don’t think it’s what the movie was about at the end of the day.
Do you remember when Steve Herek told you he was changing the opening and you were filming something new?
Yeah. I remember Steve talking to us all throughout post about what was working and what wasn’t. To be honest with you, we were in complete agreement. The thing that evolved as the film was being made was this idea of us just being these unflappable, very positive, very sincere guys who are less like geeks and outcasts and more like nine-year-olds in the body of 16- and 17-year-olds, just very childlike. And I think that these two childlike characters in their own world was what the thrust of the movie became. That’s certainly something that we played on heavily for the third one, just in terms of what happens to people like that when they hit middle age.
Is this footage sitting on a reel somewhere or is it lost?
I think it’s probably lost. We shot a whole ending that got cut, and then we shot a prom scene and a bunch of others that got cut. There have been photos floating around of us in tuxedo shorts from the prom scene, and we shot a classroom finale that got moved to a much bigger venue for that.
In Bogus Journey, we had this very elaborate finale that we shot about half of and ran out of money and had to abandon. We’ve all been scouring for that footage for decades, and it’s probably buried somewhere in the vault at MGM, who ended up acquiring the franchise. But Bill & Ted 1 was made for Dino De Laurentiis, who then went bankrupt, and then it was sold to Nelson [Entertainment] after it was finished. So who knows where the bits and pieces of Bill & Ted 1 are, if they’re anywhere. They may not be anywhere anymore. It happens.
There was also a “John the Serf” character who was in the credits but not in the film. What else was cut?
There’s a scene where I’m fixing the phone booth in the prehistoric time and all the characters are eating pudding cups. And that used to be a really elaborate running joke about pudding cups. And that’s all gone. So there are a handful of strange continuity jumps in there that allude to ideas that were tried that just didn’t work. Hats off to the guys who took that on. It’s a really good script, but it was throwing the ball really wide. I think they wanted to get it focused before it was done.
So how is Face the Music coming? Is postproduction done?
It’s getting there. We have a lot to do. We’re through what we believe is a really, really fantastic first cut. It’s well beyond the first cut, but we’re very happy with the cut. But we have quite a bit of visual effects for a movie that small. So we are working our way through those, and there’s a lot of music that’s got to work its way in there.
We just did a shoot a couple of days ago with Kid Cudi, who’s in the movie; we had a performance piece and we just shot that in L.A. last week. So we’re barging ahead. And we’re all very happy with where we are. And we’ll start rolling out promos and teasers and all that stuff within the next month or two.
Were you guys able to raise enough money to make the movie you wanted to do?
Yeah. That was a problem. It was even a problem to raise money to do it in a way we didn’t want to do it [laughs]. So it was a long, protracted road. The thing that we had working for us was that none of us needed to do it. So I think once we had the core people who started this ball rolling — which was [writers] Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson and Keanu and myself, and then Scott Kroopf, our producer, who produced the first two — we were all on it for years.
What helped us was we all wanted to make something that we thought was good, worthwhile, and had creative integrity. We just kept bashing at it until we were able to do that. And was it challenging? It was extremely challenging. But we’ve all been around the block. We all know how to make films. So we just rolled up our sleeves and solved the problems we needed to. But I’m super, super happy with it.