FILM #3: The Warrior and The Sorceress (1978)
Directed by John Broderick
Written by William Stout and John Broderick
Art Directed by Emilio Basaldua
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 Akira Kurosawa‘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.