When the lockdown began, Toronto commercial director Brad Dworkin had no idea he’d one day be helming a project that would change history. Not actual history, but instead a shot-by-shot recreation of a pivotal scene from beloved ’80s movie Back to the Future.
Dworkin had been invited to participate by Robbie David, a Toronto-based line producer and co-founder of Aeon Studio Group, and David’s longtime friend, HeydSaffer executive producer Kevin Saffer, for whom Dworkin had directed spots for brands including Cadbury and Air Canada.
David, who like Dworkin is a huge fan of Back to the Future, had stumbled across an online project called “BTTF: Project 85,” which invited fans to recreate one of more than 60 scenes from the beloved Michael J. Fox movie that would then be stitched together to create a homage to the original.
By then Dworkin had been sidelined for several months by the lockdown, and David and Saffer’s invitation provided an opportunity to do something not only fun, but creatively challenging. “I think we were all looking for a chance to be back with our film community again,” he said. “On top of the fun of making the scene, it was great to be able to be shooting and doing the thing we love to do.”
“When filmmakers aren’t shooting, they’re thinking about shooting,” added Saffer. “Robbie’s a TV and film producer, I’ve been doing what I do for many years and Brad’s a director for many years, I think there was more [creative] firepower on this than there was on any of the other scenes.”
Dworkin’s scene comprises just two minutes and 27 seconds of the final two-hour film. The finished product, which can be seen here, encompasses a wide variety of abilities and styles, from Lego stop-motion to animation. One of the scenes even features an actual DeLorean.
David had chosen to recreate one of the movie’s pivotal scenes, in which perennial sad-sack George McFly punches out his frequent tormentor Biff, forever changing the course of their characters’ history. “He picked a great scene,” said Dworkin. “I don’t think of it as a particularly dark film, but the scene is a little bit dark. It was a reminder that the film gets a little bit heavy at times.”
The resulting scene is entirely synchronous with the original shot by Back to the Future‘s director of photographer, Dean Cundey, said Dworkin. “The goal was ‘How close can we get to the original with what we had available?'”
That meant calling in some favours. Saffer’s brother-in-law provided a beautifully restored—and era-appropriate—1958 Chevy Nomad station wagon, for example, while the 1987 Mercedes convertible, nicknamed “Blue,” came from Saffer’s personal collection. Dan Iaboni, who owns a Toronto-based “movement training centre” called the Monkey Vault, provided stunt training that included how to convincingly land punches.
“One of the benefits of having these long relationships in production was that they were willing to help out with something that was a labour of love for the people involved,” said Dworkin. The cast included Aeon Studios’ partner Mike Bruce as Biff, while his wife Deb played Lea Thompson’s character Lorraine, and David played George McFly. The score, constructed using motifs from the original scene, was developed by the Bruce’s 19-year-old son Tyler.
Josh Trager, drummer with the Sam Roberts Band, plays the film’s hero Marty McFly. Trager is another Back to the Future super-fan who brought a highly informed perspective to the shoot. “He would call us out on set, saying things like ‘He doesn’t quite do it like that. He does it more like this,'” said Dworkin. “He was the resident expert. If we were ever unsure if we were being accurate or close to what we needed, we would just check in with him.”
The shoot took place in August at the Hamilton Port Authority Building, which was built in 1953 and does a good job of standing in for the original film’s Hill Valley High School. “It got us a lot of the way there just in terms of production value,” said Dworkin.
The biggest challenge, he said, was recreating a scene that featured parallel events shown from different perspectives. “There was quite a lot for us to do in one night,” he said. “We maybe underestimated how much time it would take…but we benefited from having access to digital technology and some of the lighting advances that have been made.”
“It wasn’t an attempt to re-do what [the original ] did because they’ve done it already, but in a way it’s a little bit of a love letter,” said Dworkin. “I appreciate the amount of work that went into making a film that’s become so iconic. It was nice to sort of walk in their shoes for a night.”
Back to the Future also happened to be perfectly aligned with Dworkin’s penchant for projects with a comedic bent, featuring distinct, offbeat performances (oh, hello Crispin Glover), as well as his abiding fondness for ’80s films. He’s already got his dream movie if a similar remake project were to come along.
So if there any people out there looking to create a shot-by-shot remake of Ghostbusters, who you gonna call?