By Jason Delgado
In my opinion, Ed Solomon is one of the great screenwriters of our time, having co-written all three Bill and Ted movies, the original Men in Black, and the Now You See Me soon to be trilogy, among other films. He created Bill and Ted with his good friend and writing partner Chris Matheson during an improv session as a goof, but the fun-loving, good-natured characters stuck with them, just as they’ve left their mark on the audience for thirty-one years.
JD: The positivity of Bill and Ted is much needed in the world today. What made you and Chris decide to bring them back at this time?
Solomon: We always thought after we’d written the first two that that was it. Bill and Ted were going to represent a time in our lives that had passed: our youth. By early 2000, I remember Chris and I asking each other “Do you think we could ever do another Bill and Ted movie?” And the reason why we were asking ourselves that was it seemed like every time Alex and Keanu were out for an interview, they’d get asked that question. We always assumed it was a no-brainer, it was no! It was never going to happen.
Then around 2004-5, I remember Keanu on a red-carpet somewhere or maybe on a talk show, saying when he was asked that, “I dunno, I’d be up for that.” We looked at each other and we said, “Huh, is that true?” It wasn’t until 2008 that we actually started really pursuing it. We went to dinner at Alex Winter’s house: me, Chris, Alex and Keanu. Alex made barbeque, we started throwing around some ideas, and we all agreed that we’re not doing this for money. We’re not doing this unless there’s a great creative idea, and a real reason to tell this story, and it comes from the heart.
We started talking about ideas, what would that be? What’s a story really worth telling? This notion that Chris and I had come in on, which was, you know you were told these things as teenagers, your adolescent fantasy that your rock band was going to save the world, that your destiny was waiting, but what if it didn’t happen? What if you failed at that? What if you’ve been trying for thirty years to make that work? What would it mean for you guys to find your Bill and Tedness back, and rediscover your joy, and your life? That became the logic for the two of us to start really thinking about a story that would go along with that, because the guys really responded to that.
We had some other stuff to do. It wasn’t until 2009 that the guys, Alex and Keanu, came to my house one day and we pitched out some ideas and began the process of developing a screenplay: me and Chris, Alex and Keanu. [We were] kind of pitching around a story so that we’d end up with a script that we could go off and start writing. About 2010, we had a script we wrote for the guys, probably up to 2011.
We thought we had a no-brainer; we’re just going to go to the studio. We were utterly idiotic business people and we wrote a spec script for a movie we don’t own characters to, so we went to the one studio that owned it and said, “Hey we’d like to do this,” and they said “We do too except not with a grown-up Bill and Ted, we kind of want to do a reboot with young Bill and Ted.” We were suddenly like, “Wait, what?” After that version fell apart for whatever reason, their version, they still didn’t want to do it. They gave us permission to go around town, so we did, but nobody else wanted to do it, nobody thought it was commercial. Who wants to see a really absurd comedy about failure and dashed dreams? (laughing). Well, it took about ten years for the world to change enough for it to seem like a commercial idea for somebody to put some money behind it. I’m glad we got the thing off the ground.
JD: Wow. So if you could visit any historical figure, who would it be?
Solomon: In the movie or in life?
JD: In life.
Solomon: What an amazing question. I would probably want to actually see… these big historical figures that people thought a lot about and write a lot about. I’d probably want to see Jesus. I’d probably want to see who he really was, and if he really was like how people write about him, because that’s the one that there’s the most questions about. Nobody wrote about him at the time, they all wrote about him hundreds of years later. I’d like to be able to be there and write about him in the first-person.
JD: Yeah. Do you have any George Carlin stories?
Solomon: The day I met George Carlin, the first time was in Rome because Dino De Laurentiis had financed production of the film, we shot two weeks in Rome and he couldn’t be a nicer guy. He told us all sorts of stories. One of the stories he told me was, oh and I should start by saying I was asking what fame meant to him, and he said, “The best thing about being famous and being George Carlin was I always knew that no matter how drunk I was, no matter how messed up and lost I was, I could always wander up to any house wherever I was and knock on the door and someone would say, “Hey, you’re George Carlin!” and let me in.” I always remembered that.
Solomon: That was kind of sweet. The other one I will tell you is over the course of getting to know him, he couldn’t be a nicer guy. He introduced me to his family, including his daughter Kelly, who I took an immediate liking to, and when he passed away, we decided without George in the movie to name the emissary of the future Kelly, after George’s daughter Kelly and have her actually be Rufus’s daughter in the movie.
JD: That’s awesome.
Solomon: Oh, I’ll tell you one other thing. One of my earliest mentors in my career was Gary Shandling, and on the first night I sat down to write with Gary Shandling I was 19 years old. Gary told me a story about meeting George Carlin when Gary was my age. They were telling a bunch of jokes, with George saying to Gary, like Gary said to me, “not all of these jokes are good, but some of them are good enough, let me give you notes on them and let us start talking.” So George was like a mentor to Gary, the same way Gary was a mentor to me. When I met George that first time on the set of Bill and Ted, I told him that, and he remembered that time with Gary. It was very meaningful.
JD: That’s great. Where did the childlike innocence and optimism of the Bill & Ted characters come from?
Solomon: The childlike innocence was there from the very minute we started doing them. There was something about the face-forward, the buoyancy, and the magnificence of spirit that made them very fun to inhabit, and that’s why we kept playing with them. A lot of writers will write these dark, villainous characters as kind of alter-egos for themselves. These characters get to act out all the darker impulses that these writers might have. In a way, Bill and Ted were the opposite of that, they got to be the benevolent, embodied spirits that we don’t always get to be in real life. So in a way they became this aspirational version of ourselves, of Chris Matheson and I.
JD: What movie or movies would Bill and Ted find to be most triumphant?
Solomon: The funny thing is Bill and Ted would find most movies triumphant. They would like a lot of movies. I know they liked Gremlins. We used to have them talk about Gremlins in particular, the microwave scene.
Solomon: I remember that was in a lot of early drafts. Certainly young Bill and Ted would’ve loved all those great gory movies, horror films, ones where things blew up, the Terminator type movies. Older Bill and Ted would probably not have time to see movies because they’re so busy trying to write music that was going to unite the world.
JD: Do you ever catch yourself saying classic Bill & Ted lines?
Solomon: Rarely. I’m not a person who wears merchandise from movies or speaks quotes from anything I’ve written. It’s very rare that I do that.
JD: I was watching Men in Black this morning, and I noticed “bogus” and “excellent” being said in the first few minutes of that movie (around the 6 and 8 and a half minute marks).
Solomon: Is that true?!
Solomon: I did not know that! Thanks for telling me that. That’s so funny! I didn’t even realize that.
Thanks to Ed Solomon for doing this interview!
Here is a recently released clip from the film:
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