Hasslein Blog: Exclusive Interview With Back to the Future Scribe Bob Gale


Hasslein Blog

Friday, January 18, 2013

Exclusive Interview With Back to the Future Scribe Bob Gale

by Rich Handley

On Dec. 10, 2012, screenwriter Bob Gale reached out to express his appreciation of A Matter of Time: The Unauthorized Back to the Future Lexicon, saying he was impressed at how it turned out. (Actually, what he said was that I'm insane.) Given Gale's public comments that same day regarding Mattel's fan-disappointing hoverboard replica (as reported in an interview with Beyond the Marquee), I was quite pleased to receive that e-mail. Naturally, I did what any writer would have done: I requested an interview. And graciously, Mr. Gale agreed.

HANDLEY: How does it feel to know that people are still so enthusiastic about a movie trilogy you made almost 30 years ago? Does it surprise you?

GALE: Bob Zemeckis and I are delighted and amazed at the enthusiasm people around the world still have for these films. Back in 1985, we didn't know whether anyone would even show up to see the first one, so the fact that today's parents—who were kids when they first saw the films—are now showing them to THEIR kids... it's wonderful!

HANDLEY: To what would you attribute the continued love being shown to Back to the Future, compared to other comedies made in the 1980s? There's no Peggy Sue Got Married video game, no Look Who's Talking Lego sets, and no Bill and Ted encyclopedia (though maybe there should be, in the latter case). So why Back to the Future?

GALE: With BTTF, we definitely caught lightning in a bottle—a perfect marriage of an excellent script, a perfect cast, great directing, fabulous music and top-drawer filmmaking. At its heart, BTTF has great, memorable characters with whom audiences identify, and dramatizes a question that no doubt occurs to every person ever born: "What were my parents like when they were kids?" That's a question and concept that crosses all cultures and all generations.

HANDLEY: I'm often impressed at how well each of the three films holds up to this day. All too often, film sequels end up being inferior and cheap-looking compared to their predecessors—but not Back to the Future. How did you and Robert Zemeckis avoid that all-too-common pitfall when you made Parts II and III, even after suffering a setback that can often kill sequels: namely, losing some of your original cast? Why did you succeed where so many filmmakers have historically failed?

GALE: Well, the only cast member whom we didn't get back was Claudia Wells, who had some personal issues that prevented her from doing the sequels. Crispin Glover had chosen not to participate before we even started devising the story, so the sequels were written with the assumption he wouldn't be back.

I think a key reason the sequels turned out so well is that we got most of the proverbial band back together, both in front of and behind the camera. When the original creators stick with a project, there's a much better chance for the results to be good. And Bob Z. and I were passionate about wanting to do quality sequels—we weren't doing these simply for the money. We had a great cast and crew who all loved the first movie and shared our desire to do a great job. And everyone came through.

Beyond that, the basis for the sequels were the characters—it's a family saga, and I think that's an intrinsically rich and interesting area to explore... something we learned from The Godfather Part 2!

HANDLEY: Originally, the first film featured Marty surviving a nuclear explosion in the 1950s, using a time-machine built into a refrigerator. That sequence was ultimately cut, but the same concept (sans time travel) was revisited by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Were you aware, prior to seeing the film, that this story element would be included? And what was your reaction upon finally seeing that concept realized on the big screen, three decades later, albeit in someone else's movie?

GALE: Neither Bob Z. nor I knew that this concept had been incorporated into Indy 4. Our inspiration for it had come from a movie called The Atomic Kid, starring Mickey Rooney, which we'd both seen as kids—and I understand is finally coming to DVD in the spring, courtesy of Olive Films. As to what we thought of the sequence? We thought ours was better!

HANDLEY: How heavily involved were you in developing the storylines for the brilliant Back to the Future video games from TellTale Games? And are you happy with how it turned out?

GALE: I was heavily involved regarding the content from the very beginning, and stayed involved during the entire process. The folks at TellTale were terrific—they were huge fans, they brought a lot to the party, and they wanted to do it right. And they did. I'm very happy with the way it turned out, and this game, unlike the other BTTF games, truly deserves to be associated with the franchise.

HANDLEY: In envisioning what 2015 would be like, you naturally had to make a number of assumptions and extrapolations. Some, such as the prevalent use of fax machines and pay phones, as well as the invention of hoverboards and flying cars, have not panned out, while on the other hand, you pretty much nailed it in terms of modern televisions.

In essence, you accurately predicted not only wall-mounted large-screen TVs, but also voice-over-IP services and instant-messaging clients, as well as the integration of computers, phone service and television—long before anyone outside of MIT even had a clue what those concepts meant. Were you just lucky when it came to the TV technology, or was this an area of particular interest for you, enabling you to predict with confidence what was coming on the horizon?

GALE: Bob Z. and I knew that everyone always predicts the future incorrectly, and we knew that we would, too. So our approach was to have fun with it and do the best we could by extrapolating trends and technology that we thought was cutting-edge in 1988 (when the script was written). We wanted a positive, optimistic future that was clearly built on the present (as opposed to something like Bladerunner, in which it seems like there are no vestiges of the present).

We knew there wouldn't be flying cars or hoverboards or food hydrators, but these elements made for the right tone. Yes, of course we researched as much as we could. Being in the entertainment business, we were certainly following trends in home video technology, so we combined certain elements we observed and got a good approximation of where we are now.

Interestingly enough, we chose NOT to depict the home video stuff as HD, not because we didn't think we'd have it, but because we thought it would look very "special-effecty" on film and would draw attention to itself. We created the Cafe '80s with the assumption that people today would be nostalgic for that period—and we were right.

HANDLEY: Finally, it's no secret how disappointed you were with the quality of Mattel's hoverboard replica. Given the company's hype over the product, why do you think such an inferior product ended up being released, instead of what you'd anticipated Mattel producing? Would creating a screen-accurate hoverboard replica be too expensive, or did Mattel simply cut too many corners in order to maximize profit?

GALE: I don't fully understand what happened with the Mattel hoverboard replica. Clearly, they bit off more than they could chew, but rather than admit it, they pretended like the product they released was what they had promoted. Sadly, this is typical corporate behavior.

The tragedy here is if they had come to me and/or the fan community when they were having problems, we all would have tried to help them solve those problems. And again, I apologize to everyone who bought one based on my involvement. It's certainly not a bad product, but it's not what it was supposed to be, and I think it's overpriced for what it is. 

Thanks so much to Bob Gale for taking the time to answer these questions.

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At January 18, 2013 at 7:07 AM , Blogger Greg Mitchell said...

Great interview!

At January 18, 2013 at 8:21 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

We all love u Bob Gale! ... I got one of the Mattel hover boards and hate it but have done some upgrades to it that make it look a lot better ! I love that u came out saying what u really thing of it and that's just one of the reasons we all love u and the BttF movies ! :-) hope to meet u some Day


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