In 1985 Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale created the first in what would become known as the Back to the Future film trilogy, but not everybody knows what happened during shooting. A month in, star Eric Stoltz, the original Marty McFly, was replaced with young upstart Michael J. Fox and production went on, later making Fox a household name. That decision never sat well with Gale and became the idea behind Back to Back to the Future, the latest comic book from writer and creator David Guy Levy.
Last week we caught up with David for a quick Q&A to discuss everything Back to Back to the Future. Here he talks about the project’s humble beginnings, what it has become now and what lesson David would like people to get out of reading his creation. Along the way we also talk about the art of Back to Back to the Future artist Jeffery Spokes and the special connection David has to the Young Storytellers Foundation.
Check out the interview after the jump.
You’ve been involved in Hollywood for many years as a director, writer and producer, but what was the initial thought, that spark, that brought Back to Back to the Future into existence between you and Jeffery Spokes?
David Levy: This actually started a while ago. I started writing this in 2001. I had read an article BTTF.com — which is the big fan site to Back to the Future — and I was reading this article, and Bob Gale was revealing this information about how when Eric Stoltz was replaced — what most people didn’t know was — they also had to replace this actress, named Melora Hardin because she was too tall for Michael J. Fox and she was cast as Eric Stoltz’s girlfriend. He said in the interview quote “It was one of the hardest choices I ever had to make” and he was talking about how he regretted it.
Was it this history behind Eric Stoltz’s forced recasting in the First Back to the Future or was it that chance to offer readers an altered look at the history of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s beloved franchise that drew you to making this?
David Levy: I was thinking here’s the man who wrote the best trilogy of all time about time travel, and he’s talking about a major regret in his life and how great would it be to give him a chance to set it right using the same device which he created, which is the Back to the Future movies. So I started writing this story and it was always just for fun because there’s so many things about it that would make it a movie that would be impossible to get off the ground, but it was still something I wanted to write and get out of my head. Then I put it in a drawer and took it out in 2009 because I was in a group with some friends where we would read our original material to each other and I thought, how fun would it be if I pulled this out and we just read it as a group. After we put it down, no one wanted to stop talking about it, and it was really exciting because I saw so much enthusiasm for the story that I had forgotten even existed in the first place.
It’s a good thing I put in a drawer, because in 2007 I made a comic book called Corn Boy with Joshua Dysart and it was done independently. I ran the whole thing myself and put it through Dynamite and I really got to see the process of adapting a screenplay into comic book adaptation. We made Corn Boy because we realized it was a story nobody really wanted to make as a movie, but we still wanted to get it out there and it was so fantastic that it almost served better as a comic because no sacrifices had to be made for budget or time constraints. Then I realized all those things would benefit Back to Back to the Future.
I wouldn’t have to get the actors on board, I wouldn’t have to get the special effects or the budget size. Anything I imagined could be drawn. That excited me, because I wouldn’t have to compromise [a] really fantastic parody at all with a committee or not enough money or enough time. And so I started realizing [that] if I want to do it, I wanna do really cinematic wide panels. I wanna get all the art to the quality of cover art; no inside artist, no outside artist, you know? Then I started talking to Jeffery [Spokes], I saw some of Jeffery’s work and then I started talking to about “Have you ever thought about doing a book, about 130 pages where it’s all the quality of the cover?”
And he said “I thought about it, but I never found anything I was passionate enough about.” and I sent him my script and within a day he said “Yeah, this is something I could commit to.” It took him three years, but he drew it.
Speaking of art, the art style of Back to Back to the Futre personally is reminiscent of the late 80s’-early 90s’ of the comic book era, where even as an online comic you can almost feel the ink on the pages. Was that something that was intentional and do you feel that you were able to convey it from the right perspective?”
David Levy: Well I’d seen Jeffery’s work and I’ve seen he has a very specific voice with what he does. He has a blog, JeffSpokes.blogspot.ca, and you’ll see that a lot of his work is similar. I think there’s a little more pop culture vibe going on in this work than in most of his work and Back to the Future has such a pop culture reference, and while we wanted things to be really cinematic we wanted to have that fun and that pop to it and he found this balance where these things are really serious, but it’s also a comic. You can see it and it’s visceral.
Now you’re doing something quite unique in the general promotion of your series, you’re giving away the first three issues to the public for absolutely nothing. The final three issues in series however are going for $2 a piece, what made you decide on that kind of price range and are there any plans to bring the six issues into a combined graphic novel or single issues to print in the future?
David Levy: All the money is going to benefit this foundation and I wondered what would be a good price point where people wouldn’t hate to give to charity, but also would be like “Well, this is for charity so let’s not be to stingy.” Cause I do want them to get something out of it. As for print right now, though there are no plans, if we did, there would have to be enough feedback from people saying they wanted it.
The plan is just to let it live as a digital comic online. The idea is always fun to deal with… that in 2015, I’d love to put something into print, but at the same time I think it might go against the spirit of doing this for charity and streamlining that money to the Young Storytellers Foundation. Cause the way it’s set up now, you click on it and you pay for it and the money goes straight into the account, so it’s sort of perfect in the spirit of everything the way it is.
With your connection to the Young Storytellers Foundation it gives children that ability to get a sense of creativity somewhere where they normally wouldn’t think they can be creative. Do you believe that everyone has a sense of wonder that needs to be brought out and can be shared with others?
David Levy: Yeah, it’s exactly what I think. Young Storytellers Foundation, just to give your readers a quick overview, is a foundation that is mostly in LA and starting to branch out, I believe they just opened an office in New York. They go into underserved public schools that don’t have much of an arts program, don’t have much of any curriculum in that department and they mentor kids to write orignal stories and not influence those stories and let them be as fantastic as they want them to be. And once those plays are written, they bring professional actors in. People from SNL, people from Glee, all over TV and film come in and read these plays out and act them out in front of the entire school and it is super exciting.
I’ve been in those rooms and seen those spaces and never had more fun than watching someone see their work be brought to life. I wanted for years to mentor there, but it’s a very long program, it’s nine to ten weeks and with my job, I could never commit to that cause. I would always be gone for three or four of them [weeks]. And so I’d always wanted to get involved and I didn’t know how and then I was telling my friend this story about how Back to Back to the future got made, and how it’s been over a decade, and how I never started it with any business intention, I just started making it and I just wanted to get my story out, and that conversation lead to us talking about the Young Stoytellers Foundation and then I realized [that] there’s so many similarities. So he told me “Why don’t you team up with the Young Storytellers Foundation and get it out there?” and I said “That’s not a bad idea.”
I worked on Corn Boy and I know more about the independent comic market than most and I know that unless you’re not the big comic company, you’re not really breaking even on your comics anymore. You’re lucky if you break even. It’s really not a money-making venture so I might as well give it to such a good cause and I called up the Young Storytellers Foundation and they loved the idea and now finally, after not being able to mentor for a while, I’m able to do something nice for them.
Is there anything you want for those currently involved or going to be involved in the Young Storytellers Foundation to get out of all this? Maybe an overall lesson in personal determination?
David Levy: The biggest lesson is, if you have something to say, say it and see if there’s a way to get it out there. When I started writing this everyone said to me “You know this is just an exercise right? This isn’t a story that everyone’s ever going to see.” and that was told to me and I believed it too. I thought that made sense, but here I am today and it’s a story I’m getting to finally to share and I don’t think that anyone can say I don’t think I can get my story out there.
If there’s anyone that makes me want to hear that message more, its young people who haven’t been jaded by the world yet. People who are still optimistic and if I can get that message across, [that] “This was something that I wrote when I was growing up, this is something I wrote because I just wanted to tell a story that I thought was awesome. That was fun to me as a storyteller, not as the reader, but to even write was the fun part.” Not only did I get to do that, but to be like “And guess what? You can show it the world.” I think that’s the message.
Be sure to follow everything Back to Back to the Future by checking out the BTBTTF Facebook or Twitter pages and check out the first issue, available for download here and issue two here, exclusively from IGN. For more information or to donate to the Young Storytellers foundation please go to the official homepage. Also keep an eye out for David’s latest directorial feature, Would You Rather, available July 9th on DVD.