Back To The Future: Highlights From Screenwriter Bob Gale’s Talk on Writing and Making the Film
Last January, Screenwriter and producer Bob Gale, along with actor Christopher Lloyd, talked about Back To The Future, from having the idea to shooting it, after a screening of the first BTTF. If you haven’t read it yet, Back To The Future is one of those script everybody will recommend you to read if you want to write screenplays and learn from the best. And that is a very good advice to follow.
Here are 9 highlights from Bob Gale, who co-wrote Back To The Future with Robert Zemeckis and had the original idea:
1 – What Sparked Back To The Future’s Idea
“I wondered whether or not I would have been friend with my dad if I had gone to High School with him. And that was the germ of the idea. It connects with this very human thing that everybody has. It doesn’t matter when you were born, you come to the realization that your parents were once kids, and nobody had ever made a movie about it.”
2 – The Challenges of Making BTTF
“The script was rejected over 40 times. You have to be crazy to want to be in the film business and you have to be able to take a lot of rejection because, as screenwriter William Goldman says, ‘Nobody knows anything.’ We were told over and over again ‘Ha, it’s a Time Travel movie. Time Travel never makes any money.’, ‘Oh it’s nice and sweet, nobody wants to see something nice and sweet.‘, ‘Why don’t you guys take this to Disney? This could be a Disney movie.‘ And this was when Disney was a complete mess.”
3 – Making BTTF Today
“[Robert] Zemeckis and I talked about this many times, we don’t know if we could have make it today actually. Because the mash-up of genres that makes this movie so fresh and exciting and crazy and exuberant. I mean, they don’t know where to put this movie in a video store. Is it family? Is it comedy? Is it SF? Is it adventure? It’s all that stuff and it all works. But today they want everything to be just one thing. The Studios get really nervous when you take some chances and you do something crazy. So I don’t even know if we could have make the movie.”
4 – Casting The Wrong Actor as Marty McFly
“Originally cast was Eric Stoltz in the part of Marty McFly, we wanted Michael J. Fox but he was doing his TV series ‘Family Ties‘ and we approached Gary Goldberg, the producer of the show about having Michael in this movie and Gary said ‘Absolutely not. Michael’s TV schedule is too full. I won’t even let him read the script.” Gary had read the script and he loved it and he said “If I let Michael read the script and tell him he can’t do the movie, Michael is gonna hate me for the rest of my life.” We didn’t go there because we couldn’t and ended up casting Eric Stoltz. He was the favorite choice of Sidney Sheinberg who was the CEO of Universal and was a big fan of a movie that Eric did called ‘Mask‘, a very good picture, and was convinced that Eric could do comedy. We shot for five weeks and became convinced that Eric wasn’t very good at comedy. We were editing the movie as we went along and Bob Zemeckis came and said “Bob, you need to come and look at the footage, I think we got a problem.“And right there I knew there was a problem because during the whole time Bod and I did our movies together, I never saw anything cut together until there was an entire cut of the whole movie; that way Bob had somebody who he completely trust to look at the picture from beginning to end without looking at a peace meal.”
“We showed the footage to Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, and we all agreed that we had a problem and Steven, in his wisdom, said “We can’t go to Sheinberg and tell him we have a problem without having a solution for the problem. So let’s figure out who else can be in the movie, before we tell him that we want to fire Eric. Don’t say we want to fire Eric and shut down. Say we want to fire Eric and hire ‘maybe Michael J. Fox.”
5 – The Difference Between a Theater Trained Actor and a Television Trained Actor.
“Chris [Lloyd] is a theater trained actor. A theater trained actor learns the entire script. The first day of shooting, Chris knew the entire script. Michael J. Fox is a television trained actor and, on a Sitcom particularly, the writers are always changing, they rehearse it, they change the script, they rehearse it the next day, they change the script. So Michael never learned his lines, because what was the point of learning your line, they were going to change it tomorrow. So he learned his lines 10 minutes before he had to say them. So there was an interesting dynamic between how Michael and Chris work because Chris had everything worked out and Michael would throw these ad-libs and they were wonderful, I mean he brought so much to the character of Marty McFly.”
6 – Capitalizing on the Actors Chemistry for BTTF 2 & 3
“It helps a lot as a writer to know the actors who are going to be speaking the dialog. With Chris, knowing that he could memorize all that paragraphs of scientific mambo jambo… The Rule that I had for writing Doc Brown’s dialogs was “Doc never uses small words when a big word would do.” Knowing that it was Chris and Michael, knowing what the actors could do that helps you.”
“A trick that I use as a screenwriter is to imagine a great actor or just somebody I know who has a particular speech pattern saying the dialogs, being the character. Even if they’re dead. Jimmy Stewart has a particular way of talking, Humphrey Bogart has a particular way of talking, Katherine Hepburn has a particular way of talking. These are movie Stars whom I’ve seen all of their movies so many times that their voices are in my head. So if I listen to their voices in my head as I’m writing the dialogs, the dialogs come out a certain way. You should be able to read a dialog and not have to see which character is speaking it. You should be able to say ‘Oh yeah, that’s obviously a Doc Brown line.”
7 – Having a Sequel in Mind
As Bob Zemeckis stated many times “If we knew we were gonna do part 2, we would have never put Jennifer in the car.” Because when we got around writing part 2 we said: “What are we going to do with Jennifer?”
8 – Modifying The Script During Production
“We constantly rewrite the script for all different sorts of reasons. Sometimes because you run out of money and can’t afford to do something, or the weather changes or you get thrown out of the location. We start and we always try to do a table reading, and have everybody sit down and read through the script and get comfortable with the material. As a writer sometimes a line might look really good on paper but when you hear somebody say it, it doesn’t sound right at all.”
9 – The Three Most Important Ingredients in a Script
“People like people. People asks me ‘What are the three most important ingredients in a script?‘ Character, character, character. You’ll forgive a lot of scenes in a movie if you really like the characters. We watch TV series because we really like the characters, and some episodes are good, and some episodes maybe not so much, but if we love those characters, we keep coming back. A great actor can bring so much life into the written word that, that’s why they get the big bucks.”
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thanks to Refocused Media
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