Back To The Future: To Show a Lot of Heart Some Time It Takes Guts… Or At Least Learning To Listen To Them

Hey all,

I hope you guys have been enjoying these articles as much as we’ve enjoyed writing them. When we embarked on this adventure we never thought we’d have such a wonderful and loyal group of people listening in (and reading) with us each week. Before I start today’s article I thought I’d share something, which is that this article has been difficult to write. Each week I’ve had a clear idea of what I want to write. But when it came to Back To The Future, an absolute classic film, what can I write that hasn’t been written before? What can I say that isn’t just a keyboard vomit of gushingly epic proportions?

I’d reached a point this week where I realised I had nothing, I was literally lost for words and was unwilling to be just another half-assed voice praising an amazing film. I decided before I threw the towel in to have another listen to the episode (probably my fifth or sixth since recording). As I listened to Craig and I discuss the journey the film took it dawned on me just how bonkers it was not only that the film got made but in the grander scheme that it turned out so great!

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about I’ll give you a super brief overview. Originally when filming commenced on Back To The Future, the role of Marty McFly was not played by Michael J. Fox. Originally Eric Stoltz was hired and filmed around a month worth of Back To The Future. In some rumours, it is believed that was as much as all the way up to the Enchantment Under The Sea dance was filmed with Stoltz.

During this time in filming, Zemeckis felt that something wasn’t quite right. The film looked great but the more he thought about the film, the more concerns he had with Stoltz as Marty. It wasn’t that he was giving a bad performance, let’s be honest Stoltz is a heck of an actor, but it just wasn’t sitting right with Zemeckis. In time, this lead to Zemeckis deciding that unfortunately Stoltz just wasn’t going to be able to lift Marty to the level required for the film. Stoltz was replaced by Michael J. Fox and the film was re-shot.

When you really think about it, it’s one heck of a gamble by Zemeckis and in a modern era a gamble that probably could have killed the film before it was even released. Just think of the film Solo that was released this year, with shooting almost over directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord were replaced by Ron Howard due to creative differences. The publicity that followed the film until release was not great, Miller and Lord’s track record with films was pretty amazing and they had a following amongst movie lovers that, coupled with rumour, gave weight to belief that the film was destined to be terrible. As a result, what was a really fun and great addition to the Star Wars world, was pre-judged before release and the Box Office takings suffered. So much so that Disney and Star Wars decided to take a break from standalone films and restructure their approach for future films.

Now imagine these days replacing your leading man 4-6 weeks into shooting. It would basically be murder to your film, rumours would have been reported and speculation would have probably driven the film to a poor box office opening and we would not have a film that is so dearly loved. It’s one of those films that while being a commercial success it just doesn’t feel like a big budget sell out and I truly believe that in large that is thanks to Michael J. Fox’s performance as Marty. For guys, each of us find a little bit of ourselves within Marty and again that’s all down to Fox and when I think more about it, it’s probably something that Stoltz, as talented as he is, would not have brought to the film. While it was a crazy huge gamble at the time, and reportedly a pretty expensive one too, it was a gamble that certainly paid off as Michael J. Fox’s performance as Marty is an iconic one and he completely owns the role of Marty. One example to describe this perfectly is that with Stoltz, Back To The Future felt like a Doc Brown film whereas with Michael J. Fox, Back To The Future is a Marty McFly film.   

Something about films that I love is the idea of what films could have been, documentaries like Jodorowsky’s Dune that detail the film that could have been, are fascinating and I just love them. This love of what could have been sent me down a rabbit hole of thought. What sort of film would we have got if Stoltz remained as Marty? Would it be as beloved? Would they have even made three of them? I’m not sure it would have been the success that it was and when you really break it all down it came down to one thing. Zemeckis trusted his gut.

For weeks he’d felt that maybe Stoltz wasn’t right for the role and I’m sure that plenty of people were reassuring him that Stoltz was doing a great job. In addition, there were financial pressures associated with a change in leads and on top of that Stoltz was good friends with Lea Thompson who played Lorraine (Marty’s Mum). So there were plenty of elements there that would probably have made keeping Stoltz an easier decision but Zemeckis trusted his instincts and moved towards making the change.

When it comes to Zemeckis’s films there is one thing I love. It doesn’t matter what sort of film he is making, there is always a stack of heart present. A warmth that can be found, even when making a Beatlemania film, a Romantic Adventure story or even a Time Travelling Sci-Fi film. Without trusting his gut Zemeckis could have jeopardised having that heart present, a mistake I feel he learned during Used Cars.

I don’t want to get too philosophical but sometimes in life we need to trust our instincts more. As long as the actions we take are safe guarding the things we hold important than the risks attached are worth taking. I love that Zemeckis showed me this and I can’t wait to see just how many more risks he takes to preserve his art.

Big Love Yeah