Tribunal: Stoltz as Marty McFly

This article consists of leftovers from my other articles. Tim Burchett (a director of commercials) had this to say about the year that marked the first glimpse of the much sought-after Stoltz footage in Back to the Future (all shot in 1984): I was searching the Universal vault for archive footage to be used for a documentary that I was working on. I had a meeting with the lady in charge of Universal’s vault. You can bet that I asked about the Stoltz footage. This was a month after the Blu-Rays were announced. She wouldn’t directly give me an answer but implied they were waiting to see if Stoltz had some kind of career resurgence or perhaps passes away, before they allow that full footage released to the public.

Caprica (a 2010 Universal TV series) was meant to be that resurgence. It’s worth pointing out Eric’s rise through the ranks in Universal from 1981 to 1984. From a documentary perspective, they could’ve advertised him as starting in a small role (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) then having a supporting role (The Wild Life) prior to being a co-lead (Mask) before being the star of BTTF. David Buckley, who resided in one of the cities that BTTF was filmed in, had a friend who was one of the special effects technicians. Dave didn’t want to reveal the guy’s name but was okay with typing: “I remember being told that the film had basically been completely shot with Stoltz. The only sequence used from the original shoot that was easy to edit was Doc Brown and the clock tower, because it was filmed while they were waiting for Fox to step in.

When taking into account that Crispin Glover and the artist formerly known as Michael Andrew Fox have implied that Eric was fired days before Christmas, I don’t believe the shooting date on the first call sheet. I actually cropped it because the date was too late. Eric began filming on Monday, November 5, 1984. He was fired on Sunday, December 23. That’s 7 weeks! Michael A. Fox began filming on Friday, January 11, 1985. In the mid-eighties, it was never publicized that footage was reused. That’s because the main creative team were hoping for the film to be taken seriously enough to win Oscars for best film and best editing. Eric was so shamed by his firing that he attended acting classes shortly thereafter. When he found out that he was replaced by a sitcom star, he was so humiliated that he moved to France after The New Kids was released on Friday, January 18.

The release date was the day after the announcement of his firing in Daily Variety. Columbia (the distributor) wanted to salvage his career. The teen revenge thriller (which was made before The Wild Life) was a huge flop. It shouldn’t be a surprise since it had been shelved. The film was originally meant to be released on Friday, July 13, 1984 because the director (Sean Cunningham) created Friday the 13th. Back to Back to the Future, Bob Gale saw both R-rated movies and wrote a 2013 novel titled Retribution High. Ironically, he preferred C. Thomas Howell as Marty. Before they got involved with casting BTTF, Mike Fenton and Jane Feinberg were involved in casting a movie that was shot in the summer of `84 – Secret Admirer. It had Howell, Casey Siemaszko, Courtney Gains and J.J. Cohen. Casting Howell in BTTF would’ve drawn attention to it because those other actors played bullies in BTTF.

Secret Admirer co-starred an actress who starred in The New Kids – Lori Loughlin. She should’ve been cast as Marty’s girlfriend, since we wouldn’t have got a new actress in the next parts. Howell and herself had more chemistry than the people who followed. Gale didn’t want to give free publicity to Secret Admirer. Both Bobs (Gale and Zemeckis) don’t have artistic integrity e.g. the first draft of BTTF had Coca-Cola being the mystifying component which made the time machine work. The project was commissioned for a development deal at Columbia Pictures, who would end up being bought by Coca-Cola in `82. It was the second movie (after E.T.) where Columbia missed out on reaping the rewards of Spielberg. Mountain Dew, Miller and Pepsi became the new product placements. Things went awry when, instead of having M.A. Fox consume California Raisins from a prom bowl, a hobo slept on a bench whose backrest displays the logo.

The California Raisin Advisory Board members had threatened to sue. They were appeased, if not pleased, when a $25,000 refund check arrived. They decided to let things stand. After all, the movie still advertises California Raisins. Still, being given the shortest straw had to sting since the raisin board paid $50,000 for that scene and a plugging for a BTTF sweepstakes. This is another example of the producers being misers instead of meisters. I wonder what they felt inclined to plug when Eric was on board before being thrown overboard. In the October 1990 issue of Detour, he said: “It’s adverse publicity because people are actually aware that something is being product placed. If I see a product prominently placed perfectly in a scene, I never buy that product. As a child, I was brainwashed. Commercial tunes, buying products because they were advertised well on TV, buying sugar water because a celebrity I liked was selling it. I think it does harm.”

Karen I. Stern recalled conversing with the deceased continuity supervisor, Nancy Hansen, during the editing of Parent Trap: Hawaiian Honeymoon (1989): “She explained how in dailies for the first week, Spielberg commented “Oh, that’s an interesting way he’s playing it” when referring to Eric’s more quiet, understated and serious Marty McFly. He was cast because Mask had Oscar buzz that was buzzing around him like a fly. He had his parking space and dressing room labeled Marty McFly. He wouldn’t respond to his real name. Zemeckis had misread the yawns of the overworked people during the third week of the dailies, but he couldn’t do anything until Spielberg metaphorically broke the bottle on the ship that was Young Sherlock Holmes (it began filming in December). After his fateful meeting with Zemeckis towards the end of the seventh week, Eric slammed his dressing room door then quickly drove away.”

Eric chose Paris because, prior to BTTF, he acted in Code Name: Emerald a.k.a. The Emerald (which began filming on August 13, 1984). It was produced by the same producer of Mask – Martin Starger. The political intrigue is convoluted by the fact that the World War II film was released by MGM but was the first theatrical film produced by NBC, which was owned by Universal. It was released on September 27, 1985 – a month after Eric began filming Lionheart. If he hadn’t been fired from BTTF, and if Emerald had been released in the spring of `85, BTTF would’ve benefited with Eric in it because people would recognize his face. It could be surmised that Universal and MGM disagreed about what should be released first (i.e. using one film to increase the value of the ensuing one e.g. “He’s from that Ed Harris movie!”). In 1989, Eric did another WWII movie – Memphis Belle. He said: “This is nothing like Top Gun. I thought that was politically reprehensible. This film will not be used to recruit people into the U.S. Air Force.”

For Memphis Belle, Eric reunited with two of his BTTF alumni – Billy Zane and Courtney Gains. When Eaglemoss released a one-off magazine to advertise the BTTF visual history book, there was an attempt at damage control to deflect any accusations of Eric’s career being ruined. On the contrary, the firing had affected Francis Ford Coppola’s desire to direct him for what would have been the first of a trilogy about the Children’s Crusade that took place in 1212. The film, Lionheart, still got made but with Francis hiding behind the executive producer credit. Because Eric was deprived of being a blockbuster star, the film was shelved until Some Kind of Wonderful came out in the spring of `87. Unlike the John Hughes movie, it took three years for Lionheart to be released on video. Even if The Fly II had been a big success at the box office in 1989, it would’ve been too late to do a sequel to Lionheart.

The stigma of being fired prevented Eric from achieving his dreams of being directed by Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick and Terence Malick. Finally, I need to address the mythos about Fox being the first choice. I’ve often found there to be some astroturfing online in that there are studio affiliates who will go out of their way to create accounts so as to type confirmation bias (in a bid to counteract any people trying to leak the truth). Yes, Marty has the same initial as Michael. Yes, himself alongside Christopher Lloyd reflects the TV odd couple in Romancing the Stone. You could even say there’s a formula: find a TV actor named Michael and hook him up with an actor from Taxi. However, the script that Fox was working with shares the fourth draft label as the one that Eric was working with. If Fox was first, his comedy version would not have later revision dates on the script.



  1. Originally, Back to the Future should have been a serious drama movie (a dark film). Probably Spielberg had suggested to shift for a family movie in order to get more audience, so they decided for a comedian and changed actor to play a character representing a little funny boy, so they fired Stoltz. The actual damage was the lie based on that Stoltz was misleading the recitation. This lie was concocted to avoid the movie being involved in polemics, trusting in the secrecy pact every actor signs. The story is that Stoltz was damaged by a false image because of the wrong comparison by two different movies: the first one dark, and second one funny.

    Once the change was known, the enthusiasts made the understandable error to deem Eric Stoltz a mediocre actor in order to unconsciously justify the change. The mystification unjustly marked Eric Stoltz. As for me, I understood that something was wrong (about clothes dressed by Martin played by Stoltz, as example. They were dark). Reading about Spielberg and directors involved in the movie, I sensed the truth that your post further confirms. Eric Stoltz was really chosen because his intense and excellent recitation, and was the first choice for a drama until the change for both the kind of movie and the public, as well. Their mistake was shifted to Stoltz.

    In my opinion, the movie would have been a success also in the original way, although lacking more numbers from the family demographic. Probably if George Lucas had spoken to the director and writer, he would have suggested for a drama movie in order to make the saga less trivial and more durable over time. In fact, Star Wars lasts, unlike Back to the Future which is the past ‘lying’ as memory, often a sad memory.

    “Truth cannot be deceived”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When do u think they are going to release the full movie shot with Stoltz ? I think the most of the people are already understanding that Stoltz version was filmed entirely despite the fact Gale is denying it.


    • In an interview for the Voices for Krypton blog circa 2007, Gale said: “I think we all need to be in our 60s before we release this to the world.”

      Gale turned 70 last year, and Zemeckis will turn 70 in May.

      Meanwhile, Eric turned 60 last year but Crispin will turn 58 in 8 days time.


  3. it might be on 40th Anniversary of BTTF in 2025. Chris Lloyd needs to see it because he is the oldest from lead cast and can’t wait forever. I am sure Stoltz version is very good, sort of Peggy Sue got Married (my intuition) genre.. It is sad that the old is gone it used to have so many pics from behind the scenes during Stoltz time on set. His blue wallet with fading pic, Hardin pic as Jen, Strickland office from alternate opening etc. Now they are all gone. Who erased all that stuff from the old site from existence ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s possible that the corporate powers that be might have taken over the site. I used the Wayback Machine to find out who ran it in the beginning, and I happened upon this disclaimer –> “ is not affiliated with Universal City Studios, Inc. nor Amblin Entertainment, Inc., and the content herein contained is intended for entertainment and informational purposes only.” <—- this site reveals: "In 2015, Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment selected as an official partner for their 30th Anniversary marketing campaign for the film series, using the web address in print media and on the packaging of every DVD and Blu-ray Disc released in North America."

      Thankfully we can use the Wayback Machine to find old things but even if that archive site didn't exist, there's a French site whose forum had preserved all of those old photos and more. It's called Retour vers le Futur:

      The weird thing about that French site is that the photos which were supposed to be exclusive to the 2015 Ultimate Visual History book had already been around on that forum since 2008.


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