Screenwriter Bob Gale goes Back to the Future

Back to the Future is apparently going to be hitting its 27th anniversary this summer. Has it really been that long? 

I hate to make anybody feel old by mentioning the upcoming anniversary, because I’m sure a lot of you, like myself, can remember going to see it like it was yesterday. As I’ve said here before, the Amblin films, Back to the Future and Goonies especially, still have a special place in the hearts of many of us.

As you may recall, Back to the Future was written by Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis.

Together, the duo wrote I Wanna Hold Your Hand, which was Zemeckis’s directing debut, 1941, which Steven Spielberg helmed after Close Encounters, and Used Cars, which Zemeckis also directed.


I’ve talked to Bob Gale several times over the years as a contributor for Creative Screenwriting, and recently we talked a bit about Back to the Future, starting in a pretty obvious place: His feelings about the film being loved and remembered after all this time.


“I love it, are you kidding me?,” Gale says. “It’s amazing enough to have a hit movie, ever, in your career. To have one that has stood the test of time the way Back to the Future seems to have is absolutely amazing. And it’s so gratifying. Everybody loves the story of someone who has a passion project that nobody wants to make, and everybody’s still talking about it decades later.”


Back to the Future received over 40 rejections before it was made, but Gale also says, “We’d never get anywhere with it today. We had a hard enough time getting Back to the Future made when we did. The thing that really got the movie made was that Bob Zemeckis had a hit film with Romancing the Stone, and then people were ready to be in business with him and make a movie he wanted to make. In the early days when we wrote the script, Steven Spielberg liked it, and (producer and former head of Fox) Joe Roth liked it. Everybody else didn’t get it. The mix of genres we had in there, which is one of the things that makes the movie great, would be even harder to do today. Everybody wants things that fit into certain pigeonholes.”

As far as the recent reports that Back to the Future may head to Broadway, “These are just rumors,” Gale says. “If I had to talk about every rumor about Back to the Future…(Supposedly) Justin Bieber was gonna be in a remake, a version of Back to the Future was gonna be made in Brazil… I mean, it’s crazy. Every conversation that anybody has about Back to the Future ends up somehow finding its way into the gossip, so no, there’s no deal for that, it’s way premature.”


And something I’d oddly enough never talked to Gale about before is going back to his first effort with Zemeckis, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, which put fictional characters around the appearance of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Looking back on it today, you can see the roots of Forrest Gump, with Zemeckis putting a fictional character throughout modern historical events. 

“We used to tell people that what we wanted to do with I Want to Hold Your Hand was a combination of American Graffiti and Ben Hur,” Gale says. “Because you got Ben-Hur running into Jesus all the time, and we got these kids running into The Beatles all the time. That’s a great tradition that goes at least back to Ben-Hur.”