Franchise Fred Interview: Bob Gale on Back to the Future and the Real 2015

bttfbluBob Gale may be one of the reasons I became Franchise Fred. Growing up, I loved Back to the Future so much, it blew my mind when I got to see the story continue. If that was the inception, he might have also created a monster because I couldn’t stop at Back to the Future Part III. I wanted more and I’ve been petitioning for a Back to the Future Part IV to happen in the real year 2015, but I’ve made peace with Gale and director Robert Zemeckis’s wishes.

The 30th anniversary of Back to the Future means a brand new Blu-ray set, streaming movies on Amazon Prime, and anniversary situations all last week in Los Angeles. I spoke with Gale by phone out of New York, where he was celebrating. On Tuesday, October 20, Gale was preparing for Back to the Future Day and I even informed him about some events that were news to him.

Franchise Fred: Are you doing a lot of anniversary events this week?

Bob Gale: Oh my God, I am doing so many interviews and various events. This, that and the other. It’s crazy great.

Franchise Fred: I’m going to the Million McFly March on October 21 a the Burger King in Burbank.

Bob Gale: I didn’t even know anything about that one. Million McFly March? That’s hilarious. I’ve got to see this stuff.

Franchise Fred: Every time one of these anniversary comes around, do you still learn new things about the movies?

Bob Gale: Well, not so much that I learn new things about the movies but what’s kind of interesting is how sometimes the questions change over what things are resonating with people about the movies during every anniversary. Certainly I’ve done about 10 interviews already about the Chicago Cubs. That was a prediction that we did not expect to be talking about this year.

Franchise Fred: I heard a fan theory that the reason everyone was dressed so weird in Back to the Future II was that we all decided to dress that way on October 21 to wait for Marty. Do you like that fan theory?

Bob Gale: I love that theory. That’s great. We have 24 hours to make that come true. I love it.

Franchise Fred: It also seems like every anniversary is a new opportunity for you and Robert Zemeckis to remind people that you have no intention or interest in ever doing a Back to the Future IV.

Bob Gale: Exactly right. Or a reboot or a remake. One thing that’s actually been very nice about that, at one time people seemed a little bit disappointed that we weren’t going to think about that. Now, this year certainly, people are much happier collectively to know, “Oh, you guys are actually going to leave it alone? You’re not going to ruin my childhood. Thank goodness!”

Franchise Fred: I’m going to present you with one opinion you may not have heard before. I’m Franchise Fred because I think there should always be more sequels to everything. Have you ever heard the polar opposite, that there’s always more story to tell?

Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future

Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future

Bob Gale: Well, there may always be more stories to tell but there is also something called aging. I used to say to people, “Look, do you guys want to see a Back to the Future movie without Michael J. Fox in it?” Everybody says, “Well, no, I really don’t.” Marty McFly does not have Parkinson’s disease even though Michael J. Fox does, so how do we do that, right? So we’re just going to leave it alone and it’s good that there’ll be one franchise that doesn’t go over the top. Now, meanwhile, as you say, there are more stories to tell. That’s why we’ve got IDW comics coming out with so far five issues of new Back to the Future stories dealing with, as we call it, untold tales and alternate timelines that enhance aspects of the trilogy.

Franchise Fred: I still haven’t made it through the whole game. I should at least follow an online walkthrough so I can see everything. 

Bob Gale: The new edition of the game which is finally being released for the Xbox formats and the Playstation 4, they managed to get Tom Wilson involved. So he voices all the Tannen characters in it.

Franchise Fred: So there’s me and there’s Christopher Lloyd who keeps suggesting a Back to the Future IV. Have you broken the news to him?

Bob Gale: [Laughs] Remember, what Christopher Lloyd said is that he would do a Back to the Future IV as long as Bob Zemeckis and I were running the store.

Franchise Fred: Which is a no.

Bob Gale: So yes, that might be, again, all I did was read the in print version. I don’t know how he actually said it but it may have been where “if you can get a DeLorean to take me back to 1986, yes, I’ll do the sequel.”

Franchise Fred: He still jumps at any chance to play Doc, like the new short on the Blu-rays.

Bob Gale: When it’s true to the spirit of the movies, absolutely.

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future

Franchise Fred: Did you get a kick out of seeing him in A Million Ways to Die in the West?

Bob Gale: Absolutely. Seth MacFarlane is a huge fan. He’s got his own DeLorean. He definitely asked permission. Seth went through the regular approval processes because he’s got his own set of characters that he guards as the father of any character would. He understood that. We knew he was a huge fan and we have always enjoyed his little Back to the Future references and spoofs in Family Guy so we knew that he would do it with fun and respect, so he did.

Franchise Fred: A few years ago, there was a first draft of the script for Part II that either leaked or was released online. Was that real?

Bob Gale: Yeah, the one where they go back to 1967. That was the real first draft, absolutely. I gave that to Stephen Clark to post it at

Franchise Fred: Thank you, because that was so interesting to read. Had you tried any other tangents on a sequel besides 1967 and the ultimate Back to the Future Part II?

Bob Gale: When Bob and I were kicking ideas around originally, one of the ideas that we had, which gets incorporated in a certain way into the Telltale game, is to go back to the 1920. We wanted to see Young Doc Brown and his parents.

Franchise Fred: Did you ever write that as a feature script?

Bob Gale: No, we never wrote it. It was just one of the many things that we talked about.

Franchise Fred: In the first draft, there was still very little George McFly. At the point you began to write, was it already understood he’d be minimal?

Bob Gale: Yes, we didn’t start seriously thinking about what the content would be until we knew which members of the cast we would have in it. By the time we started really seriously thinking about stories, it seemed extremely doubtful that Crispin Glover was going to participate so we wrote him out.

Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future

Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future

Franchise Fred: As a kid, I always just thought “that’s George McFly” but more I watch the movie as I’m older, I realize he’s a really weird guy. Was it that way in the script or was that Crispin?

Bob Gale: Crispin brought a lot of weirdness to the character, eccentricities. The hardest thing we had to get him to do was at the very end to wear that polo shirt and come in carrying a tennis racket and act like a normal suburban guy.

Franchise Fred: Every few years, he tells his side of the story to a reporter also. Was there really a serious argument over having the McFlys be financially successful?

Bob Gale: He had a problem with it. Nobody else did.

Franchise Fred: The Ride is still in DVD quality from when it was put on the DVD. Does someone have a high definition transfer of the ride, and could that be bumped up to Blu-ray?

Bob Gale: You know what? That’s a really good question. I don’t know why nobody ever asked that before or why I never thought about it. I honestly don’t know but I will certainly put that one in the hopper.

Franchise Fred: It was such a huge screen, it must have the resolution for Blu-ray.

Bob Gale: The resolution would be there. The question is whether or not the transfer equipment exists to do it properly.

Franchise Fred: Another aspect that reveals itself to me about the films as I watch them more and more in my life is the theme that if you don’t step up, you’ll repeat the same patterns throughout your life. Was that a theme you thought about or just something that happened as you did three movies?

Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future

Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future

Bob Gale: Well, look, we obviously repeat the same stuff in the first movie because that is the point. George McFly is trapped in this cycle. Then when it came time for us to say, “Okay, we’re going to a Part II. What should we do in Part II? Well, let’s play on all those iconic scenes that we created in Part I.” So we had to have a dinner table scene. We had to have a cafe scene. We had to have some version of a skateboard chase. We had to have a “there, there, you’ve been asleep for almost nine hours now.” Marty waking up with some version of Lea Thompson there. Mary walks around Hill Valley town square in a different time period. Bob and I asked ourselves, “What do people want to see in a sequel?” Well, they want to see the same characters that they saw from the first movie. And on a certain level, they want to see the same movie again but they still want it to be different. That was the tricky balance that we were trying to figure out. How do we make this so that everybody says, “Yeah, it’s a Back to the Future movie” but it’s a little bit different? Just like when you go see a James Bond movie, you can’t wait to see James Bond with Q and find out what are the gadgets he’s going to use in this story.

Franchise Fred: If they had not decided to separate the western into Part III, if it had just been the end of Part II, what do you think would’ve been cut?

Bob Gale: We had a 155 page version of the script that had a fourth act with the western. The reason that we made it into two movies is that it didn’t work very well all as one movie. And two, it was just ridiculously expensive. The thing that convinced the studio to say, “Yeah, okay, you guys are right, we should make two movies” was the economics of it. You can make one movie that’s going to cost $70 or for an extra $10-15 million you can make two movies. What are you going to do? You’re going to make two movies.

Franchise Fred: So did you actually expand the story when you got a chance to make it a third movie?

Bob Gale: The whole story about it, and it’s very well recounted in the new book Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History, is that the first time that I tried putting the west in, it was in a 128 page script. It really didn’t work at that length. A lot of the other stuff in the first three acts had been truncated as well. I said to Bob, “Look, we can’t be introducing all these new characters on page 90. It’s not working. Give me a week. I want to just write this the way I feel as a writer it should be written and let everything breathe. Let me develop the characters the right way and let’s see what I end up with.” What I ended up with was a 210 page script but I pretty much bisected exactly where the movies break as they are. That was the first point where I said, “Look, we have enough material to make two movies. Let’s propose this to the studio.” And we did. They had wanted originally Back to the Futuer II for summer 1989. So Bob and I had a good news/bad news phone call with Universal. We said, “The bad news is, we will not have Back to the Future II for you for summer 1989. The good news is we will have Back to the Future II in time for Thanksgiving and we’ll have Back to the Future III for the summer of 1990.” There was a long pause and they said, “That’s bullsh*t. Just give us Part II.” We couldn’t convince them that that would make sense until there was this 165 page script that was way too expensive. Then when we were able to lay it out for them and show them the numbers, they said, “Okay, we get it now.”

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future

Franchise Fred: I’m sure you reconnect with Bob on all these anniversaries. Do you ever talk about collaborating again?

Bob Gale: We talk all the time. Back when Bob was doing his motion capture stuff, we worked together on a script based on Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain. We did collaborate on that and we talk about it every once in a while. Knock on wood, that’ll happen again. I love working with Bob and I hope we can do another picture together.

Franchise Fred: Is Thunder Mountain based on the Disney attraction?

Bob Gale: Yes.

Franchise Fred: Had you and Bob started that before Pirates of the Caribbean, or in the wake of rides becoming successful movies?

Bob Gale: Bob had his deal at Disney on the motion capture technology. So Disney was asking us to look at their IP and come up with something. Since that was a western and Bob and I love westerns, it seemed like a natural thing for us to do. But it came after the Pirates movies got big.

Franchise Fred: Bordello of Blood is also getting released on Blu-ray. That doesn’t have quite the fanfare of Back to the Future but do you have any memories of that film?

Bob Gale: Bordello of Blood was the first thing that Bob and I ever collaborated on, even before we got out of film school. The movie that was made is so different than the movie that we conceived of. I’ll tell you flat out I’ve never even seen the final version of it because the early cut of it I saw, I was so appalled by it that I just said, “Okay, I’ll just leave that one to everybody else.”

Franchise Fred: It’s a shame, it really killed the Tales from the Crypt movie franchise which had gotten off to a good start.

Bob Gale: If they’d shot the script that Bob and I actually wrote than we wouldn’t be talking about it in that way. The whole reason that it turned out that way I think is that Joel Silver wanted to keep Gil Adler and [A.L.] Katz busy while waiting for HBO to decide whether they were going to pick up another season. So Joel said, “I’ll tell you what. I’m going give you guys this project to do as a feature.” The rest is history.

Franchise Fred: What solo original scripts are you working on and when can we see a new Bob Gale movie?

Bob Gale: I realized that 2015 was going to turn out to be all Back to the Future all the time so the things that I’ve been working on I’ve just kind of put on hold until all this dies down. I’m constantly working on stuff and I’m superstitious to tell you about it.

Franchise Fred: I’m really glad it is all Back to the Future all the time this year and I hope you can tell from my questions what the movies have meant to me. 

Bob Gale: I can absolutely tell. These are great questions and I appreciate your dedication and your love for the films.

Leave a Reply