FILM #5: Galaxy of Terror (1979; released 1981)
Directed by Bruce D. Clark
Story outline by William Stout (uncredited)
Screenplay by Marc Siegler and Bruce D. Clark
Production designed by James Cameron and Robert Skotak
Galaxy of Terror is the third tale in my John Broderick trilogy. John told me he wanted to pitch a scary sci-fi film to Roger Corman but didn’t have any ideas. He asked me what would be scary to a crew in outer space or on another planet. I told John I’d get back to him.
At home, I gave it some thought and then came up with a story outline about a space crew on a planet in which there is a creature that can read the space crew’s minds. It accesses their worst fears and then makes each of those fears seem real to each of the characters.
I gave the outline to Broderick. From there I’m not sure what happened. As much as I can piece together, it seems as if John made a successful pitch to Roger Corman. But then the mess with The Warrior and the Sorceress happened, souring Roger on John. Roger held on to my outline and later had it made as Galaxy of Terror. It was released to theaters in 1981. I didn’t get a screen credit but Roger, gentleman that he is, gave me credit in the Galaxy of Terror DVD and Blu-ray booklets and included me in the film’s IMDB credits.
I’ll be at a convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (see “Appearances” on this site) in a few hours. I’ll resume this series upon my return.
FILM #4: Time Gate (1979)
Directed by John Broderick
Story by William Stout
While I was working on what would become The Warrior and the Sorceress, John Broderick pitched me on another project. He called it Time Gate. It sounded a lot like a variation on the classic Ray Bradbury short story “A Sound of Thunder” with a near movie-length chase (spurred by what we in The Biz call a “ticking clock”) thrown in. John wanted me to be involved in the design of the film and he wanted me to write the script. He was going to direct. He told me the project had already begun but that it was temporarily stuck in limbo until a proper script could be written. He showed me some creatures that had been fabricated for the movie. He called them “wolf lizards”; I recognized them as Cynognathus.
I actually don’t recall what I did on Time Gate. I may have written an outline or treatment to solidify or pump up what John told me about the story’s structure and I may have produced a painting or some drawings. I’m pretty sure I didn’t write an entire screenplay. I do recall that what I did wasn’t much, and that I was quickly on to something else.
Not too long after my Time Gate experience with Broderick, I discovered the true story — something John never told me. Time Gate was a film project being spearheaded by my friend, the talented stop motion animator and effects expert Jim Danforth.
Jim had written the story and was slated to direct the film and do all of the effects and stop motion animation. John Broderick was attempting to steal the movie away from Jim. I was mortified. When I rewrote the film, I had no idea Jim was involved. I confronted John. He lied to me and told me it was originally a Danforth project but that Jim was currently off the picture.
After I found out what John was trying to pull, I called Jim and explained to him what had happened. Understandably, Jim thought I had tried to stab him in the back and steal his picture. Knowing Broderick, though, Danforth totally understood how I’d been duped. Jim told me he didn’t think it was in my character to treat him like that. He was relieved to hear that this whole sordid mess was actually none of my making but due to John Broderick’s unethical conniving.
I’m sorry that Time Gate never made it to the screen. I would still love to see Jim’s movie!
In 1977 I was living in Hollywood at the time up on Beachwood Drive. I was doing a lot of movie posters and “presentation art” back then. Presentation art is a picture or series of pictures created to help sell a film project. Most producers or studios won’t read screenplays, but they’ll look at pictures. The pictures often took the form of (fake) movie posters. The art not only told what the film was about but also reflected a way in which the film could be sold.
I was approached by actress Carol Lynley’s former boyfriend, John Broderick He wanted me to create presentation art for a sword and sorcery film project based upon (or stolen from) the John Norman Gor novels, softcore bondage porn disguised as sword and sorcery.
What John actually said over the phone was “Gor-type sword and sorcery movie”, referring to John Norman’s Gor series. He asked me if I was familiar with “Gor” and “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 a homonym confusion.
Over the phone I thought he was referring to “gore” and I said “Yes!” (I actually had read a couple of the Gor novels but didn’t think much of them).
I was well-read in the sword & sorcery genre, a film genre that hadn’t been invented yet. I was 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. John could see from our conversations that I was intimately familiar with this new movie genre, sword and sorcery. That’s part of what made me so effective as a designer on the Conan films. By the time I figured out that John had meant “Gor” (not “gore”), it didn’t matter, as John was very happy with my story ideas and we were on our way.
In our discussions he mentioned his love of AkiraKurosawa‘s film Yojimbo (a film remade several times, the best remake being A Fistful of Dollars). By sheer coincidence, Yojimbo was playing at a local revival theater. I saw it that night. I’ll always be thankful to Broderick for turning me on to Kurosawa; I became a huge fan and eventually saw every film Kurosawa ever made. I had never written a screenplay before, so I took story notes while watching Yojimbo. I then wrote the first draft of our film, using the structural bones of Yojimbo, but setting it in another world. I figured that if I did that, my screenplay would be the proper length. Then, I went back and did a complete rewrite, changing everything in the story that was similar to Yojimbo. I didn’t want to plagiarize Yojimbo. I yearned to write a sword and sorcery film of which I could be proud. I wanted everything in my movie to be surprising, original and true to the nature of this genre I so loved: sword and sorcery. I endeavored to push the envelope, film-wise, and come up with things no one had ever seen in a movie. I didn’t type (I still type with just one finger), so I wrote out my screenplay, and subsequent drafts, entirely in longhand. I titled the movie Darksword of Tor.
John and I fought over the film’s most original elements. He HATED my idea that the fat king Bal Caz had an implied sexual relationship with his beloved pet creature Poog (who was also his confidant and court advisor).
John tried several times 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.
We had the first of a series of meetings at Farmer’s Market, the Los Angeles market where food photographers buy their fruits and vegetables, as they are famed for having the best and most beautiful produce in the city. It’s also a show biz hangout.
John combed through my script and requested dozens and dozens of major changes, necessitating a full rewrite. For me back then, 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. Each time I finished what I thought was a perfect screenplay, John and I would meet in L. A.’s Farmer’s Market. John would make loads of changes, necessitating a full rewrite each time. I would note everything he didn’t like or wanted changed, then I would do another rewrite. It was really, really hard to go back to Square One each time and do a complete rewrite of the film. I did so without complaint, though. In retrospect, I consider this time period as my screenplay writing boot camp.
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.
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, whose title we changed to 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 Locksy”, as John called him) to have the lead role (Gary and I met years later on the sci-fi convention trail. He’s a great guy. We have spent many hours together swapping show biz stories).
John’s other choice (and my own first choice) for the role of Kain 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”.
“Kain of Dark Planet. John Broderick is the director.”
“Kain of Dark Planet? John Broderick? Do you happen to have a copy of the script?”
“Sure do; it’s right here.”
“Can you read the title page to me?”
“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.
“Bill! What in the hell is going on?” he shouted. “What are you doing?!”
“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 — and you never paid me.”
“I’m trying to make our movie! Why are you making trouble?”
“John,” I replied. “Why did you take my name off the script?”
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.”
John never apologized. Instead, he complained that as soon as Roger Corman found out what had happened, Roger, honorable man that he is, paid me for the screenplay — out of Broderick’s directing fee, of course — and changed the screen credit. John was furious (which I found hilarious)!
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. It turned out that John was really crazy about Yojimbo, so much so that John took what I had written and changed it all back to mirror every single plot point in Yojimbo. When I saw the movie, I was mortified. It was total, unabashed plagiarism — and it had my name was on it!
I was pleased and thrilled, though, that David Carradine, my first choice for the lead, was cast as Kain. I knew he’d be great.
Years later David and I were guests at a science fiction convention. After the show, we shared a limo ride back to the airport. I asked him about John and his experience on The Warrior and the Sorceress.
David told me that John was pretty stressed out during the making of the film. That’s understandable, considering how little money he had to make the movie. John was very, very anxious — and the film was still in pre-production, what is typically the “honeymoon” period of moviemaking. Shortly after arriving in Argentina, Carradine saw John cave in to a demand from one of the producers.
“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?”
John thought about what David had just said to him and decided he would fight the compromise and get much tougher about sticking to his guns.
The movie also included sword expert and actor Anthony De Longis as Kief. I worked with Anthony 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, as he did in The Warrior and the Sorceress.). He’s a great guy and also a bullwhip expert.
The domestic (US) gross for The Warrior and the Sorceress was $2,886,225. I can’t find anything and have never heard anything on the film’s foreign sales amounts.
I’m sorry that John did what he did. I could have been a huge help to him on the movie. At that time, I was close friends with all the greatest make-up and effects people (like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Steve Czerkas, Jim Danforth and Ray Harryhausen) in the business (the Film Biz was much smaller back then). We could have had some amazing creatures!
John did show me some of the show biz ropes. It was trial by fire, but I did learn a lot about screenwriting and moviemaking from John.
I guess it came down to ego on John’s part. Perhaps he saw himself as an auteur. It’s sad. He only directed one more film (1998’s A Bedfull of Foreigners, starring himself and Gary Lockwood) after The Warrior and the Sorceress before he died in 2001.
Before its release, Roger Corman called and invited me to see the poster for my film. Upon seeing the poster I was stunned. Roger 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.”
Welcome to Hollywood!
PS: I have no idea which artist or artists painted to the two pieces posted directly above.
FILM #2: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1978)
Directed by Daniel Haller
Written by Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens
Back in 1978 I got a call out of the blue asking me if I’d like to work as a designer on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I was really hot as an artist at that time in L. A., having loads of calls for work coming in from all aspects of the art, toys and entertainment businesses.
I was at the height of my demand as a movie poster artist. To me, doing designs for Buck Rogers was just another gig in a long line of freelance gigs.
Big mistake: Wrong attitude.
I met with the producers and was hired immediately. I began designing uniforms, space ships, weapons and insignias.
I began bringing them art on a weekly basis.
I also recommended my talented friend Ralph Massey to them, as they expressed the need for a good sculptor.
Ralph and I had fun on Buck Rogers but we were amazed at how clueless the producers seemed to be at times. For Ralph they were the amusing Clients From Hell. Over the years as a freelancer I’ve found that the worst client you can have is the one who says, “I don’t know what I want — but I’ll know it when I see it.” With that statement the possibilities can be infinite. It gives the artist no direction whatsoever.
One day Ralph told me he had brought in a clay sculpture for the show. The two producers asked him if he could change something in the sculpt.
“Sure.” Ralph quickly made the changes.
“That doesn’t seem to quite get it. What if you changed this part?” said one producer, pointed at a part of the sculpt.
“Okay.” Ralph made the change.
“I don’t know…What if you changed this part.”
This went on for about half an hour. Finally, Ralph said, “Would you guys like to make the changes? I’m going to go get a cup of coffee.”
The producers lit up, extremely excited.
“It’s OK? That would be GREAT!”
Ralph came back about half an hour later. The two producers looked sheepishly dejected. After the producers’ half hour of tampering, Ralph’s sculpture was now a sad, shapeless lump.
Originally, Buck Rogers was planned as three theatrical movies for Europe. Eventually, the project morphed from that into a TV series for America.
I was still taking on freelance jobs while I was working on Buck Rogers. I figured I could do both.
I couldn’t. The urgency of the freelance jobs was delaying my Buck Rogers work. During the second occasion I brought in my Buck Rogers art I glanced up at a big board in the production offices. My name was at the top of the board listed as the show’s designer. I was shocked that I suddenly had that kind of importance on the film project.
The third time I came in to show my work I was a week late. The producers seemed much less interested in what I had brought in. And then I noticed my name was no longer on the big board.
I had blown it.
I learned a very valuable lesson: If you agree to work on a film, DO NOT take on any other work. Devote ALL of your waking time to the film project at hand.
No one had to tell me. I knew my time on Buck Rogers was over. I wept during my entire drive back home, feeling pathetically sorry for myself for being so carelessly stupid.
I never made that mistake again. Fortunately, I was young and this was very, very early in my film career. Luckily, I eventually got a second chance to work in motion pictures — which is very, very rare.
Today I am beginning a new series of autobiographical true tales from my work in the film business. The stories will be chronological. My goal is to tell one story each day (not necessarily one film per day). Eventually, these stories will be collected, edited and added to for my forthcoming book on all of my designs for film.
FILM #1: Everything You Know Is Wrong (1975)
Written and Directed by Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, Phil Proctor, David Ossman
Starring The Firesign Theatre
The Firesign Theatre and I go way back. I was a fan, first and foremost, of their pre-Firesign radio show, Radio Free Oz. As I recall it was on L. A. rock radio station KRLA (prior to that it was on the radical lefty KPFK station, beginning in 1966). The shows had structural threads but there was also a lot of improvisation. Listening to the show made you feel as you were part of a secret hipster comedy cult.
The group consisted of founder Peter Bergman (the founder and most political of the group), plus Phil Proctor (an incredibly nice guy and the most professional actor of the group), Phil Austin (the most musical guy in the group and the Firesign Guy with the rock star looks) and David Ossman (the most radio savvy of the group and the caretaker of the Firesign archives).
Eventually (and happily), they began to write and perform comedy LPs for Columbia Records. These were different from any other comedy records being produced at the time. Their first four LPs (1968-1971; Waiting For The Electrician or Something Like Him; How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re not Anywhere at All; Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers; and I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus) were the audio equivalent of reading a Harvey Kurtzman/Will Elder MAD comic book story. Peter Bergman cited Kurtzman’s MAD as one of their influences. They were the only comedy act whose records could be listened to over and over again, each new listening revealing a comedy gem missed on previous listens. That’s because their comedy was densely layered (like Will Elder’s MAD work with all the little peripheral “eyeball kicks” as Kurtzman called them) with comic audio. Listening to their LPs is like experiencing a rich comedy movie for your head and ears. Another thing I loved about their records was their use of an elliptical structure that at the end brought back you back to where you had started.
Their following expanded rapidly with each release, until they had become in some circles the Beatles of comedy. The Firesign Theatre were America’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus — but before there was a Monty Python.
My friend and comic dealer Dave Gibson got permission to reprint a collection of the neighborhood fanzines the Firesign had published in the late 1960s entitled The Mixville Rocket. Dave asked me to draw the cover. I happily agreed.
The Firesign guys were so taken by my Mixville Rocket cover (my goal was to capture visually what they did aurally) that they asked me to draw their next LP cover for their album In The Next World, You’re On Your Own, much to the chagrin of very nervous Columbia Records art directors (“You want to use an unknown artist? Who the hell is this long-haired boy bursting with enthusiasm? Are you all nuts? He’s just a kid!”). I came through like a champ, though. I knew to place the LP title at the top so that it was readily visible when flipping through the record bin. I also gave the LP not one but two front covers so that no matter which way the LP was facing in the bin you were looking at a front cover.
This led to my being asked by Columbia’s art director, Nancy Donald, to create many more LP covers for the label (my foray out of the bootleg world and into legitimacy!) for musicians like The Beach Boys, Chicago, Dexter Gordon, The Bliss Band and Wah-Wah Watson.
I was invited to the Next World recording sessions and became friends with The Guys (as they are known to friends and fans). I spent many happy evenings at Phil and Oona Austin’s Laurel Canyon home. One of the most memorable nights occurred when I was invited to the Austin home to watch a 16 mm print of The Great McGinty. Their fellow comedy pal Harry Shearer was also in attendance. It was my first exposure to the cinematic work of the great writer-director Preston Sturges. I was blown away. Where had this guy’s work been all my life? They prompted me to track down and watch Sullivan’s Travels, which became one of my ten favorite films of all time. This was in the pre-video days, so I had to watch the L. A. revival theater schedules like a hawk for Sturges screenings.
This all led to my creating a series of Firesign Theatre T-shirts (“Drink Bear Whiz Beer – It’s in the Water, That’s Why It’s Yellow” being the most popular).
This led to work on their movie, Everything You Know Is Wrong (my first feature film work). With David Ossman as an overseer, I designed and built a lot of the props and appeared in the film as an extra.
Everything You Know Is Wrong was not made like any “normal” movie or comedy. The soundtrack was recorded first (the soundtrack being the Everything You Know Is Wrong LP). Then, we shot the visuals to match the soundtrack. We were all kids in our twenties and early thirties who felt like we had been given the keys to the candy store. Favors were called in and it was a lot of work — but we all had a blast making that very “underground” feeling movie.
One of the great perks of living in the Los Angeles area used to occur every New Year’s Day. If you watched the Tournament of Roses Parade (aka The Rose Parade) on New Year’s Day morning on the local L. A. TV channel covering it and turned down the sound, you could simultaneously listen to live commentary provided by the Firesign Theatre on a local underground FM radio station. Absolutely hilarious!
As I got more involved in The Film Biz and my movie career began to skyrocket, we drifted away from each other — but I never lost my fondness for The Guys.
I created ads for the Firesign and the advertising for Austin and Ossman’s live show Radio Laffs of 1940 and also did a few more LP covers for records they released on the Rhino label.
Most recently I created the cover for their Everything You Know Is Wrong DVD
and their Mark Time Awards designs).
There are now just two Firesign Guys left: Phil Proctor and David Ossman. My love for them still overflows and I consider the Firesign Theatre a National Treasure.
Guys — You’re the Greatest (and Oona, too!)!
Visit the official Firesign Theatre website at www.firesigntheatre.com