Retro Con 2015 Interview: Author Caseen Gaines Talks About His Book ‘We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy’

What drew you to Back to the Future originally?

Well, I saw Back to the Future for the first time when I was maybe five or six years old, and I probably thought a lot of what I was seeing was real, actually, but I thought it was magical, truly. I thought the idea was so creative, I knew even as a kid, this idea of going and seeing your parents as kids was really original, and I love the car, of course, the hover boards in part 2, just so much about the film really captivated my imagination. Even as I got older, I never forgot the feeling of seeing it for the first time, and even now, after having written the book, I’ve seen the film so many times and I still find myself getting surprised and excited, and it’s just such a fun ride, all three of them.

So compared to being a kid, how do you feel watching Back to the Future as a kid versus intellectually on a deeper level?

I think I appreciate the filmmaking so much more now. You know, as a kid, you’re just watching for the story or the effects or the characters, the music, but now, I watch it and it’s such a well put together movie. All the acting is so great. Robert Zemeckis does such a great job with all of the little clues and Easter eggs in the movie, the payoffs, it’s brilliant. I just saw a fan theory of something last night that I sent to Bob Gale in an email and got an email back from him about it, but in part 2, you see Biff at the dance spiking the punch at the Under the Sea dance. Now, in part 1, there’s a very clear shot of Crispin Glover drinking the punch before he goes and knocks out Biff, and so the fan theory was that they had written it that way in part 2 to sort of explain why he had the courage to go, right. And I ran this past Bob Gale, and Bob Gale said it’s a very interesting theory, but we would never suggest that we need to have liquid courage to do the right thing. But it’s amazing to me that there’s a theory that’s totally legitimate and you know, people are always thinking about it, you know what I mean? That’s great, and that’s a testimony to really great filmmaking, and that’s what I appreciate most about Back to the Future now.

Out of the three, do you have a favorite, or are they all kind of equal?

I think part 2 is the most interesting. It’s my favorite to watch, but I think part 1 is definitely the best. I think it’s the best done film, not only just the idea but also just cinematically, it’s a perfect film.

Do you think going to the Wild West was a good way to cap off the trilogy?

I think it was, you know, I give them a lot of credit for making those three films different films when they really didn’t have to. That first film was so successful. If you look at any of these James Bond, Mission Impossible, you know, any of these sorts of things, Indiana Jones, they’re almost the same story over and over again. Ghostbusters, you know, in a way. It’s true, they’re very similar. They went in such different directions with all three of those films that I really think, I don’t think I would have gone to the Old West, but I think I appreciate the creativity to do it.

Do you think Bob Gale and Zemeckis were onto something with a sequel, sort of almost predicting the future?

I think so, in a way. You know, it’s funny because they said they went for practicality. That was it. Marty’s self-lacing shoes and the resizing jacket, Zemeckis said that in the future, people would never tolerate that when you grow, you have to buy new clothing. All clothing would be one-size-fits-all. People would never stand for it. Of course, we do, but that’s where these ideas come about, and hover boards, that was just a joke. Now, people are creating them, you know, art is imitating life or vice versa. I think some of it is predicted and it coming true, and some of it is people inspired by those movies that they want to make these things come true.

Do you think the series could have gone on past the three movies?

Yeah, I think so, absolutely. I think Zemeckis especially is an amazingly creative guy. There is a reason why Back to the Future is the only movie that he’s ever made a sequel from, and I think he really, he still says to this day that Back to the Future is the best movie he’s ever made. And this is someone who is an Academy Award winner for a different film and still says Back to the Future is it because they had such belief in their concept that I think the fact that they said three and no more, we’re going to end this, and they’ve stuck to that, goes to show how much, how protective they are of this idea.

Okay, with the current trend of rebooting and restarting franchises, do you think Back to the Future is in for that punishment?

No. (laughs) I think the reason is, I think if you look at the franchise, everything was so perfect for the 80s. Number 1, you start with a DeLorean. You have a car that looks futuristic but was such a product of its time, such a product of the 80s. You had the President of the United States being someone who is a film actor in the 1950s. If you look 30 years back from the 80s to where Marty’s parents would be teenagers. You had the 50s, and we love seeing the 50s on screen. Grease, you know, I Love Lucy is still in reruns. We love the 1950s. And finally, if you go ahead 30 years, you have the 21st century, and so I feel like the 1980s, it was such a product of its time that no one wants to see Back to the Future now where they go back to the 80s because you go back and you’d have Madonna and Ghostbusters and you’d have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and you’d say we’d never left! Things haven’t changed in the same way like they have from the 50s to the 80s.

Do you have a favorite scene from the movies overall?

It’s hard to say.

What just grabs your attention?

I think my favorite thing is probably, I love all that stuff in part 2 where they go back to part 1. I think that’s so, it matches up so well. It’s so creative. There’s only one movie that I know of that does that, that really goes back, and it’s not just an entire movie where they’re looking at it. It actually drives the story forward while going backwards, you know? It’s so cool, so it’s not one scene, but that portion of the trilogy is my favorite.

What is Bob Gale’s inspiration for that, particularly part 2, that story going backwards and forwards?

That was all Zemeckis, and Bob Gale is very quick to give him that. Bob Gale wrote a sequel for a, he was calling it 2 at the time, and so he wrote a script for 2, and this was like the first-first draft. So this film starts off the same way that we see Back to the Future 2, and instead of going back to the 50s, they go back to 1967 for the Sports Almanac, and when they go back to the 60s, there are hippies and Lorraine is a flower child and George is a professor. He’s away at Berkeley teaching, and Zemeckis said it’s good, I like it, but there’s got to be a better idea. It’s not totally working for me. I’m not totally feeling it, and he said, you know, we have a unique situation here where we can go back to the 50s if we want to. We can go back there, and so it’s all Zemeckis’ idea and Bob Gale then wrote the script from that idea, so the story, the actual dynamic of the story was Bob Gale, but the idea to go back to the 50s and revisit the first film was Zemeckis’.

Have you reached out to Michael J. Fox at all?

I did. I didn’t interview him, and the reason why is really because of scheduling. He was doing the Michael J. Fox Show, so he was completely busy, and then by the time he was available, the book was essentially done, unfortunately. But I did speak with Christopher Lloyd and Lea and Huey Lewis, Zemeckis and Gale.

What about Alan Silvestri?

I spoke with Alan Silvestri. It was very, very briefly, though, because again, of scheduling. So I did speak with him, but he doesn’t really materialize in the book because it wasn’t enough to really pull from. It was a quick conversation.

What do you hope audiences take away? Or readers, rather.

What I hope people take away from the book is how much good can come from when you have conviction in your art. This idea that they cast Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly and shot for six weeks and they said, you know what? We care about this idea enough to let our careers essentially – I mean, think about if the movie had flopped, you know. They bet their careers that the movie would be better with someone else and that it would be worth Universal paying six million dollars to re-film all that was done, and they still had to pay Eric’s salary. You know, the fact that they had conviction in their art to do that I think is really a testament. To me, this book is even less about the making of a movie and more about filmmakers pushing through despite impossible odds.

The collaboration between Zemeckis and Spielberg is a classic one, since Back to the Future.

Even before that, since I Want to Hold Your Hand and Used Cars and 1941.

Used Cars?

Yeah, Used Cars was their film, and Spielberg produced it.

Not the greatest movie, but they were young at the time. They made mistakes.

Yeah, young and hungry. (laughs)

What do you think a future collaboration between these two geniuses could be like?

That’s a great question.

They haven’t done anything together in awhile.

Not together, no. Right, that’s a great question. Spielberg, Spielberg wasn’t involved in Death Becomes Her, right? I don’t think so. No, that’s a great question. I mean, I don’t know. They had such, you know, that’s the other thing too about the book and about the question about what people should take away. That was such an interesting time where Steven Spielberg, Bob Zemeckis, these people that were, you know, these amazing filmmakers all were young and were coming of age at the same time.

Doing the best work of their lives.

Doing the best work of their lives at the same time, you know, Zemeckis, I have never seen a bad Zemeckis film. I think that he makes, I think he’s brilliant, but you know what? There is nothing for me that beats Back to the Future, Roger Rabbit, you know, I would say like Forrest Gump and then I think Cast Away is great, but that time period from Back to the Future to Forrest Gump is like perfect, you know? And that’s the same, like Spielberg. Spielberg, like Jaws, Close Encounters –

Raiders.

Raiders, it’s like a stretch, it’s like magic, you know? And that’s, I think that’s, it’s such, this book is such a love letter to that time period and those filmmakers, and you see these characters sort of pop up. Like Spielberg pops up in the book, and George Lucas pops up in the book because they were a part of the culture.

All these brilliant guys used to work together and make a great movie. Now it’s all, let’s just do CGI.

Yeah.

Forget about story and the magic, which I totally agree on. I think the magic is somewhat gone.

I agree with you.

And I really hope it comes back somehow. Thanks so much for your time.

Thank you, it’s a pleasure.

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