Production Notes

Back to the Future Part II

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd reprise their roles as Marty McFly and "Doc" Emmett Brown in "Back to the Future Part II," a Steven Spielberg presentation of a Robert Zemeckis film.

In his last adventure, Marty learned that his unwitting interaction between his parents in 1955 had a profound effect on his life in 1985. What he and Doc Brown soon find out is that the same rule applied to the future as well. Upon their return from the year 2015, things have changed again, and in this case, time is definitely not on their side...

 

Synopsis

Marty McFly and "Doc" Emmett Brown have returned, and as usual, they're just in time...

Marty McFly (MICHAEL J. FOX) hasn't even begun to adjust to the "new, improved" 1985 that his visit to the past had created, when Doc Brown (CHRISTOPHER LLOYD) suddenly appears in his DeLorean time machine, and beseeches the lad to climb aboard for a trip into the future.

"It's your kids, Marty," cries the Doc. "Something's got to be done about your kids!!" And off they go...

The once serene town of Hill Valley, California is now a hellish version of its former self, controlled by none other than Marty's old nemesis Biff Tannen (THOMAS F. WILSON). Not only has Biff become the richest and most powerful man in the world, but even worse, Biff is now married to Marty's mother Lorraine (LEA THOMPSON).

This new, altered 1985 also has its share of problems for Doc Brown. In this twisted version of Hill Valley, Doc's workshop has been virtually destroyed, and the inventor himself has been declared legally insane and committed to an asylum.

Thus, Marty and Doc must again climb into the DeLorean, and travel back to the past in an attempt to put 1985, and their lives back to normal.

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd continue their roles as Marty McFly and Doc Emmett Brown in the Steven Spielberg presentation of a Robert Zemeckis film, "Back to the Future Part II." Also starring Lea Thompson and Thomas F. Wilson, the film is directed by Robert Zemeckis, and is produced by Neil Canton and Bob Gale. The screenplay was written by Bob Gale from a story by Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall serve as executive producers of the Universal release.

In addition to the four main cast members, director Zemeckis and producers Canton and Gale have reassembled many of the creative and technical talents from the original "Back to the Future" crew. They include director of photography Dean Cundey, editors Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas, ILM visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston and composer Alan Silvestri. Rick Carter joins the team as production designer.

 

Production Notes

"I was watching the videotape of 'Back to the Future' when it was first released," recalls Michael J. Fox, "and an indication of the possibility of a sequel came at the end of the video. Three words appeared on the screen, words that had not been at the end of the film when it was originally released in the theatres--'TO BE CONTINUED...' My first thought was to call my agent."

When Fox was told that a sequel was in the planning stage, and that the original team of filmmakers were all returning to the project, he jumped at the chance to be included. "When an audience wants to see a sequel, it's because they feel they haven't gotten enough. I had the same feeling about the experience of making the film. My first time working with Bob Zemeckis and the cast and crew of 'Back to the Future' had been a happy surprise. To get to work with all of them a second time was a tremendous bonus."

Although they didn't know it at the time, when Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Neil Canton and the cast and crew were filming "Back to the Future," they were already laying the groundwork for its continuation. "There was never any thought about a sequel while we were making the first film," asserts Zemeckis. "One just tries to make as good a movie as you can, and hope for the best. We thought we'd end the movie with a nod toward a positive future, and that immediately opened up a lot of speculation about the sequel."

"That ending was simply a joke," adds Bob Gale, referring to the scene that closes "Back to the Future" and serves as the start of "Back to the Future Part II." "We all thought it was appropriate for the heroes to go flying off into the proverbial sunset and off to a new adventure. How could anyone predict a movie is going to be as successful as 'Back to the Future?"'

As "Back to the Future" became the top-grossing film of 1985, earning over $350 million worldwide, the possibility of continuing the adventure of Marty and Doc was broached to the filmmakers. When they agreed, Robert Zemekis and Bob Gale set out to fashion the story that Gale would eventually turn into a screenplay.

"Bob and I knew we would have to start part two where part one left off, because of all the letters we received," says Gale. "Letters that offered suggestions of what might happen to Marty's kids in the future, and even letters from kids who said they looked a little like Michael J. Fox, suggesting that maybe they could play his son in our next movie. With so many people having seen the first film, we couldn't not pay off the promise. It wouldn't have been fair to all the fans of the original film."

 

Creating the Future

Having decided their film would indeed start in the future, Zemeckis and Gale faced the monumental task of deciding what shape the future of Hill Valley would take. "The first thing we knew was that the future wasn't going to be Orwellian," says Zemeckis. "It wasn't going to be a totalitarian state where people walk around in uniform, and have their heads shaved, which is actually a very easy way to depict the future in motion pictures."

"We also knew that we couldn't accurately predict the future," adds Bob Gale. "We looked at a lot of movies, World's Fair memorabilia, as well as books and other materials that foretold the future. None of it ever happened the way it was predicted, so we knew we were going to fail in some way if we tried to offer real predictions of the future. Accepting that, we decided the only way to deal with it was to make it optimistic, and have a good time with it."

"The idea of our future is not to belabor the hardware and technology aspects, although that does play a.small part," explains Zemeckis. "What we tried to do was make the year 2015 fun from a pop culture standpoint. Our view is that those facets of the past societies which have become nostalgia to us--things like fashion, sports, advertising and the like, will have their counterparts in the future. A problem one faces in depicting the future is that you can't identify with something that doesn't exist. If you invent new devices, you run the risk of the audience saying 'I can't relate to this weird device because I don't know where it's coming from.' To prevent this from happening, we went back into the past to see how far certain things had evolved into the present, which if you think of it, is the future of the past. What we present in this vision of the future are devices and situations that are extensions of our culture, and we have tried to have fun with them." "No one knows just what the future will look like," says producer Neil Canton, "but we are talking about having a reunion in the year 2015 to see how close we were."

Once the filmmakers had a clear notion of what they wanted their cinematic future to be, they turned to production designer Rick Carter to translate those visions into reality. "There's a line in the script describing the future which reads 'Hill Valley has changed for the better.' That's a very simple line to write, but when it came to actually building the town square for the screen, it had to be designed so the audience would immediately get that feeling upon seeing the image," says Carter of his challenge.

The first decision Carter and the filmmakers made was that although the Hill Valley town square of the future would have some interesting designs, it would still be recognizable as the town square that played a major part of "Back to the Future." "The future," says Carter, "is built upon the present. We didn't want to put up a bunch of spires, or a totally white highly glossed metallic city. We wanted something that you can relate to as being a part of your environment, despite the layering that progress has made. So many movies and science fiction stories look like one guy designed everything and built it all so that it looks uniform and high-tech. That's not the way the world is."

"Bob Zemeckis had explained that the people of the future had become more conscious of the environment and the ecology, and I felt that town square should reflect that awareness," explains Carter. "To balance out the references to commercial outlets and businesses, I introduced a strong sense of nature to turn the town square into a place where you'd enjoy just sitting and watching people."

One problem Carter faced was that of time. Since the production schedule dictated that the town square first be filmed as the altered 1985, the construction team had only a matter of weeks to remove signs of ruin and depravity that Marty and Doc's disruption of the time continuum had inadvertently caused. The courthouse, with a clock-face still frozen at 10:04, saw its altered 1985 function as Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise. With glitz and neon removed, the landmark is returned to its more traditional look in the year 2015, and serves as the entrance to an underground shopping mall. A 60' x 80' piece of the square was excavated, filled with more than 80,000 gallons of water, and surrounded by a diverse variety of tropical foliage.

The end results of Carter's labors found a huge, glistening pond in the middle of the square, complimented by waterfalls and lush greenery. Asked about the final look of the town square, Zemeckis remarks, "It's a true example of how the more things change, the more they stay the same. In the first film, the town square of the '50s had a beautiful, grassy park. In the '80s they paved it over for a parking lot, and now in the future, once again, we have this serene park and pond--with 75 shops underneath."

While Carter was modifying the architecture of Hill Valley, costume designer Joanna Johnston worked to clothe its inhabitants. Although the description of Bob Zemeckis' future was decidedly an optimistic one, the costume designer initially found the prospect "terrifying--because in my career, I've only done recreations of the past or present, and Bob's concept had no basis in anyone else's work. We were starting from scratch."

"In the future, clothes are truly one-size-fits-all, because you can put them on, and touch a button, the garment conforms to the shape of the body. Running shoes lace themselves, and if one should happen to get wet, as Marty inadvertently does, there is a device that automatically blow dries the clothing while still being worn."

Avoiding the traditional futuristic metallic look, Johnston used bright "but not fluorescent," colors, and a vast array of fabrics to create outfits for the cast, as well as over 150 extras. Johnston worked closely with production designer Rick Carter to make silre "my costumes balanced his set. The audience has to believe that people routinely go in and out of these buildings, and fit in this environment." As the times have changed, the future has become a truly equal society for men and women, so Johnston felt no qualms about a fashion style that was "absolutely sexist. Men look like men, and women look like women. There is no chance of confusion."

 

Back to the Past

While most sequels strive to give an audience the same feeling that turned the original film into a hit, the "Back to the Future" filmmakers have achieved a feat that may well redefine the term "sequel." "I wasn't very interested in simply getting the cast together and having them go on another adventure and call it the sequel of 'Back to the Future,"' explains Zemeckis. "But because we accept the fact that Doc Brown has invented a viable method of time travel, we were able to do something that had never been done in a sequel before--we go back into the first movie and rewitness scenes from that film from a completely different perspective. We deliberately designed scenes to jog the audience's memory of the first film, which is what I think is fun about going to see a sequel. It's like hanging out with old friends again."

"The possibility of doing something like this," says Bob Gale, "was hinted at in the first film. While he's being sent back to 1985, Marty sets the controls of the DeLorean to arrive 10 minutes before he left. He sees himself watching Doc Brown get sent back to 1955. As the audience accepted that premise, sending Marty and Doc back to 1955 in part two will give moviegoers exactly what they want when going to a sequel--more of the first film."

The concept of returning to relive, and in some cases re-act" the experience of "Back to the Future" had its original cast members excited about being part of the sequel. "When you go to see a sequel, you don't want to see the same film again, nor do we as actors or filmmakers want to rest on our laurels and score points from past victories," says Michael J. Fox. "By using the first film as a backdrop for part of the sequel, and setting up a whole new crisis, we're hopefully giving the audience a new way to look at what they liked about the first film."

Warehouses and wardrobe departments were scoured to find props and clothing that had not been used for the four years in between the films. Frames from the movie were enlarged for the production team to recreate the look of the first movie in minute detail. Whittier High School again doubled for Hill Valley High, and the gymnasium of the First United Methodist Church in Hollywood hosted its second "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance, although it looked exactly like the first, with many of the same dancers returning to be part of the most unique "revival."

The filmmakers were also aided in their recreation by the memories of the majority of the crew who returned to work on the sequel. Director of photography Dean Cundey remembers an incident on the very first night of filming on the sequel. "We were recreating the scene where lightning has struck the clock tower, and Marty is sent back to 1985. As we were setting up the lightning for the scene, someone said, 'I remember that we had a light over that doorway,' and another crew member recalled the exact filter that went over the light. Essentially we were able to light the scene exactly as it had been done four years earlier. In most cases, you have to go back and redo a job because you don't get it right the first time. In our case, we had to go back years later to redo the job because we definitely got it right the first time."

The term "deja vu" was never more relevant than in the production of the 50s scenes of "Back to the Future Part II." With the same cast in the same wardrobe in the same settings in front of the camera, and with director Zemeckis and the majority of the original crew behind the camera, most could scarcely believe that four years had passed since they had been together. In between his scenes as Biff, Tom Wilson commented, "It didn't feel like four years at all. To me, it felt like three years, eight months. No, maybe three years, nine months ... well, it actually depends on the specific scene. The school dance felt like three years, nine, nine and a half months, but four years? Never."

Since Marty, Doc and Biff all go back to 1955 in the sequel, it was inevitable that they would run into their counterparts from the first film. In order to make those encounters believable, as well as the scenes in the future where Michael J. Fox portrays Marty and his teenage kids at the same time, Zemeckis turned to Industrial Light and Magic, with whom he had worked on the first film, as well as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

During the course of filming "Roger Rabbit," Zemeckis utilized a special computer-operated camera that enabled the director to mesh his live actors with animated characters. Although it was effective, the camera was limited in its movement and flexibility. Thinking ahead to his next project, Zemeckis asked the engineers at ILM to modify the system so it could perform as well as an ordinary film camera. They came back to him with the Vista Glide system.

"Usually," explains Zemeckis, "when you see movies where there are two people played by the same person in the same frame, the camera is always locked down, and there's a door jam, or something between the two of them, a straight vertical line where they put the film split. I think audiences are so sophisticated today that they understand that and would see through the trick."

With the Vista Glide, Zemeckis was able to move that split back and forth within the scene, so characters could walk around themselves, or even pass objects to each other. The actor, having filmed one side of the scene, would then get redressed as the other character. A small receiver was placed in their ear to enable them to hear and react to the dialogue of their other character, while the second side was put on film. Used several times within the course of the film, its most intricate application finds the 47-year-old Marty McFly and his teenage children Marty Jr. and Marlene, all played by Michael J. Fox, sitting down to enjoy a pizza dinner with each other.

Although the special effects of "Back to the Future Part II" are state-of-the-art, writer/producer Bob Gale explains what makes them work so well is when "we take them for granted. The story is the most important part of the film, and if the audience is involved with that story, the effects are there to enchance that enjoyment and make the story more believable, not to call attention to themselves. When an actor appears opposite himself on the screen, we filmed the scene as if two different actors were playing it. What we tried to do was make sure these effects are so tightly incorporated into the story, no one will question how they were done until they're driving home from the movie."

During the filming of "Back to the Future," one of the most challenging aspects for both Lea Thompson and Thomas F. Wilson was being aged to play their 17-year-old characters as 47-year-old adults. For the continuation of the story, both actors were aged an additional 30 years to portray those characters at age 77, and underwent another drastic change for their altered 1985 personas. Michael J. Fox, the only principal cast member to avoid the rigors of prosthetic makeup in the original film, found himself being transformed into the 47-year-old Marty McFly, as well as Marty Jr. and Marlene McFly.

Fox spent in excess of four hours in the make-up chair in preparation of his scenes as old Marty, yet the actor felt the time justified the end results. "It's not the most pleasant thing in the world," he admits. "It can get quite hot underneath all of the rubber, and the wig pieces are somewhat uncomfortable, but when you're finally in character, that's when the fun starts. You suddenly acquire a freedom to experiment, to try different facial contortions or voices that might have looked or sounded ridiculous for young Marty, but under two inches of rubber you're a lot less self-conscious, and find a new character."

"Sometimes," says Lea Thompson of the make-up, "you forget that your face is actually working. You get to the point of where you think that once you have the make-up on, you can just wear it, and it will act for you. What's remarkable about the process is that even though my face was totally covered with prosthetics, it was still me. The make-up does put the extra years on, but one can still see the person underneath, almost to the point of being able to see the passage of time that leads to what you're seeing on the screen."

The actor who undoubtedly went through the most arduous make-up schedule was Thomas F. Wilson. On many occasions, Wilson would have to portray both old Biff and young Biff, or old Biff and his grandson Griff in the same day, in the same scene. Beginning the make-up process at 3:00 a.m., Wilson would film his scenes as old Biff, have the make-up removed (another hour and a half), and then get remade into young Biff or Griff to act opposite himself. "It would have been a lot easier," concedes Wilson, "if we were doing 'The Patty Duke Show,' and I could have just put a bow in my hair and come back as Cathy, who enjoys the minuet."

"The make-up technicians did a spectacular job," says Bob Zemeckis, "but one has to remember to give the actors their due. We now have the technology to use make-up to get anyone to look like they're 47 or 77, but the actor has the power to make it live. Michael, Lea and Tom made those characters believable through their acting."

As he had intended, Zemeckis has fashioned a continuation, rather than a sequel, noting that the film can still be enjoyed by those who didn't see the first film, "as long as you believe that in the first movie a time machine was somehow invented." He does admit however, "having seen the first movie will make the experience much more enjoyable." "We are trying to be true to the audience that made the first film so successful," states Bob Gale. "When we were trying to decide how much exposition to put in the second film, we thought that the people who really want to see number two have already seen part one. Also, it's readily available on videocassette, so anyone who missed it can still see it before coming to the sequel."

When asked to describe the film they've made, Michael J. Fox recalls having the same problem with the first film. "What do you call it? sci-fi, action, comedy, coming-of-age, who knows? It represents so many different genres. I guess the best I can say is that for sheer entertainment, it's everything you go to the movies for."

Having finished production on "Back to the Future Part II," Zemeckis, along with Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Thomas F. Wilson immediately began work on "Back to the Future Part III." What can filmmakers expect from the further adventures of Marty and Doc? "Back to the Future Part III," says Zemeckis with a grin, "picks up where 'Back to the Future Part II' leaves off..."

 

Credit Block

Steven Spielberg Presents A Robert Zemeckis Film. "Back to the Future Part II." Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson. Music by Alan Silvestri. Edited by Arthur Schmidt, Harry Keramidas. Production Design by Rick Carter. Director of Photography, Dean Cundey, A.S.C. Executive Producers, Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy. Story by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale. Screenplay by Bob Gale. Produced by Bob Gale and Neil Canton. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. A Universal Picture.

as of October 24, 1989

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