Robert Zemeckis won an Academy Award®, a Golden Globe and a Director's Guild of American Award for Best Director for the hugely successful FORREST GUMP. The film's numerous honors also included Oscars for Best Actor (Tom Hanks) and Best Picture. Zemeckis re-teamed with Hanks on the contemporary drama CAST AWAY, the filming of which was split into two sections, book-ending production on WHAT LIES BENEATH. Zemeckis and Hanks served as producers on CAST AWAY, along with Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke.
Earlier in his career, Zemeckis co-wrote (with Bob Gale) and directed BACK TO THE FUTURE, which was the top-grossing release of 1985, and for which Zemeckis shared Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Screen play. He then went on to helm BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II and BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III, completing one of the most successful film franchises ever.
In addition, he directed and produced CONTACT, starring Jodie Foster, based on the best-selling novel by Carl Sagan; and the macabre comedy hit DEATH BECOMES HER, starring Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis. He also wrote and directed the box office smash WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, cleverly blending live action and animation; directed the romantic adventure hit ROMANCING THE STONE, pairing Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner; and co-wrote (with Bob Gale) and directed the comedies USED CARS and I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND.
Zemeckis also produced HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, and executive produced such films as THE FRIGHTENERS, THE PUBLIC EYE, and TRESSPASS, which he also co-wrote with Bob Gale. He and Gale previously wrote 1941, which began Zemeckis' association with Steven Spielberg. For the small screen, Zemeckis has directed several projects, including the Showtime feature-length documentary THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, which explored the effect of drugs and alcohol on 20th century society. His additional television credits include episodes of Spielberg's AMAZING STORIES and HBO's TALES FROM THE CRYPT.
In 1998, Zemeckis, Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke partnered to form the film and television production company ImageMovers. WHAT LIES BENEATH was the first film to be released under the ImageMovers banner, followed by CAST AWAY, which opened to critical and audience acclaim in the Fall of 2000, and MATCHSTICK MEN.
In March 2001, the USC School of Cinema-Television celebrated the opening of the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts. This state-of-the-art center is the country's first and only fully digital training center and houses the latest in non-linear production and post-production equipment as well as stages, a 50-seat screening room and USC student-run television station, Trojan Vision.
In 2004, Zemeckis produced and directed the motion capture film THE POLAR EXPRESS, starring Tom Hanks. Most recently, he brought the true life story of THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE, OHIO starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson to the big screen. In addition, he served as executive producer on both MONSTER HOUSE, and the Queen Latifah comedy LAST HOLIDAY.
Zemeckis produced and directed his second motion capture film, BEOWULF which was also be produced by Rapke and Starkey. The feature, which stars Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie and Ray Winstone is based on one of the oldest surviving pieces of Anglo-Saxon literature, written sometime before the 10th Century A.D.
In November of 2009, Zemeckis released his most advanced motion-capture film to date: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, based on the celebrated and beloved classic story by Charles Dickens. Rapke and Starkey also produced the film which was released by The Disney Studios in November, 2009.
Most recently in 2012, Zemeckis returned to live action direction with the critically-acclaimed dramatic feature film FLIGHT, for Paramount Pictures starring Denzel Washington. Under the direction of Zemeckis, Washington received an Academy Award nomination for the role.
Writer / Director
The making of "Back to the Future" may not have put director Robert Zemeckis behind the wheel of a truck, but he did sit behind the wheel of a DeLorean. It was only for a minute, though, for the 34-year-old filmmaker rarely finds the time to sit down at all.
Pacing across the set, framing the next shot between his hands, joking with a crew member or motioning to an actor about his ideas for the next scene, Zemeckis appears to be in constant motion.
"I love working with Bob because he's possessed," says Michael J. Fox who portrays the film's lead character, Marty Mc Fly. "He must wake up in the morning chanting 'The movie. The movie.' And when he gets to work, he's full of energy and very positive."
Following the tremendous box office success of the romantic adventure "Romancing the Stone" starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, Zemeckis has emerged as one of the most talented young filmmakers working today.
A 1973 graduate of the USC film school, Zemeckis and his writing partner, "Back to the Future" producer Bob Gale, made an important contact while the two were still in school — Steven Spielberg.
Describing his first meeting with Spielberg in Film Comment, Zemeckis recalls, "They used to have a course at USC where those of us in the class would go to Universal once a week and spend the day in a different department to learn how the studio worked. The last day of the semester they said we were going to meet with a young director, Steven Spielberg. He had just finshed his first feature, 'The Sugarland Express,' for what seemed like a huge budget: $2 million. We walked into his office, and the door opened and this kid walked in. After the class I hung back and said to him, 'I have this student film. Would you like to see it?'"
"When I first saw Bob Zemeckis' student film at USC, from which I hired him to direct 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand,' he had done a highly stylized film," says Spielberg. "I feel that every film Zemeckis and Gale have made, and every film Zemeckis has directed, has been a high order of pop cultural art -- something that I don't think any other filmmakers are tapping into."
"Back to the Future" is a comedy-adventure-science-speculation-coming- of-age-rock-and-roll-time-travel-period film," laughs Zemeckis about combination of every film genre. He adds, "My feeling about making a time travel movie into a fun adventure is to take the audience back in time, because everyone who sees the movie knows past history."
Zemeckis and Gale chose 1955 as their destination on the time line, a year which they are too young to really remember but which they look back at fondly.
"I guess the thing that happened in the '50s that makes it so nostalgic throughout the decades that followed was that it was the first time that the teenager started to rule --and he's ruled ever since."
Teenagers were the stars of Zemeckis' feature film debut in 1978, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," a comically nostalgic story of the Beatles first trip to New York for an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." His next film was from a screenplay co-written by Bob Gale, based on an idea by Spielberg and John Milius, titled "Used Cars." Kurt Russell starred in the irreverent comedy that was applauded by both Pauline Kael and Vincent Canby.
Additionally, Zemeckis and Gale shared the writing credit with John Milius on "1941," a World War II comedy directed by Spielberg.
Born and raised in the southside of Chicago, Zemeckis began making short films with his 8mm camera while still in high school. He attended Northern Illinois University before transferring to the University of Southern California.
Zemeckis is married to actress Mary Ellen Trainor.
Steven Spielberg presents a Robert Zemeckis film "Back to the Future," starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson. The screenplay is by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, with music by Alan Silvestri. It is produced by Bob Gale and Neil Canton. The executive producers are Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. The director is Robert Zemeckis.
as of June 5, 1985
Writer / Director
"Bob Zemeckis is the real Doc Brown," says Michael J. Fox of his "Back to the Future" director. "He's manic, but that insanity is tempered by an incredible mastery of his craft as well as an amazing vision and incredible flair for storytelling. It's great just to watch Bob work. I feel like I'm Marty McFly both on screen, and in real life, but that's why Marty hangs out with Doc, because... things happen."
Zemeckis has in fact made things happen for millions of moviegoers worldwide, with his last two films, "Back to the Future" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" earning over $350 million each as the top-grossing films of 1985 and 1988, respectively. With "Back to the Future Part II," Zemeckis taked a trip to a territory into which few filmmakers have ventured--the cinematic future.
"After watching many of those movies set in the future," says the director, "I learned that you can only predict the future based on what you know. A good example is Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.' When I first saw the film, I, along with many others, thought it was a brilliant prediction of the future. If you watch the film now, there are certain aspects about it that have become dated. For instance, it's amazing how huge Hal the computer is. In 1989, we have computers that can do almost everything that Hal did, including talk, and you can carry them in your pocket. When Kubrick and his production team were trying to predict the future, they knew there were computers, but they didn't know about the existence of the microchip. So they were half right and half wrong. Watching these films helped to show us where we might go astray."
A native of Chicago, Zemeckis transfered from Northern Illinois University to USC's film school, where he met two men who would be intrumental to his future. The first was classmate Bob Gale, who would eventually become Zemeckis' writing partner. As part of their studies at USC, Zemeckis and Gale spent one day each week at Universal Studios observing the functions of different departments in order to learn how the studio worked. On the last day of the semester, the class was introduced to a young director named Steven Spielberg, who had recently completed his first feature, "The Sugarland Express."
Zemeckis remained after class, and asked Spielberg if he would like to see the student film that Zemeckis had directed. The film, which won an Academy Award, so impressed Spielberg that he helped Zemeckis and Gale obtain a development deal for an original screenplay. The duo wrote "1941," which Spielberg directed. Spielberg also served as executive producer on Zemeckis' directorial debut, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" as well as "Used Cars," the director's second feature. After directing the smash hit "Romancing the Stone," Zemeckis' next project was the top-grossing film of 1985, "Back to the Future."
He spent the next two years perfecting a process to effectively blend live action with animation, and received even greater acclaim as the director of 1988's Academy Award-winning "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" Returning to continue the saga of time traveler Marty McFly (a story which the director promises to conclude in "Back to the Future Part III"), Zemeckis has fashioned a story which he claims is "much more difficult to describe than it is to watch. That's one of the things I love about this film. It's a story that can only be told correctly in the movie theatre."
While Zemeckis believes that no one can accurately predict the future, he asserts that this is precisely the message he wishes to convey in "Back to the Future Part II."
"The DeLorean time machine is simply a movie device, and by using that device, we're able to alter and shape the course of our characters' lives in two years. Real life takes a little longer. One's future," he states, "is not written in stone. It's in the hands of each individual to make whatever they want it to be, good or bad."
Steven Spielberg Presents A Robert Zemeckis Film. "Back to the Future Part II." Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson. Music by Alan Silvestri. Edited by Arthur Schmidt, Harry Keramidas. Production Design by Rick Carter. Director of Photography, Dean Cundey, A.S.C. Executive Producers, Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy. Story by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale. Screenplay by Bob Gale. Produced by Bob Gale and Neil Canton. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. A Universal Picture.
as of October 24, 1989
Writer / Director
"As Bob Gale and I were outlining the story for 'Back to the Future Part II," recalls director Robert Zemeckis, "we realized that to complete the story of Marty and Doc, we needed more than one chapter. It had to be a trilogy."
When first approached to do a sequel to "Back to the Future," Zemeckis, Bob Gale and Neil Canton all agreed they wouldn't come back unless they could find a way to preserve the quality and originality of the first film. "The biggest obstacle one faces when making a sequel," says Zemeckis, "is that you are enslaved by the first movie. What we strived to do with the trilogy, was to take the concept of the sequel, which is generally looked down upon as crassly commercial and in many circumstances merely a rehash of the original film, and redefine that concept.
"We were able to do that in 'Part II' by actually going back into the first movie from a different perspective. In 'Part III,' we continue to explore and ultimately resolve the emotional complexities of the characters and their dilemmas. We've also structured each chapter so they work as one completely interwoven saga, from the original film through the end of 'Part III."
One of the reasons that Zemeckis wanted to do two sequels was to give audiences more of an insight into the character of Marty McFly. "We don't really know all that much about Marty from his adventures in the first film, except that if he doesn't repair the damage he's caused in the past, he'll cease to exist. To continue with the series, a new dimension of the character had to be revealed, explored and resolved. That's a lot to do in the course of one film.
"We didn't have the luxury of the cinematic 'shorthand' that you use in a normal movie, where you can start the film with the character in crisis. The first movie had already put Marty's predicament to rest. It took all of 'Part II' to put the character into a new crisis, which is caused by the additional information we've now learned about him.
"Although 'Part II' clears up the problems caused by Biff stealing the sports almanac, we still have Marty's character flaws to deal with and the new problems of Doc Brown in danger from "Mad Dog" Tannen, as well as falling in love with Clara. There is a natural growth process of the characters which causes Marty and Doc to exchange roles. Marty is forced into being the voice of reason, as Doc's love interest blinds him to the laws of the space-time continuum."
By splitting the continuation of his story into two parts, Zemeckis was also able to embellish the final chapter. "If the western chapter of the story was relegated to being part of just one sequel instead of two, it would had to have been streamlined to a point where it would have been merely a brief episode within the story. The luxury of having 'Part III' allowed us to give the film more texture and make the story richer."
Zemeckis grew up watching westerns and allows that his predilection for the genre helped in both the writing and direction of "Part III." Yet he maintains that although there are acknowledgments and references to past works of the legendary western stars and directors, he had not used his film as an 'homage' to his childhood heroes.
"Invariably, because these other films and similar images exist, if you put a character in a cowboy hat and have him ride through an open range, somebody will insist you're doing a 'homage' to the western. In actuality, the only true 'homage' I ever intended to put in any of the films was in 'Part II,' where I took a cue from Stanley Kubrick, who showcased the actual products like Hilton hotels and Howard Johnson restaurants in '2001: A Space Odyssey.' That's why we used real products in our future, as opposed to fictitious or generic brands."
In its completed form, Zemeckis is "incredibly satisfied with the overall effect of the trilogy. I think we have succeeded in our original goal, which was to enhance the quality and maintain the integrity of 'Back to the Future.' I'm very proud of all three films." Choosing not to continue the adventures of Marty and Doc, Zemeckis offers an oft used, but nonetheless valid line of explanation for that decision. Says the director, "All good things must come to an end."
Steven Spielberg Presents A Robert Zemeckis Film. "Back to the Future Part III." Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson and Lea Thompson. Music by Alan Silvestri. Edited by Arthur Schmidt, Harry Keramidas. Production Design by Rick Carter. Director of Photography, Dean Cundey, A.S.C. Executive Producers, Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy. Story by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale. Screenplay by Bob Gale. Produced by Bob Gale and Neil Canton. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. A Universal Picture.
as of April 24, 1990