top of page

Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis is one the most hard-working filmmakers ever to live, and his interest in becoming a filmmaker started when he was fifteen. He saw the 1967 classic Bonnie & Clyde. Zemeckis fell in love with the film's characters, even though they're criminals, and he felt sad after seeing them killed. It fascinated Robert Zemeckis that movies can make you feel something. Zemeckis began studying film, and after high school, he began film school.

Over the years, Zemeckis saw a lot of inspiring movies, the classics, and he asked himself if he could make anything as good as those films. He has managed to succeed in making movies that people will remember. Here are some details on three of his films, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump.

Robert Zemeckis knew he wanted to make a movie about time travel, and his friend, Bob Gale, had the same interest. Zemeckis always said his two favorite time travel stories were The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It was tricky for Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale to figure out what kind of time-traveling story they wanted to tell. Bob Gale was visiting his parents and looking through his father's yearbook, and this idea came to him about going back in time to meet his parents when they were teenagers. It was a great start, but more needed to be added to the story. They asked themselves what would the main character, Marty McFly, be doing while visiting the past? He'd be inventing things that haven't been created yet, like skateboards and rock and roll. Zemeckis and Gale spent a lot of their time figuring out the best way to tell their time-traveling story. It was a challenge, but they really devoted themselves to the screenplay and gave it everything. The time machine almost was a refrigerator before a DeLorean.

Back to the Future was a passion project for Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, but no studio wanted to make it. The only person who believed in Back to the Future was Steven Spielberg, who served as an executive producer on the project. Robert Zemeckis' feature Romancing in the Stone was successful, and because of that, Universal Studios gave Zemeckis and Gale the green light (I”m Just a Theory).

Robert Zemeckis and the producers thought Michael J. Fox would be great for the part of Marty McFly, but he couldn't do it because he was too busy doing the TV show Family Ties. So they hired Eric Stoltz instead, and everyone agreed that he was a great actor, but the only thing missing was the humor. They shot five weeks of the movie with Eric Stoltz, and after that, Robert Zemeckis decided to let him go. It wasn't an easy decision, but Eric Stoltz just wasn't working out for Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg, and the producers. (Hedash).

I wonder how Eric Stoltz took it? I feel bad for him, and I wonder what the movie could have been with him in it? Robert Zemeckis went back to Gary Goldberg, the creator of Family Ties, and begged him to share Michael J. Fox. Fox was eager to do Back to the Future and split his work time between the movie and Family Ties.

Zemeckis was concerned about how people would react to Back to the Future. If the movie was a failure, then it would be the end of Zemeckis's career. Lucky thing for him, Back to the Future was not only a success, but it was a movie people could easily fall in love with.

Back to the Future is one of those movies that's popularity will never fade away. What I love most about it is how clever the story is. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote an ingenious story. All that time and work they spent trying to think up the story earned them an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Robert Zemeckis' next project was Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a film about a cartoon rabbit being framed for murder, and a detective helping him prove his innocents. Zemeckis already applied for the job, but Touchstone pictures turned him down. A year later, Back to the Future was released and became a huge hit, and helped make Robert Zemeckis successful. So the studio went back to Zemeckis asking if he was still interested in directing Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and he said yes.

There had already been movies such as Pete's Dragon, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Song of the South where live action and animation were combined, but for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Zemeckis, and his team decided to take it to a whole new level. It wasn't just a movie they were making. It was an experiment that took four years to achieve. It was about animation and live-action blending in with each other and getting physical with each other. For example, you had animated characters holding and touching live-action objects and the live-action doing the opposite of that. These days we use computer technology that can easily do that, but back then, live-action objects had to be on strings or be animatronic that they would paint over. The artists had to do the animation on paper, scan it, and merge it with the live-action footage. The footage of the live-action scenes was printed out, and the animators would use a lightbox to look at the footage and draw in a cartoon character (TheThiefArchive).

It was exhausting, not just for Zemeckis, the visual effects department and the animators, but also the cinematographer, the editor, and the actors. Everyone had their own way of working on this movie. Bob Hoskins had to use his imagination to believe he was yanking a cartoon rabbit's ears.

A final favorite Zemeckis film of mine is Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump is not the smartest person, but he's a very caring man who manages to achieve a lot in his life and meets many interesting people without realizing how lucky he is. Zemeckis got hooked on this character's journey as he was reading the screenplay. Working on Forrest Gump was one of Robert Zemecksis' favorite experiences in making a movie.

By the 1990s, digital technology had been born. ILM and other visual effects studios were starting to bring effects to life through computers. Robert Zemeckis likes to work closely with the visual effects department while making a movie and has helped experiment with them.

Forrest Gump has many visual effects shots in it, but the effects that I am most impressed with are the ones where it shows Tom Hanks next to historical figures such as John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and John Lennon. Forrest Gump was also going to come across Martin Luther King Jr., but that scene never made it into the movie's final cut. It's a shame because it looks funny. Forrest meets all these historic figures because that's how it was written. Actors could have been hired to play the parts, but instead, Robert Zemeckis and his visual effects team chose to challenge themselves by creating a new technique in visual effects. They used archive footage and added in Tom Hanks. It wasn't easy because for one, this had never been done before and they were doing it in different ways. Each scene with a historical figure was done differently. Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the effects for those shots were about blending in. Using grain on Tom Hanks helped blend him into that footage. Tom Hanks would perform in front of a blue screen. In the scene with Lyndon Johnson, they used a double and then rotoscoped Johnson's head on top of the footage to replace the double. For John Lennon's scene, I'm guessing they used a split comp for one shot and rotoscoping for the other. As for Richard Nixon, the visual effects department got rid of a few things in the actual footage, such as the text on the plaque and the original guy receiving the award. Nixon was left in, but he needed lip work.

Robert Zemeckis felt positive about making Forrest Gump. Still, by the time it was finished being put together, Robert Zemeckis was concerned if it was going to be a good enough movie for an audience. Fortunately for Zemeckis, Forrest Gump was a hit, and his work on the film won him an Academy Award for directing.

I hope you've enjoyed my article on Robert Zemeckis. I hope what I've written inspires you to check out some of his work.


bottom of page