Alex Winter’s Excellent Adventures

Alex Winter’s Excellent Adventures | In episode 57 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks to the actor and producer Alex Winter.

The beloved “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” series star a young Alex Winter. Since then he’s shifted to also directing ambitious documentaries like “Showbiz Kids” currently on Netflix. Alex joins us on Light Culture Podcast to talk about the dark web, his pal Keanu Reeves, the new “Bill & Ted Face the Music” and why this series has become so iconic.

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Q&A

David: [00:00:00] 

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Light Culture. Alex Winter skyrocketed to stardom in his early twenties thanks to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the blockbuster movie he starred in along with his pal, Keanu Reeves. Rather than pursuing more mega-hits, Alex grew disillusioned with the movie business, but not with visual storytelling. He has since directed music videos, TV shows, movies, and, most notably, for me at least, a series of documentaries that have propelled him into the forefront of those exploring the nether regions of the Internet. Napster, the Silk Road, cryptocurrency, all that good stuff. What’s got him on our radar today, however, is his new HBO doc, Showbiz Kids. An insider story that he is well-equipped to tell, both for personal and professional reasons. Showbiz Kids is airing now, but the news of a new Bill and Ted movie, reuniting Winter with now megastar Reeves, has got the Internet buzzing. So we have a lot to talk about, but, uh, let’s start with Showbiz Kids. Welcome, Alex Winter.

Alex: [00:01:16] 

So good to be here, David. And, I don’t know if we’re divulging how long you and I have known each other. [laughs]

David: [00:01:21] 

Hello, I know. Right? Glad to say that in fact.

Alex: [00:01:26] 

Yeah. It’s been a little wild, so it’s really nice to be here.

David: [00:01:29] 

Yeah. But even when I met you, you were already well-on in the course of your career. But, prior to that, you were a showbiz kid yourself.

Alex: [00:01:39] 

Yes.

David: [00:01:39] 

And- we’ve heard stories of how, you know, kids like Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others were mishandled, and maybe even abused at a young age. Though in those days, people didn’t seem to really talk about it very much. In a way, Showbiz Kids is a perfect film for you to make. You’re in showbiz and you’ve gone public with your own experience as a young actor on Broadway. So, what is the genesis of this documentary? Is it more personal, or is it just because it was a great story waiting to be told? 

Alex: [00:02:14] 

It is kind of both. To make a documentary, there’s such an intense commitment of time and psyche, that I don’t tend to embark on these things unless there’s some personal motive or urge. And a story that I think actually could be told and should be told. Some really great issues don’t really lend themselves to a narrative format, or you look it over and think, “I don’t really know how I would wrap my arms around this.” This one is obviously the most personal because it’s my story. It’s very autobiographical. I’m basically telling my story along with the story of the subjects through their stories, and through the stories of other working children. Which was really the idea. I’ve been wanting to tell a story in this space for a long time. I first started working on trying to get this documentary off the ground about ten years ago when I was starting the Napster doc, Downloaded. I pretty much concepted it out, which was telling this story through a small ensemble spread across time, and letting them speak honestly and intimately about their experiences. And using that to track the experience of being a working child- all the way from entering the business, being in the business, coming out the other end of the business, and then transitioning into adulthood. That was the structure that I’ve kind of always seen. It’s been a long time in the process of being made. I was really, really grateful that we got to make it and that I was able to make it the way I had envisioned. That doesn’t always happen, and sometimes it shouldn’t happen. But in this case, I think it was the right way to tell the story.

David: [00:04:06] 

I’m sure you also thought about putting yourself in it, cause, you know, I’ll tell you the truth, before actually seeing it, I was expecting to see you in the film. I imagine that was something you thought about.

Alex: [00:04:19] 

Yeah. It was something I thought about, uh, and something that I was poised at any point to do. My editor, Wes Cadwell, and I had a media bin filled with my stuff and didn’t want me in the film. That wasn’t how I envisioned it. But, um, docs are fluid exercise, and I didn’t know going in if this idea I had of telling the stories without the intrusion of the filmmaker was gonna work. But it did. And every time we tried to put me in it was very invasive. And didn’t allow the story to unfold the way it wanted to. And what I mean by that is there are documentaries that are about a filmmaker, there are documentaries where the filmmaker is an inextricable part of the ensemble, and then there are documentaries where the filmmaker is kind of the audience proxy and physically guides you through the story, like a Michael Moore movie does. And I really did not want any of those three. I really felt strongly that I was making a film about the timeless nature of this experience, and the universality of that experience. And it’s very difficult to create the feeling of universality when you have the kind of God’s eye view of the filmmaker imposing themselves on the story. That was the thinking and I felt very strongly about it. And I’m really grateful that we stuck to it. Cause I think, for me, the film works largely because of that.

David: [00:06:00] 

No, it works great. And it’s moving as well at the end. Because I didn’t really know what to expect and it turned out to be this very serious story. On another point, to ask you later, if there Are any happy stories of child stars? You spoke with Evan Rachel Wood, Milla Jovovich, Jada Pinkett Smith, among others. Todd Bridges, Henry Thomas, and Cameron Boyce, who I thought was so cute and so poignant that he passed away right after even though it had nothing to do particularly with this subject as far as we know right?

Alex: [00:06:43] 

Yep. Yeah. It was a medical-

David: [00:06:44] 

A medical thing. So, did you know the stories of the various people you pursued? Were these stories that you’d been hearing over the years that people talk about privately at home, with their friends, but generally they don’t go public with it to this extent. A little bit about how you found the people and- and their stories.

Alex: [00:07:10] 

Sure. I didn’t really know any of their stories in detail. I knew a few of the subjects quite well. Henry Thomas, Milla Jovovich. I’ve known Milla since she was quite young. Henry and I made a film together, in the late nineties called Fever that I wrote and directed that he starred in. And we spent a lot of time together. And I knew a few of the other, uh, actors just from being in the business. And Mara Wilson had written a book, so, in a sense, I guess I knew Mara’s story the best of all. But I didn’t know Mara, and I hadn’t spoken with her privately about her story. But I didn’t really know any of their stories, because it’s not the kind of thing that people tend to talk intimately about. 

And the thrust of the doc, and I shared this with every subject that I asked to participate, was to be willing to be intimate. And I made it very clear that I wasn’t looking for gotcha stories. I wasn’t looking for shock value. I wasn’t just looking for them to trawl the worst of the worst. In fact, some of the anecdotal, more ephemeral things that people would share intimately I think are amongst the most revealing. In fact, it was a pretty revelatory experience to interview these people on a number of levels. Not the least of which, despite having gone through a lot of stuff myself, positive and negative, in being a child actor, I was a little less resolved than I thought I was in terms of that cathartic experience I had talking with these people and sharing our experience with each other, and how similar those experiences were.

David: [00:10:38] 

And do you think this is still going on today?

Alex: [00:10:47] 

Well, if you’re talking about abuse, of course. Yeah. It’s a human nature issue. It’s not an institutional issue. So, there will always be abuse. There’s pervasive abuse in every corner of every society in the world. We tend, societally, to focus on institutions, oftentimes I think because there’s a hope that you can clamp down on behavior within that institution. Whether it’s the Catholic church, or the sports world, or the entertainment industry. And those are good things to do. I don’t look down my nose at them, but, of course, you know, you’re putting a fire out in one room when the entire house is on fire. These issues are pervasive. They’re of course as pervasive today as they were before. The things that have changed that are better, that are evolving, are fairly recent. There are child labor laws that have been put in place that have helped situations since you had Judy Garland, Baby Peggy, in terms of work hours. And the way children could be exploited financially. But the issue of sexual abuse, which is, you know, not what my film is fundamentally about but it goes into it in quite some detail. That’s really just being dealt with now for the very first time, in any meaningful way. And that’s really only as a result of the Me Too Movement and this ability to have a more public discourse around these issues. Which, to my mind, did not exist before hardly at all, other than a handful of organizations that were set up to try to deal with this issue.

David: [00:12:23] 

It’s interesting that the other examples you mentioned, like sports and church and entertainment, those three particular areas lend themselves to contact with minors. Adults and minors. Whereas, very few other industries I could think of where that is the situation. Hollywood kids are a lot of work, right? Underage, they have all these special laws to allow on and off the set. You would think that there would either be more attention paid there, as we are for the church, for example now and sports. In entertainment, it’s a little bit harder, because there are no l official athletic organizations that can lead the charge. Hollywood, or entertainment, is unique in that respect.

Alex: [00:13:25] 

Agreed. The thing that is helping and will help, of course, is communication and acceptance. I think we’re getting better at communication because of Me Too. I think we actually have a ways to go as far as acceptance is concerned. And what I mean by that is the kind of fundamental nature of this issue and the prevalence of it. I don’t think it has really been accepted culturally. And especially around children, and especially around boys. And the pervasive nature of male children, and the sexual abuse that impacts them is still pretty taboo. And, uh, the- the statistics are actually staggering for how pervasive it is. But there’s very little acceptance around that. And, of course, you know, the other place that where children, are is schools. And the other place that children are is at home.

David: [00:14:22] 

Sure. Sure.

Alex: [00:14:22]

Um. And you will find that the statistics are exactly the same both in schools and at home, as they are in the entertainment industry, and churches, and, gymnastics. So, it’s really a human nature issue. And is a pervasive issue. And we’re getting there. It’s a slow-moving train. It’s just a huge debt we owe to Tarana Burke and the Me Too Movement, and the headway that’s been made, as a result of that work.

David: [00:14:58] 

Yeah. And just the emotional issues as well. Psychological. You know, that contemporary story where you follow that family around and they’re trying to get their kid into the business. And they keep going out and nobody wants to hire him. And I felt so sad, because, to me, that was like, “Uh-oh. This is not a happy ending to this story by any means.” The kid has convinced himself that this is what he wants to do because he doesn’t want to disappoint his parents. How did you feel, like, watching that? I’m sure you picked up on a lot of that.

Alex: [00:15:33] 

Well, these are experiences that we all had. Everybody starts where Mark is. Mark is the kid that you’re referring to. And it was very important for me to cover two families. A family where the child was just entering the business, completely green. And a family where the child had been successful for a number of years already and was kind of cooking along in their career. To show the disparity between those two experiences. I had both of those experiences. I was Mark and I was Demi – Demi Singleton is the girl who’s been on Broadway, and TV, and movies.

David: [00:16:15] 

Yeah.

Alex: [00:16:15] 

So, we all start there. And every mother is Melanie. And I really wanted to dispel, to a degree, the myth of the stage mother, that’s just this kind of shrieking psycho that- that is [laughter] and those- they exist. But from personal experience, they’re somewhat anomalous. And, uh, usually it’s, you know, someone who really has their kid’s best interest at heart, and they’re navigating this world somewhat blind and it’s confusing, and it’s a little bit fear engendering. Um. So, to be honest with you, I had a great deal of empathy and- and still do for them. And you really don’t know what’s gonna happen with someone. You know, Mark could come back next year and book the lead in a show. There’s a lot of preconceptions that we have, that are often dispelled. 

But, of course, you know, Wil Wheaton’s story, um, is very specific about the fact that he did not want to be in the business, that he felt his mother did push him in, and he had a lot of, a lot of issues growing up around that. And the feeling like he’d never really been able to experience his childhood. 

But there are happy stories, you know. Mara Wilson, loved being in shows. She really felt like it was what she wanted to do. She was great at it. She’s transitioned into an incredibly successful adult life, as has Will, to be fair. But she doesn’t look back and regret those days at all. And my experience is similar to Mara’s. I was onstage at five-years-old, I did not want to play sports, I wanted to go to tap dancing class. And so, my parents let me do that. And I was professional by nine and I was on Broadway by twelve, thirteen. And I was absolutely – where it’s like a kid who plays basketball who’s- could not be happier cause they’re playing basketball. That’s how I felt onstage. 

There was a full spectrum of experiences and I wanted to show that spectrum. To your point, it’s not just sexual abuse. There are emotional challenges, there are family challenges. The kid can get messed up. The parents can get messed up. The relationship between the kids and the parents can get messed up. There are so many component parts to this experience. I was really, uh, looking to show all of those.

David: [00:18:34] 

Would you want your kids to be child stars? Or would you let them if you felt they wanted to be child stars?

Alex: [00:18:41] 

I have three boys. And the way that I approached the situation, and both my wife and I are in the business, and both of us have done a lot of work with kids as it happens. The way I approached it, as a dad was if I had me – right? If I had a kid that all they wanted to do was perform, then I would be supportive. If I had a kid, that just watched Nickelodeon or Disney and got an Instagram account and was like, “I want to be famous.” And, you know, “You guys do this stuff. Why can’t you find me a role?” No. That’s not gonna happen. [laughs] That’s not gonna happen. And then, of course, if I had a kid who had zero interest in it whatsoever, I would be very supportive of them not following in our footsteps in any way. As it happens, my two older kids are kind of passed this being an issue. My oldest is in college and he’s an adult already. But my youngest, really, those are not his passions. He likes watching stuff. He likes that we’re both in the business. He has other interests and things that are driving him. 

I haven’t had to face the dilemma that my mother did. My mother had a real dilemma on her hands. She was in the arts. She was a modern dancer and a professor of dance at a university. A very different area of the arts than what I did, which was really the entertainment industry. And I don’t think she was mortified, but I think she felt completely out of her depth at the point at which I was suddenly booking a giant Broadway show and, obviously, our lives were going to completely change, and I was gonna do the show. And the run on Broadway and then take it on the road on a national tour. And that was King and me with Yul Brynner. And I remember her being on the phone all night and calling every friend she had, and just trying to determine whether she should let me do this or not. And, you know, she really wrestled with it. And she was right. My life did change, you know, irrevocably from that moment on. It was a fork in the road that I have never- I have never come back from. And, uh, that’s a tough call for a parent to make I think.

David: [00:20:49] 

Yeah. You know, like Yogi Berra said, “When you come to the fork in a road. Take it.”

Alex: [00:20:53] 

[laughs] That’s right. Yeah. We took it. [laughs]

David: [00:20:57] 

Moving on to another subject of yours that I find fascinating that you’ve been thinking about for quite a while now. Is the dark side of Internet stories. How did you get fascinated by all of that, and is that just a distraction that ended up going down the rabbit hole, as they say?

Alex: [00:21:25] 

Yeah. Probably. I really became fascinated with computers and the Internet from the beginning, and especially by the time there was an Internet. Which in those days was pre-web. You had a modem and, for those younger folks out there, you had a modem which was very, very slow, which connected to a computer which had almost no power whatsoever. It had the computing power of a calculator or a wristwatch basically. And the Internet in those days was a collection of bulletin boards. It just looked like text. Almost like very crude email. And you would communicate with people all over the world, and there were different areas of the Internet that focused on different subjects. You could go into a whole group of people who are just talking about film, philosophy, sex, religion, book, you name it. And the discourse got incredibly deep. And I became a very big part of those communities in the late-eighties and into the early-nineties and made a lot of friends there. Found a lot of interesting stuff going on there. 

It was anonymous if you wanted it to be, which I found very liberating. I was kind of blowing up as an actor in the Bill and Ted movies, and it allowed me a place to go and feel safe and disconnected from Hollywood and kind of public image, and all of that stuff we kind of stuff in the Showbiz Kids documentary. Of not wanting a spotlight aimed at your head at all times. So, the Internet was kind of a refuge for me. It was a place where I could find a community. I could talk about everything that was going on in my life, whether anonymous or if I felt safe enough, you know, de-anonymized. 

So, as years went on, I eventually became a proponent of Napster when it appeared. It was very clear to me that it was much more than a music stealing service that Shawn Fanning had really envisioned the first global, Internet-based community. And it really was. There’s an order of magnitude, leap forward, from anything we’d had before in terms of the amount of people that were connected online at a single time that could communicate with each other. That was just a revolutionary thing. And I was aware of the ethics of it, I didn’t discount them. I knew what it was gonna do to the record industry and that it was a reckless thing to do, despite the aspects of it that I very much liked. Telling Shawn’s story was my foray into telling stories in this space. And I found that I had a lot of friends in that space who had become either powerful or done a lot of innovative work. So, it encouraged me to keep going.

David: [00:24:18] 

Are you looking at any of that today? Is there still shit going on? Of course, there is. [laughter] 

Alex: [00:24:28] 

There’s a lot of shit going on. You know, the communities online, the anonymous communities online. Like anything else, there’s a bubble. And there was kind of a Bitcoin, crypto bubble. A lot of people got interested and then got bored and moved on. Speculators moved in, kind of ravaged it, had their way with it, moved on. Kind of left it to those people who were serious before, who are gonna continue to do serious work. You know, same with the blockchain and things like that. These are technologies, and I say this a lot, that at the root are very mundane. They’re really not sexy. They have a purpose, there’s a lot of people who just dismiss them and just, you know, but I think what they’re really dismissing are all the scammy, phony aspects of them. The people who are doing real work in those areas just kind of ignore all of this stuff and ignore the noise, the highs and lows, and keep moving. 

There is crime still going on online. We made a film about the Silk Road black market. There are black markets online. They have dwindled. I’ve always said, there’s as much law enforcement in those communities as there are customers. The Internet is a tool, which is really all it is, is a very good place to create community. And, there is no better example of what a lot of us who are proponents of Internet-based communities have been touting for decades, there’s no better example than how these communities have saved our backsides during this pandemic. I communicate with my mom via Zoom. Zoom is a natural outgrowth of the technologies that Shawn Fanning invented, the technologies that came from the BBS news groups before them. These are all evolutionary products that grew up with a lot of people poo-pooing them and waving them away, and saying they were all nonsense. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who grumble on a daily basis that this is how they have to communicate. And, obviously, it’s not ideal but it’s pretty great. And, it’s been an absolute lifesaver for the medical community, for schools. And just for families and friends. For, recovery organizations, abuse organizations. It’s therapists. We really would have been in much, much deeper trouble had we not been evolving all of these communities over the last chunk of years.

David: [00:27:05]  

These cutting-edge technologies that you, I think, are referencing here, all came sort of out of, you know, the underground. Or whatever you want to call them. Illegal at one point. So, are you suggesting that that’s where a lot of innovation is actually coming from today? Cause I think one of the criticisms, we hear of Apple, just getting richer but not really innovating anymore. Yes, Zoom is a great example of something new and wonderful and powerful. But as you noted, it came from people working outside the law more or less to create something.

Alex: [00:27:46] 

Yeah. Absolutely. And I don’t have a kind of romantic notion of that, but it is a fact that contraband and extra-legal innovations often drive giant seismic changes. And that’s been the case for thousands of years. It’s still the case and the technological revolution was started and driven by a small band of very bright, but also anarchistic somewhat, certainly, pro-privacy and anti-authoritarian – not necessarily anti-government – but anti-totalitarian, anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian people. And there is an inarguable connection between the growth of technology and a kind of political activism that is at the root of those things. And that has long been fought by the media and by the government because it’s distasteful. There’s been this desire to try to separate the political ideology, or the revolutionary ideology at the root of most technological innovations, however they’re co-opted ultimately. What we call the status quo, Internet. It sounds grandiose. It is completely true in my mind that you would not have a giant building that Apple now occupies if it wasn’t for Shawn Fanning at eighteen-years-old, who was poor and completely self-educated, creating Napster in a broom closet that he was sleeping in. there’s a direct line from Napster to the iTunes store, to the iPhone, to the iPod, to the giant explosion of what brought Steve Jobs’ company back from the brink of complete disaster, which is where he was when he convinced the record industry to hand over [laughs] their entire business model to him. And thus, Apple was born and everything that grew from the iTunes store. The same could be said for many technologies.

David: [00:30:13] 

True. You could even mention the origins of the Internet from the whole sixties, you know, LSD generation.

Alex: [00:30:20] 

Completely. Yeah.

David: [00:30:23] 

And that whole group of people.

Alex: [00:30:26] 

Yeah. So, cyberpunks. You know, the manifestos that were created from the sixties through to the eighties. Some of these people are very close friends of mine, some of them are no longer with us. These are manifestos that seemed absolutely insane at the time they were written, and now they’re just taken at face value that it’s the world we live in.

David: [00:30:48] 

So, are you still engaged in exploring these areas? Are there other projects that you’re looking at around this subject?

Alex: [00:30:58] 

I’ll always be interested in this world. I’m not currently developing a documentary in this space. Though I’m always open to doing one if I find a really good story there. I was kind of poking around at doing something around the QAnon world, and a couple of other things that are in that space that I had moved on from. I didn’t find the narrative there that I thought was compelling enough. But I’m certainly involved. I didn’t use the Silk Road to buy contraband, so I’ve never been interested in the dark side of the Internet in any meaningful way other than, really as a place to study. But the relationships that I formed in those spaces are still people I’m very, very close with.

David: [00:31:54] 

Yes. And, you know, and it’s quite a jump from the technological cutting-edge to Bill and Ted.

Alex: [00:32:02] 

Yeah. [laughter]

David: [00:32:05] 

Your alter-ego. [laughter] 

Alex: [00:32:09] 

Yeah. Yeah. It’s gonna take me second to regroup [laughter]

David: [00:32:15] 

But, at the same time, you know, there’s really something magical happening there. The new one is called Bill and Ted Face The Music. I- I haven’t- I’ve seen the clips, that’s about it. Uh. But I did see that- that at Comic Con, Kevin Smith was raving about the film. As something that, you know, we need right now. It’s the right film for the right time. Surprised to hear that kind of reaction? I think you were kind of smiling when he was talking.

Alex: [00:32:46] 

[laughs] Yeah. I was really grateful for Kevin’s reaction. We’ve had that response generally, which has been very encouraging for us. We really put a lot of effort into making a film that we believed in creatively. And, that was, first and foremost, entertaining and didn’t take itself seriously, but that did convey a sincere message of hope and of friendship and of family. Those are kind of the roots of the idea that were at the heart of what Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who are the screenwriters of all three films, what they had in mind when they first pitched Keanu and I the idea of doing this, which was about ten years ago now. 

None of us had ever really thought about making a third movie. We had stayed very close friends and spoken quite a bit. We would all talk to each other over the years. I see Keanu a lot. I see a lot of Ed as well. But it just really wasn’t a topic of conversation until they fell upon this idea that was a very clever idea, and just seemed like it would get funnier the older we got, which turned out to be prescient cause it took us another decade to actually get the film off the ground. We feel very good about the film. And for people who are Bill and Ted fans, I feel confident that we have made a Bill and Ted movie, first and foremost. And for people who aren’t, they may enjoy and, uh, they may not.

David: [00:34:20] 

It’s a classic. There’s no question about it. You and Keanu met at that time. Right? When you started the film? Prior to that, you really didn’t know each other, and you remained close friends all these years. I was just curious, you know, the comradery and the way you guys play off each other. Is that something that continues off camera? You know, have you been doing this shtick for all these years when you were hanging out together and being Bill and Ted?

Alex: [00:34:50] 

Well, the thing is we’re very different people than those characters, obviously. But even substantially, we’re different. Temperamentally, we’re different. Culturally, we’re radically different. We’re both from the East Coast. We both come from pretty intellectual, artistic families. And we both had theater backgrounds, we both read very similar books. So, I think what we had in common when we met, when we were auditioning, was not that we were like-minded to the character, but that we were like-minded to each other personally. And I think neither of us had really met anyone in Hollywood that we felt that way about at that time. I was a mostly New York-bred actor by way of London and the midwest. And, he was from Toronto and had been doing theater, mostly, and working in Canada. And we came to LA, and we were like, “Oh. I get you.” You know? So, we really became friends for that reason, and I think we kind of stuck together. And then we ended up in booking the roles, quite a bit later. The audition process took quite some time on that film. And so, we became very close friends. And we remained very close friends. He’s really like my brother. He’s one of the closest people to me in my life. 

And we’ve known each other a very long time. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs together. Life is life. Right? So, there’s a huge difference in the way we inter-relate as Bill and Ted. And, we didn’t really know what that was gonna be like. We did a lot of prep. We were excited to do it. We did a lot of script analysis and worked on the script up until when we were shooting. But it really wasn’t until we were in front of the camera, doing our thing, that we kind of looked at each other and were like, “This is super fun.” Like, I forgot how fun it is to act with you. You know? And the physicality and we kind of finish each other’s sentences. I kind of know when he’s about to give me a look, so I give him a look back. A lot of that stuff is instinctive at this point. And you don’t have working partnerships with a lot of people like that. It was really nice to kind of fall back into that and find that that vibe was still there. 

David: [00:37:10] 

But, you never really shtick? Like, when you’re hanging out, like just playing off each other as the characters off camera?

Alex: [00:37:19] 

We have our own shtick, you know. [laughter] You know, we’ve known each other long enough that we make each other laugh anyway. 

David: [00:37:29] 

Yeah. 

Alex: [00:37:30] 

And that shtick is, you know, is very much the same as it was thirty years ago. And, it’s like any good friend you’ve had since you were young. Where you have a shorthand and you know what’s gonna make that person laugh. That remains. Maybe what I’m saying is too abstract to convey. But the way we interrelate and the shtick we have as Bill and Ted is very different from the shtick we have off camera and in our personal lives. It was fun.

David: [00:37:59] 

Oh, yeah.

Alex: [00:38:00] 

Yeah. It was fun to kind of rekindle that. Yeah.

David: [00:38:01] 

No, I get that. Of course. I think that comes through. To me, this is really the key to the success of this film. It’s that you guys like each other, and it comes through, and we like you. It’s watching these two guys that you sort of like, whatever the hell they’re gonna be doing, something weird and silly. But, it’s fun hanging out with them. It’s kind of a stoner movie without the weed.

Alex: [00:38:34] 

Yeah. [laughter] Yeah. Exactly. Cause people say, the two misnomers that we get a lot, which is- people are like, “Oh. What was it like playing this sort of surfer, stoner guy?” I was like, “Well, Bill and Ted are from the Valley, and they’ve probably been to the ocean once in their life very briefly. They don’t surf. And they’ve certainly never touched a drug. They were like twelve-year-olds, really.” The way we played those guys is, like as if they were about nine- nine or ten-years-old. And they’re- they’re virginal and they’re- they’re innocent. Um. And that’s just the way we played them. It doesn’t mean that it has to be viewed that way, but it’s just how we come at the guys.

David: [00:39:22] 

Part of the mantra of the film seems to be to be prescient at the same time. I don’t know that the state of the world was like that when it was being written. Or the notion that, being excellent to each other, could be something we all need now more than ever. 

Alex: [00:39:55] 

Yeah. You know, David, I hasten to say that it’s the film that we need. Because it could come out and everyone could be like, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Right? I have no idea how it’s gonna go. But I can tell you that the guys wrote the idea for this thing ten years ago when the world- and this country- was in such a better place. And so, it wasn’t written from the standpoint of, the world is falling apart, the country’s falling apart, and everyone is so divisive and at each other’s throats. So, it really was kind of extraordinary. Cause the world was even, I mean, in the last ten months or a year since we shot it, just everything has accelerated at this alarming pace. And every facet of our lives, it’s become even more prescient. And it’s almost disturbingly so. Well, I mean, when you see the film, it’s really about all of those things. It’s about not being divisive, about the earth needing to be healed, about needing to be empathetic to your fellows, and the need for everyone to come together. And that that’s really the only way to move forward on this planet. I’m grateful that we’re putting that message out into the world. It’s not with any political agenda. We had no freaking idea, they had no idea when they wrote it that this is where we would be. It is really just coming from a place of, you know, the characters and the world of Bill and Ted. But, it’s sincere. So, you know, who knows.

David: [00:41:30] 

Right. Well, it’s a message, obviously, for all time. But it seems to be more necessary now.

Alex: [00:41:35] 

Yeah. Exactly. [laughs]

David: [00:41:36] 

Than it really has been in the past.

Alex: [00:41:38] 

Yeah. 

David: [00:41:39] 

You know, the mission has stayed the same. The mission to unite the world. Unfortunately, we have been united in this very unexpected way. You know, through the virus. But, nonetheless, it has made the global consciousness much greater than it was before.

Alex: [00:41:58] 

Yes. Agreed. Yeah. And obviously, it’s a universal message. And mankind has needed to hear it, you know, humankind has needed to hear it from the moment we got up on our hind legs and started making stuff. So it’s not going to change in that way. I just hope, and I know this sounds a little bit, glib, but I just really hope that people enjoy the film and it puts a smile on their face for ninety minutes. Because that’s, in essence, what we sought to do.

David: [00:42:34] 

I really do look forward to seeing it. And I think, you know, just for all those reasons. You know, we need a silly movie right now.

And the message is good. But we’re not done yet with you. Because, you know, had everything been as expected, you would have another project out, or maybe you do, your Zappa documentary. Right?

Alex: [00:43:00] 

Yes.

David: [00:43:01] 

That was scheduled for South By Southwest, but we know that was cancelled. And therefore, what’s up with the film?

Alex: [00:43:10] 

Well, I think I can start to talk about this. We were really completely shut down by the pandemic. It was a very big independent movie. I don’t normally make films with independent finance because I normally know exactly what I’m doing going in, and I go and I find my distributor and I sell it to them, and I make the film that I had in mind and we put it out into the world. And in this case, I had so much archival material. I had everything that Frank had ever collected, going on back to his being a baby. The editor, Mike Nichols, and I looked at this material like, “Okay.” I had a game plan. I come from narrative and I usually write out almost a script with these films. And it changes a lot, but I have a kind of, a three-act structure and a story in mind and all those beats laid out. And I had that for this. But we looked at each other and we thought, “Well, to do this material justice, we really can’t prescribe a hard structure on this thing at this time.” So, it’s very hard to sell a movie to a distributor when you’re telling them you don’t know what movie you’re gonna make. So, we found the financing, thankfully, great people who got behind this film and, Great Point Media and Robbie Halmi who was just a huge, huge supporter of what we wanted to do and was great all the way through. 

But look, I was gonna go to the South By Southwest festival, which I love dearly. I’ve world premiered to other movies there, and it’s one of my favorite festivals in the world. We were gonna do a big roll out there. We had like fifteen other giant international festivals lined up. I was gonna do a massive tour all over the world. And obviously that was shut down about a week before we were heading down to Austin. And that put the kibosh on being able to sell the movie, which is how you normally sell independent documentaries. So we sat on our thumbs for a couple of months. And then we tiptoed back out into what was left of our planet and started seeing if anybody wanted to put the movie out. [laughter]

I can’t say who it is yet, because we haven’t made it formal. But we found an absolutely fantastic, one of my favorite film companies on the planet. I’m super grateful that they love the move. And we are looking to put the Zappa film out in the late Fall. And I will certainly be making all the requisite announcements as we can. But I am very happy to say that we are, uh, we are sold and going out into the world. And I’m really, really happy with this doc. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a very complicated story. Zappa is a very complicated guy, which is why I wanted to do it. He’s a very paradoxical person. And that makes a good doc, but it also makes tricky narrative storytelling. So, it was a real mindbender to cut. And, I’m really, really happy with it. So, I just want to get it out and have people see it at this point.

David: [00:46:34] 

Awesome. Yeah. I can’t wait. Can’t wait.

Thank you, Alex Winter, for stopping by, have this chat today. Appreciate it, it was as amazing as I knew it would be.

Alex: [00:46:46] 

[laughs] You know, it’s just nice to talk to you, David. It’s been a long- You know?

David: [00:46:52] 

Yeah. Same here. Let’s make it a regular thing, man.

Alex: [00:46:54] 

Yeah. 

David: [00:46:54] 

When Zappa comes out, we’ll do another one.

Alex: [00:46:57] 

Yeah. I’d love to. I’d love to. Yeah.

David: [00:46:58] 

Zappa version. Alright, man. Take care. Thank you.

Alex: [00:47:00] 

Great. Thanks, David. 

 

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