Story Title: We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy
Author Name: Caseen Gaines
Category: Published Book
Story Url: Amazon Link
Story Url: Publisher’s Site
Content Rating: All Ages
Length: 288 pages
Story Summary: A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the wildly successful and beloved Back to the Future trilogy, just in time for the 30th anniversary
Long before Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled through time in a flying DeLorean, director Robert Zemeckis, and his friend and writing partner Bob Gale, worked tirelessly to break into the industry with a hit. During their journey to realize their dream, they encountered unprecedented challenges and regularly took the difficult way out.
For the first time ever, the story of how these two young filmmakers struck lightning is being told by those who witnessed it. We Don’t Need Roads includes original interviews with Zemeckis, Gale, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Huey Lewis, and over fifty others who contributed to one of the most popular and profitable film trilogies of all time.
With a focus not only on the movies, but also the lasting impact of the franchise and its fandom, We Don’t Need Roads is the ultimate read for anyone who has ever wanted to ride a Hoverboard, hang from the top of a clock tower, travel through the space-time continuum, or find out what really happened to Eric Stoltz after the first six weeks of filming. So, why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here – and start reading! We Don’t Need Roads is your density.
As with most Gen-Xers, the Back to the Future trilogy is a big part of my childhood and teen years. So I was delighted to see that a definitive book had been written on the making of the trilogy. The stories contained within “We Don’t Need Roads” were immensely entertaining to me, and I happily forced family members to listen as I quoted sections from the book ad nauseam for days. But although I enjoyed the book, I’m not sure whether others will be as interested as I was in some of the minutia, unless they are big fans of the series or of the movie industry in general.
My husband and I both have extensive backgrounds in the entertainment industry, with decades of experience under our belts. Therefore, the things that were interesting to me — such as the details of pre-production, casting, production, and even some post-production, or the way the special effects were set-up, or the frustrating situation with Crispin Glover’s absence in the last two movies — may not be interesting to everyone else.
Thankfully, the book is laid out in such a way that if one isn’t as interested in, for example, how the hoverboards were made to look real on screen, it’s easy to skip that section. You won’t need to keep up with every detail in the book in order to focus solely on the info that interests you. And while the numerous subjects of his interviews certainly provide an ocean of information, the author very helpfully skimmed those interviews down to the essentials, and even kindly reminds the reader periodically who the different individuals are, whether cast, crew, or Eric Stoltz.
Probably the three biggest stories which captured my mind as I read this book were the firing of Eric Stoltz after five weeks of shooting, the absence of Crispin Glover in the second and third movies, and the horrific accident in which stuntwoman Cheryl Wheeler was nearly killed. I won’t spill details regarding Eric Stoltz, as I think that tale is too good for me to attempt to retell it.
You can see Cheryl injured if you watch the hoverboard race around the Clock Tower in Part 2. Just watch for the female villain to fly toward the glass, only to hit the pillar, then begin falling 30 feet to the concrete below. The Cassandra comparisons are hard for me to avoid seeing in this situation. There were many, many warnings and questions — from both Cheryl and others on set — which ought to have prevented that catastrophe from occurring, but were instead blown off and ridiculed, in a snide manner which infuriates me and makes me want to summon Hermione Granger and point her at the patriarchy.
Crispin Glover’s involvement with Back to the Future is complex, yet absolutely worth reading. I don’t think that anyone is ever going to know the whole story here, as Glover’s 1990 lawsuit was settled out of the court, which means that the documented facts of the case will probably never be publicized. I understand where Glover was coming from in his creative requests for the character of George McFly, and I agree that it was uncool for the producers to use prosthetics to make another actor look like Glover in the sequels. They should’ve simply recast the role, as was done with Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer. Additionally, some of the details about the producers’ sequel negotiation tactics struck me as having been more about making Crispin publicly submit, acknowledge their authority over him, and return to the set as a chastened, humbled creature, rather than focusing on what was good for their franchise. And while Glover did receive some remuneration from the lawsuit, he also likely sabotaged his Hollywood career.
Yet, having worked exclusively in production, I know I would have been driven batty by some of Crispin Glover’s on-set behaviors. He made life immensely difficult for the crew, at a time when they were working around the clock, and thus exhausted, over-worked, and enormously stressed. Reliable reports from the set of the first film describe Crispin defiantly disregarding directions and figuratively digging his heels in by arguing constantly over seemingly every step of the production. Frankly, he is lucky they didn’t fire him the first day he pulled that behavior on set. And if, during negotiations for the sequels, Crispin really did insist upon a salary equal to that of Michael J. Fox (a charge Crispin denies) along with script approval (which means Glover could have forced the writers to change any parts of the script Glover disliked), then “the Bobs,” as they are called in this book, were right to be firm in their negotiating terms. It’s also worth noting that the producers of the film are far more forthcoming about the mess than Crispin Glover is, which could imply that Glover doesn’t want to admit to some of his poor business decisions.
Ultimately, I was left feeling most sorry for Jeffrey Weissman, the actor who replaced Glover and was treated poorly on set when the sequels were shot, and was unfairly blackballed in Hollywood afterwards. I felt badly for Crispin Glover, who doesn’t seem to have been deliberately malicious during either Part 1 production or Parts 2 & 3 negotiations, even if he was an enormous pain in the rear to deal with. I felt less badly for the producers, even though they may very well be right about Crispin’s diva antics, because they seem to have responded badly to his obdurate behavior by being intentionally unkind in the end. No matter how he behaved, they did not need to use their positions of power to avenge themselves on a man who was no threat to them. I may be biased, though, because the vengeful, mean streak which runs deep in Hollywood is the very reason why I’m very grateful to now be out of that industry for good.
Behind-the-scenes stories such as those above are what make this book a great read. A huge chunk of the book was about the making of the first movie. The stories about the two sequels felt rushed and abbreviated. It seemed to me as if way too much time was spent on issues like Mattel’s toy hoverboard controversy and the Back to the Future fandom as a whole. I’m not particularly interested in learning about why certain fans started websites, conventions, or fan clubs. The last chapter, in fact, was rather tedious for me. I’d rather hear more about how Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis envisioned 2015 for the film, why the films mispronounce “gigawatt,” and what ideas didn’t make it into the scripts. I was also a bit frustrated that the book’s author, Caseen Gaine (and, by extension, his editor and publisher) didn’t seem to know the definition of the word “nonplussed,” as it yanked me out of the narrative each time he misused it. Overall, though, there’s little to complain about here. The book’s trivia will entertain nearly all fans, and the negotiations, production problems, and publicity details will enthrall any cinephile.