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.

Back to the Future Interview: Dean Cundey on 1.85:1 and Eric Stoltz

bttfbluDuring the week of Back to the Future 30th Anniversary events, I ran into Dean Cundey in a rather unexpected place. He was at the Screamfest premiere of The Girl in the Photograph, for which he had done the cinematography. After the film screened, Cundey was kind enough to give me an interview for Back to the Future.

The cinematographer for all three Back to the Future films, Cundey had also worked with Robert Zemeckis on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Romancing the Stone. You know his work, from Halloween to Jurassic Park and more.

Franchise Fred: What was your decision to shoot Back to the Future in 1.85:1? Did you and Zemeckis consider a wider screen format?

Dean Cundey: I think we did consider 2.35 but we were talking about sort of a classic look, a look about the 1950s, a look back into that period. I think we decided that 1.85 was probably more appropriate and easy to deal with.

Franchise Fred: Were the next two films dictated by that choice?

Dean Cundey: Oh yeah. We definitely looked for consistency through all three films so the aspect ratio, the visual style, everything was very much coordinated.

Franchise Fred: Years later you did Jack and Jill with two Adam Sandlers. Had the technology to do that gotten easier in the decades since you had three Michael J. Foxes at a dinner table?

Dean Cundey: The technology used on Back to the Future progressed tremendously. We actually developed the motion controlled camera rig that we used for Back to the Future and that technology has now become standard. We used it in the new improved versions, you might say, for Jack and Jill.

Franchise Fred: When you see what they do on Orphan Black, are you impressed how they’ve utilized it?

Dean Cundey: Yeah, I think that the technology has become easier and easier to use and I think there’s more guys experienced in it as directors and DPs that you don’t hesitate to use it. You look at something big like Game of Thrones that relies tremendously on all the visual effects, but there’s an awful lot of visual effects you could do for small films. You don’t have to think about it as this big, expensive, daunting process.

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

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

Franchise Fred: Has it meant something to you to be living in the real 2015 after portraying it in Back to the Future Part II?

Dean Cundey: It’s interesting and I think you always run the risk whenever you have the future so near, that you’re going to have comparisons with the film and reality. I think it worked out pretty well because nothing depends on the time, being the present 2015, having certain advanced things that make it hard for you to understand the story and believe.

Franchise Fred: I’ve been waiting for this year for 30 years. I’m just glad it’s here.

Dean Cundey: Well, it’s really rewarding to see the fact that the film 30 years later has such a huge following and not just nostalgically like people who saw it 30 years ago saying, “Oh, let’s go see that film that was our first date.” There are kids of all ages, there are generations, all of whom have really appreciated the film for all the work and the story that went into it.

Franchise Fred: When you shot the clock tower climax in the first movie, did you ever think, “This is so good, we’re going to use it in the next two movies too?”

Dean Cundey: No, you know, when we did the first one, we just hoped that it was going to be a good movie and that people would go see it and enjoy it and appreciate the work we did. So for there to be two sequels, or one that was very long and had to be cut in half, for there to be sequels to it is not only rewarding in itself, but the fact that the sequels are as well received and well remembered as the original. It’s always referred to as the trilogy.

This scene appears in all three Back to the Future movies.

This scene appears in all three Back to the Future movies.

Franchise Fred: I think it’s interesting that all three movies have the clock tower scene.

Dean Cundey: One of the things, if you look at the story and the script for the first one, there’s nothing in the movie that doesn’t pertain to the story. Every single little side trip you think you’re taking turns into a story point later. So it’s only fitting I think that the clock tower, which is so iconic for the journey and for the story of the first one, it’s only fitting that the clock tower figures in all three of them. It’s a character, a place of its own.

Franchise Fred: The last DVD actually showed some of the Eric Stoltz scene. Did you shoot anything differently when you got a second chance with Michael J. Fox?

Dean Cundey: No, you know, what was interesting is that Steven Spielberg had watched the movie and was part of the decision making to switch over to Michael J. Fox. He came to me and he said, “I’ve seen the whole movie that you guys did. We’re going to change the actors but don’t you change a thing. It looks exactly the way it should be.” Which was very nice and encouraging to know that we didn’t get critiquing of, “That scene was a little too dark, you need more camera movement” or anything at all. Whatever we did, Steven thought it was great, so we carried on.

Franchise Fred: Since you’re here for The Girl in the Photographs, are you impossible to scare in a horror movie because you know how it’s done and you’ve shot some of the masterpieces?

Dean Cundey: It’s interesting, I was sitting there tonight thinking that very thing. I’ve been listening to these tapes about the psychology of fear and so forth. I think that it is very hard for me to be scared because I see the tricks, the visual storytelling way of scaring people. I don’t think I’ve been scared by a horror film since, and even when I was a kid there weren’t a lot of them that did. I sort of saw the techniques. The only one that ever scared me was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the very first one with Kevin McCarthy. That’s because it didn’t rely on slashers and monsters and giant crabs that have been mutated by atomic energy. It relied on psychology and I think it’s the psychology of fear that is really what does it.

Franchise Fred: Does that make you come up with new tactics?

Dean Cundey: I think yeah, you always have to be one ahead of the audience. So you’re always thinking about, “Oh, they’re used to this. Let’s give it a little spin.”

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.