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Robert Lee Zemeckis (born May 14, 1952) is an American film director, producer and screenwriter. Zemeckis first came to public attention in the 1980s as the director of the comedic time-travel Back to the Future film series, as well as the Academy Award-winning live-action/animation epic Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), though in the 1990s he diversified into more dramatic fare, including 1994's Forrest Gump,[1] for which he won an Academy Award for Best Director.

His films are characterized by an interest in state-of-the-art special effects, including the early use of match moving in Back to the Future Part II (1989) and the pioneering performance capture techniques seen in The Polar Express (2004), Beowulf (2007) and A Christmas Carol (2009). Though Zemeckis has often been pigeonholed as a director interested only in effects,[2] his work has been defended by several critics, including David Thomson, who wrote that "No other contemporary director has used special effects to more dramatic and narrative purpose."[3]

Early life Edit

Zemeckis was born in Chicago, Illinois, to a Lithuanian American father and an Italian American mother, and grew up on the south side.[4] He was raised in a working-class Roman Catholic family, and attended Fenger High School. Zemeckis has said that "the truth was that in my family there was no art. I mean, there was no music, there were no books, there was no theater....The only thing I had that was inspirational, was television—and it actually was."[5] As a child, Zemeckis loved television and was fascinated by his parents' 8 mm film home movie camera. Starting off by filming family events like birthdays and holidays, Zemeckis gradually began producing narrative films with his friends that incorporated stop-motion work and other special effects.

Along with enjoying movies, Zemeckis remained an avid TV watcher. "You hear so much about the problems with television," he said, "but I think that it saved my life."[5] Television gave Zemeckis his first glimpse of a world outside of his blue-collar upbringing;[5] specifically, he learned of the existence of film schools on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. After seeing Bonnie and Clyde with his father and being heavily influenced by it,[2] Zemeckis decided that he wanted to go to film school.

His parents disapproved of the idea, Zemeckis later said, "But only in the sense that they were concerned....for my family and my friends and the world that I grew up in, this was the kind of dream that really was impossible. My parents would sit there and say, 'Don't you see where you come from? You can't be a movie director.' I guess maybe some of it I felt I had to do in spite of them, too."[5]

USC education and early filmsEdit

Zemeckis applied only to University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, and got into the Film School on the strength of an essay and a music video based on a Beatles song. Not having heard from the university itself, Zemeckis called and was told he had been rejected, because of his average grades. The director gave an "impassioned plea" to the official on the other line, promising to go to summer school and improve his studies, and eventually convinced the school to accept him.[5] Arriving at USC that Fall, Zemeckis encountered a program that was, in his words, made up of "a bunch of hippies [and] considered an embarrassment by the university."[5] The classes were difficult, with professors constantly stressing how hard the movie business was. Zemeckis remembered not being much fazed by this, citing the "healthy cynicism" that had been bred into him from his Chicago upbringing.[5]

While at USC, Zemeckis developed a close friendship with the writer Bob Gale, who was also a student there. Gale later recalled, "The graduate students at USC had this veneer of intellectualism ... So Bob and I gravitated toward one another because we wanted to make Hollywood movies. We weren't interested in the French New Wave. We were interested in Clint Eastwood and James Bond and Walt Disney, because that's how we grew up."[6] He graduated from USC in 1973.[7]

As a result of winning a Student Academy Award at USC for his film, A Field of Honor, Zemeckis came to the attention of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg said, "He barged right past my secretary, and sat me down and showed me this student film ... and I thought it was spectacular, with police cars and a riot, all dubbed to Elmer Bernstein's score for The Great Escape."[6] Spielberg became Zemeckis's mentor and executive produced his first two films, both of which Zemeckis co-wrote with Bob Gale. He later executively produced other Zemeckis films, including the Back to the Future trilogy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

1978's I Wanna Hold Your Hand (starring Nancy Allen) and 1980's Used Cars (starring Kurt Russell) were well-received critically, with Pauline Kael going into particular rhapsody over the latter film, but both were commercially inert. (I Wanna Hold Your Hand was the first of several Zemeckis films to incorporate historical figures and celebrities into his movies; in the film, he used archival footage and doubles to simulate the presence of The Beatles.) After the failure of his first two films, and the Spielberg-directed 1941 in 1979 (for which Zemeckis and Gale had written the screenplay), the pair gained a reputation for writing "scripts that everyone thought were great [but] somehow didn't translate into movies people wanted to see."[6]

Breakthrough films and Forrest GumpEdit

As a result of his reputation within the industry, Zemeckis had trouble finding work in the early 1980s, though he and Gale kept busy. They wrote scripts for other directors, including Car Pool for Brian De Palma and Growing Up for Spielberg; neither ended up getting made. Another Zemeckis-Gale project, about a teenager who accidentally travels back in time to the 1950s, was turned down by every major studio.[8] The director was jobless until Michael Douglas hired him in 1984 to film Romancing the Stone. A romantic adventure starring Douglas and Kathleen Turner, Romancing was expected to flop (to the point that, after viewing a rough cut of the film, the producers of the then-in-the-works Cocoon fired Zemeckis as director),[8] but the film became a sleeper hit. While working on Romancing the Stone, Zemeckis met composer Alan Silvestri, who has scored all of his subsequent pictures.

File:Zemeckis1997(cropped).jpg

After Romancing, the director suddenly had the clout to direct his time-traveling screenplay, which was titled Back to the Future. Starring Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson, and Christopher Lloyd, the 1985 film was wildly successful upon its release, and was followed by two sequels, released as Back to the Future Part II in 1989 and Back to the Future Part III in 1990. Before the Back to the Future sequels were released, Zemeckis collaborated with Disney and directed another film, the madcap 1940s-set mystery Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which painstakingly combined traditional animation and live action; its US$70 million budget made it one of the most expensive films made up to that point. The film was both a financial and critical success, and won four Academy Awards. In 1990, Zemeckis commented, when asked if he would want to make non-comedies, "I would like to be able to do everything. Just now, though, I’m too restless to do anything that’s not really zany."[8]

In 1992, Zemeckis directed the black comedy Death Becomes Her, starring Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis. Although his next film would have some comedic elements, it was Zemeckis's first with dramatic elements, and was also his biggest commercial and critical success to date, 1994's Forrest Gump. Starring Tom Hanks in the title role, and borrowing to some extent from Woody Allen's earlier Zelig, Forrest Gump tells the story of a man with a low I.Q., who unwittingly participates in some of the major events of the twentieth century, falls in love, and interacts with several major historical figures in the process. The film grossed $677 million worldwide and became the top grossing U.S. film of 1994; it won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Hanks as Best Actor, and Zemeckis as Best Director. In 1997, Zemeckis directed Contact, a long-gestating project based on Carl Sagan's 1985 novel of the same name. The film centers around Eleanor Arroway, a scientist played by Jodie Foster, who believes she has made contact with extraterrestrial beings.

Work in the 2000s and interest in digital filmmaking Edit

In 1999, Zemeckis donated $5 million towards the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts at USC, a Template:Convert center that houses production stages, an immense 60-system digital editing lab, and a 50-seat screening room. When the Center opened in March 2001, Zemeckis spoke in a panel about the future of film, alongside friends Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Of those (including Spielberg) who clung to celluloid and disparaged the idea of shooting digitally, Zemeckis said, "These guys are the same ones who have been saying that LPs sound better than CDs. You can argue that until you're blue in the face, but I don't know anyone who's still buying vinyl. Film, as we have traditionally thought of it, is going to be different. But the continuum is man's desire to tell stories around the campfire. The only thing that keeps changing is the campfire."[9] The Robert Zemeckis Center currently hosts many film school classes, much of the Interactive Media Division, and Trojan Vision, USC's student television station, which has been voted the number one college television station in the country.

In 1996, Zemeckis had begun developing a project titled The Castaway with Tom Hanks and writer William Broyles, Jr.. The story, which was inspired by Robinson Crusoe, is about a man (Hanks) who becomes stranded on a desert island and undergoes a profound physical and spiritual change.[10] While working on The Castaway, Zemeckis also became attached to a Hitchcockian thriller titled What Lies Beneath, the story of a married couple experiencing an extreme case of empty nest syndrome that was based on an idea by Steven Spielberg.[11] Because Hanks's character needed to undergo a dramatic weight loss over the course of The Castaway (which was eventually retitled Cast Away), Zemeckis decided that the only way to retain the same crew while Hanks lost the weight was to shoot What Lies Beneath in between. He shot the first part of Cast Away in early 1999, and shot What Lies Beneath in fall 1999, completing work on Cast Away in early 2000.[11] Zemeckis later quipped, when asked about shooting two films back-to-back, "I wouldn't recommend it to anyone."[10] What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, was released in July 2000 to mixed reviews, but did well at the box office, grossing over $155 million domestically. Cast Away was released that December and grossed $233 million domestically; Hanks received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Chuck Noland.

In 2004, Zemeckis reteamed with Hanks and directed The Polar Express, based on the children's book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. The Polar Express utilized the computer animation technique known as performance capture, whereby the movements of the actors are captured digitally and used as the basis for the animated characters. As the first major film to use performance capture, The Polar Express caused The New York Times to write that, "Whatever critics and audiences make of this movie, from a technical perspective it could mark a turning point in the gradual transition from an analog to a digital cinema."[12]

In February 2007, Zemeckis and Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook announced plans to set up a new performance capture film company devoted to CG-created, 3-D movies.[13] The company, ImageMovers Digital, will create films using the performance capture technology, with Zemeckis expected to direct a number of the projects. Disney will distribute and market the motion pictures worldwide. Zemeckis used the performance capture technology again in his film, Beowulf, which retells the Anglo-Saxon epic poem of the same name and stars Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie, and Anthony Hopkins. Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer Neil Gaiman, who co-wrote the adaptation with Roger Avary, described the film as a "cheerfully violent and strange take on the Beowulf legend."[14] The film was released on November 16, 2007.

In July 2007, Variety announced that Zemeckis had written a screenplay for A Christmas Carol, based on Charles Dickens' 1843 story of the same name, with plans to use performance capture and release it under the aegis of ImageMovers Digital. Zemeckis wrote the script with Jim Carrey in mind, and Carrey agreed to play a multitude of roles in the film, including Ebenezer Scrooge as a young, middle-aged, and old man, and the three ghosts who haunt Scrooge.[15] The film began production in February 2008, and was released on November 6, 2009.[16] Actor Gary Oldman also appeared in the film.[17]

In August 2008, Movies IGN revealed in an interview with Philippe Petit that Zemeckis is working with Petit to turn Petit's memoir To Reach the Clouds into a feature film.[18] Robert Zemeckis was either seriously considered to, or attached to direct the 2005 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Zemeckis is an avid supporter of 3-D Digital Cinema, and has stated that, starting with the 3-D presentations of Beowulf, all of his future films will be done in 3-D using digital motion capture. He has reportedly backed away from that statement and has said that the decision to use 3-D will be on a film-by-film basis.

On August 19, 2009, it was reported that Zemeckis and his company were in talks with Disney and Apple Corps ltd to remake the animated film Yellow Submarine in 3-D once again utilizing performance capture. However, on March 15, 2011, Disney canceled its involvement due to the box office failure of Mars Needs Moms, and [19][20]

Zemeckis is also involved in the long-awaited sequel to 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which will now remain a combination of 2-D animation and live-action. Peter S. Seaman and Jeffrey Price, the writers of the first film are now working on a new script.[21]

On April 20, 2011 it was reported that Zemeckis would make his return to filmmaking with Flight, a drama for Paramount with Denzel Washington.[22]

Personal life Edit

Zemeckis has said that, for a long time, he sacrificed his personal life in favor of a career. "I won an Academy Award when I was 44 years old," he explained, "but I paid for it with my 20s. That decade of my life from film school till 30 was nothing but work, nothing but absolute, driving work. I had no money. I had no life."[5] In the early 1980s, Zemeckis married actress Mary Ellen Trainor, with whom he had a son, Alexander. He described the marriage as difficult to balance with filmmaking,[5] and his relationship with Trainor eventually ended in divorce. In 2001, he married actress Leslie Harter. According to cfidarren.com, Zemeckis is rated an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) Private Pilot.

Politics Edit

According to campaign donation records, Robert Zemeckis has frequently contributed to the political candidates affiliated with the Democratic Party, as well as PACs that support the interests of aircraft owners and pilots, family planning interests, and a group that advocates for Hollywood women.[23]

Recurring collaborators Edit

Among the actors that have collaborated with Zemeckis on his films, other filmmakers, writers, and producers have also collaborated with Zemeckis in multiple instances. This includes Steven Spielberg, Bob Gale, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Steve Starkey, Jack Rapke, Arthur Schmidt, Dean Cundey and Neil Canton. Also, music composer Alan Silvestri has been responsible for every film score for Zemeckis' films since Romancing the Stone.

Actor I Wanna Hold Your Hand
(1978)
Used Cars
(1980)
Romancing the Stone
(1984)
Back to the Future
(1985)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
(1988)
Back to the Future Part II
(1989)
Back to the Future Part III
(1990)
Death Becomes Her
(1992)
Forrest Gump
(1994)
Contact
(1997)
What Lies Beneath
(2000)
Cast Away
(2000)
The Polar Express
(2004)
Beowulf
(2007)
A Christmas Carol
(2009)
Tom Hanks Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Bob Hoskins Template:X mark Template:X mark
Christopher Lloyd Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Robin Wright Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Michael J. Fox Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Crispin Glover Template:X mark Template:X mark
Kathleen Turner Template:X mark Template:X mark
Charles Fleischer Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
James Tolkan Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Dub Taylor Template:X mark Template:X mark
Lea Thompson Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Thomas F. Wilson Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Marc McClure Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Wendie Jo Sperber Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Joe Flaherty Template:X mark Template:X mark
Daryl Sabara Template:X mark Template:X mark
Deborah Harmon Template:X mark Template:X mark
Mary Ellen Trainor Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark
Leslie Zemeckis Template:X mark Template:X mark Template:X mark

</center>

Filmography Edit

Director filmographyEdit

Year Film Oscar Nominations Oscar Wins BAFTA Nominations BAFTA Wins Golden Globe Nominations Golden Globe Wins Notes
1978 I Wanna Hold Your Hand Also co-writer
1980 Used Cars Also co-writer
1984 Romancing the Stone 1 2 1
1985 Back to the Future 4 1 5 4 Also co-writer
1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit 6 3 5 1 2
1989 Back to the Future Part II 1 1 1 Also story
1990 Back to the Future Part III Also story
1992 Death Becomes Her 1 1 1 1 1
1994 Forrest Gump 13 6 8 1 7 3 Academy Award for Best Director
1997 Contact 1 1
2000 What Lies Beneath
Cast Away 2 1 1 1
2004 The Polar Express 3 Also co-writer
2007 Beowulf
2009 A Christmas Carol Also writer
Total 24 11 21 5 18 5 71 nominations, 21 wins

OtherEdit

Year Film Notes
1979 1941 Co-writer
1989–1996 Tales from the Crypt Executive producer
1996 The Frighteners Executive producer
1999 House on Haunted Hill Co-producer
2003 Matchstick Men Executive producer
2006 Monster House Executive producer
2011 Mars Needs Moms Producer
Real Steel

ReferencesEdit

  1. Gleiberman, Owen (1994-07-15). Template:Citation/make link. Entertainment Weekly. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,302943,00.html. Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kehr, Dave (2000-12-17). Template:Citation/make link. The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9807EED6133FF934A25751C1A9669C8B63. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  3. Thomson, David. “Robert Zemeckis,” The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. 2002 ed. ISBN 0-375-70940-1 p. 958-959.
  4. Kunk, Deborah J. (1988-06-26). Template:Citation/make link. St. Paul Pioneer Press. http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=PD&s_site=twincities&p_multi=SP&p_theme=realcities&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EB5D76FD2F5639C&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM. Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 "Robert Zemeckis Interview". Academy of Achievement: A Museum of Living History, 1996-06-29. Retrieved on 2007-01-22.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Shone, Tom. Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Summer. New York: Free Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7432-3568-1 p. 123-125.
  7. Notable Alumni, USC School of Cinematic Arts.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Horowitz, Mark. "Back with a Future," American Film, July/Aug. 1988. p. 32-35.
  9. Hayes, Dade, and Dana Harris. "Helmers mull digital around state-of-art campfire," Variety, 2001-03-05.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Fall Movie Preview: December, Entertainment Weekly, 2000-08-18. Retrieved on 2007-09-11.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Petrikin, Chris. "Pairing for Zemeckis: Fox, DW near to sharing next two projects", Variety, 1998-10-14. Retrieved on 2007-09-11.
  12. Kehr, Dave (2004-10-24). Template:Citation/make link. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/24/movies/24kehr.html. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  13. Reuters (2007-02-05). Template:Citation/make link. Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN0545679120070206. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  14. Goldstein, Hilary (2006-07-21). Template:Citation/make link. IGN. http://movies.ign.com/articles/720/720459p1.html. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  15. Fleming, Michael. "Jim Carrey set for 'Christmas Carol': Zemeckis directing Dickens adaptation", Variety, 2007-07-06. Retrieved on 2007-09-11.
  16. McClintock, Pamela (2008-02-07). Template:Citation/make link. Variety. http://www.variety.com/VR1117980473.html?query=christmas+carol+carrey. 
  17. geeksofdoom.com/2008/07/03/gary-oldman-to-play-three-roles-in-robert- zemeckis-a-christmas-carol/
  18. Aftab, Kaleem "Man on Wire Q&A"
  19. http://www.aintitcool.com/node/48861
  20. http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=75254
  21. http://toontownantics.blogspot.com/2010/07/roger-rabbit-2-in-3d.html
  22. Zemeckis To Direct Flight - The Hollywood Reporter
  23. Robert Zemeckis. Newsmeat.

External links Edit

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