In 1977, I was approached by actress Carol Lynley’s former boyfriend, John Broderick, about creating presentation art to help sell a “gore-type sword and sorcery movie”. What John actually said over the phone was “Gor-type sword and sorcery movie”, referring to John Norman’s Gor series.
The Gor books were S & M sword and sorcery novels. I had read one or two of the Gor books, so I would have known what John was referring to if I hadn’t had that homonym confusion.
At the time I was a big sword and sorcery fan (I’m referring to the books; that film genre had yet to be invented). I was well read in that genre, being especially enthusiastic about Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories (I eventually worked as a key designer on both Conan movies and the related Red Sonja film as well).
John and I got together, he liked my picture ideas, character ideas and my thoughts about the movie, so much so that he proposed I write the screenplay. I had never written a screenplay, so to be sure it was roughly the right length, I initially based it upon the bones of Akira Kurosawa’s film Yojimbo. Once I had what I felt was the proper structure and length, I went back and changed each and every story element that reminded me of Yojimbo. By the time I figured out that John had meant “Gor” (not “gore”), John was very happy with my story and we were on our way.
Each time I presented what I thought was a finished screenplay, John and I would meet in L. A.’s Farmer’s Market, a regular filmmaker and screenwriter hangout at the time (it might still be). John combed through each version and requested dozens and dozens of major changes, necessitating a full rewrite each time. The rewrites were painful. With each one (and there were at least eight) I felt as if I was psychologically flaying my own flesh from my body.
During this time period John and I became pretty good friends. One day he told me he was going to introduce me to “an old time producer”. He drove me over to a small nearby office where I met Harry Rybnick, whose company Jewell Enterprises, Inc. was responsible for buying the rights for and adapting the first Godzilla film for American audiences.
John and I fought over the film’s most original elements. He HATED my idea that the fat king had an implied sexual relationship with his beloved pet creature.
It turned out that John was crazy about Yojimbo (it was John who introduced me to the film; for that, I’ll be eternally grateful) and caught whiffs of its structure in my story. He tried to get me to change the script so that it closely mirrored the great Kurosawa film. I refused his demand to plagiarize the Japanese master’s work.
Once John had approved my screenplay, I began creating the presentation art to sell the project. I painted several pictures depicting key scenes in the film, plus a faux movie poster of our project, which was now entitled Kain of Dark Planet.
During my writing period on the movie John and I discussed casting. John pushed for his good friend Gary Lockwood (or “Foxy Loxy”, as John called him) to have the lead role (Gary and I met years later on the sci-fi convention trail and have since spent many hours together swapping filmmaking stories).
My first choice was David Carradine. I liked David’s look and presence on the screen, plus he was a damn good actor. Ironically, I have never watched a single episode of his TV show Kung Fu, in which he played a character coincidentally named Caine (more serendipitous homonym mischief).
John took my script and paintings and pitched the film to Roger Corman at New World. John was peeved that Roger did what Roger usually did: he proudly presented John Broderick to his New World staff as this “incredible new talent” who was going make “great movies for us here at New World”. John told me, “I was annoyed. I had heard that Corman speech many times before. He treated me like I was some new kid to The Biz.”
John told me he had passed on Roger’s offer and was going to try to sell it elsewhere.
Time passed, and I forgot about Kain of Dark Planet as other work demanded my attention. I was in the heyday of my movie poster period. I ended up working on over 120 movie advertising campaigns, three of which were movie posters for Roger Corman (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Up From the Depths and The Lady in Red).
I became friends with New World’s advertising art director. Chatting on the phone one day I asked what was new over in Roger Corman Land.
“Roger is producing a film in Argentina called Kain of Dark Planet”.
“Wha––?! Have you got a copy of the screenplay there?”
“Yeah. I’ve got it right here.”
“What does the title page say?”
“Kain of Dark Planet. Story and Screenplay by John Broderick.”
“No ‘and’ — just ‘Story and Screenplay by John Broderick. He’s the director. Roger just shot a film down in Argentina. Rather than let the sets go to waste, Roger told John to go down there and shoot Kain of Dark Planet re-using Roger’s old sets. Roger gave him a budget of $80,000.”
I immediately called my attorney, Henry Holmes. Henry got on the phone with Roger. Roger, of course, knew nothing of John’s subterfuge.
I got a panicked call from Argentina. It was John. He was very, very upset. In fact, he sounded pretty fried.
“What in the heck are you doing? What’s going on?!!”
“What am I doing? You stole my screenplay!”
“We wrote it together!”
“I wrote; you critiqued. But I shared the credit with you in gratitude for what I learned from you. And then you sold it — but not before you took my name off of it.”
Then John told me a whopper to justify his actions I’ll never forget.
“It’s easier to sell a screenplay if there’s only one name on it.”
Roger Corman, honorable man that he is, promptly paid me for my script — out of John’s directing fee, of course.
I was supposed to get a solo “Story and Screenplay by” credit but when the movie eventually came out John and I ended up with a shared story/screenplay credit, plus an “Original Art by William Stout” credit for my pre-production presentation art.
I saw the film at one of my favorite grindhouses: the World Theater. “Three films for 99¢” in a theater that smelled like the inside of an old shoe. The World’s ushers wore concealed, fully loaded shoulder pistols under their coats.
The film rolled. I was shocked. John Broderick had changed all of the dialogue I had sweated over — and the plot as well. My film was now a direct rip-off of Yojimbo. I was horrified that my name would be associated with such unabashed plagiarism.
I was pleased, though, that David Carradine, my first choice for the lead, was cast as Kain. Years later I shared a limo ride with David. He told me tales of the making of the movie. Shortly after arriving in Argentina, he saw John cave in to a demand very early during the production.
“John, I just saw you make your first compromise — and we haven’t even begun shooting yet. If you’re beginning to sell out your vision this early in the game, how many more compromises are you going to make? What kind of film do you think you’ll end up with if you keep doing that?”
David said John took his advice and became much firmer as a director.
The movie also included sword expert and actor Anthony De Longis with whom I worked with later on Masters of the Universe (he played a character I designed named Blade; he also trained the film’s other actors in their sword work).
Before its release, Roger Corman had changed the title of the movie from Kain of Dark Planet to The Warrior and the Sorceress. I was mystified by the change.
“But Roger — there’s no sorceress in the movie!”
“That’s okay, Bill. The object of the title of a film is to get butts into seats. Once they’ve paid their money and their butts are in those seats, it doesn’t matter if the film’s got a sorceress or not. Plus, that title means we can put a scantily clad sorceress on the movie’s poster.”
And that’s the tale of my introduction to the business of making movies.