The entire Back to the Future trilogy is out on Blu-ray today, and when you couple that with the news that Telltale will be releasing the first episode of their own Back to the Future game for free when it's ready ... in the future. Honestly, the film has never looked this good. Besides the crystal-clear picture, there are a ton of extra features like the alternate nuclear test site ending, footage with Eric Stolz as Marty McFly (!) and new interviews with the cast.
We spoke with screenwriter / producer Bob Gale, who is also working on Telltale's Back to the Future game, which is heartening, given both his hatred for the last BTTF games, and his history with the series. Read on for the full 1.21 gigawatt interview, and see what he really thought about those original games, and where things are going. If you haven't seen Interstate 60, which he wrote and directed, I highly recommend picking it up. It's even on Netflix Watch Instantly, so you don't have any excuses.
Bob Gale: Sorry I’m running behind schedule here, but I tend to talk a lot.
G4: And you don’t have a real time machine, unfortunately.
I do not. [laughter]
I know you’re working on the upcoming Back to the Future video game that Telltale Games has announced and is working on. Is Bob Zemeckis working on that as well or is it just you?
No, Bob doesn’t do video games. He’s not into that. [laughs] But there’s some other things that Bob and I have been working on over the years. So it’s not like I don’t work with Bob. I do. Nobody I’d rather work with than Bob Zemeckis. It’s just that, as they say, the tender of Hollywood is so different now that some of the projects that we’ve had that we’d like to get made, the studios don’t get.
Did you work on the original game that came out back in the day?
Oh, God no. God no. That game … oh, that was such a f*cking travesty. That was one of the worst 8-bit games ever made. And when I saw it, I was so outraged. I actually gave interviews to some video game magazines and some fan publications telling the fans, “I’m embarrassed by this game. Don’t buy it. It’s got the Back to the Future logo on it, but it’s the one product that does not deserve to be associated with our movies.” So neither that one nor the sequels. Those were just terrible.
And again, I wanted to be involved and they wouldn’t let me. “Oh, you’re a movie guy. You don’t know anything about games.” “Yeah, well I know a good one from a sh*tty one, and these are sh*tty.” [laughs] So the folks at Telltale, what’s great about what they’re doing is that they’re all fans of the movie. They love these movies. They want to get it right. I told Universal, I said, “Look, if somebody’s doing a game,” I said, “You gotta keep me in the loop on this, because I am not going to sit idly back and let more sh*tty games get made.” And they were thrilled that I wanted to be involved. I’m a consultant, I’m not doing the day-to-day. That’s not what I do. But again, I can tell them when something is Back to the Future-esque or not; if it feels right or if it doesn’t. And their instincts are very, very good, I’m happy to say. They’ve all watched these movies over and over again. So I have high hopes that they are going to be able to capture the spirit and essence of Back to the Future in this game.
So what's next for you besides working on the games?
Yeah, I want to get another movie made. There’s a television idea that I’m toying around with I haven’t written yet, and I’m gonna take a stab at that. But there are scripts that I already have that I’m trying to figure out how to get them made, and a couple ideas for new ones. You know, movies are my first love, so I’m gonna be working on a movie even if I’m not getting paid for it.
You did Mr. Payback fifteen years ago, which was the first foray into interactive cinema. It’s 2010 now, and we haven’t really gotten any more interactive with filmmaking. It’s still just pretty linear storytelling. Do you think that’s going to change at any point, given the popularity of the internet since 1995?
Well, look, I think that the version of interactive storytelling is what people are doing on the internet when they get together with their friends and they play World of Warcraft or Farmville, or whatever the hell they’re doing. I don’t do Facebook. I would never do something like Farmville. It sounds so stupid to me. [laughter]
There’s a lot of people here who would agree with you.
[laughter] I mean World of Warcraft I get. Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, I get that. The other stuff, not so much. I think maybe the reason Mr. Payback didn’t work is that it didn’t really belong in a movie theater. It belonged in a specialized venue, like at a Dave & Buster’s, at Citywalk at Universal, or Disneyland, or Six Flags or someplace where people go specifically to have a different experience. Because people go to a movie and they want to sit back and let the filmmaker tell the story. You’re sitting around a campfire and letting the storyteller tell it as opposed to going around the campfire and everybody throwing in their version of what’s going to happen next. Which is a perfectly fun game to do, but it’s not why people go to the movies.
You’ve worked in film, you’ve worked in television, you’ve worked in comic books, video games, and you’ve directed as well. Is there anything that you’re kind of partial to these days? Where are you going in the future, so to speak?
Movies are still my first love. I love movies. It’s getting harder and harder to get an original screenplay in front of the cameras these days, so I’ve written a lot of scripts that I’m still trying to get off the ground, and I'm always working on something new. You know, the comic book thing is fun. I’ve loved comic books ever since I was eight or nine years old, and the idea that I’ve gotten to like Batman and Spider-Man in my life is pretty damn awesome.
I can imagine. A lot of us here are big fans of Interstate 60, so I hope you direct again soon.
Oh, great. Thank you very much.
Well, it’s a great movie. Studios have just the formula they like to stick to, and when you deviate, they sort of freak out.
Exactly. Back to the Future probably couldn’t get made today.
We had a hard enough time getting it made when we did!
I know that for four years you guys were kind of knocking it back and forth.
The thing about Back to the Future is they still don’t know what section of the video aisle to put it in. You know, is it science fiction, is it fantasy, is it comedy, is it family, is it adventure? And these days more than ever, the studios want things that really fit neatly in a little pigeonhole. And yet, for my money, as a filmgoer, to me, that’s the biggest problem that we have today. I remember sitting in a theater back in the spring watching the trailers, and I saw back to back trailers for The Losers,The Expendables, and The A-Team. It was like I was watching the same movie three times in the trailer. They were, like, the same movie.
Well with Back to the Future, how much did the original script change?
Well, the core story of a kid interfering in his parents first meeting and having to get them back together, that never changed. You know, we were constantly writing, rewriting, and rewriting up until the moment we shot it. So that’s the normal process of filmmaking. But if you read one of these early drafts, you would still recognize it as Back to the Future. It didn’t change that much. The logistics changed. The time machine changed from being a time chamber into the DeLorean.
The ending, which is, I think, one of the cool features on the new DVD, to see the animatic of the nuclear test site ending that was originally in the script when we started production, we ended up having to cut out and change because it was too expensive. Which, again, has an interesting little ironic twist to a blessing in disguise that thank god we didn’t have enough money to make the movie that way. [laughs] The clock tower ending is so much better than the nuclear test site would have been.
Yeah, and it’s so circular, it brings you back to the whole beginning.
Of course, yeah. It deals with time, literally, and it’s just so visual and so cool.
The Blu-ray that's coming out has a lot of new features, like that alternate ending, and for the first time ever, we see footage of Eric Stolz as Marty McFly. You guys filmed with him for awhile...
Five weeks, yeah.
Then you went back and recast. Did the writing change during that period? Because you had a chance to see scenes actively on film.
We changed a couple things, but it wasn’t so much because of the actor, it was because of the budget, because now every dime really counted. And so there were some things like the actual opening of the movie, that long shot with all the clocks and all that? That wasn’t in the script when we first started with Eric. The opening of the movie was … actually, it was written to set up what happens at a nuclear test site in a classroom. And Bob Zemeckis and I were trying to figure out, “How are we going to save money? How can we not build sets?” It required a classroom set that we were going to build. “Where can we save money on sets?” We realized we don’t need that scene to set up the nuclear test site that we’re no longer going to do. “What can we do with the set that already exists?” And here again, we came up with this new scene that was just a perfect way to start the movie. And it’s almost iconic now. And that was a byproduct of the casting change, because we had less money.
So that set already existed, Doc Brown’s workshop…
Yeah, Doc Brown’s lab already existed. We knew we had to have that. And then in terms of what changed acting-wise, Michael J. Fox, you know, he would throw in an adlib now and then, and he would revise the dialogue to fit the way that he would say it and that it came out more naturally out of his mouth. And we always would encourage our actors to do that. We’d do rehearsals and tell the actors that If this doesn’t sound right to you, you know, we’ll change it. We’ll make it work.
Michael said, “Well could I change this?” And we might say, “Well no, you can’t change that because we absolutely need to have that piece of information out there.” But he just has this natural comic sensibility that is so good. And the little extra things that he would just throw in in all three movies, just really nice little touches. Like in part three, the telescope scene, when Mary Steenburgen brings a telescope to be repaired. That last line when Marty looked at him and said, “That’s a nice telescope.” Michael J. Fox just threw that in. It was just perfect.
Bob, it's been a real pleasure, and we look forward to the game ... in the future.
Thanks very much. Good talking to you.