Production Notes

Back to the Future

Marty McFly, a senior at Hill Valley High, is late for class. But after tonight, when he gets behind the wheel of a nuclear-powered DeLorean invented by an eccentric scientist, Marty won't be late for anything. In fact, he'll be about 30 years early.

The year is 1955 and after hiding the car, and cautiously walking through his hometown, Marty will meet up with Lorraine Baines and George McFly -- the two teenagers who will one day become his parents. Not only has he travelled to a point in time before the dawn of rock and roll or Diet Pepsi, but Marty McFly has tampered with history and he will have several problems to solve before he can attempt to get back to the future.

 

Synopsis

Michael J. Fox stars as the adventurous Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd co-stars as Dr. Brown, a crazed inventor whose homemade time machine accidentally sends Marty 30 years back in time. Lea Thompson portrays Lorraine Baines McFly, a flighty teenager who becomes Marty's mother, and Crispin Glover is George McFly, a shy, nervous 17-year-old who has not outgrown his problems by the age of 47. Thomas F. Wilson is Biff, a high school bully who still behaves the same way 30 years later.

 

Production Notes

Robert Zemeckis, who most recently directed last year's box office smash "Romancing the Stone," brings a sense of boyish wonder and enthusiasm to the project he co-wrote with former USC classmate Bob Gale.

"When you were a kid, did your father or mother ever tell you all the tough things they did as kids?" Zemeckis asks with a smile. "Like walking 12 miles to school and doing their homework on a shovel. Wouldn't it be interesting to go back and see if they really did walk through those blizzards?"

"Back to the Future" presents Marty McFly with just that opportunity. He sees his parents at age 17 and learns things about them he could have never imagined.

Bob Gale continues, "Sometimes you'll look at your parents' high school yearbooks and think 'I can't believe my dad ever went to high school ,and I can't believe my mom ever went out on a date' but there are the pictures to prove it."

Executive producer Steven Spielberg adds, "'Back to the Future' is the greatest 'Leave It To Beaver' episode ever produced. It's an excursion into the ultimate Zemeckis-Gale imagination."

The contrast between the 1950s and the 1980s provides a good deal of humor for the film's main characters, as Bob Gale explains, "I think one of the great time travel fantasies is the idea of going back and being superior because you have prior knowledge in so many areas." Marty McFly, a guitar player with his own band in the 1980s, is ironically sent back to a time before the birth of rock and roll, so when he gets a chance to perform at a high school dance, the results are hilarious.

Filmed at Universal Studios and on locations throughout the Los Angeles area, "Back to the Future" might have operated with a normal shooting schedule, were it not for one wrinkle--the star of the film, Michael J. Fox is also the popular star of the hit television series, "Family Ties." Since he was still actively involved in production on the series while the "Back to the Future" cameras began to roll, Fox shuttled between both projects, devoting days to his television show and nights to the film.

Looking back, Fox comments, "I knew it would be a gruelling schedule, but what was I going to say? .... 'Sorry Steven, I'm bushed.'"

Both Zemeckis and Spielberg were charmed by Fox's "Family Ties" character and knew he possessed the wide-eyed wonder of Marty McFly. "Michael looked perfect for the part," explained Zemeckis, "and he's got a fabulous sense of comedy timing."

Spielberg adds, "He has a great sense of humor. His dry approach to Alex in 'Family Ties' is what caused me to watch the show week after week. Michael is a young leading man waiting to break through in the movies and hopefully this will give him a chance."

"Back to the Future" features two original songs by Huey Lewis and the News, whose top selling album "Sports" has now sold over five million copies in the U.S. Lewis wrote and performed "The Power of Love," as well as the end title track, "Back in Time."

 

About the Production

When Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale first sat down to draft their screenplay for "Back to the Future" in the fall of 1980, Gale admits, "We had always been fascinated by the idea of time travel and liked the idea of changing history. But most of all, we wanted to write a time travel story where you didn't have to know anything about history to enjoy it."

He continues, "That is probably the downfall of most time-travel shows, because you have to know about Lincoln's assassination, or the details of Pearl Harbor, or other things you might have slept through in class. But we put all the history you need to know in the first 10 or 15 minutes of this movie and boom! ... you're on your own."

Zemeckis admits that the story underwent many revisions and variations before the writing team created the appropriate time machine. "We actually had thought of putting a time machine in a refrigerator at one point," laughs Zemeckis. "But you had to get in and close it before it would start, and then we worried that kids would start locking themselves in refrigerators."

When they concurred that the time machine in their story should be mobile, their next idea was to mount it in a sports car, and once they discovered the potential for humor in the gull-winged DeLorean, the story was off and running.

By setting their story in the present day, but sending the lead character, Marty McFly, back to 1955, Zemeckis and Gale had the opportunity to interfere with the course of history and then scramble to rescue their characters from serious consequences.

"The '50s were a time of relative calm," suggests Zemeckis, "where everything was moving rather smoothly. We began to see the effects of technology and money; pop culture was starting to blossom with rock and roll. But I guess the thing that happened in the '50s that makes it so nostalgic throughout the decades that followed was that it was the first time that the teenager started to rule, and he's ruled ever since."

The time juxtaposition from 1955 to 1985 provided almost everyone associated with the film some unique challenges. Production designer Larry Paull and his team were asked to create a small northern California town that would appear quaint and lively in 1955, and then display the wear of time and suburban sprawl in 1985. Make-up artist Ken Chase and his crew would face the challenge of aging three main characters from teens to adults. And of course, the performers, who looked fresh and happy as high school students in 1955 would be asked to draw upon their acting skills to convince the audience how parenthood and the ensuing years had taken their toll in 1985.

For Hill Valley circa 1955, Larry Paull and crew were asked to convert a major section of Universal Studios' backlot into an old-fashioned town square. Although Paull received an Academy Award nomination for his futuristic visions in "Bladerunner," this was his first foray into the 1950s.

"I began to delve into a lot of Life and Look magazines and used a lot of photographic research of the time," recalls Paull. "I did a lot of digging, even into old high school yearbooks in order to come up with a feeling and a visual concept.

On the backlot, Paull and crew constructed a grassy town square surrounded by small picturesque shops including a record store, travel agency, florist and a malt shop painted in an unmistakable 1950s turquoise blue.

Period cars were important to the atmosphere and the transportation department made sure to select the appropriate vehicles. "In 1955, foreign cars would not be evident," reminds Paull, "and we also did not use any brand new cars, but found classics from the late 1940s and early 1950s."

After many weeks of shooting in the 1950s town square, the film brand new cars, but found classics from the late 1940s and early 1950s." company moved onto several Los Angeles area locations, while Paull and crew got to work converting the exact location over to 1985. When the film crew returned two and a half weeks later, their Norman Rockwell town had become an aging 1985 neighborhood.

"The changes we made in the town square are the same that have been happening in a lot of small towns over the last 30 years," Paull explains. "What has happened in most small towns is that the thriving shopkeepers have moved to outlying shopping malls in suburbia, which has left the center of these little towns to deteriorate and downslide. The grassy courthouse has become a parking lot for the Department of Social Services. There is still a florist and a travel agency, but there is now a pornographic bookstore and a pawn shop. The Studebaker dealership belongs to Toyota and the malt shop has become a gym for aerobics.

Another study in contrasts which Paull concocted was the garage/ laboratory of Dr. Brown. When Marty McFly first visits the Doc in 1985, his home is a rustic shack squeezed in between a Burger King and an office building on a heavily trafficked street. But when Marty stumbles back into 1955 and tries to find Dr. Brown, who is 30 years younger, he finds him at the same address, where his home is a sprawling mansion surrounded by grassy slopes and shady trees. The 1980s garage was temporarily constructed on Victory Boulevard in Burbank, California, and then torn down upon completion of the scene. The sites used for the exterior and interior of Dr. Brown's impressive complex are two well-known Green & Green designs in Pasadena, California, known as the Gamble House and the Blacker-Hill House.

Although a high school in Whittier, California, served as the setting for Hill Valley High, the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood houses a gymnasium that became the setting for a 1955 high school dance called "Enchantment Under the Sea." Draped in fishnets and gaudy colors, the gym was filled with 150 extras who were fashionably dressed in full skirted taffeta dresses and baggy suits selected by costume designer Deborah Scott.

Perhaps no one on the entire "Back to the Future" crew faced as many daily challenges as make-up artist Ken Chase, who was responsible for aging three young performers from age 17 to 47. Lea Thompson, who plays the flirtatious and pretty Lorraine Baines at age 17, ages 30 years and gains 30 pounds when she becomes Lorraine Baines McFly, Marty's boozy, uptight mother. Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson make a similar physical transformation -- the addition of 30 years.

"It is much more difficult to make someone appear to be in their 40s, simply because of the mechanics," explains Chase, who also designed the old age make-up for Alex Haley's popular miniseries, "Roots II." "If I were asked to make Lea look 100, I would cover her whole face with latex foam prosthetics and there would be no skin visible. It would all have the same texture and would be easy to do. But since we couldn't change her appearance dramatically, we had to use foam rubber against skin and there is a difference in textures. It's important for the audience to recognize these actors through a 30-year span, and if we put too many appliances and wigs on, that's easily lost."

The three and a half hours that each actor spends in the chair while their old age make-up is applied can be frustrating after a few days, but Lea Thompson explains that it actually helped her to prepare her character each day.

"I find that most of acting is preparation," she says. "Getting into the make-up, getting into the costume, you slowly start psyching yourself into the role. Since this is a gradual process, watching it go on piece by piece, you become more and more part of the character and the psychological change into Lorraine at 47 just happens."

While Chase was busy designing latex fittings and pouring plastic facial molds during pre-production, a team of artists, illustrators and special effects people were hard at work on the construction of the infamous Delorean time machine.

Since neither Zemeckis, Gale or Canton had been involved with a piece of hardware, they turned their idea for a nuclear-powered DeLorean to several talented illustrators and conceptual artists. Their two instructions were that the car look homemade (after all, it was to be built in the garage of an eccentric inventor) and it must house a nuclear reactor.

Soon, the drawings began to take shape, and after much collaboration between artist Ron Cobb, illustrator Andy Probert, the filmmakers and production designer Larry Paull, the car was ready to be adapted. Mike Scheffe, the vehicle construction coordinator began to shop for odd parts which would be used in the construction of the "flux capacitor," as well as the dashboard, vents and side coils. Once his assignment was complete, special effects supervisor Kevin Pike and his team went to work to modify the three DeLoreans, which had been purchased for the film. They added four firejets to the car, which shoot flames from the vehicle as it accelerates and prepares for travel.

When the DeLorean was finally complete, it was far more technical- looking than the rickety machine made of nickel, ivory and rock crystal that H.G. Wells had constructed for his adventurous time traveller. It was also a lot more amusing.

 

Credit Block

"Back to the Future," an imaginative comedy adventure presented by Steven Spielberg and directed by Robert Zemeckis, was produced by Bob Gale and Neil Canton from an original screenplay by Zemeckis and Gale. Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall serve as executive producers of the Universal release.

as of June 5, 1985

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