Movie Analysis: “Back to the Future” – Takeaways

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it's a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to 'get' how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it's like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It's important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

This week's movie: Back to the Future, written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale.

IMDb plot summary: A young man is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown, and must make sure his high-school-age parents unite in order to save his own existence.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. If you have seen BTTF, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

Oh, my goodness. Where to start? Subplots. Pacing. Setups and payoffs. FOOW (Fish Out Of Water). Situational humor. Visual storytelling. Service every character.

But for my main takeaway, I’m going to go with this: Strong. Story. Concept. When Bob Gale saw his father’s high school yearbook and ask these fateful words — What if I had gone to school with my father — that led to one of the best adventure comedies of all time. It is a really strong story concept. And while it did take them many drafts to nail the story, the fact they had such a vibrant concept to work with was a benefit throughout. Moreover a strong story concept becomes a huge selling asset. I mean, check out the taglines for the movie:

He’s the only kid ever to get into trouble before he was born.

He was never in time for his classes . . .Then one day he wasn’t in his time at all.

17 year old Marty McFly got home early last night. 30 years early.

Marty McFly’s having the time of his life. The only question is — what time is it?

Meet Marty McFly. He’s broken the time barrier. Busted his parents’ first date. And, maybe, botched his chances of ever being born.

Marty McFly just broke the time barrier. He’s only got one week to get it fixed.

A strong story concept is full of potential, lots of narrative elements waiting to be exploited. Back to the Future is one of the best ideas for a movie… ever.

Takeaway: We should be generating oodles of ideas, the best way to come up with a really good story concept.

How about you? What are your takeaways from the movie Back to the Future?

Go Into The Story

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