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30 Things you didn't know about the "Back to the Future" series

Writer: Casey Lee


Marty McFly and Doc Brown.

This 21st October, Marty McFly and Doc Brown would be arriving on the Delorean, expecting to see "Jaws 19", powerlaced Nikes and hoverboards. Though that reality may only exist in the movies, but to those who watched the "Back to the Future", that future will always be a reality in our hearts.


Marty and Doc Brown are coming this 21st October 2015!

"Back to the Future" turns 30 this year, and there will be celebrations aplenty around the world to commemorate (and secretly wishing) the arrival of the Delorean time machine, so we here at Cinema Online have been thinking on how we would want to celebrate this momentous occasion as well. Being big fans of the movies, we thought we should look back in the past of things to share with other fans of the series.

So to match with the 30th anniversary of "Back to the Future", we are giving you 30 things that you did(n't) know about the "Back to the Future" trilogy, and maybe it will change the way you see them when you will be re-watching the series again, come this 'Back to the Future Day'.

"Marty, don't be such a square."

The idea for "Back to the Future" came about when screenwriter Bob Gale found a yearbook of his father's back when senior Gale was in highschool. This gave Bob Gale the premise of what it would have been like if he had met with the younger self of his father and would they have been friends.

After completing the script, Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis went out to sell their movie, only to be turned away by most of the major studios. With the climate of teen-targeted movies at the time being defined by raunchiness from the likes of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (and that bikini scene) and "Revenge of the Nerds", the premise of a young teenager going back in to a conservative time and drawing the physical attraction of his younger mother was rejected, because it did not seem raunchy enough. When Gale and Zemeckis went to Disney, they were turned away for the opposite reason; saying that the mild incestuous tone was too unfriendly for the wholesome Disney picture.

Without being able to get the movie off the ground for four years, Zemeckis went on to make "Romancing of the Stone", and the success of it shot Zemeckis' reputation past 88 miles. Thus, Gale and Zemeckis' script of their time traveling adventure was given a second consideration, before Steven Spielberg finally agreed to be a producer for it at Universal.

"I finally invent something that works!"

Having written the original script after making "Used Cars" in 1980, not everything in it had survived by the time "Back to the Future" had reached the final cut. In fact, the Oscar-nominated screenplay went through 40 revisions before it was even green-lit to be made.

Among the first things that were changed was Marty, who was named after a production assistant who had worked with Zemeckis and Gale in "Used Cars". Marty's last name was initially McDermott, but they decided to change it because it had too many syllables. It was Zemeckis who finally came up with the name McFly, and thus we have the hero who we will not know by any other name.

Also changed from the original script was the form of the time machine. Before it was decided that a Delorean would be used, the time machine was once thought as a laser device that zaps its time travelers through time. Then at one point, it was a refrigerator that was literally blasted to the past by an atomic explosion. The fridge idea was eventually scrapped because Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis did not like being held responsible for the idea when children start trapping themselves in them, believing they could travel through time (However, the idea of hiding in a cooling coffin during an atomic blast was eventually used by Spielberg in the latest adventure of his iconic archaeologist who shall not be named here).

But how the idea of a time traveling machine changed from a stationary object to a moving one, like a car, came about in the third draft, when they wanted it to be sent through time by driving through an atomic explosion (if you are wondering why we didn't see any atomic explosion in the end, it was removed entirely for budget reasons). There was also another reason for why it was changed to a car, which bring us to our next point.

"It looks like an airplane - without wings!"

One of the central gags that Zemeckis and Gale wanted to put in "Back to the Future" was when Marty steps out from car in 1955 after crashing into the barn of a pine tree farmer. The scene first appeared in the third draft of the script (the same time when the idea of using a car as the time machine) and was meant to make Marty look like an alien that had landed on earth. For the car, Zemeckis and Gale wanted something that would resemble an alien spacecraft (so as to make the "Tales from Space" reference), and they ultimately picked the discontinued Delorean, for its gull-wing doors. As thanks for turning his design into one of pop culture's greatest icons, Zemeckis and Gale actually received a fan letter from John Delorean himself. Shortly after the film came out, a body kit to modify the Delorean to resemble the time machine was also released.

"My name is Darth Vader. I am an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan!"

When Universal had agreed to let Zemeckis and Gale make "Back to the Future", its head Sid Sheinberg had sent them a memo telling them that he didn't like the title of movie and wanted it changed. His reasoning was that no one would want to see a movie with the word 'Future' in the title, and so he proposed another name. In reference to the gag of Marty being an alien after stepping out from the time machine in 1955, Sheinberg wanted to title the movie "The Spaceman From Pluto".

That didn't go well with Zemeckis and Gale, but it was hard to say no to the studio head who let you make your picture. Instead, producer Steven Spielberg stepped in and replied Sheinberg, thanking him for his 'joke memo'. Too embarrassed to show that he was being serious, Sheinberg let the original title stay, and we are all thankful for it.

However, that wasn't all the changes that Sheinberg had suggested. It was also his suggestion to change Doc Brown's pet, which was originally meant to be a chimpanzee into a dog, and we are also most probably thankful for that as well.

"This is Heavy"

One of the best known behind-the-scene happenings of "Back to the Future" was that Michael J Fox was not the original Marty McFly. For those who didn't know, Zemeckis and Gale had wanted Fox for the role at first, but Fox was unavailable due to his commitment to the television series "Family Ties". Out of the actors who had auditioned for the role (including a young Johnny Depp who didn't even make an impression), Zemeckis and Gale finally went with Eric Stoltz, after seeing his performance in 1985's "Mask" (not the Jim Carrey one), and had even started shooting with him.

However after a few weeks of shooting, both Zemeckis and Stoltz himself felt that he was not fit for the part since Stoltz wasn't able to bring the comedic dynamic that Zemeckis and Gale had wanted from their script. Zemeckis and Stoltz amicably parted ways and it was time for Zemeckis and Gale to negotiate for their first choice; Michael J Fox.

After working out a deal, the arrangement was to have Fox dedicate his day on the set for "Family Ties", since his screen time there became even more important with the pregnancy of his co-star Meredith Baxter, while he would be rushed to the set of "Back to the Future" at night. To get the day shots, Fox also went to work on the weekends. Other than having to re-shoot the scenes that were done with Stoltz (that added another US$3 million to the budget), this meant that for the duration of the production of "Back to the Future" and still appearing in "Family Ties", Fox was only able to get between 2 to 5 hours of sleep a day.

"Too Darn Loud"

During one of the earliest scenes in "Back to the Future" when Marty goes to audition for the school dance with his band, he is admonished by a teacher for being 'too darn loud'. That teacher was played by Huey Lewis, who wrote the theme songs "The Power of Love" and "Back In Time". Almost like McFly's unsent record, Lewis had submitted an earlier song for the movie but it was rejected before he came up with "The Power of Love". Another musician that also appeared in "Back to the Future", is guitarist Paul Hanson, who can also been seen in the same audition scene, and had taught Fox how to perform his rocking guitar solo for the dance party in 1955.

"I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it."

You would not hear any of Alan Silvestri's score until 18 minutes into "Back to the Future", when the Delorean is first introduced. In fact, it nearly would not be heard at all if Steven Spielberg had fired him. After working with director Robert Zemeckis in "Romancing the Stone", composer Alan Silvestri was brought on to score for "Back to the Future", but producer Steven Spielberg wasn't confident with Silvestri would be able to do a good job after being unimpressed by his work for "Romancing the Stone".

However, during a preview screening that was using a temporary track, Spielberg had told Zemeckis that the grand and classical cue that was used was just the sort of music the movie needed, without knowing that it was done by Silvestri.

"Ronald Reagan? The Actor?"

When 1955 Doc questions the inconceivable notion that actor Ronald Reagan would become President of the United States in 1985, the producers were concerned that it would not get the approval of the White House for offending the president. When the final cut was presented during a private screening for Reagan at the White House, he was so amused by the scene that he asked his projectionist to stop the reel and replay that scene again. Reagan was so taken in by the movie that he even quoted it during his State of Union address a year later.

"The appropriate question is 'When'!"

"Back to the Future" was released in the United States on 5 July 1985, while it was depicting what would happen on 21 October 1985. This actually led some people to believe that they were seeing what was about to happen in the future. According to Bob Gale, people had actually gathered at the location that was used as Twin Pines Mall on that date, to see if there was really a time-traveling Delorean. Needless to say, they were sorely disappointed. But 25 years later, on 5 November 2000, fans gathered there for the 25th anniversary celebration of the movie, and it was there when 21 October was declared as "Back to the Future Day".

"Why do you keep calling me Calvin?"

After waking up in 1955, Lorraine calls his (future) son's name by his undergarment, but did you know it was not always a Calvin Klein? In France, Marty is called Pierre Cardin and in Spain, he is called Levi's Strauss.

"Where we're going, we don't need roads!"

When Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote "Back to the Future", they had not planned it to have a sequel, much less turning it into a trilogy. Zemeckis himself had said that if he knew that they were going to make a sequel, he wouldn't have ended it with Jennifer being brought along the Delorean as the final scene, which was intended to be a final joke. However, after ending the highest grossing movie of 1985 with his 'joke', it was a golden opportunity too good to pass up.

While Gale went straight to writing the next screenplay, Zemeckis was off to direct his next project "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", causing a three year gap between "Back to the Future" and "Back to the Future Part 2". Gale had wanted the sequel to take place in the 1960s when Marty's parents are in college, but when Zemeckis returned from "Roger Rabbit", he didn't like it and rejected it. So if the past was off limits, then the only way to go was forward; into the future of 2015.

"2015? You mean we are in the future?"

Interestingly enough, Robert Zemeckis himself later revealed that he was reluctant to set "Back to the Future Part 2" in the future of 2015. The reason for this was because he knew that when a movie is set in the future, it is most likely to mis-predict what it would be like. While there are not hoverboards or power-laced shoes in the real 2015, we have to commend his imagination for calling out handheld computers, obsession with movie sequels (in 3D!) and the lack of human communication on the dinner table, is pretty spot on!

"This time, it's really, really personal."

Not all the stuff that is seen in "Back to the Future Part 2" is new technology. There are some stuff that have existed way back in 1955. Most notable of them is 3D technology, which may be surprising to some of you who thought that there was 3D in cinemas before the 2000s.

In "Back to the Future", one of Biff's cronies, played by Casey Siemaszko, actually wears a paper-type 3D glasses that were used in the 50s. In 1985, the same character wears a specially made frame with red and blue lenses, and in 2015, 3D has become fully holographic, which would probably be much cooler and more comfortable than the bulky and painful eye-pieces that we fork out extra money to wear today. Just sayin'.

"Your father is in the same place he's been for the past 12 years... "

While most of the main cast had agreed to reprise their roles for the sequels, there were two exceptions. The first is Crispin Glover, who plays as George McFly or Marty's father in "Back to the Future". After being unhappy about the ending in "Back to the Future" where the McFlys are materially better off because George had the courage to go against Biff in the past, Glover was offered a lower wage than his co-stars for his return to the sequel. Glover not only asked to have an equal wage, but wanted a script approval clause added to his contract. When the producers refused to meet his demands, Glover did not return for the sequels, and screenwriter Bob Gale had to write down the amount of screen time for Glover's character(s).

However, for the scenes that had Glover's character, they had to use another actor; Jeffrey Weismann, and fitted him using molds made from the first film with some added facial prosthetic, to make him appear like Glover. It resulted in a lawsuit from Glover, who sued Universal for using his likeness without his approval and the case was eventually settled out of court. However, the case became a landmark that prompted the Screen Actors Guild to add in new rules on prohibiting productions to use the likeness of an actor without consent.

"I'm Young/I'm Old!"

The second actor to not return for the sequel was Claudia Wells, who played as Jennifer in "Back to the Future". She had quit acting by the time the sequel was about to be made, because her mother was diagnosed with cancer. So actress Elisabeth Shue was cast to be Jennifer in "Part 2" and subsequently "Part 3", and they had to re-shoot the final scene (the one that Zemeckis didn't wanted) from the original that was the beginning of "Back to the Future Part 2".

"That's like a baby's toy!"

While we are on the subject of actors, "Back to the Future Part 2" was also the acting debut of Elijah Wood, who was only 8 years old at the time. You can see him as one of the boys playing the shooting video game. Who would have thought that the little Video Game Boy (as he was credited) would one day be the Ringbearer to save all of Middle-Earth?

"No, it's Hill Valley. Although I can't imagine Hell being much worse!"

Bringing back the actors for the sequel was one concern, but there was also the matter of re-creating the set of Hill Valley. When the set was built for "Back to the Future", Zemeckis's plan was to shoot the scenes set in 1955 first when it was still new, then damaging it to appear like 1985 (including the broken clock tower). However, as the sequel was to be set in a futuristic Hill Valley, the production had to refurbish the old damaged set. In the end, rebuilding the set had cost more than when it was first built.

"You mean, I'm gonna see where I live? I'm gonna see myself as an old man?"

Although the trilogy has a lot to do with time traveling to the past and future, it was made mostly with less special effects and modern technology than you would expect. However, one of the most advanced piece of technology that was used at the time in making of "Back to the Future Part 2" was the VistaGlide system. The VistaGlide is practically a robotic controlled dolly system, with computers controlling the camera movements of a shot.

This allowed shooting of scenes with same actors in multiple roles in the same shot, especially the ones involving their past/future selves. Some of the most notable scenes shot with the VistaGlide was when young and old Jennifer shock each other, when old Biff gives the sports almanac to young Biff in 1955 and 1985 Doc passes a wrench to 1955 Doc, while he was preparing for the fateful lightning strike.

Not all of those shots with the same actors were solely done with the VistaGlide, however, as some of them were just done with good old-fashioned blue-screen.

"Don't talk to anyone, don't touch anything, don't do anything, don't interact with anyone, and try not to look at anything."

Of course, we didn't bring up the whole point about the VistaGlide without it leading to our next point. Seeing how precarious and precise the continuity had to be maintained in order for the VistaGlide to do its job properly, it would be a disaster if anything changed in between takes. That is exactly what had happened while shooting the 2015 McFly dinner scene in "Back to the Future Part 2". In the scene where Michael J Fox plays not only 2 but 3 characters in the same scene, there was an earthquake in between takes, which would have displaced all the things that were put on set. However, much to the crew's surprise after the earthquake, most of the things were still in place and they continued shooting without any more problems.

"I'll hover convert your old road car into a skyway flyer!"

Since anyone who has watched "Back to the Future Part 2", there is only one question. Where are the hoverboards? While we are pretty sure there are scientists out there still trying to answer the question now (and one day we will need a hover-convertible service), the real hoverboards used in the film were made mostly out of simple special effects, camera and editing tricks. One of those involved having the soles of Michael J Fox's shoes being drilled onto the board, so he had to be carried around on set for the next shot. Since the five years between "Back to the Future" and "Back to the Future Part 2", Fox had actually forgotten how to skate with a skateboard (and that's why we need those hoverboards!).

After the release of "Back to the Future Part 2", director Robert Zemeckis caused a frenzy for hoverboards with some cheeky remarks. In a promotional material for the behind-the-scenes special presentation, Zemeckis said that actual working hoverboards that floated with magnetic energy have been around but the toy manufacturers weren't allowed to make them, and they only managed to insert a few into the movie.

This led to an uproar of calls from parents to toymaker Mattel (whose logo was seen on the hoverboards) who wanted to buy a hoverboard for their kids, thinking they were hiding them. Although it was later clarified that what Zemeckis had said was a joke (why do all his jokes always backfire?), the dream (or demand) for hoverboards has never truly died since.

"If the me of the future is now in the past, how could you possibly know about it?"

When writing "Back to the Future Part 2", Zemeckis and Gale had written a time-spanning adventure that would have Marty and Doc traveling to different time periods throughout the movie. However, as there was too much material to fit into one movie, it was then decided that the story would be split into two parts. So, if you thought that "Lord of the Rings" was special for being shot back-to-back, then "Back to the Future" was way ahead of its time, shooting both the second and third installments across a period of 11 months.

"Well, there are plenty worse places to be than the Old West."

As much as Doc Brown loves the Old West, it was actually on Michael J Fox's suggestion to the producers that he would like to star in a Western, which set the setting of "Back to the Future Part 3". This would actually take most of the production for "Back to the Future Part 3" outside of the Universal lot where they had done most of "Back to the Future" and "Back to the Future Part 2", which was refreshing for the returning cast.

"Wake up! Get up! Let's go! I got me a runt to kill."

Remember how we mentioned that Michael J Fox had to make some big sacrifices on sleep in order to be in "Back to the Future"? Well, director Robert Zemeckis had to do so as well. Since the shoot for "Back to the Production Part 3" was taking place outside of Universal, director Robert Zemeckis had to travel to shoot at the location, while the editing was being overseen by Bob Gale in Universal. While shooting the climatic train sequence in "Back to the Future Part 3" by day, Zemeckis had to travel by a private plane from the location, to return to the studio to review the cut and dubbing done at the studio for "Back to the Future Part 2" by night. Then he would wake up at 4.30am in the morning on the next day to leave for the set again to resume the shoot. He did this every day for three weeks.

"I wish I'd never invented that infernal time machine."

As seminal as the "Back to the Future" trilogy is to the time-hopping adventure genre, it is by far not the most defining, or even the earliest movies to use it as a subject matter. So it is not entirely surprising to find references made to its predecessors. One of the most notable homage made was by composer Alan Silvestri in the opening of "Back to the Future Part 3", who had used a similar piano cue that was used by composer Russell Garcia for the grandfather of time-traveling movies; George Pal's "The Time Machine" from 1960.

"Anytime, Hubert!"

In the short scene when Doc Brown is reminded that he would be picking up the love of his life, the mayor was played by Hugh Gillin. That role was actually first offered to "Back to the Future" fan, actor and by then former President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. But Reagan had to decline the offer (probably because Presidents don't demote themselves to mayors).

"Clayton...Clara Clayton"

Clara Clayton, played by Mary Steenburgen, is based on Clara Clemens; the daughter of Samuel Clemens or better known as Mark Twain. Her name was not the only thing about her that was based off her in the movie. The real world Clara was also dramatically saved from falling off a cliff when she fell from a sleigh, when a man named Ossip Gabrilowitsch took control of the horse that was dragging the sleigh before it plunged 50 feet down. Clara and Ossip would eventually marry (as well).

"You're Mad Dog Tannen!"

"Back to the Future Part 3" required the most amount of stuntmen and stunt doubles out of the entire trilogy, given the amounts of specialised skills and techniques used in Westerns. The one person that didn't need a stunt double to perform the Western tricks though was Thomas F. Wilson who played as 'Mad Dog' Tannen (and Biff and Griff from previous installments). Not only did he do most of the horse-riding stunts himself, he actually performed the lasso ropetrick on Marty as well, which brings us to our next point.

"High time we had a hanging!"

In Michael J Fox's autobiography, he described that when Marty was pulled up by his neck at the constructing courthouse seen in "Back to the Future Part 3", Fox was accidentally hanged for real, and actually passed out for a while. If no one had noticed, the name and the cause of death on the tombstone in the photo would have been much different.

"Gentlemen, excuse me. But, my friend and I have to catch a train."

In "Back to the Future Part 3", the train that was used to propel the Delorean is known as the Sierra No. 3. The Sierra itself has a particular history in movies, often being known as the 'movie star of locomotives' because it has been featured in more movies than any other steam trains of its make. However, there was a factual error of using the Sierra, because it was actually invented in 1896 (and wouldn't exist in 1886), but it was painted to resemble trains of the time.

While the train was not derailed and destroyed for the climatic train sequence in "Back to the Future Part 3", the Sierra No. 3 is still in use today at the Railtown 1987 State Historic Park in California. We are only telling you this just in case you want to conduct any 'science experiments' in the future.

"Our future is whatever you make it."

After the completion of the trilogy in 1990, the next question that is bound to be asked is will there ever be a 'Part 4'? That same question has been asked by its stars as well. Ideas for a fourth installment has been around since the mid 1990s until the 2000s, with Michael J Fox even suggesting at one time that he would play a cameo role or acted as a mentor to a new time traveler.

Although nothing ever materialised out from those interests, if you are worried that this beloved franchise would take the path of a remake or reboot (as is the trend nowadays), then you can rest assure. As the rights holders, director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale have already pledged that they would not allow any reboots or remakes of this franchise in their lifetime. While we won't be seeing any new "Back to the Future" movie in the near future, there is an upcoming documentary that was made to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the series, and the cultural phenomenon it has become since.

The trailer for the upcoming "Back to the Future" documentary.

Cinema Online, 21 October 2015

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