Ed Solomon Faces the Music

August 28, 2020 Jeff Goldsmith

For your reading pleasure on its day of release, please enjoy this excerpt from our big interview with co-writer Ed Solomon on Bill & Ted Face the Music!
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Bill & Ted Face the Music
Ed Solomon on co-crafting the return of his totally excellent dudes
By Steven Prokopy

In a near-perfect example of life imitating art, the plot of Bill & Ted Face the Music revolves around San Dimas, California, natives Bill S. Preston, Esq., and Ted “Theodore” Logan (returning leads Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, respectively) struggling to write the song that has been prophesied to save not only the world but the very fabric of space and time. It’s a foretelling that goes back to their first movie, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and it doesn’t feel like a coincidence that a film with such stakes is being released at time when reality seems to be crumbling around us.
Still, here we are, nearly 30 years after the last Bill & Ted movie—1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, released two years after the original—revisiting these unlikely heroes as men in their 50s (both actors are 55), who believe their best years as musicians are behind them. Now they’re struggling to keep their marriages strong while raising daughters to be smart, strong musical geniuses. But as writer Ed Solomon (who co-wrote all three Bill & Ted films with Chris Matheson) discovered, he, too, has matured as an artist in the intervening decades, and it was important for him to have his characters do the same.
Sometime around 2003, Solomon and Matheson began working on the Face the Music screenplay after Reeves and Winter both gave their blessing to the idea of a third movie, despite Bogus Journey being something of a box-office disappointment. The screenwriters worked on spec, usually finding time between paying jobs. Matheson’s most recent produced screenplay was the 2013 comedy Rapture-Palooza, while Solomon has had screenwriting credits on everything from the two Now You See Me films to the original Charlie’s Angels to the Men in Black movies. They started off considering just where Bill and Ted would be in their lives now. According to the last film, they had married the pair of princesses (now played by Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) they picked up on their time-traveling adventures, and they each had a child. Although the infants were named “Little Bill” and “Little Ted” in Bogus Journey, in the new film the children are revealed to be daughters named Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), now in their early 20s and accomplished music historians but still struggling players in the their own right—much as their dads were in the early days of their band Wyld Stallyns.
Solomon admits that writing Face the Music with Matheson on spec was a risky approach, but they were driven by wanting to visit these characters one last time and felt confident (perhaps overly so) that somebody would want to finance and release a new Bill & Ted. “It was certainly a labor of love,” Solomon says. “Once we settled on an idea that we knew would work, we wanted to do anything we could to get it made, and we stupidly thought it would be a slam dunk. But it was more like one of those slam dunks where you jump up in the air and get your head caught in the rim, and you end up on World’s Worst Slam Dunks. We not only wrote it on spec, but we didn’t even own the rights to it, which was really stupid on a business level.”
According to Solomon, MGM had their own ideas about Bill & Ted’s future: a reboot with the much younger guys time traveling with a cellphone. The studio even had its own script, which came as a shock to the scribes. Perhaps the bigger obstacle was that no financier could find the justification for making the movie, primarily because the first two never had much of an international release so they couldn’t sell the international rights for a third. “There were no numbers to support what we were feeling anecdotally, which was that we—me, Keanu, Alex and Chris—would constantly meet people who expressed an unusually positive enthusiasm for a third movie,” says Solomon. “This was surprising because I didn’t realize how much the movie had grown in people’s consciousness over the last few decades.”
In recent years, one thing changed that made Bill & Ted Face the Music possible: the birth of the John Wick franchise. Reeves gained clout as an international action hero for the first time since The Matrix trilogy, and the series made so much money there was renewed interest in working with him. But Solomon also believes the fractured state of the world, combined with the new film’s message about bringing everyone together, made it all the more relevant. Fans on social media certainly fanned the flames as well. “We had a finished script, with Keanu and Alex committed to doing it. MGM passed but thankfully they gave us the rights to shop it around to any other studio.” The film was eventually made by Hammerstone Studios and is being distributed by Orion Pictures (an MGM/United Artists Company).
As screenplay ideas took shape remotely, the four collaborators decided it was time to actually meet up for a brainstorming session. “In 2008, we went to dinner at Alex’s house, and Chris and I pitched some notions—more like themes—and the one everyone sparked to was that these guys were told when they were teenagers: ‘Your music is going to change the world.’ They based their lives on it, and it didn’t happen. Now they have wives and kids, but what is their life about if their destiny seems like a dead end? How do you deal with it, and how do you get rid of the pressure. And that’s when we said, ‘What if it was never them? What if Rufus was wrong and got the wrong Preston-Logan [songwriting team]?’ It became about the relief of the burden, and they can go back to playing for joy. That’s when we knew we had a movie.”
Two years later, the four reconvened at Solomon’s house, and the writers presented the story to the actors. “We pitched them A Christmas Carol,” Solomon says. “What if you got a chance to look at your life going forward to see what it would have been like if this big moment hadn’t happened? And what if the engine for that is you’re told from the future that if it doesn’t happen on this one day, it’s never going to happen. But you realize you must have written it, because people from the future told you you’d written it.” As a result, Bill and Ted take several trips to visit variously older versions of themselves so they can “steal” the song they supposedly wrote, and it never goes quite right as they meet increasingly bitter, angry Bills and Teds who are mad that they’re taking a shortcut rather than just sitting down and spending time writing the song. Around this time, director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) joined the team, bringing the perfect sensibility for the material. He wound up having a profound impact on the structuring of the screenplay, in particular the final sequence, as he visualized how the climactic song comes together when the universe falls apart at the seams and eventually rights itself.
With so much time having passed and so many other movies written since the last Bill & Ted, Solomon recognized immediately that his writing style had evolved a great deal over the decades. “I actually don’t have a single style that I use when approaching a new project,” he says of his various projects. “I’ve found that it’s best for me to invent a method that is unique to whatever piece I’m working on. Whatever each story is dictating, I try to listen to it and create that way, and this was no different. Chris and I were in different places physically, emotionally and creatively, so writing the story was very different than the writing of the first two. We wrote Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey together in the same room all the time, but we were in different states while writing Face the Music. We didn’t look at the first two movies when we started writing this, and I wondered if that was a mistake, but now I’m glad because had we, I might have been trying to replicate them too much. Because I didn’t, I got to be like every middle-aged person. You don’t get to relive your teenage years as you make a plan for your middle-aged years—you just go forward. So me as a guy in his 50s now writing Bill & Ted, having not had access to the earlier movies, it made me write from a place that’s more true to where I am now.”
From the first scene with Bill and Ted in a joint couples-counseling session with their wives—featuring an enlightened performance by Jillian Bell as the therapist—it’s clear these incarnations of the characters have gained a bit of wisdom through their journey into adulthood, much like the audiences who saw the original films. Considering some of the most common advice people have been giving over the last few years has been, “Be kind to each other,” hearing the phrase, “Be excellent to to each other,” seems downright prophetic. “We made a film that is unabashedly uncynical,” says Solomon. “It’s not snarky, not mean. It’s wholesome, which is a word I would not always think of as a compliment, but I’m grateful for. As much as I wouldn’t wish our current situation on anyone, the backdrop under which this movie is being released has ended up being of thematic relevance. And it’s no coincidence that it’s young people who save the day in this movie. Chris and I believed it then, and we believe it now: This future belongs to the next generation.”
Face the Music is actually two movies in one, with the second story thread following the daughters as they attempt to set the stage for their fathers’ triumphant return from the future by going back to the past to cherry-pick musicians to form the greatest band ever assembled, including guitarist extraordinaire Jimi Hendrix, jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong, creator of the bamboo flute and founder of music in ancient China Ling Lun, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a cavewoman percussionist named Grom, and, from the present, hip-hop artist Kid Cudi (the only member playing himself). “We had Elvis in there for a while,” says Solomon, “but he really didn’t write music that much, so it didn’t feel right to us. Plus, we wanted it to be more inclusive in terms of ethnicities and genders. So ultimately, Elvis felt like the exact wrong person to include, and I’m glad we changed that.”
Like what you’ve read? Continue reading the rest of the full article in Backstory Magazine to find out more about Solomon’s writing habits, his big regret from the first two Bill & Ted films and of course scene specific details from Face the Music and more!
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