‘Back to the Future’ screening series seeks to thrill audiences with 1.21 gigawatts-charged musical experience
Lightning strikes a clock tower at the climax of a high-stakes, high-octane cinematic sequence. Bullies run after our 17-year-old hero in a thrilling skateboard chase scene. A late-night test drive fills us with wonder as we first see a DeLorean travel through time, leaving behind trails of fire. These memorable scenes of “Back to the Future” shine their brightest on the big screen — and with big sound.
That’s the thinking behind FILM CONCERTS LIVE!, a partnership of two music artist agencies that is screening movies accompanied by orchestras performing the film’s score live. After screenings of “Home Alone” and J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” with live music, FILM CONCERTS LIVE! is joining the 2015 “Back to the Future” festivities with screenings that spotlight the score by Alan Silvestri (whose film music resume also includes “The Avengers” and “Forrest Gump”). Silvestri wrote about 20 minutes of new music for the concert series, which premiered in Lucerne, Switzerland last month with two sold-out shows.
2015 is a big year for the much-beloved sci-fi action comedy, marking the film’s 30th anniversary, as well as the year Doc and Marty travel to in “Back to the Future Part II.”
“‘Back to the Future’ is a darn near perfect movie. You wouldn’t change a single thing about it as a cinematic experience,” Jamie Richardson of GSA Music, one of the producers of the concert series, told HitFix. He explained, though, that for it to make sense to screen the film with an orchestra performing Silvestri’s music live, they needed a longer running time for the score.
With the blessing of “Back to the Future” writer-director Robert Zemeckis and writer-producer Bob Gale, Silvestri composed new music for scenes that originally had no music – including the scene when Doc demonstrates his plan with a wind-up toy car in his lab, as well as the moment the McFly family is having dinner and Lorraine wistfully remembers meeting George, her dorky high school sweetheart-turned-dorky husband.
“It’s a very tender, sort of poignant scene, and Alan has added music to that so very effectively,” Richardson said.
Silvestri also wrote two overtures – one that the orchestra plays before the film begins and one for after an intermission when the musicians take a break following the skateboarding scene. And Huey Lewis’ “Back in Time” is cut from the end credits and replaced with more new orchestrations.
The music of “Back to the Future” is grand. It’s full of energy. It's frenetic. It fills the audience with a sense of adventure and youthful wonder and zany fun. In its slower, softer moments, it highlights tender, sweet scenes, but it’s mostly memorable for how it drives the edge-of-your-seat, ticking clock suspense of the movie.
“Big. Big. I kept telling Al that all I wanted the score to be was big,” Zemeckis said in a featurette made around the time of the release of “Back to the Future” in 1985. In the same featurette, Silvestri said the film’s “fundamental story” gave him “license to do this overblown, fantasy, old-fashioned movie score, which was a thrill.”
(Check out an orchestral performance of the trilogy's score conducted by Silvestri in Vienna, Austria in 2011 in the video below.)
Composer David Newman told HitFix he sees this score as “very much a character in the movie.”
Newman conducted the “Back to the Future” FILM CONCERTS LIVE! premiere in Lucerne and will also conduct the L.A. Philharmonic when the film screens at the Hollywood Bowl later this month. Newman, a member of the Newman dynasty of Hollywood film score maestros, is a prolific composer whose credits include “Serenity,” “The Sandlot” and “Ice Age.” He also has been a good friend of Silvestri since the two met at a Sundance Film Festival composers lab in the late ’80s.
Conducting an orchestra in sync with a film takes particular skill, Richardson said.
“For a conductor to achieve a great musical performance but also to have an eye on when the cue has to start and to hit the various points during a particular scene, that synchronization is very tricky,” Richardson explained.
For the live orchestra screenings, Newman and other conductors can see the film on a small monitor that’s in sync with the HD digital presentation file projected to audiences. On the monitor are punches and streamers – visual markers that cue the conductor when the orchestra should play a specific part of the music. That visual marker technique is known as the Newman System and was created by David Newman’s own father, nine-time Oscar-winner Alfred Newman.
These live orchestra screenings require the conductor to “chase the film,” as David Newman described it, and the trickiest part is “moving a big group of [musicians] forward when you go off a little bit.” Silvestri’s “Back to the Future” score is especially challenging to “do live because it’s so fast and breathless and there are so many things that need to fit together,” Newman said.
At the premiere in Switzerland, Newman conducted musicians who are experts at this: the Lucerne-based 21st Century Symphony Orchestra specializes in performing movie music, sometimes with picture, sometimes without.
Silvestri was in attendance at the Lucerne premiere, where he and David Newman posed for pictures in a DeLorean outfitted with a flux capacitor, time circuits and (in a costume-change-for-a-car in time for intermission) Mr. Fusion.
That DeLorean was parked near the concert hall in Lucerne for two days before the premiere, right outside Richardson’s hotel, a crowd of picture-snapping fans surrounding the car constantly.
Universal (no pun intended) love for “Back to Future” is something that’s continued to impress Richardson and fellow FILM CONCERTS LIVE! producer Steve Linder of IMG Artists.
“To be perfectly frank, we were surprised by how popular it is,” Linder said. FILM CONCERTS LIVE! has 26 more “Back to the Future” shows through May 2016.
In Lucerne, “the audiences just leapt to their feet at the end,” Richardson said, and Newman got five or six curtain calls. The lightning strike sequence was a particular crowd-pleaser with the live orchestra.
“That scene is a tour de force of filmmaking and of orchestra writing,” Richardson said. “And when those two things come together with a live orchestra playing that music, it is just literally one of the most thrilling things in the world. It is its own flux capacitor.”
Treating audiences to a big screen, big sound presentation will give fans a chance to see the film the way Linder believes “Back to the Future” is meant to be seen – as a communal experience, not on a tablet or a smart phone with an audience of one. Linder’s first time seeing a film in a theater was “Mary Poppins” in the 6,000-seat Radio City Hall. An audience three times that size will watch the film together at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
That Los Angeles show will get quite the celebratory and star-studded treatment. Onstage to introduce event will be “Back to the Future” cast members Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines), Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker) and Donald Fullilove (Goldie Wilson), along with Silvestri. Alas, Marty McFly himself, Michael J. Fox, is not expected to be in attendance. His car will be though – a replica of Marty’s 4x4 truck plus three DeLoreans will be on the Bowl grounds. The Hollywood Bowl show is on June 30, a few days before the 30th anniversary of the release of “Back to the Future” on July 3.
The next “Back to the Future” live orchestra screenings are this weekend in Paris and Madrid. For a full list of upcoming FILM CONCERT LIVE! “Back to the Future” screenings – along with live orchestra screenings for “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and more – check out the concert series’ website.
Photos, from top: 1. Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown and Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” (Universal Studios); 2. David Newman conducting the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra in Lucerne, Switzerland at the premiere of FILM CONCERT LIVE!’s “Back to the Future” screenings (Steve Wickenden); 3. Fox in “Back to the Future” (Universal Studios); 4. Lea Thompson as Lorraine Baines and Fox as Marty in “Back to the Future” (Universal Studios); 5. Alan Silvestri, left, and Newman in a DeLorean at the Lucerne premiere (FILM CONCERTS LIVE!); 6. Lightning strikes the clock tower in “Back to the Future” (Universal Studios)