Anyone can move to Hollywood with dreams of making it big, but Bob Gale said he thinks the secret to silver screen success is more than just an address change — it is perseverance, both in self-promotion and in one’s craft.
The Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of “Back to the Future” discussed the ideas that inspired his work at a Pierson College Master’s Tea Wednesday. Speaking to a group of more than 50 students, Gale spoke about his career path in the entertainment business and the making of “Back to the Future.”
Students — especially those seeking Hollywood fame — said they appreciated the opportunity to hear about the challenges of the industry first-hand.
Gale offered advice to Yalies looking to make it in the film world.
“Hollywood is a very intense place to be,” he said. “It’s like if you did not get into Yale and wanted to go to Yale — you would move to New Haven and lobby administration, professors to get in. You would make up reasons to admit you.”
Gale pursued an A.B. in Cinema at the University of Southern California, where he met his frequent collaborator, director Robert Zemeckis.
“We had a good working relationship because we were friends before we started working together,” Gale said. “We could be brutally honest with each other and it worked.”
This brutal honesty and close working relationship were most evident in the final product of the “Back to the Future” trilogy, he said.
After college, Gale said he and Zemeckis traveled to Hollywood, where they began to work on scripts, which they sent to different Hollywood studios through their agent. After numerous rejections and some brief television work, Gale said he was offered a large television contract, which he turned down in order to work in film.
“Back to the Future” came to him while he was brainstorming ideas for good scripts, Gale said.
“I just asked myself, ‘What would it have been like to go high school with my dad?’ ” he said. “What if it turned out mom was the class slut?”
Gale said it was some time before the idea that eventually became “Back to the Future” was picked up, since most Hollywood studios wanted to see previous success before assigning projects.
While Gale continued to write, Zemeckis directed “Romancing the Stone,” a star-studded hit that came out in 1984. Following that success, Gale said Zemeckis could direct anything he wanted.
One student asked Gale how the flux capacitor — the device that powered the time-traveling De Lorean in “Back to the Future” — actually worked.
“It capacitated flux,” Gale said jokingly. He said he had written a scene with “pseudo-science” to explain how the device worked, but it would have been too expensive to shoot.
Students interviewed said they found Gale’s talk engaging.
“He was such a character — and I mean that in the best possible way,” Emily Holleman ’10 said.
Jason Lee ’10 said he enjoyed Gale’s discussion of his experience with two different mediums — blockbusters and graphic novels.
“It was really cool that he could work on big-budget movies and comic books,” he said.
Kendall Rice ’08, a senior editor of the Yale Record, which co-sponsored the event, said Gale’s speech was particularly pertinent for those with big dreams and creative integrity.
“I found his attitude toward screenwriting both refreshing and a little frightening,” Rice said in an e-mail. “It’s wonderful to hear about a blockbuster rising triumphantly from the script he passed up a lucrative contract to nurture, but unsettling to hear the truth about how hard that is to do.”
When a student asked whether Marty McFly or Spiderman would win in a fight, Gale said it would not be much of a contest.
“Spiderman,” Gale said. “He has superpowers. Marty is just a kid played by Michael J. Fox.”
Gale is currently penning “The Amazing Spiderman” for Marvel Comics.