Franchise Fred Book Review: Back to the Future – The Ultimate Visual History

BTTFcoverI’m still only just starting the Back to the Future Part III section but figured I should finish my review while there’s still time to recommend Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History as a Christmas gift. The visuals are extraordinary, and I will get to that, but the book is well written full of new detail too. Once again, I’ve found there’s still more for me to know about these three films.

No matter how many retrospective specials or DVD bonus features they make, those will always be soundbites edited down to flow as a movie. The prose form is better able to include every subtly different perspective to paint a full portrait. For example, I’ve heard about all the different drafts of Back to the Future, but seeing the progression from draft to draft immediately conveys the evolution of the story.

BTTF3.jpgLikewise, this is the most Eric Stoltz detail I’ve ever seen compiled in one place. Zemeckis is still classy to take responsibility and not blame the actor, and no one comes across as slamming him. However, one reveal from each of the key players paints a picture of conflict that wouldn’t have worked. I still want to see those 45 minutes they shot.

Plus, we always hear about the Back to the Future shoot but the Stoltz anecdote is usually skimmed over, out of respect. This book details the five weeks of shooting with him. It’s rather juicy to hear about all the consequences of letting Stoltz go, from reshoot location availability to the increased fanfare of shooting with Michael J. Fox.

I’ve been good friends with Claudia Wells for five years. She dresses me and designed my whole wardrobe, and the book even got things out of her that I hadn’t heard before. For example, Ed Asner tried to get the short-lived sitcom they were on to let her do the movie too, but the show said no. Until they needed a new Jennifer and the show was cancelled.

BTTF6.jpgBack to the Future Part II has many complications too. I never knew just how close they got with Crispin Glover. Aesthetic details about recreating scenes from the original, and alternate future concepts that evolved into what we ultimately see are also fascinating. Just the week by week account of each film is so thorough, yet breezy, you wish every movie had this kind of biography.

BTTF5.jpgYou can just look at the pictures or read it cover to cover, as I’m doing. The Ultimate Visual History is compelling both ways. I’m being careful not to lose the Jaws 19 poster or old west clock tower picture, but my favorite visual inclusion is an actual executive memo about paying for Stoltz’s hotel and car rental after firing him. As obsessed as I’ve been with the potential alternate Back to the Future footage, I never thought about the practical side. Fortunately someone saved those materials, and authors Michael Klastorin and Randal Atmaniuk had the foresight to collect and include them.

Franchise Fred Review: Back in Time

Available now on demand, streaming, iTunes, DVD and Blu-ray

Available now on demand, streaming, iTunes, DVD and Blu-ray

It’s hard to imagine there is anything I don’t already know about Back to the Future, but 30 years later I’m still obsessed with it. The new documentary Back in Time covers the same story of the film as many of the DVD extras do, but elaborates on that with stories about the cultural impact of the films.

Most of the fan projects relating to Back to the Future are new to me. I’d never heard of the mini golf course or the specifics of restoring the DeLoreans. Even the events I had heard of, like the Secret Cinema event, it was great to get a chance to see the magnitude of it since I was not able to attend myself.

Celebrity interviews like Dan Harmon and Adam F. Goldberg provide cultural reference points, since they grew up inspired by Back to the Future and both made ‘80s inspired meta shows. I think Harmon is a tad hard on the sequels, but maybe that’s part of his acerbic nature.

Some of the fan stories are life affirming and inspiring. The tenacity to build a time machine DeLorean with only a VHS freeze frame as your reference points is admirable enough, but this story goes on to prove a medical prognosis wrong. They end up driving the time machine to all 50 states, so I assume they shipped it to Hawaii and drove through Canada to make it to Alaska?

There were a few new tidbits about the movies even for me. I had never heard Michael J. Fox’s story about the Royal premiere before. And as much as I want there to be a Back to the Future IV, I would settle for one of those T-shirts with Back to the Future and the number IV crossed out with the international symbol for no.

Back in Time is now available on demand, streaming, iTunes, DVD and Blu-ray, and possibly still select theaters if I wasn’t too late!

Back to the Future Interview: Mark Campbell, Marty McFly’s Singing Voice

Just 999,995 more McFlys to go!

Just 999,995 more McFlys to go!

One of the special events on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 was the Million McFly March (Visit the link to donate to Team Fox), put on by Stolen Dress Entertainment at the Burger King on Victory Blvd. in Burbank where Marty Mcfly skateboards to school in Back to the Future. Of course, the day is significantly the day Doc and Marty arrived in the year 2015.

From 9AM until well past five, people arrived in costume just to hang out with other Back to the Future fans. At 3:30 we were treated to a performance by the band Minor Strut, whose median age is 11, and at 4:29, they were joined by Mark Campbell. Don’t worry if you don’t know the name. Campbell sings with the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack but provided the singing voice of Marty for Johnny B. Goode.

After Campbell and Minor Strut rocked the parking lot at 4:29, around 4:32 or so I interviewed Campbell about his work on the series. The Johnny B. Goode scene was a landmark that was repeated in Back to the Future Part II, and the song was on the soundtrack credited to Marty McFly, as was the MTV music video. The real story has been known for some time, but this was a special opportunity to go back in time with Mark Campbell.

Mark Campbell sings Johnny B. Goode with Minor Strut.

Mark Campbell sings Johnny B. Goode with Minor Strut.

Franchise Fred: Did you do the prerecord before they shot the performance?

Mark Campbell: Yeah, that was one of the coolest things about Mr. Fox saying, “No, you guys find somebody that can actually sing the song and I’ll be more than happy to lip sync to it.” Bones Howe, the music director on this movie, told me that up front. The only suggestion he made to me after listening to me sing it a couple times with all the guys, Tim May and everybody on the track, was, “Okay, you’re from New Orleans. This guy, we don’t know exactly where exactly he’s from.”

Franchise Fred: California.

Mark Campbell: Yeah, but he was thinking he might be from Ohio. “Region it up a little bit to make it more generic.” And I was like oh, okay. We did that. Since I’m a few years older than Michael anyway, it was like youthing it up, energizing it up just a tad. That was all I knew about it and the rest was it’s Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry and everybody knows it, or should by that time.

Franchise Fred: When they did the sequel, did you re-record or did they use the original tracks?

Mark Campbell: They looped what they did in the first movie, Back to the Future, for the second one. Then I was brought in to do overdubs during the dance scene in the saloon when he’s dancing like Michael Jackson, and the “Hoo!” and all that stuff.

Franchise Fred: So you worked on Back to the Future Part III also?

Mark Campbell: Yeah, I’m in all three but the second one was looped from the first one. I didn’t actually go back in. The third one I went back in to do those little things, more like what Michael would sound like if he was moving around, trying to get out of Biff’s way shooting at his feet. Then the “hoo!” where he jumps up and hits the spittoon that lands on Biff’s head. Yeah, I was in all three.

Marty McFly in Back to the Future

Marty McFly in Back to the Future

Franchise Fred: The first movie comes out, the soundtrack comes out. At what point did you realize this was huge?

Mark Campbell: From the gate because I knew this. I’m in the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack and we’re really good friends with Huey Lewis and the News. I was told up front that Power of Love and Back in Time were only going to be on this soundtrack. They weren’t going to be on a Huey Lewis album. So if you were a fan of Huey’s back in the ‘80s, which a lot of people were, you had to buy this soundtrack. Bones Howe put it in his heart to give me a very small piece, but a very nice piece of the percentages of the soundtrack because I went into it knowing I’m not going to get credit. They want to keep the mystique that it’s Michael singing and I was all good with that. I did get a special thanks credit at the end, Mark Campbell, my name’s right there. I was happy with that but Bones didn’t really like that. He was like, “You should get more than that.” So he made sure I got my gold album and also that I got a very small piece of the soundtrack, so every time I run into Huey I do the same thing. “Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting those songs on that album” because it went through the roof. Before there were fans to Back to the Future, there were Huey Lewis fans and the only way you could get those two songs was to buy that soundtrack.

Marty McFly sings Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future

Marty McFly sings Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future

Franchise Fred: That’s amazing because I remember the MTV video said Marty McFly. On the soundtrack it says Marty McFly. 

Mark Campbell: And I understood. It was keeping the mystique of Michael. As a matter of fact, I always tell a story when my mother flew out from New Orleans. We just for the fun of it went down, because it had just come out, and we went down to Westwood. She sat next to me and there was a young couple in front of us. I was so wrapped up in the movie that I was watching it going, “Oh yeah, here I come. This is my part.” Because I was so into the story. Then when he hits the screen in that whole scene that we all know and love, these two kids, one turned to the other and went, “I didn’t know he could sing.” And I promise you, the thrill that I got was like, “We did it. We did our job” because people were believing that was him. I understood. He’s not going to go out there and go, “No, no, no, this guy named Mark Campbell from Jack Mack.” He’s not going to do that. I didn’t expect him to do that. It’s the mystique, for years and years and years. Finally, about seven or eight years later, it broke on different YouTube things that started coming out when that technology, online research and all of you wonderful Back to the Future lovers started finding out things like that.

Franchise Fred: Now that people know, how often are you asked to do Johnny B. Goode?

Mark Campbell: You know, I haven’t in a long, long time simply because it kind of gets away, but as anniversaries come up, as a matter of fact, the last time I did it with Tim May, was in front of a 62 piece orchestra at Seth MacFarlane’s private party up in the hills. They had the whole orchestra and they were showing footage from behind. He does theme parties and they had us do Johnny B. Goode together. That was the last time I saw Tim. I’d like to see him.

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.

Lea Thompson and Bob Gale on We’re Going Back

For the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future, including new Blu-rays and streaming opportunities for the trilogy and live anniversary events, I got to speak with Lea Thompson and screenwriter Bob Gale. I’m going to be busy attending the Back to the Future events so won’t get to publishing the full interviews until next week, but wanted to share their timely comments about this week’s celebrations now.

We’re Going Back began their 30th anniversary celebration on Back to the Future day, October 21, 2015 with a day at Universal Studios. Thompson is planning to be at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance on Saturday. That’s good news for people who got the sold out tickets, and a taste of what’s in store for the rest of the week. You can still get tickets for the western/hoverboarding day and locations/re-enactments day, and the final BTTF School/Twin Pines Mall day.

“I’m really excited,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be hilarious.” I filled her in on the 2010 Enchantment Under the Sea dance so she’s excited to see fans in costumes, hear the music performances and reunite with other cast members.

Gale unfortunately will not make it to We’re Going Back this year. His anniversary press tour has him tied up on the east coast but he was heavily involved and present for the 25th anniversary We’re Going Back and encourages all fans to attend.

“I’m only sorry that I can’t be at some of the We’re Going Back events because I know all those guys putting that stuff on,” Gale said. “They’re doing a great job. If you’re not planning on attending, you should figure out how you can get yourself in there because that stuff’s going to be a lot of fun.”

See photos of We’re Going Back and other Back to the Future events like the Million McFly March on the Nerd Report Instagram @nerdreport.

Back to the Future 30th Anniversary: Claudia Wells on Pink Pants and Nicolas Cage

bttfbluIf you had told eight-year-old Fred in 1985 that one day he would meet Claudia Wells, the original Jennifer Parker in Back to the Future, that alone would have made my dreams come true. Maybe 1985 Fred wouldn’t believe the whole truth, that we’d become friends and she would dress me for the past five years at her Studio City store Armani Wells.

We met five years ago for stories on the 25th anniversary of Back to the Future and here we are again for the 30th. This week, October 21 is the actual day Doc brought Marty and Jennifer into the future and there are many Back to the Future events going on around the world. In Los Angeles, We’re Going Back is hosting a week of events beginning on October 21 with a tour of Universal Studios. Wells hopes to attend that and a locations tour on October 23 where she will recreate her scenes in the halls of the high school. She is trying to attend the Enchantment Under the Sea dance on October 24, but has to catch a redeye to Washington, D.C. for another event where she’s being honored along with screenwriter Bob Gale and star Christopher Lloyd.

If you’re not able to attend We’re Going Back or visit Armani Wells in person, Wells is still accessible. Her official site, is the only place to get personalized Back to the Future pictures and her exclusive clock tower shirts. She’s also got upcoming events for her charity, Kids in the Spotlight, which allows foster children to make and star in their own movies. The Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Blu-ray and DVD sets are also out Wednesday with retrospective books and the new documentary Outatime: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine also available.

Nerd Report: What has it meant to you to be living in the real year 2015?

Claudia Wells: I am profoundly honored and blessed and privileged. To have the experiences, to be able to travel the world like this and everybody is so nice to me and kind and giving and loyal, it’s so exciting. I’m literally traveling every single day and doing events and appearances from a few weeks ago to the end of November.

Nerd Report: It’s meant so much to me. I’ve been waiting 30 years for this.

Claudia Wells: Isn’t that incredible? I keep thinking people have been waiting a few years but 30 years, how cool is that?

Claudia Wells and Michael J. Fox at London Comic-Con

Claudia Wells and Michael J. Fox at London Comic-Con

Nerd Report: We saw the pictures of you and Michael J. Fox at London Comic-Con. Was that the first time you’d seen him in 30 years?

Claudia Wells: Actually, it was the first time I’d seen him in about nine years, but we spent more time together in London because we were backstage and waiting to go on stage and doing different press things. So we actually had a chance to really talk and hug. The feeling and connection we had 30 years ago hasn’t changed an iota. I feel just as close to him and bonded. What a great guy. What a wonderful man.

Nerd Report: Does he remember shooting all the scenes with you in Back to the Future?

Claudia Wells: Oh, I’m sure he did. We didn’t discuss it but I’m sure he did. I remember every single one like it was this morning.

Nerd Report: Did you shoot all your scenes in a week or less?

Claudia Wells: Oh no, they were done I think over a three or four week period.

Claudia Wells in Back to the Future

Claudia Wells in Back to the Future

Nerd Report: In the band auditions, when Marty gets cut, the look you give seems genuinely concerned for him. Did you try a lot of different reactions to that?

Claudia Wells: No, it’s funny, that is one of my favorite scenes in the whole film in terms of my work. I felt it so strongly and when Michael looked at me, I just felt it in my soul and I looked back with my heart. That was that reaction.

Nerd Report: Did you meet Huey Lewis that day?

Claudia Wells: I did. He was sitting next to me in the makeup chair and I said to the makeup artist, who’s that guy? Because I hadn’t seen him before. It was Ken Chase and he said, “It’s Huey Lewis.” I was so naive about pop and rock n’ roll at that time, I had no idea who he was. So the excitement of having a rock star in the midst wasn’t there for me because he was just a guy who seemed very nice and handsome. Michael came with an album where they’re all holding a surfboard and Michael was hugely excited to meet him, but I grew up with opera, symphony and Simon and Garfunkel, and French music. I’m still catching up to other music.

The end of Back to the Future had 1985 Fred freaking out for the next four years.

The end of Back to the Future had 1985 Fred freaking out for the next four years.

Nerd Report: When you got to sit in the De Lorean at the end of the movie, what did it feel like to be in that car?

Claudia Wells: You know what? I wasn’t as concerned about what it felt like to be in that car. I was so cozy with Michael sitting there that I was just enjoying that. I loved the relationship of us sharing a seat together, arms around each other, so that was pretty much what I was enjoying during that scene.

Nerd Report: That was your only scene with Christopher Lloyd too, right?

Claudia Wells: Yes. The whole last scene was the only scene with Chris, who I’ve become great friends with as well over the travel that we’ve all done all the events that we’re all at. We really have gotten to get to know each other really, really well so it’s really like a bonded family, the core cast members. James Tolkan is one of my best friends, Donald Fullilove who played Goldie Wilson is one of my great friends who’s been shopping at my store for the last five years. Lea lives around the corner from my store. Chris I love seeing and Bob Gale is one of my greatest friends on the face of this planet. I adore that man. So it’s really become an important part of my life.

It's not unusual to find random DeLoreans parked outside of Armani Wells.

It’s not unusual to find random DeLoreans parked outside of Armani Wells.

Nerd Report: What took Donald so long to shop with you? He’s only been a customer for five years?

Claudia Wells: I’ll tell you exactly why. I met him at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance on the 25th anniversary. That’s the first time we met. Turns out, he lives five minutes from my store. I introduced him to the autograph show world and events and things. He wasn’t really a part of it yet. We’re just great, great buddies and his whole style has completely changed since we’ve been styling him.

Nerd Report: And you didn’t have scenes with him in the movie.

Claudia Wells: No, so we literally met for the first time at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.

Nerd Report: And you didn’t have scenes with Lea or Crispin Glover either, did you?

Claudia Wells: Nope, none and I adore Lea. She’s such a great girl and great actress. Crispin I adore as well. We were in the drama department together in high school.

Nerd Report: You went to high school with a lot of people who became famous, didn’t you?

Claudia Wells: Oh gosh, yes. Beverly Hills High. Pamela Segal [Adlon], Johnny Silverman, Nicolas Cage who was Nicolas Coppola at the time. Jon Turteltaub who’s a famous director now. John Travis, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan who created Will & Grace and a bunch of big shows. We were all in the drama department together.

Nerd Report: Did you do any plays with Nicolas Cage?

Claudia Wells: Nic was a senior when I was a freshman. I never actually did anything on stage with him but he watched me perform. I did a five minute performance for the Individual Drama Festival that I won first place for. He watched it and talked to me at length afterwards about how it affected him and stuff like that. So that was lovely. We were all working actors. Well, maybe not. I was a working actress but we were all very serious about the drama department. That was our high school life.

Nerd Report: What was the five minute performance you gave?

Claudia Wells: It was an individual mime that I created and it was a whole storyline about a woman who’s really old and she comes in and sits down on a rocking chair and opens up a memory book and then becomes all the memories. A little girl, then an older girl and a wife and a mom. Then she turns around and she’s really, really old. She falls asleep with this memory book on her lap and then she wakes up. That was my five minute individual mime.

Nerd Report: Does someone have a video of that?

Claudia Wells: You know what? Nobody does and I wish they did too. I worked very, very hard on it, months. And then in the spring I did the junior Shakespeare festival and I also won.

Nerd Report: Which Shakespeare did you do?

Claudia Wells: King Henry V, I played Katharine and Alice which is the maid servant and her queen. I did part of it in French and part of it in English and I played both characters. That was my five minute performance.

Nerd Report: Did you do any plays with Crispin Glover in school?

Claudia Wells: No, I didn’t. I did do a play with Johnny Silverman and my agent came to see it and was impressed with him, and ended up representing him and six days later sent him to New York to audition for Brighton Beach Memoirs. Seven days after that he was starring in it. That was his first professional job.

"How 'bout a ride, mister?" - Claudia Wells, Back to the Future

“How ’bout a ride, mister?” – Claudia Wells, Back to the Future

Nerd Report: Did you keep the pink pants from Back to the Future?

Claudia Wells: No! I wish I had. I wonder where they are. I’ve been meaning to ask if I can have them.

Nerd Report: Were you cast in Back to the Future after Michael J. Fox or did you overlap with Eric Stoltz?

Claudia Wells: I was cast when Eric Stoltz was cast. I was originally the first Jennifer Parker cast. Then a pilot I had done the previous spring called Off the Rack with Ed Asner and Eileen Brennan got picked up. It was filming at the same time as I was meant to do my Jennifer role. They tried to have ABC share me and they wouldn’t. I had to stick to my original contract so I had to release myself from being Jennifer. I did my series which was a three camera live audience show. Then they let go of Eric in the middle of the night one night eight or nine weeks into filming and cast Michael. The woman that they had cast in my part was too tall to play Michael’s girlfriend so I got my part back.

Nerd Report: I know that story, it was Melora Hardin.

Claudia Wells: I’ve run into her several times since then and we’ve never one time discussed it.

Nerd Report: Had you rehearsed at all with Eric?

Claudia Wells: No. We had done a boyfriend/girlfriend photo session at Universal which was going to be a picture in his wallet. We spoke on the phone several times. Universal had us get together at a function or a party just to get to know each other. They didn’t realize he and I were in Stella Adler’s acting class together when he first came to L.A. from Santa Barbara to be an actor. There are so many synchronicities and “meant to be”s.

That's the power of love!

That’s the power of love!

Nerd Report:  And you redid that photo with Michael because it’s in the movie when he shows Doc a picture of his girlfriend. 

Claudia Wells: No, that must’ve been a picture that they took on set when we were performing.

Nerd Report: I want to give your store one more plug because you’ve done my fashion for the last five years. This may not come up much with your customers, but how do you deal with mothers who feel they can dress their sons better than you?

Claudia Wells: [Laughs] That is a phenomenal question. It doesn’t come up often. I do dress some teenagers for proms and things like that and the moms are thrilled that their sons listen to me because they don’t listen to them. When I say, “Try this on” or “do this” or “do that,” they listen to me. Then I have a lovely chair and that’s the Chick Chair so the mom can sit there. There was one time many, many years ago I had a mom who always shopped with he, I think he was in his 50s, son. But I’ve never had a controlling mom in my store. I’ve had some wives that are pretty particular but not really moms. I’ve learned over the years the wife is right no matter what. So if she likes something, I always bow down to the wife.

Upcoming Kids in the Spotlight event, donations needed!

Upcoming Kids in the Spotlight event, donations needed!

Nerd Report: That’s a good policy. How is Kids in the Spotlight going?

Claudia Wells: Oh, it’s wonderful. It’s getting better and better every year. Our event is November 9th this year and we’re seven years old. I was just at a board meeting a week or two ago, so it’s going beautifully well. We just always need donations because it costs $10,000 for every 10 week session we bring to the foster care facilities for the kids. So we live on donations. It’s It’s a big part of my heart. I’m a founding board member.

Franchise Fred Interview: Lea Thompson on Back to the Future’s 30th Anniversary and Switched at Birth


138164_0362Lea Thompson was at the ABC party for the Television Critics Association. As a star of the ABC Family drama Switched at Birth, she joined the cast in attending the party for all the Disney networks. I, of course, had Back to the Future questions, which are especially relevant in the year 2015. Thompson was happy to talk about the classic film trilogy, and she wasn’t even opposed to my idea for Back to the Future IV. That’s that Franchise Fred charm.

Franchise Fred: I’m excited the new Blu-ray is coming out October 21, the day Doc and Marty came to this year in Back to the Future II.

Lea Thompson: Isn’t that crazy? That’s craaazy! I think it’s really exciting and it’s really exciting all the outpouring of love for the movie for 30 years. It’s just remarkable.

Franchise Fred: I saw you at the Hollywood Bowl concert. What was it like to see a movie of yours in a concert hall?

Lea Thompson: Well, just to see a movie with 17,000 people is pretty amazing. The fact that I made it so long ago and people are appreciating it, it was very emotional honestly, and very beautiful to hear the score.

Franchise Fred: Has this year meant anything to you, being the actual 2015?

Lea Thompson: It’s just funny. It’s a funny thing. Obviously it doesn’t look like they made it look but I think they were trying to go for a comedy idea of 2015.

Franchise Fred: Every time the retrospective stories come on, Zemeckis and Gale are sure to say they have no plans or interest in a Back to the Future IV. I think the only people who want it are me and Christopher Lloyd, but wouldn’t it have been a great idea to have a kid from the real 2015 go back to 1985?

Lea Thompson: I know. Well, it would be really fun to do another movie but I don’t think they’ll do it. It’s hard to get a big feature film when you’re a woman of my age, so I would never say no. But I think especially Back to the Future I is a perfect film.

Franchise Fred: You can tell how much they mean to me. I even know Claudia Wells now. She dressed me.

Lea Thompson: She did! You look fantastic.

Franchise Fred: So how great is Switched at Birth?

Lea Thompson: I love Switched at Birth. I love the cast. I love that the show is still on the air after four years and I hope it makes it a fifth season. It’s just such a beautiful experience. I just love going to work there every day.

Franchise Fred: You got in sort of early to the cable era when they started doing major shows on basic. Now they’re doing shows on Netflix and Amazon too. Are you amazed at the opportunities in television?

Lea Thompson: I definitely think there’s a lot more opportunities to get a job, which is great. The ratings are all less but there’s more people sharing. It’s kind of like socialism. Not everyone’s making as much money, but we’re all working more.

Franchise Fred: Anything exciting coming up this season?

Lea Thompson: Very exciting. There’s a baby. There’s a pregnancy. Our family get into financial troubles which causes certain rifts in my marriage. There’s a lot of characters from past seasons that come to visit and cause trouble. There’s a  Bay and Emmett story which everyone seems so interested in. I’m really proud because I don’t feel like the show’s tired at all. We’re conquering new elements. We’re going different places with stories. It’s not just rehashing the same old stuff over and over.

Franchise Fred: Not just Back to the Future, but being in many movies that people still watch today, did you ever imagine while you were making them in the ‘80s that they’d still be on screens decades later?

Lea Thompson: No, and even the movies that I was supposed to be embarrassed about now still have big audiences, the people that love it.

Franchise Fred: I like that one too.

Lea Thompson: Yeah, [Laughs] I know. It’s weird, I have fans from all different walks of this business and all different walks of life. I feel eternally grateful.

Franchise Fred: And new ones now from Switched at Birth?

Lea Thompson: Yeah, young people from Switched at Birth. I was just in London for the London Film and Comic-Con and there were a lot of Switched at Birth fans in Europe which I was very surprised about.

Freditorial: How I Became Franchise Fred

If you have been reading my reviews and articles, or following me on Twitter, for a few years, you probably know that I am Franchise Fred. I truly believe there should always be sequels to everything, indefinitely, no exceptions. So I thought it was time to give the origin story of Franchise Fred. I have always been Franchise Fred, but I didn’t get my name until a few years ago.

Growing up as a movie fan, I liked sequels more than their predecessors for a simple reason. A sequel didn’t have to waste any time on setup or establishing the characters. It could just get right to it. Now that I’m a more sophisticated film viewer, I understand what those sequels were doing. They did still have setup, but it was building off the first movie. It was showing what happened to the characters between movies and letting them begin the sequel in an interesting place. And yes, bigger action and special effects than before.

The history of the original movie gives any sequel a more interesting foundation than if it had just started from that point. We are now watching something that means something in the context of what we’ve already experienced for 90 minutes or more with these characters. Their actions have more motivation because we know what decisions they made before and what their consequences were. So every sequel I watch is loaded with the history of all that came before it. Sure, every movie has backstory, but backstory is exposition. History is something we experienced with the films.back_to_the_future_part_ii_ver3

When this all started for me though, it was simply the joy of seeing characters I loved again. It was admittedly more rare, so it was a special occasion when Marty McFly, Robocop, John McClane, Rocky or The Terminator got another movie. I knew Die Hard 2 wasn’t as good as Die Hard but it wasn’t about qualitative comparisons. It was just about having more than one Die Hard movie to choose from. It never even occurred to me that people didn’t like Ghostbusters II. It was the ghostbusters solving another slimy mystery, why wouldn’t I want to see that? And Bill Murray still had hilarious lines in it. I didn’t learn that sequels in general were actually frowned upon until much later.

The World Is Not Enough teaser posterOne joy of sequels growing up is now lost to me. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, if a big sequel was coming out, it gave me a reason to experience the original. I caught up on the Rocky trilogy when Rocky IV came out, as well as the Nightmare on Elm Streets and Friday the 13ths. I only saw Raiders of the Lost Ark after The Last Crusade! God, I remember when I got to discover 15 James Bond movies for the first time. And I was only introduced to Highlander and F/X by the 1991 sequels.

Now that I’m an adult, I’ll never have the experience of seeing a sequel I like and going back to discover the original. I’ve already seen any original that’s ever going to get a sequel, at least Hollywood movies. I can still find some foreign franchises that are new to me, but it gives me joy to think that this generation might watch The Terminator, The Road Warrior, National Lampoon’s Vacation, or even The Fast and the Furious just because there’s a new one coming out.

Even if there’s a movie I don’t like, a sequel to it automatically makes it more interesting. Now they’re doing something with the history of this which may make the foundation pay off. Blair Witch 2 actually used the fraudulent documentary minimalism of the original to satirize the phenomenon it became, so that’s a way more interesting story to me. The Paranormal Activity franchise developed the mythology of the possessed family and made it way more interesting than the original, which featured long takes of Katie Featherston standing over a bed. And the original Step Up was a bore, but the sequels were awesome. That’s thanks mostly to way cooler dancing, but Channing Tatum passing the torch and Moose sticking around gets a little credit.

indy3So I’ve never had a film where I said, “I don’t want to see any more of this.” Wherever one movie leaves a character off, more stuff still happens to them later. Even if one of the sequels is bad, keep trying. Make the next one better. Hell, if I didn’t like the movie, a sequel makes me like it more, so imagine what it does for movies I already like! This goes for books and TV series too, any storytelling medium really, and I’m getting my wish with the return of shows like 24, Arrested Development, Coach and Full House. It’s a great time to be Franchise Fred.

The one movie I thought should not have a sequel out of respect and good taste was The Crow. Not for story reasons, but when your lead actor dies due to negligence on the set, maybe don’t continue to profit off it. But they made three sequels anyway, and now it’s been over 20 years and I’m actually emotionally ready to revisit The Crow. It can be remade by and for a new generation and the Brandon Lee movie will always exist as a memorial to him. So there you have it. The one exception I would have made was invalidated.

The Extreme Manifesto

The conventional wisdom I later found myself up against was, “Sequels usually suck so they should stop making them.” That’s a pretty extreme position to take. “It might not work so let’s not do it at all.” Imagine how many discoveries would not have been made if the visionary thought, “This might not work, so let’s not try.” It’s also suspect reasoning. We can name as many bad originals as bad sequels, but no one says, “This movie might not be good, so let’s not make it at all.” Artists deserve the freedom to fail, because through failure comes even greater success.

ghostbusters-2-posterSo I thought there should be at least one person taking the extreme opposite position: There should always be more sequels to everything, no exceptions. Since I truly believe this it’s an easy position to champion, besides the fact that there is literally no downside to making a sequel. It employs a lot of people for a year or more, and if it turns out badly you never ever have to watch it. Even if it loses money for the studio, the grips and technicians all fed their families for a year. Maybe an executive gets fired, but they’ll bounce back.

If you’re worried that every sequel takes a production slot away from an original, I hate to break this to you but it’s not between a sequel or an original. It’s between a sequel and not making anything at all. Studios make the movies they want to make. If they think something can make money, they’ll make it. More likely it’s a choice between one sequel or another. No executive ever said, “We’d love to make this spec script, but we don’t have the money because we’re putting it all into the sequel to this other franchise.” Well, they may have said it but they were lying. They didn’t really want to make the spec script. They’ve already decided they want to be in the franchise business.  We still need originals to create new franchises so I’m not worried about that. I expect to see another Spy, Home and maybe even Pixels (although that was based on a short) after this summer, and we’re already getting more John Wick, Neighbors and Lucy from last year.

toy_story_3_teaser_poster_002I’m more surprised by narrative resistance to sequels. “There can’t be a sequel. The story ended definitively.” As if anything is definitive in fiction. Characters can die and come back, so even death isn’t the end. But the main point is one story ends and another begins. So yes, the movie you saw does have a definitive ending (one hopes, if it’s a good narrative). That’s why the sequel will begin a new story with those characters. Toy Story 3 ends with Andy giving all his toys to a little girl who will grow up with them having an entirely different female experience. I’m already envisioning Toy Story 4 before the credits role, so how could they not make that movie?

How to continue a story is every bit as creative a question as how to begin a story. In fact, given how many standalone films are derivative of the same plot, I’d say a sequel has a better shot of being more original. In most cases, you can’t just do the same story again (although sometimes it’s fun when they do). They say there are only seven original plots anyway. Chances are the first film was one of those seven. Another original is probably also going to be one of those seven, but a sequel has to push forward.

Back when movie theaters showed a slideshow before movies, I used to see a quote from Steven Spielberg that said, “Stories don’t have a middle or an end. They just have a beginning that never stops beginning.” Looking up that quote again, I’ve learned it was a misquote. Spielberg was criticizing movies that don’t know story structure. He actually said, “Stories don’t have a middle or an end anymore.”  Too late. I already agreed that stories just keep beginning and beginning and beginning. terminator-genisys-poster-arnold-schwarzenegger

I started championing this position very intensely on Outlaw Vern‘s site when there was talk of a Terminator 5, that Arnold Schwarzenegger would star and they would somehow explain how the now 67-year-old star could still play a robot built 30 years ago. Many said they should leave it alone. I said I want to see the reason they come up with to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to keep playing The Terminator. This position led Outlaw Vern to jokingly name me Franchise Fred. I appreciated the celebratory nickname though and ran with it. I hope I’m doing Vern proud.

Quit While You’re Ahead?

There is the sentiment that good stories have endings. That’s true, they do. That’s why the sequel starts a new story, and that story has its own ending too. And then the next one starts a new story. Stories have endings, but there are no limits to the amount of stories one can tell. I’m not a fan of the Part 1 and Part 2 model franchises have taken to split one story into two halves, but that’s another Freditorial. Each sequel should feel complete, but there’s no limit to how many I want to see.

I know some people feel that if a story has a perfect ending, that should be preserved. I can’t relate to that, because I’m always thinking, “But what happens after that ending?” What is a perfect ending anyway? You believe this is the ideal resolution for these characters, and they go on as you last saw them with nothing else ever getting in their way? I know it’s not as simple as happily ever after. It could even be tragically ever after, but it still doesn’t mean their lives are over. They will still do more stuff.

Few filmmakers rule out sequels. The diplomatic position is “if we can think of another story worth telling.” However, Laika Animation CEO Travis Knight takes a hard line.

“We don’t want to repeat ourselves if we’ve told the story,” Knight told me at Comic-Con in 2014 while promoting The Boxtrolls. ”There won’t be a Coraline 2, there won’t be Paranorman 2, there won’t be a Boxtrolls 2. It’s because we want to tell new stories. Once we’ve told the story, and the story should be the pivotal moment of your character’s life, what’s part two? The other pivotal moment? The second most pivotal moment of the character’s life? Unless it’s a saga like Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games where it is a bigger story, I really think there’s few reasons to make a sequel other than to line your pocket. For us it’s really about making beautiful works of art.”

This is where Knight and I differ. There’s no one most pivotal moment in a person’s life. And the pivotal moments are not the only interesting stories to tell. Sometimes larks are worth exploring and sometimes other pivotal moments only reveal themselves when you start thinking about them. But his heart isn’t in it so he’s not the one who should be pursuing sequels.

freddysdeadIf you do value a certain end point, you always have the choice to stop right there. The viewer can end a story at whichever point they choose to. If they make a bunch more sequels you don’t like, you only need to recognize the ones that mater to you. Or never even watch the sequels after the point you believe the story ends. We’re talking about fiction here. It’s not documented history that has to be recognized. There’s canon, but that’s flexible too. Subsequent filmmakers may pick and choose from canon. So if you prefer to believe Jesse and Celine never saw each other again after Vienna, you can if that makes it a better story for you.

If a franchise manages to create that ever elusive sequel that’s superior to the original, some might say quit while you’re ahead. But there’s no “ahead” in storytelling. It’s not like gambling or investing, where bad decisions can set you back. For the audience, we only have to decide to watch a sequel or not, and if we do, the worst that can happen is we don’t like it. Studios may experience diminishing returns with sequels, but it’s up to them to figure out the finances. I’m talking about why we should welcome sequels as an audience.

I understand some people feel a lesser sequel sullies the predecessor, but it doesn’t to me.If you prefer trilogies or single stories, you have the advantage. No mater how many sequels they make, you can always choose to ignore them. But for people who like sequels, they have to make the sequels. We can’t enjoy the sequels that are never made, but you can always ignore the ones that are.

Conclusion (Not the Ending)

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in Creed

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in Creed

The good news is, I’ll never have to worry about franchises continuing. There will always be a studio looking into their vaults to see what they can bring back. Stallone brought back Rocky and Rambo long after he’d sworn them off. Even after Stallone was done, Ryan Coogler had the idea for Creed.

There are only a few I’ll really have to say goodbye to. The creators of Back to the Future are dead set against continuing that series in film. Stage musicals, sure, but no more movies. And the perfect opportunity with the real year 2015 has come and will soon be gone, so okay.

The world of franchises has fascinating nuances to explore. It’s getting further complicated by the existence of reboots and the phenomenon of debooting or unbooting (another Vern word!) after a remake. I’m happy to continue exploring the wonderful world of franchises in my writing and interviews. Now look out for part two of this Freditorial, because of course there’s a sequel. I’m Franchise Fred.