Book Review: We Don’t Need Roads – The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy, by Caseen Gaines

Sometimes, I pine for the olden days of making-of stories in books. It used to be that a couple hundred pages would be devoted to telling us about behind-the-scenes material in some of the hardcover tomes I’d come across.

Sadly, in this day and age, much of that material is truncated to make it seem that everything during the production went smoothly. In place of large quantities of descriptive dialogue and cast/crew quotes, we’re left with little info “nuggets,” and lots of color imagery.

Growing up, I became enamored with behind-the-scenes material, which made me want to move either into the world of special effects, or animation (I chose animation, receiving my BFA in 2003). I often think my interest in these materials, stems from my Dad. He was an engineer, and was also fascinated by how things worked.

Back to the Future was one of those films we often connected over when I was growing up. I recall wondering about the 50’s, and we’d go down to the library, looking through microfiche of old newspapers from that era. My parents had fond memories of those times, when department stores would take up whole city blocks, street cars ran through downtown, and a world where my Dad and his friends would wander for miles without parental concern.

Over the years, those of us who know Back to the Future, have often stored away in our heads, some of the big stories on the making of the film. There have been several documentaries made for the DVD/Blu-Ray releases, and a movie tie-in book released in 1990 (see left) was one of the first items I recall picking up and reading that had additional insight. But to some out there, it felt like there was still more material to be revealed.

That was what Caseen Gaines felt. Though far removed from the the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the English teacher from New Jersey, parlayed his love of popular culture into several books on the topics of Pee-Wee Herman, and the 1983 film, A Christmas Story. Though like myself and thousands more, he harbors an affinity towards one of the 1980’s most-remembered films.

We Don’t Need Roads – The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy could easily have been an 800 page “brick” of a book, but Gaines’ final page count keeps it “light” at 268 pages. There is plenty of rehashed material that could have been thrown in, but much of that is kept to a minimum. Instead, Caseen’s goal was to find information, that hadn’t been brought to light in the 25-30 years of the trilogy’s existence.

Over the course of several years, Gaines was able to interview dozens of people who had worked on the Back to the Future trilogy, including its director Robert Zemeckis, co-creator/writer Bob Gale, and even actors like Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown), and Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines McFly).

Much like how I like to structure my blog posts, Caseen has a way of giving you a story that sounds like you’re in the moment he’s describing. One that he focuses on in the first chapters, involves a moment where Robert Zemeckis, and editors Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas, reviewed some of the first footage shot with Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly. It’s meant to be a pivotal moment in the film’s history, and not one that I’ve heard recounted before now.

Stoltz’s involvement in the first Back to the Future has often been part of its lore. When first-pick Michael J Fox was unavailable (due to his commitment with the TV show Family Ties), Eric was recommended by the head of Universal Pictures to fill Marty’s Nikes. However, after several weeks, it was decided that Eric’s characterization wasn’t working, and the filmmakers were able to get Michael, letting Eric go on his way.

A scene from the first few weeks of Back to the Future’s shoot, with Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly (middle), looking at George McFly (Crispin Glover).

Though the book doesn’t get candid interviews with Stoltz, there’s plenty of material that seems to suggest that his method acting may have been a little too serious for the film. One example is that Eric insisted that everyone call him Marty on set. This type of method acting worked so well, that Christopher Lloyd didn’t know Eric’s real name until word came that he had been dropped from the picture.

This material is one of several stories that Caseen delves into, but he also gives some additional insight into 2 incidents from Part II’s filming that weren’t widely known:

– The story of how Crispin Glover sued Universal for using his likeness in the sequel, as well as the casting of Jeffrey Weissman to “stand-in” for Crispin’s 1955 scenes in Part II.

– Stunt woman Cheryl Weaver’s near-death experience when a stunt went horribly wrong, and her subsequent lawsuit for compensation.

These stories along with Stoltz’s termination, feel like the major tent poles of the book, but he also peppers the book with plenty of material from his interviews, to keep you turning pages.

Harry Waters, Jr, as Marvin Berry

One that was particularly interesting, was some backstory on Harry Waters, Jr, who played Marvin Berry, the lead crooner of The Enchantment Under The Sea dance’s live band (and cousin to a Mr Chuck Berry, in the film’s universe). Waters explains about his casting process, as well as his surprise when he was asked to actually record/perform the vocal tracks for the big Earth Angel dance number for the film.

My original thought regarding the book when I first heard about it, was that it was only going to cover the first film, but I was surprised to read that It also covers topics from the film’s sequels, let alone provides information beyond 1990, sharing stories of others who took their love of the film,and turned it into something more.

Those who come to the book expecting lots of dirty laundry and mud-slinging, may not be the appropriate readers for Mr Gaines’ book. We Don’t Need Roads reads like a book written by a fan, who knows that there are others out there like him, who always want a little more. As well, it won’t leave newcomers to the Back to the Future behind-the-scenes world in the dust. They’ll be just as entertained by what they find, and it may open them up to explore the myriad other behind-the-scenes materials that many of us fans have known about for years.

__________

As a self-proclaimed Entertainment Nut, I am often incensed and a little sad that most of the cool stuff that I’d love to see, rarely ever makes its way to my neck of the woods. However, I jumped into action when I found out Caseen Gaines would be talking about, and signing his new book at Quimby’s Bookstore nearby.

Author Caseen Gaines at Quimby’s Bookstore, discusses some of what his latest book uncovers about Back to the Future.

Caseen had visited here before, and told us that when coming, he liked to bring “toys” to the event. This time, his items included a replica of Marty Jr’s hat from Back to the Future Pt II, as well as a costume-pair of Marty’s 2015 Nike shoes.

Hearing him express his candid thoughts on what he experienced, as well as his recollections about writing his other books, I quickly found myself being put at ease with his stories. I think it helps that Caseen is a theatrical person as well (he also works for a theatre company in New Jersey), and therefore, has a penchant for storytelling to groups of people.

Though it was a small crowd that showed up for his appearance, he definitely kept our attention, and at one point, pulled me out of the audience to help explain something that happened during filming of some scenes (probably helped that I was dressed as Doc Brown, though circa 2015).

Thanks, Caseen! See you in October at the We’re Going Back event!

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About MWH1980

Growing up in the state of Iowa, one would assume I'd be enamored with pigs and corn. Well, I wasn't. Instead, I grew fascinated by many things that were entertainment-related. Things like movies, animation, toys, books, and many more kept my attention. This blog I hope to use to express myself regarding my varied obsessions. (P.S. There's no Photoshop involved in that Gravatar-I really am holding an Oscar)

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