We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy

BOOK: We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy
3.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



NJ Advance/Landov

is the author of
Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon
, which received the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal in the Popular Culture/Leisure category, as well as
A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic
. Caseen also directs theater and teaches high school English in New Jersey, where he lives. He aspires to be a Renaissance man and fears being a jack-of-all-trades. He can be found online at www.caseengaines.com.

Praise for
We Don’t Need Roads

We Don’t Need Roads
is the truly fascinating story of how one of America’s greatest movie franchises came to be. Caseen Gaines’s in-depth research and unprecedented look at Robert Zemeckis’s series proves that the journey to make a perfect movie is anything but perfect. It’s a must read for any true
Back to the Future
lover and anyone who wants to peek behind the curtain to see how films get made.”

—Adam F. Goldberg, creator of ABC’s
The Goldbergs

“What fun! Deeply researched and engagingly written, Caseen Gaines’s
We Don’t Need Roads
is the book
Back to the Future
fans have been craving for decades. Geekily enthusiastic and chock-full of never-before-heard tales of what went on both on and off the screen,
We Don’t Need Roads
is a book worthy of the beloved trilogy itself.”

—Brian Jay Jones,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Jim Henson: The Biography

“Read this book, then watch the movie for the umpteenth time. You’ll appreciate
Back to the Future
all the more thanks to Caseen Gaines’s muscular reporting and conversational writing style.”

—Michael Davis,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street

“Even the most knowledgeable
fans will find much to learn from this intricately detailed and exhaustively researched book. But it’s not just the depth of Gaines’s knowledge and the scope of his interviews that impresses; he clearly adores these films and understands their importance to popular cinema, and that love and understanding shines through the text.”

—Jason Bailey, author of
Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece

“The thirtieth anniversary of the
Back to the Future
trilogy is the perfect time for a book celebrating and examining the greatest comedy, science fiction, time-travel trilogy ever made. With over five hundred hours of interviews with key cast and crew members, Caseen Gaines’s book is a delightful way to travel back to the future and relive those wonderful times with Marty McFly, his family, friends, and enemies—not to mention the inimitable Doc Brown. Strap into your DeLorean and get ready for the ride of your life!”

—Marc Scott Zicree, author of
The Twilight Zone Companion

We Don’t Need Roads
is essential for any
Back to the Future
fan. Not only does Caseen Gaines offer up a meticulously crafted and entertaining account of one of the most beloved time-traveling franchises in movie history, but he uses his access to take an incisive look behind the scenes of Hollywood filmmaking. A must read for all pop culture aficionados.”

—Larry Landsman, author of
Planet of the Apes Revisited


An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street

New York, New York 10014


Copyright © 2015 by Caseen Gaines

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.


Gaines, Caseen, 1986–

We don’t need roads : the making of the Back to the future trilogy / Caseen Gaines.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-698-16184-9

1. Back to the future films—History and criticism. I. Title.

PN1995.9.B26G35 2015

791.43'75—dc2 2015007982

While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and other contact information at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

Cover design: Tal Goretsky

Cover images: (car) George Rose/Getty Images; (road) Blend Images/SuperStock; (lightning) Don Farrall/Getty Images



About the Author

Title Page





1. Think, McFly, Think

2. Erased from Existence

3. Do It with Some Style

4. Rock ’n’ Roll

5. To Be Continued

6. We’re Back

7. You’re George McFly

8. Those Boards Don’t Work

9. It’s a Science Experiment

10. Your Kids Are Gonna Love It





for my family
who raised me on a healthy dose of science fiction
inadvertently showing me that all things are possible

The only thing more uncertain than the future is the past.

—Soviet proverb


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Murphy’s Law
—noun: The theory that, moments before an interview with Robert Zemeckis, one’s audio recorder will malfunction.

t nine months into the research phase for this book, I knew I had put off calling Robert Zemeckis as long as I could. I was nervous about speaking with the creative brain behind some of my favorite films like
Forrest Gump
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
, and, of course, that epic time-travel trilogy. There were a million things I wanted to query him about, most of them having to do with the project I was working on. It wasn’t so much that I was starstruck by the prospect of speaking with him, but when you have a chance to chat with a visionary whose work you respect and admire, it has a way of putting you on edge.

Or, at least, that’s what I attribute my feelings to in hindsight. More likely it was because I had tangible evidence of the benefit of having Robert Zemeckis—or Bob Z, as he’s known to friends, colleagues, and
Back to the Future
aficionados—on board for this book. A few weeks earlier, when I reached out to Christopher Lloyd’s manager, he asked me if Zemeckis was on board. A line was drawn in the sand: The day I spoke to the director would be the day an interview would be scheduled with the Doc.

Challenge accepted. I hung up the phone with Lloyd’s rep and retrieved the index card with Zemeckis’s agent’s phone number written on it, a three-by-five piece of card stock that had been haunting me ever since I’d scribbled on it four months earlier. Without jumping through too many hoops, I got a hold of Zemeckis’s assistant, who promptly scheduled a half-hour interview for us, with only one request: “We respectfully ask that you contain the time to the thirty minutes which we have allotted.” No big deal, I thought, until a week later when it was six minutes before our scheduled interview and the software I use to record Skype calls on my computer stopped working.

It was 12:24
. Pacific Standard Time. I was based on the East Coast, but had grown accustomed to working my day around what I reductively referred to as “Los Angeles Time.” Each second became more and more important. There was no way I was going to call Bob Z late. Bob G—Bob Gale, cowriter and coproducer of
Back to the Future
and its subsequent sequels—had told me that Zemeckis rarely does interviews on his past work. His rep’s words raced through my head, an LED sign outside the New York Stock Exchange. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster, with the print getting larger and larger—

By 12:29, I was stuck with no choice but to use my plan B. I took out my cell phone, deleted a few apps to ensure I had a surplus of memory, and called Zemeckis from my computer, silently praying the microphone on my handheld device was catching everything. I had consolidated all of my questions into six or seven bullet points of topics, deciding it might be easier to let the colloquy unfold naturally, while making sure I got what I needed within the confines of his schedule. And everything did work. Not only was the director a pleasure to speak with, but he was also refreshingly direct about his thoughts on the films and his contributions to cinema in general. Of the many takeaways from our conversation, the most substantial was his continuing pride and astonishment with the enduring legacy of a story that he and Gale had created more than three decades earlier, which wouldn’t have seen the light of day were it not for their tenacity and unwavering commitment to their project.

Set up a Google alert for the words “Back to the Future” and a day won’t go by without a headline from someplace in the world using the title, often without having any connection to the film. Like
a decade earlier,
set a new precedent for how to create a winning summer blockbuster. As Bob Gale likes to remind aspiring screenwriters, the three things that matter most in a story are characters, characters, and characters. For all of its special and visual effects, the true success of the film lies with Zemeckis and Gale’s airtight script, and the distinctive characters that were brought to life by their talented cast. For the thirty years that followed the first film’s release, the trilogy has continued to capture the imagination of a generation who, in turn, passed these movies on to their children like beloved family heirlooms.

I’m just young enough to have missed the film’s theatrical run, but thanks to one of my aunts—who had what seemed like hundreds of VHS tapes when I was growing up—I had the fortunate and, for many
fans, rare experience of being introduced to Hill Valley’s inhabitants for the first time in a triple feature. It was a school day, but I had a slight fever and was sent home by the school nurse. With both of my parents at work, my Aunt Stacey, who worked nights, picked me up. “I think you’ll enjoy these,” she said as I sat on her couch under a blanket with some chicken soup beside me. I doubt she had any idea just how much I would. She put the first film in the VCR as I studied the cardboard sleeve of the box. The design, with that guy I recognized from TV with one foot in this strange vehicle and fire running between his legs, seemed magical. I couldn’t stop studying it, looking for clues about what was going to unfold over the next few hours. I knew I was in store for a movie unlike anything I had seen before. As the end credits for the first and second installments started, I raced to switch the cassettes, trying my best to continue the story as quickly as possible. When the words “THE END” appeared on the screen in the last moments of
Part III
, I decided to let the credits roll in their entirety. By the time my mother came to pick me up, my fever was all but forgotten. I couldn’t wait to go to school the next day and tell my friends about Marty McFly, his friend Doc Brown, and the wild adventures I had spent close to six hours watching them get into.

I have always been an avid reader of behind-the-scenes books about my favorite films and television shows, as they went into greater detail than the standard promotional “making of” shows that would occasionally pop up on television in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As the thirtieth anniversary of
Back to the Future
approached, I couldn’t believe that a comprehensive book on the making of one of the most culturally significant movies of the past three decades had yet to be written. My goal was to change that, not only by chronicling the filmmaking process, but also by showing how these three films left an indelible stamp on the United States and many other countries around the world.

When I set out to write this book, it was important for me to speak with as many people who were associated with
Back to the Future
as possible. The trilogy has been well documented for the past thirty years, in magazines, fan clubs, featurettes on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, and countless websites like BacktotheFuture .com, the digital hub for all things about the franchise. As one person put it to me, “What else can you say about a movie that has been written about continuously for the past thirty years?” But even with that abundance of information available, the mythology always felt somewhat incomplete to me. Too few people had retold the same stories too many times. A lot of the behind-the-scenes tales have become so commonplace, whether or not you know them has become a pseudo litmus test among the diehards to determine how big a fan of the film a new member of their tribe is. And I had a feeling that these stories may have been missing some of their original verve.

Throughout the researching process, I found that my suspicions were true. Many of the anecdotes that have been repeated over the years had been scrubbed clean, condensed to omit significant details, and/or told with minimal context. While interviewing my subjects, I encouraged them to push beyond their stock stories and really remember the past. Or, perhaps more appropriately, the
. And they did. I could feel people discovering things they had long since forgotten, often with startling accuracy. It’s difficult for someone to remember everything they did last week, let alone three decades ago, but the more people I spoke to, the more stories were corroborated, and a comprehensive picture of what it was like to be a part of the team that made cinematic history became clearer.

As I learned working on my previous two books, there is rarely a person who works on a film who hasn’t accumulated an interesting anecdote or two. To that end, I was fortunate that so many people found it worth their time to spare a few minutes for me. In addition to Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, and Christopher Lloyd, whose manager came through on his promise, more than fifty additional people from all facets of production, including actors, producers, members of the camera crew, editors, graphic artists, costumers, and those involved with special and visual effects, signed on to make this project the largest
Back to the Future
reunion ever assembled. I also spoke with some people who didn’t work on the movies, but who are experts on the trilogy’s impact, including movie critics, documentarians, and fans who have gone beyond the call of duty to keep the embers glowing for their favorite franchise.

In writing this book, I relied heavily on more than five hundred hours of interviews I conducted over a twenty-one-month period. All of the quotes that appear in the pages that follow come from those conversations. Some of the quotes have been corrected for clarity, which was done extremely judiciously and with significant care for each interview subject. In scenes where conversations are reconstructed, the dialogue comes either from the account of one person or the synthesis of more than one person’s recollection of events. All of the information included has either been corroborated against other sources or reflects what had likely happened based on my appraisal of the validity of each speaker and the veracity of their memory. The result is a reconstructed time capsule of the making of the
Back to the Future
trilogy, by those who were there to have experienced it.

As my interview process progressed, I began to realize that this project isn’t simply about the making of one film trilogy, but is also about how some of the titans in the movie industry came into being. Even readers who are only casual fans of the films will find interesting pieces of information about the movie business, from the perspective of some of Hollywood’s best. At your leisure, look at the list of credits that
alumni amassed prior to and since working on the films. While you may not recognize every person’s name, virtually everyone I spoke with worked on other movies that have received a substantial bit of attention over the years, such as
Blade Runner
Fight Club
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
, the original
franchise, and
, to name just a few. They are incredibly talented visionaries, some of whom were already veterans when filming began in 1984, and others who were just getting started in the business. Regardless of their previous experience, they worked together to make a truly timeless film about time travel.

What follows is an amalgamation of their truth—a profile not only of a film series but, as I was reminded when I spent a half hour on memory lane with Zemeckis, of the beautifully normal and ordinary people whose creativity and passion produced an extraordinary trilogy. Some of the decisions they made were unconventional, yet they paid off, despite the odds. The trilogy has forever changed the landscape of cinema by redefining what a summer blockbuster could be, who could star in one, and under what improbable circumstances a trio of films could have a major impact around the world. You may not believe
Back to the Future
is the most important film trilogy of all time now, but after reading this book I bet you will.

So buckle up, because if my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour, you’re going to see some serious shit.

BOOK: We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy
3.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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