Magazine article American Cinematographer

Back to the Future Becomes a Series

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Back to the Future Becomes a Series

Article excerpt

It has been almost five years since writer-director Robert Zemeckis concluded his comic adventure film Back To The Future, with the promise that there was more to come. Since then, audiences around the world have eagerly awaited the next escapade of Marty McFIy, the American teenager who traveled back in time. With the current release of Back To The Future Part H, Zemeckis finally makes good on his promise.

Thinking into the future himself, Zemeckis teased the audience in his ending to the first film. At the conclusion of Back To The Future, the eccentric scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) returns from the future and spirits Marty (Michael J. Fox) and his girlfriend out of the house and into the time travelling DeLorean which whisks them off into the year 2015. Back To The Future Part II continues the adventure exactly where the first film left off.

Reuniting the original cast and crew took five years, but the sequel promises to be well worth the wait. It was Back To The Future that began the highly successful collaboration of writer-director Zemeckis and director of photography Dean Cundey, ASC. In 1988, Zemeckis and Cundey teamed up for a second time on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, for which Cundey received an Academy Award nomination.

Now united for a third time Zemeckis and Cundey traveled back in time themselves, returning to thebacklotof Universal Studios where the sets and locations of the original film were reconstructed for the sequel. Marty McFly returns to the past once again, and actually goes back into the scenes of the original film. By using extensive special effects sequences and recreating those scenes, Zemeckis and company were able to bring Marty back to experience the past and the present once again-but this time from different perspectives. BTTFII goes one more step by allowing characters to revisit difrerent times in their lives, and actually interact with themselves.

"I thought that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was as complicated as it was ever going to get," Cundey says. "But when we started BTTFIT I realized that this film would be even more complicated than Roger."

Cundey had todesign and create lighting schemes for four different time periods. Each period had to have a unique look and mood. "In the film we show what are basically the same sets and locations in the fictional town of Hill Valley, only at different times in Marty's life," Cundey explains. "This meant that each period had to give the audience a different feeling about that time. Some times are more pleasant than others."

Back To The Future Part II can be separated into four different time periods: (1) the Present-1985, (2) the Future-2015, (3) the Past-1955, and (4) an altered Present-1985.

"We shot each period trying to convey to the audience a different interpretation of the settings," Cundey stated. "Bob generally favors low angles and wide lenses. As with any Bob Zemeckis film, you have wonderful settings and backgrounds for the characters. The places are very important to the story. It means that I always have to light a large area. While it's sometimes hard to be 'painterly' with the light, it's always a great challenge to work this way. The use of the wide lenses seems to create an atmosphere in the theater in which the audience feels as though they are included and a part of the locations.

"We all discussed that the Present would be the least attractive or pleasurable of the different timeperiods." Cundey says. "Since it is the most familiar period, it's also the most realistic. I used lighting that would feel familiar to the audience. We used a lot of practicals, fluorescents and mercury vapor lights. For the more nostalgic periods of the Past and the Future, I wanted obviously a warmer look. I used only incandescent lights and was conscious of keeping any 'ugly' light, especially fluorescents and mercury vapor lights, out of the shot."

In reconstructing the scenes from the first film which took place in 1955, Cundey and production designer Rick Carter were faced with the difficult task of creating an exact duplication of what had been done many years before. …

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