Back to The Future: The Genius Of Robert Zemeckis

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Robert Zemeckis is the director and one of the writers of Back to The Future, his movie is about A high school student called Marty McFly gets accidentally sent into the past with a time travelling DeLorean invented by his close friend and scientist Dr Emmet Brown who is referred to as Doc Brown. He would like to showcase some of the many techniques I’ve used such as lighting, soundtrack, costume and attention detail involving camera shots and other techniques in specific scenes.

One of the opening scenes takes place at night in a shopping mall parking lot. He used dark lighting to give the scene a very dramatic and mysterious feel. During this scene the DeLorean time machine is revealed with a bright backlight to enhance the car’s reveal. He used three-point lighting, starting with medium close up camera shots of Doc and Marty. The lighting helps highlight them in the dark parking lot, and the fill light softens the shadows in the scene. Using the street lights, and some additional backlighting, helped complete the three-point lighting style He was going for.

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He wanted the soundtrack to be written purposely with a type of peculiarity, He did this by deciding to not play the soundtrack during the opening of the movie. In fact, the main theme does not appear until about 30 minutes into the film. Only when Marty gets into the DeLorean to escape from the terrorists does the theme first play. This placement of the first appearance of the soundtrack has two huge effects, first it enhances the impact of the music. If you didn’t hear any theme music for such a long time, you soak it up even more and perceive it with higher intensity. Second, it marks an important point in the plot of the movie. The soundtrack subtly shows the transition from act 1 into act 2. Of course, there is another important reason the theme appears so late in the movie, a huge part of the soundtrack of his film consists of pop/rock songs. The most notable are probably Power of Love by Huey Lewis & The News and Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry. But other songs are just as rememberable such as Earth Angel, The Wallflower or Back in Time.

The stylistic elements such as the use of costume are very important as they add a realistic edge to the film, which is that it is set in the 1950s. The use of props such as old cars adds to this. His buddy Dean Cundey, the cinematographer of the film, used older forms of technology and equipment to produce the same effect to a sequence as special effects to this current day would. The First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood houses a gymnasium that became the setting for the ‘Enchantment Under the Sea.’ Scene. Draped in fishnets and gaudy colors, the gym was filled with 150 extras who were fashionably dressed in full skirted taffeta dresses and baggy suits selected by his costume designer Deborah Scott.

I’d like to focus on the scene in which Doc Brown delivers the famous line, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” This is where He used a multitude of techniques, I’ll break down one frame of the shot, showing all three characters (Doc Brown, Marty McFly and Jennifer Parker) squeezed together into the DeLorean just before being propelled into the future for the next installment of the series. He can break down this particular frame into several elements, I’ll begin with the overall composition and placement of the characters.

In this frame, the windshield of the DeLorean dominates the shot, creating a slightly smaller frame within the overall frame of the camera’s field of view. This serves to contain our three subjects within the vehicle and separate them from the rest of the landscape. The subtle reflections of the neighborhood trees on the glass further emphasize this barrier. This is appropriate since in the next shot, these three will literally leave their present environment and travel into the future. Once they are inside the DeLorean, they are no longer part of the average suburban neighborhood with which they are familiar and framing them within the border of the windshield makes this particularly apparent.

Likewise, positioning Jennifer in Marty’s lap with arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders both links her more closely to Marty than to Doc, reinforcing their romantic relationship, and also identifies her as an addition to the time-traveling crew, someone who is literally being carried into an unfamiliar situation. While the windshield-border defines her as time traveler, Jennifer is still not yet fully integrated into the team. There isn’t even a spot for her to sit independently.

Color also works to this effect. Red, a recurring color throughout the film, it appears here in Doc Brown’s shirt and in some of the wiring on the DeLorean’s dashboard. This choice in color palate lends visual cohesion to the scene and indeed to the entire film, where vivid reds and blues often complement each other to balance a shot. Similarly, the DIY look of the time machine is matched by Doc’s scruffy appearance, especially by his untidy hair, which gives him an eternally electrified appearance appropriate to his character and occupation, further linking him to his invention.

Here, the red and gold that connect Doc Brown with the interior of the DeLorean is balanced against the neutral greys, blues and whites worn by Marty and Jennifer, and by the steely grey of the DeLorean’s exterior. This places Marty and especially Jennifer as outsiders to the DeLorean, while Doc Brown can almost be seen as part of the device. Jennifer especially belongs more properly to the world they are about to leave.


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