This story about Alex Winter first appeared in the college issue of TheWrap magazine.
Before Alex Winter played Bill S. Preston, Esq. in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” and the recent “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” and before he directed a string of documentaries that include “Napster,” “Showbiz Kids” and the upcoming “Zappa,” he was an NYU film student struggling to pay his way through school.
But as an experienced child actor, Winter paid the bills by appearing in lots of commercials (“I was ‘kid putting oil in car,’ ‘kid at locker with girlfriend,’ whatever,” he said), doing voiceover work and even making the occasional movie.
During his freshman year in 1983, Winter also met fellow student Tom Stern, with whom he’d direct films all through school and into his professional life afterward. The summit of their NYU work was “Squeal of Death,” a 15-minute short about a hapless, squawking criminal that Winter describes as “a magnum opus of insanity.” It gained them an influential fan in Sam Raimi, at the time best known for his “Evil Dead” movies, and became their calling card for future work — music videos, an MTV show called “The Idiot Box” and the 1993 feature film “Freaked.”
In the final stages of making “Squeal of Death,” which took the bulk of his sophomore year but also spilled over into his junior year, Winter landed a part in the teen-vampire movie “The Lost Boys,” with Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric. “While I was doing ‘Lost Boys,’ Tom and I were finishing ‘Squeal of Death,’ which I narrate as about 80 different characters, all completely insane,” he said.
“I was working in Burbank on ‘Lost Boys’ and doing all my own ‘Squeal of Death’ ADR (dubbing) in my hotel room. I would be screaming at the top of my lungs in my room, and I’m sure the maids thought I was crazy.”
Winter figured that “Lost Boys” would finance his senior thesis film, but instead it took his acting career to a different level and resulted in him leaving NYU before his senior year. But his film school experience, he said, was vital to prepare him to not only work as an actor, but to take on the writing and directing roles that have dominated his career since the early 1990s.
“If I didn’t go to film school, I would have probably kept acting and found my way into the business via my acting work,” he said. “I still would have ended up in ‘Lost Boys’ and in ‘Bill & Ted’ because I had agents and managers from being a child actor. But I wouldn’t have had the impetus or the network to give me the confidence to jump completely into that world.
“I absolutely loved the experience, being able to wake up and work in film with really good mentors every day, and to just shoot, shoot, shoot. You never get that opportunity again, certainly not when you’re in the professional world. It was a very profound thing for me, as someone who’d had a rarefied, not a normal school life and childhood. I was always auditioning and being the kid on Broadway, or whatever.
“To be just another kid in a classroom, the egalitarian nature of that and the normalcy of that was very helpful, and really seminal for me.”
Above, watch the complete “Squeal of Death” short, co-written and directed by Alex Winter and Tom Stern.
See TheWrap’s ranking of the Top 50 U.S. film schools here.
Read the entire college issue here.