CHATHAM – Why, after 31 years, is “Back to the Future” still popular enough that people travel long distances to see it on the big screen and hear its co-creator and one of its stars talk about making the film?
“Everybody wonders what were my parents like when they were kids; everybody wonders what was my parents' first date like,” said the film's co-writer and producer Bob Gale during a question and answer session after a screening of the movie at the Chatham Orpheum Theater last Wednesday.
“'Back to the Future' captured that in a magical way, that everyone can related to,” he said. The film was a “beautiful arrangement of casting, writing, directing, music, production design – every once and a while the planets do line up.”
Added actor Christopher Lloyd, who plays Emmett “Doc” Brown in all three “Back to the Future” films, the idea of traveling in time appeals at a very basic level.
“We all, I think, kind of wish we could do that, so these films really exploit, in a good way, that kind of wish,” he said.
The event was part of “Back to the Future” week in Chatham, which also included visits from the DeLorean time machine from the films as well as exclusive wine dinners and receptions with Gale and Lloyd. Another of the films' stars, Leah Thompson, was scheduled to appear but had to cancel after signing a last-minute movie deal. A short video greeting from the actress was played before the Q&A.
Chatham Inn at 359 Main owner Jeff Ippoliti organized the events, which raised funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, founded by the films' star. The dinners and the screenings sold out, and together with donations from folks taking photos of or getting a ride in the DeLorean, $43,860 was raised for the Foundation, Ippoliti said. Along with paying their own travel expenses, Lloyd and Gale each donated $5,000 to the Foundation, he added.
“People were incredibly generous,” he said. “To be able to write a check for almost $44,000 was amazing.”
Ippoliti, who hosted the “Back to the Future” creators at a car show he organized in Florida, served as MC for the discussion following the screening. Gale talked about how the film almost didn't get made; it was rejected some 40 times before Universal agreed to do it after co-writer and director Bob Zemeckis hit it big with “Romancing the Stone.” Lloyd said when he first looked at the script, “it didn't make me very excited.” In fact, he tossed it in the waste basket. “That was a great career move,” he joked.
“It's kind of an embarrassing moment, but I just love talking about it over and over again,” he said. At the time his film career was not going as well as he wished and he'd decided to return to theater in New York, but his agent persuaded him to go back to Los Angles. He decided to meet with Zemeckis, was impressed and agreed to do the film.
“That's good life advice,” interjected Gale. “No matter what you're doing, always take the meeting.”
Lloyd said he based the character on a combination of Thomas Edison and conductor Leopold Stokowski, taking from the latter his wild mane of hair.
Michael J. Fox was always the actor Gale and Zemeckis wanted for main character Marty McFly, but he was initially unavailable due to his commitment to the TV show “Family Ties.” Eric Stoltz was cast in the role, but after five weeks of filming, it was clear that he wasn't right for the part. The producers were able to negotiate a deal to film with Fox evenings and weekends, often until the early morning hours, Gale said. The casting change was a bit of a shock for some of those involved in the film, but Gale said it was soon clear that Fox was the right choice.
“The chemistry just changed with Michael,” Lloyd said. “There was a torque – the energy changed – I understood why the change was made.”
Lloyd said he wasn't initially thrilled with filming the movie's dramatic clock tower scene, some of which he had to shoot while suspended by a cable four stories above the ground. Gale revealed that some of the scene was shot in a studio, but that all of the effects for the film had to be done the old fashioned way. “They hadn't invented computer assisted digital effects yet,” he said.
The famous DeLorean time machine happened due to expendiency, Gale said. In the first few drafts of the script, the time machine was a refrigerator that was hauled around in a pick-up truck. They decided they needed an easier way to make it mobile. The DeLorean car, with its gull wing doors and sleek design, seemed futuristic enough, and even inspired some scenes in the movie, he said.
Lloyd, who stars in the upcoming movie “Going in Style,” talked about the season he spent in summer stock at the Falmouth Playhouse in the late 1950s. He was 19 years old at the time and did a different show every week, with stars such as Joseph Cotton, Margaret Sullivan and Basil Rathbone. It was a great training ground for his latter work in the theater, he said.
“It was a great summer in Falmouth,” Lloyd said.
Gale and Ippoliti concluded with a short “Jeopardy”-style interchange focusing on the most often asked questions at “Back to the Future Events.”
The first two answers were no; the questions were “Will there be a 'Back to the Future 4'?” and “Will there be a reboot or remake?” The third answer was yes. The question: “Are you happy to be here tonight?”
Ippoliti said Gale and Lloyd agree to return to reprise the event next summer. “I hope we can get more cast members next year,” he said, adding that he aims to at least double the amount raised for Parkinson's research.