To heck with Zemeckis

While Robert Zemeckis is a commercially successful director, he is a financial failure. Three separate movies point to this. First, there’s Back to the Future. In late 2017, someone had commented on this video* where Christopher Lloyd is sitting next to Bob Gale (the main producer) for a Q&A session with an audience. Given that I have received a lot of attention because of my BTTF articles about Stoltz, it’s important to reproduce a person’s comment because it was influenced by the way that I put my research together. This person’s comment is as follows…


“The body language from Lloyd is very interesting in this. He’s clearly not comfortable about what’s been said. Reading between the lines of what has been said, it sounds like they were running out of time and money to make the movie, so needed an excuse to get more time and money. It also sounds like THEY made the movie too serious…perhaps too dark, and because they didn’t have time or money to finish it right, they realised the only way to get the movie done was to reshoot a load of scenes with a more comedic vibe. The only way to get permission from the studio was to say Eric Stoltz wasn’t working in the role.”



For those who don’t know which lines to read between, the budget had been cut in the pre-production stage. Officially, it meant that they had to change the finale. However, another anecdote revealed that Eric’s final (seventh) week resulted in the producers cutting costs by not filming any of his close-up shots despite the fact that they supposedly wanted to fire him after the previous week. On July 9 of 1985, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a rumor had been floating around about Stoltz being a scapegoat because several key shots were bungled early on in the shooting. I, myself, have a theory about what was going on financially. The basis of my theory is Crispin Glover claiming that the last scene which he had filmed with Eric was when Marty McFly sees his new family in 1985. This is fascinating since there weren’t any stills of this in the visual history book.


Going by the accounts of what people have said about filmed scenes, it seems like that prom scene wasn’t filmed because the number of extras would make it too costly. One of the black musicians (Granville Young) has a widow who told me that her husband didn’t film the scene with Stoltz, yet Joel Silver claimed that Stoltz was fired after BTTF was entirely filmed. In an interview with Robert Rodriguez for a talk show called The Director’s Chair, Zemeckis told him that they were already getting prepared to change the fifties sets to the eighties sets before they thought about firing Eric. What corroborates this is that Thomas F. Wilson claimed that the film was nearly done. Finally, a man in the SFX department had described the status of the Stoltz shoot as “basically” completed. This term generally means that it’s not really completed but you can just about wing it.



For example, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Steven Spielberg had to scrap a few action scenes from the script due to financial constraints. The consolation was that they could be used for the sequel. In the case of BTTF, Crispin told IGN that the script was constantly being rewritten during filming. One example is that the skateboard chase was originally going to end with Biff’s car being hit by a train. It would appear that the only way for BTTF to be finished in its then-current form would be to have Marty succeed in being a matchmaker after seeing George punch Biff and reunite with Lorraine. This would mean that a financial restriction might have forced Rob Zemeckis to rewrite the prom night scene so that Marty pulls out his photo and sees that his siblings are completely visible. This would explain why Courtney Gains was surprised about still being on their payroll.


This also explains an anecdote in Tom Wilson’s 2012 autobiography (The Masked Man) about how, during the final week, he had seen Zemeckis take Eric aside in between takes so that they could have long discussions. Getting fired requires one long chat, but saving money requires many of them. The other two times that Zemeckis had bitten off more than he could chew with either time or money were Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Forrest Gump (1994). The former was always in danger of being cancelled because he kept on missing the deadline (imagine how Chris Lloyd must have felt about history repeating itself). The latter was a worse situation because he ran out of money, and needed Tom Hanks to be his piggy bank. The below photos are from the première of the animated Beauty and the Beast in November 10, 1991.



Rob’s wife is an actress named Mary Ellen Trainor. He married her a few weeks after the release of his second flop – Used Cars. She wasn’t in the movie but she would later appear in some of his other movies – Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future Part II, Death Becomes Her and Forrest Gump. She was in Spielberg’s The Goonies, which was referenced in Wilson’s memoir as being expected to be bigger than BTTF. As for the other photo, Eric is with Bridget Fonda. She was his girlfriend at the time. She had just completed a starring role in a movie with his ex-girlfriend. The movie was Single White Female. The ex was Jennifer Jason Leigh. Bridget’s relationship with Eric began in 1990 and ended in 1998, which he had alluded to in his article about being a director (where he claimed that the number of `80s directors who properly directed him could be counted on one hand).


Speaking of which, I asked Jeffrey Weissman if Eric (who he has met) ever told him about how he could have been funny if Zemeckis had actually put him in that direction. I should note that he was referring to Ally Sheedy when he said: “No. I only spoke once with Eric about him living with Ally when we were both testing for the lead in War Games (I couldn’t understand why she was not connecting to me and watching him during my test). Bob Z usually didn’t give a lot of direction. He casts capable talent and then trusts them to do their thing. It’s too bad if he didn’t communicate that it needed more comedy.”



In this interview for Amblin Road, Bob Gale tried to play down the hype that was surrounding Eric’s performance in Mask by claiming that nobody had heard of BTTF when it was first being made. However, a passage in Robert Clouse’s 1988 biography of Bruce Lee makes me think otherwise: “No matter where a film is being made, information about a project can be rapidly transmitted. The easy flow of conversation between artists and executives by transcontinental telephone, and through a million daily lunches, late-night parties and bar talk, starts the process toward a consensus of any given production. When a film is in trouble or going over budget, or if a particular picture has the potential of “flying,” it is soon known. The word of winners and losers seeps through the cracks of editorial rooms, music sessions and sound-mixing studios. A collective knowledge builds until an opinion has been gained. People will nod when a certain name or title is mentioned, though it may be unknown to the public for the moment. Future deals are proposed based on what will surely be, and no one wants to miss the boat.”



* As of 2019, that video was taken down. It was probably because the uploader was a bit self-conscious in how he positioned the camera, as if he was afraid of being caught. Also, there was some blurriness that resulted in some unkind comments. The Q&A session took place at the Chatham Orpheum Theater in Massachusetts on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. Lloyd’s body language was as follows…

  • When Gale started to give his usual speech of Fox being the unavailable first choice, Chris leaned back, crossed his arms and his upper torso visibly expanded in a way that can be described as someone impatiently suspending their disbelief by taking a big breath.

  • When Gale talked about Eric not being right for the role, Chris turned his head away from Bob and lowered it so that he was facing the floor in front of him.

  • Unlike the audience, Chris did not laugh nor smile when Gale did a churlish impersonation of what someone might tell Eric if they saw all of the footage: “Oh, man, were you bad!”

8 comments

  1. I think Chris Lloyd reaction is kind of the same in this video where Matt Ryan interviews Christopher Lloyd (actor) and Bob Gale (screenwriter) at the UC Santa Barbara Pollock Theater. Take a look at Lloyd starting at minute 15 and u can see that his body language is against of what Gale is saying about Stotz version shooting process. Who is the liar here ? Here is the vid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyUYYqDQpOA

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  2. yea, Chris shook his head to the left and right showing his disagreement with Gale. He was checking his nails, touching his head, cough everything was bothering Lloyd when Gale was speaking about Stoltz..Aren’t they tired of this game already, stating this fairy tales for years ? Zemeckis is not commenting this situation that often, having many other notable movies in his collection, but Gale is like a nutcracker , the same story hundred times per years in different podcasts.. I wonder why nobody from the main cast doesn’t talk about alternate ending shot with Stoltz ? Only Crispin Glover said that several times in his interviews. I was always wondering how old he looked on the back cover of his book (portray from Stoltz alternate ending) and like a playboy in Fox version…I think this is because Crispin doesn’t attend this comic conventions with the rest of the cast and he doesn’t play Gale’s game because of his lawsuit.

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    • Good observation about the change in looks for the ending. Crispin never liked the materialistic nature of the ending was, so maybe Zemeckis and Gale changed George’s image to make a point.

      I think part of the reason why the original ending doesn’t get mentioned is because the actress who played the maid lost her job once the ending had been changed. Having to talk about her would involve having to mention her name, and then there would be articles referencing her as having missed out on being in a classic like Stoltz. Unlike him, she didn’t have much of a career or we would have heard about her by now.

      In the below interview with Crispin, the interviewer wrote: “When I interviewed Thompson about the film last year for a book I was writing about 80s films, she recalled how horrified Glover and Eric Stoltz were by the inference that money equals happiness. When I mention this to Glover, he bristles at the idea that Stoltz raised objections: “I never saw him say anything about it, I tend to think that may not be accurate.” But he quickly focuses on the source of his real ire: the film’s writer and producer, Bob Gale.”

      https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jul/30/crispin-glover-the-carrier-interview

      Perhaps talking about the ending would suggest that Stoltz was replaced for this very reason. In another interview, Crispin mentioned that the ending was the last scene which he filmed with Stoltz. Crispin remembers this because the first scene that he filmed with Fox was the same scene. From his point of view, his impression was that this was their way of dropping hints about how he should be careful.

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  3. A very interesting info i found in this video about alternate ending shot with Stoltz. I was kind of confused when they mentioned Biff in this ending. It looks like he was absent in original ending and his last scene in the movie should be that fateful fist at the prom.. Biff character is very interesting to me in Stoltz Cut – he is more an episodic character, but more dangerous. In Fox version Biff became the comic character in the entire trilogy responsible for McFly family troubles in life.. Replacement of Stoltz gave Tom Wilson a career and fame for his life because they made Biff the comic features. If u count his screen time in BTTF u can see that he is only for 12-15 minutes in the movie. here is the vid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcG61w474zY .Watch it at 8:20 minute.

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    • It’s possible that they realized Tom Wilson had the potential to be a big star so they made his part bigger*, but also because he probably wanted financial compensation after being bruised by Stoltz during the school cafeteria scene.

      * It’s kind of like what happened with Bruce Lee during the making of The Big Boss. Originally, James Tien was the star and Bruce was to have a limited role. During the course of filming, it became apparent that Bruce had more to offer so their fates were switched.

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  4. Even Wilson said he wasn’t sure about his acting because this was his 2 acting movie. Stoltz (rumors says) wasn’t pleased with Tom’s acting in more serious genre and that why they kind of clashed between takes. As comedic actor Wilson in BTTF he worked fine, but for a more serious portrayal of Biff in Stoltz Cut not that much .Maybe originally they wanted Biff to be like one of the “grease” from Outsiders or any other movie from the same thematic.. But with time it came more into a spoof genre.

    In my opinion Doc Brown also was more a serious character in Stoltz Cut, not this so called screaming pipe clown type.. It is very evident when they are watching the tape on black and white TV from 1955 showing the footage from the first time travel experiment because it is from Stoltz Cut … In my opinion the footage when he showed the bulletproof vest from the end with Doc was kept from Stoltz Cut because Doc is more serious speaking his lines (not goofy as regular and as it should be for a comedy).

    George McFly played by Crispin Glover wasn’t so scared of his own shadow in Stoltz Cut.. He was more enthusiastic during Stoltz time as the lead. After Fox came on board he was so afraid to be fired as Stoltz that he was afraid of everything he was touching.

    Only Lea Thompson character remained the same in my opinion because the switch of the genres from teen drama to a comedy didn’t required that from her. It worked fine in both cuts.

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    • In Tom Wilson’s memoir, he mentioned the last time that he saw Stoltz during that final week. Zemeckis took Stoltz aside in between takes so that they could have long discussions. Wilson assumed that they were talking about him, which makes me think that they must have been looking at him while they talked. Maybe they were talking about something else like Wilson getting angry about Eric bruising him in the cafeteria.

      Your reference to The Outsiders made me think that C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio were wanted for the role of Marty so that people would make the connection between the two films. We might have got more in-jokes with one of those guys as Marty.

      After the success of Happy Days and Grease, I’m surprised that Zemeckis and Gale had a hard time finding interest from studios.

      I think that Crispin enjoyed working on the Stoltz version more because they attended the same drama class, and even appeared in a TV advert where they played brothers.

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