WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
COMPANY: Cinemanaut Becca in and out.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Prepared to search for evidence of difficult behind-the-scenes work in Back to the Future that would otherwise go over my head.
Making movies takes a lot of effort. However much effort you’re thinking, triple it. And I’m not talking about things like, “Oh, yeah, lighting’s tough,” or, “Man, cameras must be finicky.” I’m referring to scenes that go into the script as a quick gag or important visual cue, but the practical execution of said scene is nothing short of ridiculous. The kinds of things only a film crew ever has to think about.
I mean, just look at some of the tasks they had to accomplish, from the very first scene in Back to the Future…
Doc’s got a bunch of clocks. Big whoop, so the crew has to go find as many different clocks as they can, whatever. But think about filming them. They have to set each one to 7:53, all for one long continuous take. What happens if they don’t get it on the first attempt? They either have to wind every single clock back, or they just unplugged them from the start. But they can’t have unplugged them, because they’re all clearly ticking or swinging or looking around with their creepy animal eyeballs. So did somebody have to render each and every clock’s hands immobile without hindering its other functions? All for just two minutes of footage?
Remember the giant amplifier? Somebody had to make that. Then destroy it. Then rig a piece of it to fall out once it’s destroyed. And all so we can never see it again in the rest of the trilogy.
Hill Valley looks pretty gross in 1985, yeah? That’s because they built and decorated the entire 1955 backlot, then dirtied it up to make 1985. Motherfuck.
“Hey, let’s go find a bashed-up car and film it for twelve seconds!”
Oh, you need TV on in the background of your movie? Enjoy rewinding it for every take so you don’t screw with the continuity. Oh, and the sound will be on in this scene? Glorious. Hope the sound editors didn’t take the night off.
Yes, Christopher Lloyd had to drive a smoke-filled car in reverse at Michael J. Fox. I assume there was an on-set smoke wrangler, though I have it on good authority that Christopher Lloyd is pretty skilled at filling vehicles with smoke all by himself.
Me and Cinemanaut John once argued over how they made the license plate spin. He said string, I said it was a stick in the ground. Judging from this screencap, it looks like I win. But now imagine the guy considering both strings and sticks… while the guy next to him is figuring out how to set a goddamn parking lot on fire without ruining the pavement. Movies, man. Movies.
Political campaign ads that show up exactly once? No problem, just snap a picture of set decorator Hal Gausman in an old suit and slap it on the side of a 1950s car. Which reminds me, you do have dozens of 1950s cars just lying around, right?
You can’t get fake poop in those quantities from just any old joke shop. Better start mixing up brown squishy things until you find the right consistency.
Whenever you laugh at something Doc made, take a minute to think about who really made it. And still laugh, because they designed it while keeping in mind that Doc is insane.
Okay, this set design actually kind of pisses me off. Whose school had this kind of budget for dances? Did they just happen to have a diving suit and a mermaid in the gymnasium closet? Still… looks great.
You didn’t think they actually made Christopher Lloyd dangle off of a clock tower, did you? They must have had clock tower set just for close-ups, and that kind of creative thinking applies to all sorts of other shots. Anything inside the DeLorean, Marty hanging off of cars… hell, you knew that the picture on the neck of Marty’s guitar was actually a giant photo on a double-sized prop guitar, right?
Look at that model time machine. Beautiful. A team of experts already had to weld a bunch of science-y shit onto a DeLorean, then another team of experts had to look at it, make it tiny, and film it with motion control cameras. All for an absolutely perfect closing shot. I could cry.
Of course, this list doesn’t even scratch the surface of how much hard work and talent went into this great movie, and my lazy ass is exhausted just writing it. Every one of these details is a shining example of the kind of creative thinking it takes to put a film together, but my favorite bit of behind-the-scenes Back to the Future cleverness, by far… is the man in the dog suit.
See? In case you thought the title of this article meant I’d gone insane.
Whenever you watch a car driving by itself in a movie, it’s typically someone dressed up like a car seat behind the wheel. Here’s a popular video of a guy pulling a Herbie on some fast food restaurant employees that demonstrates the effect pretty well.
In the case of Back to the Future, it’s a man dressed like Einstein, Doc Brown’s dog. The writers decided there had to be a scene with the dog in the car, and Robert Zemeckis told someone to make a dog suit. And put it on a stunt driver. I just love picturing that, and I love spotting it every time I watch the movie. (You can definitely make out his black gloves on the steering wheel.) If there’s one set photo I’d pay top dollar for, it’s the man in the dog suit. Walking around, grabbing a coffee, that sort of thing.
Alas, the Internet can’t seem to agree on who the man in the dog suit actually was. All signs point to a stunt driver named John-Clay Scott, though it can’t be visually confirmed when his face is covered with dog.
“I’M INSIDE OF YOU, EINSTEIN.”
DVD special features are usually packed with set photos, and Back to the Future is no exception, but I’ve never seen a single image of the man in the dog suit. I could theorize that the filmmakers are ashamed; once you know it’s a man in a dog suit, you can’t unsee it, so they’d rather keep this movie magic secret as covered up as possible. The more likely truth, however, is that a photo simply doesn’t exist. I nevertheless find this baffling. I know stunt drivers have to wear all kinds of ridiculous outfits in their line of work, but if I got the call to drive a car in a dog suit, there’s no way I wouldn’t bring my camera. That’s a photo to show your grandchildren.
Well, whether you have any pictures or not, it’s no small feat to drive a car in a dog suit, so I think you did great, Scott.