Back to the Future 25th Anniversary Event at the Hollywood Palms

Well, can I first start by kicking myself? I waited almost a week to write this, and coverage has been everywhere about this event. (My blogging has dropped off since I've been in grad school.) I've heard a lot of the same sentiments echoed that I felt that day, so let me just take a moment to say that everything I'm going to write today was discussed in the car on the drive home from the event with my husband, best friend, and her husband. So this event was powerful, powerful enough to make everyone who attended feel very similar emotions and push us all toward similar conclusions about the film and our generation. As a human race, that's good and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. As a blogger...that's bad. I was slow.

For starters, I have never been to the Hollywood Palms before, and wow...this place is a movie geek's dream. It's how every movie theater should be. It provides an experience, which is what "going to the movies" once was and should be again. I once dreamed of opening my own theater, I still do, and when I was picturing what it could be like, I have to tell you, the Hollywood Palms is pretty close. For something to actually be similar to something I could imagine, with my brain as jammed full of pop culture as it is...that's quite an impressive feat. I'm the girl who is usually dissapointed in the fact that reality is never able to compete with what I can conjure in my mind. That's probably why I love theme parks so much, they're very imagination-centric. But this place. THIS place did it, and then some. I would honestly consider relocating my living location to be closer to this place.

Sidebar: Don't EVER tell anyone that they look like a celebrity if there is even the slightest chance that it won't be flattering to them. EVER. Normally, I have my wits about me enough to remember such social graces. But I was suppressing a lot of my enthusiasm, because often times, my enthusiam comes out as CRAZY. And I really didn't want to scare the celebrities. So in my flurried state of suppressed excitement between meeting Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd, I asked the theater owner if anyone ever told him he looked like Hal Holbrook. I could just kick myself, he was NOT pleased. I usually have at least one Chris Farley Show moment per special event that I attend, and that was it this time.

So we get there, the theater blows our minds, we walk around and enjoy the Deloreans, the Back to the Future soundtrack playing on the speakers, the TEAM FOX table, the other fans, and the many movie posters. We decide we're going to do the autograph and picture thing after the screening, and so we go take our seats in theater one, which is the Wizard of Oz room. I was crossing my fingers for the Egyptian themed one, but who was I to be picky?

This is a dine-in theater, so I order the Portabella Lugosi Burger, Jake gets the Arnold Schwarzenburger and we steal some of Lindsay and Joe's Lord of the Onion Rings. Just as my face is full of food, out comes Lea Thomspon, Christopher Lloyd, Claudia Wells, and James Tolkan. We were in the second row, and I can't tell you how surrreal it was that the moment I met these icons, I was stuffing my face with food. It kind of felt like that ubiquitous dream of showing up to class naked. There was no hope of looking cool in front of anyone, let alone a hero, while eating a meal built around a pun. It was kind of awesome, food + great movie + noted actors but it equaled strangely casual. There should've been a red carpet or something. I wanted to throw my burger across the room and be like, "Get behind me burger! Don't you see who is standing right in front of me?!"

But there we were, mid-westerners munching away during the Q&A with these people who represented, for some of us, our first brush with truly loving the movies. I just decided to go with it, though it was really tough not to be that girl and run up front and do something wacky. Which probably would've gotten me arrested...so it was all for the best.

Lindsay's husband...okay wait, before I tell you that anecdote, I have to tell you this. Lindsay is my best friend. She's amazing. She's thrown me countless birthday parties, a bridal shower, and a wedding. We went to school together and bonded over the movies. We basically lived entire summers together learning songs and dances from films, My Little Buttercup from The Three Amigos for example. And Back to the Future is Lindsay's ALL TIME FAVORITE. I've never been able to really give anything decent back to her for all the fun things she's done for me. So when my friend Jen sent me an email about this event, I knew this might be the beginning of the long road back trying to repay Lindsay for her excellent friendship. I mean, that makes it sound like it's over...but you get what I mean. So that was half the fun of the event for me, us getting to see this movie together for the first time on the bigscreen. (We were three when it was released in theaters the first time, so we missed that experience.)

So here's that stalled anecdote. When Lindsay's husband was a little kid, he used to run around the playground and look at his watch like Doc Brown and say, "Damn. Damn Damn." just like Doc does in the movie. All I have to say about that is that Lin and Joe have two kids now with one on the way, and they are movie-quote machines. So it runs in the family.

The Q&A part of the day was a big challenge. It was a challenge for me because I couldn't think of a SINGLE question. I was too busy choking back tears of joy. (I told you, I was trying to be less of a psycho than I have been in previous encounters with celebrities. Poor, poor Doug Jones...) I just kept thinking, "Here I am with my sandwich, and there's Doc Brown, Judge Doom, Uncle Fester, Kruge, Professor Plum, and even that terrifying headless professor from one of those Amazing Stories episodes that gave me years of trauma! One of the greatest character actors of all time. What could I ask him that he hasn't been asked a billion times already?" So I had to sit there and suffer through well-meaning but lame questions like, "What's it like to live in California?" Ugh. Really?

But I couldn't think of ANYTHING. Jake thought of something cool at the last minute, but they ran out of time. He was going to ask what it took to help all the actors decide to commit to a movie about a time-travelling teenager? Probably Spielberg's involvement would've been my guess. But that's a really good question. I'm sure actors don't know they're making a classic in advance, right?

So during the Q&A, the actors said some of the most classic lines, including one of my favorites, "Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads." Lea Thompson was hysterical and witty and totally down to Earth. She's another one that offered a surreal moment. Outside of Back to the Future, one of my favorite movies as a kid was Space Camp. Her character made me feel slightly more okay with being a science nerd. When we met later, she was just completely nice. We talked about Harold and Maude and she mentioned that she just booked a new series from the people who created Monk. So look for that for sure. (And I admit to getting giddy later when I realized I was now officially one step removed from Kate Capshaw. AWESOME.)

Once the actors were finished with the questions, they headed out. (I was the only one who thought it was a good idea to give a standing ovation. Awkward moment #2.) Then the movie began, and let me tell you, it was an entirely different experience on the big screen. I noticed things I've never seen when watching them at home. The script seemed so tight, there were no loose ends. The movie had a tone, a look, and a feel that I think cynical audiences today might not accept from any new films. It's a happy film, inarguably populist, and still completely hilarious in a very Marx Brothersian way. More slapstick than I've ever noticed watching it on the small screen.

True, we were in an audience full of established fans. But I've never laughed so hard at Back to the Future before. Every face Doc Brown made got uproarious laughter. The clocktower sequence felt tense. Despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen, I even found myself chewing on my nails at one point. This was a movie MADE for the big screen and you can feel it in every individual shot and through the fast paced editing and the fact that everything in the film serves a purpose. Every scene, every bit of dialogue, and every visual details belongs there. It made me wonder, how has filmmaking changed now that directors are thinking about DVDs and laptop screens...or has it?

In fact, I decided to use the movie for a teaching presentation I had to do the next Monday. I decided to expand that day of teaching into a full week. I thought we'd do a section on revision, so I went digging for original drafts of the script when I got home. I watched the special features again on the DVDs, and this film was so expertly crafted. Bob Gale's first draft is a bit darker and harder to believe with way more characters. (The nuclear fridge is in there Indy fans...*shudder*)

Even some of the shot scenes that hit the floor are telling. At one point in a cut scene, Doc Brown pulls a Playboy out of the suitcase he packed that was in the Delorean. That scene was cut, likely because they wanted the movie to be as kid friendly as possible and so we as an audience wouldn't feel weird about Doc Brown. And what would it have added except a laugh for half the audience? Nothing. So it hit the floor. If only writers and directors weren't so precious with their films today. Today, they'd probably throw five more Playboys in the scene and give him a two pack a day smoking habit just to make it feel edgy and "real". But there's something about the cleanliness of the film that contributes to its classic status. It's safe, it's fun, we can cheer for the good guys all the way because they're genuinely good guys, not just our protagonists. You know what I mean?

Something else kind of magical happened. For the first time, ever, I identified with the characters of George and Lorraine. My entire life, I've always seen myself as a Marty or a Jennifer. But this time, Jake and I even found ourselves a little choked up at the arc of the parents. George McFly is an aspiring writer (ding), trying to find a way to build a life doing what he loves (ding), and eventually learns that all it takes is some confidence in yourself and the ability to stand against resistence time and again (ding) to end up as a successful writer with a happy life. We are the ones who can change our own future. (DING, DING, DING!!!)

So it's not just the nostalgia of the film or the love of the actors or even the super cool theater that made the event as awesome as it was. It was the power of the movie, the way it can grow and change with you and STILL speak to you on a different level than it did 25 years ago. That's what makes it a classic. Not the latest special effects, not the most contemporary actors, and not even the most unique plot. (Kids vs. Bullies) The timeless score never hurts though...

After the movie, we ran to wait in line to meet everyone and have our photos taken.

For the record, I went in to shake Lloyd's hand and he pulled me in that close. So I was still being a good non-psycho fan at the time even if it doesn't look like it. Thompson was what my sisters and I would call, "one of us". She had the same rambunctious sense of humor, and I know this is part of doing good PR, but she seems like she would just be fun to hang out and go shopping with, cliche as that makes me sound. I also felt a lot of respect for her. The whole meeting was very, "girl powery" for me and there was nothing about her that was rushing us off or nervous.

Everyone there was genuinely thankful for the fan appreciation, we got to shake James Tolkan's hand and say hi to him. Jake talked to him briefly about Top Gun and he even saluted him. Listen, you can tell the geeks to tone it down a bit, but you really can't ever get us to behave like normals. Thankfully, Tolkan got a kick out of it and saluted Jake back. We heart character actors and if we ever get to make a proper full length movie, we'll fill the whole blasted thing with character actors.

In fact, this really got us thinking. We've partnered on and registered a few scripts, and we can never seem to get away from the pull of genre. We write space scripts and werewolf scripts and tropical adventure scripts, but typically we use the settings and cliches to comedic effect or as a backdrop instead of following their rules. We used to feel kind of bad about that. But we sort of made a pact not to worry about it anymore and to trust ourselves...especially after reading some of Gale's early BTTF drafts. This will come out as an insult, and I don't mean it to. But if his first draft started out the way it did and ended up as great as BTTF eventually did, then we have just as much of a shot at "making it" as anyone does. Despite all the work we know we have ahead of us.

Back to the Future is one of those movies that could've been awful if attempted the wrong way. Just think about how out there the plot is. But because the movie as a machine is firing on all pistons, it works. Zemeckis, Spielberg, Gale, the actors...everyone took what they were doing completely seriously and that's why they pulled it off. So much of modern filmmaking is ego and buying time and making a paycheck. Lucas and Spielberg did Star Wars and Indy because they loved genre, and Zemeckis usually does the same. It's the heart and attention behind a movie that makes it resonate with audiences.

This leads me to believe that it's not the idea for a film (or book or script or story) that's inextricably good or bad. Sort of like band names. If Pearl Jam had never hit it big and you saw their name on a flyer on the street today, you would think it was lame. But their music was what carried them, and good storytelling carries movies. Not plots. Everything in Back to the Future was paid loving attention. Every detail. And when you watch the movie from a filmmaking point of view, it's really a small movie. With the exception of the dance scene and the clocktower set (which is just the Universal backlot), they're just shooting in a high school and houses. It's not that it's the biggest or most impressive movie ever made. It's just REALLY well done and really well written. Cast perfectly, scored for tone and scope, and I keep saying this, but man, that movie is edited on a knife's edge. It really moves.

Needless to say, the 25th Anniversary event was inspiring, and it's my understanding that they're doing this on a sort of tour. So if you get to go to this event, DO NOT MISS IT. In fact, I recommend going to any event like this that you can find if you are an aspiring screenwriter, director, or even actor. I'm seeing things from the production side of the street because that's what I'm into, but if you love film at all, these things have a tendency to hit you right where you live in the best way possible. So viva la cinema, and long live the happy 80's classic, Back to the Future!

I had to take a brief snapshot of this wall, because they had one of my favorite Betty Grable posters, Moon Over Miami. This place just gets better and better.