This post will explain how the Director and production team overcame two massive challenges in making 'Back to the Future' and how these lessons can be applied to making top-quality video content.
My all time favourite Hollywood film is 'Back to the Future'. It's one of the most endearing and innovative films of its time (despite some flaws). It mixes science-fiction, romance, nostalgia, action and adventure into a cohesive and engaging story.
'Back to the Future' isn't the only film to have struggled in its production. 'Apocalypse Now' is renowned as the nightmarish misadventure of Francis Ford Coppola and leading man Martin Sheen - entering their own Heart of Darkness and barely making it out alive.
But what you might not know is that there were various hiccups in the production of
'Back to the Future' that, if not overcome, would have halted the production altogether - depriving us of an all-time classic.
1. Not good enough? Start again
While Michael J. Fox was the first choice to play Marty McFly, he was caught up filming the sitcom 'Family Ties' (remember that show!?). As such he was restricted by the producers of the show in his scheduling, because filming a sitcom was basically a full-time job, and then some.
As a result, the producers of 'Back to the Future' settled on Eric Stoltz after being impressed with his performance in 'Mask' (no, not 'The Mask'!).
It became clear after 5-6 weeks of shooting, and reviewing footage, however, that Stoltz was not the right man for the job.
Reportedly, he was 'method' in his acting style, and insisted on being called 'Marty' on set, even when not shooting. It was decided that he was too serious for the quasi-comedic role, and his acting style did not match the script, despite an admirable performance.
Director Bob Zemeckis made the heartbreaking decision to fire him, and reshoot six weeks of footage with Michael J. Fox (now being allowed to work on both projects - hectic!).
So what's to learn from this?
If something is not working - do everything you can to make it work, even if that means starting again.
Like any company, we have faced numerous challenges in some of our productions, which can lead to a first draft we are not super psyched about.
So what do we do? We go back, and we fix it.
On one occasion, we were forced to scrap an entire script because it was not hitting the mark for the aim of the video. (It was around about the time that I decided to hire professional script writers and not micromanage this part of the process!).
It was a tough decision - many hours of work had gone into it. But you must place your ego to the side on occasions like this, for the benefit of a superior end product.
So whilst Eric Stoltz did a fine job in his style, it was not fine for the broader film's tone and direction. Thankfully, Fox's portrayal is iconic and memorable - the right decision was made in his casting.
2. Push through bad ideas
There seemingly and endless stream of trivia about 'Back to the Future' and the production and initial draft ideas that were scrapped or rejected, for the better. Here are a couple of funny, but bad ideas:
As you probably know, even if you haven't seen the film - the time machine used is a modified and supercharged DeLorean. A unique and mobile stainless steel beast that is now an icon of science fiction cinema.
The first drafts of the script, however, had Marty fleeing 1955 in a modified refrigerator using nuclear radiation energy to transport him through time.
Executive Producer Steven Spielberg decided to pressure the writers to scrap this idea, fearing that young children would start locking themselves in fridges.
Probably a wise decision - but obviously that fear wore off, as he used that device in his 2008 film 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull', as the titular character escapes death by taking refuge in a lead-lined fridge. Hmmm....
Spaceman from Pluto
This is a particularly funny one. Senior film studio executives had trouble with the title of the film 'Back to the Future' saying it was too confusing.
At one point in the film, a child in 1955 is reading a comic book, with a subtitle
'Space Zombies from Pluto' - originally 'Spacemen from Pluto' in the script. The studio executives preferred this as the title of the actual film, drawing a parallel with Marty visiting the past as being like an alien.
Thankfully, the producers stuck with the original title, which has much more relevance to the plot, and also just sounds better.
Sometimes, you get ideas from all around you - even from people calling the shots. What is important when faced with an objectively bad idea ('Spaceman From Pluto' - oh boy), is to be constructive in your feedback.
Burning bridges over creative differences is never a good idea, instead, suggest alternative ideas and express gratitude at the contribution in the first place.
To mitigate against unhealthy conflict in our creative processes, we ask many questions of the client in the initial meeting(s), so there's no ambiguity of ideas. This leads to a clear pathway forward, and any creative differences are usually minor and manageable.
We love getting new ideas from clients off the back of our own hard work - it's how we grow as a business and make our videos the best.
I could talk all day about 'Back to the Future' and if somehow you haven't seen it, I encourage you to do so immediately! Go in knowing what you know now - that the film is a superior viewing experience due the challenges that were overcome in its production.
Challenges are a part of any business too - overcoming them is how we can all make the best of difficult and uncomfortable situations.
Until next time,
PS - if you know how many jigawatts it takes to send a man through time, you may like working with us. Click below to get in touch...