The story they came up with focused on a movie stuntman called Kansas, who was working on a Western about Billy the Kid being filmed in Peru. When the actor playing Billy is killed in an accident, the crew returns home. But Kansas stays on, with the idea that he can attract other productions to the location. Meanwhile, the local Indians create movie equipment out of bamboo and re-enact the shoot themselves as a religious ritual – including blood sacrifice.
The following year, Hopper and Stern met with Phil Spector, to persuade him to finance the film. A day of negotiations followed, as Stern remembers: “Spector was a terrifying man, extremely wrapped up in himself. Dennis and his people would be in the room, and me and my people would be in the room. And we had caucuses, then our representatives would meet in a room with Spector.” By the end of the day, Spector agreed to underwrite the research and the screenplay.
Hopper and Stern returned to Harold Way and wrote a full, 119-page screenplay in three days. Hopper originally wanted Montgomery Clift for the part of Kansas, but Clift died that July; according to Stern, Jason Robards almost committed to the role before Hopper decided he’d play the part himself. They planned to shoot in Mexico, but the authorities threatened to censor them, then Hopper travelled to Peru, to Cusco, to visit Machu Picchu. It was there he got the vibrations.
Back in LA, Spector withdrew his financial support for The Last Movie. Without a backer, the film went into hiatus for three years; even with the success of Easy Rider behind him, Hopper found it difficult to get it made. BBS, who’d financed Easy Rider, baulked when they learned Hopper wanted to star in the film and direct it. Warners and Columbia passed, too, but he eventually persuaded the newly founded youth division at Universal Pictures to bankroll the movie for $850,000. As part of the deal, Hopper would retain final cut.