In the pantheon of movie vehicles, Doc Brown’s DeLorean DMC-12 car has no equal.
Show that car to almost anyone old enough to drink legally, and they’ll recognize it as the time machine that fueled the Back to the Future franchise. There is perhaps no other cinematic vehicle so closely connected with the identity of the film it belongs to as the DeLorean time machine. Which is why it may surprise you to learn that until very recently, this priceless relic of movie history was in horrible condition. Great Scott!
Years of decay brought on by weather and the gradual wear and tear of being one of the most popular photo ops at Universal Studios Hollywood had left the DeLorean looking like a junker at Mad Man Mooney’s Hubcap Heaven. It also didn’t help that some fans helped themselves to pieces of the car, like the display panel and the flux capacitor.
Thankfully, Bob Gale, co-creator of the BTTF trilogy, found out about the awful condition of the time machine.
Gale talked with Universal and convinced the studio the car, the last remaining DeLorean from the franchise, had to be saved. Thus began the Time Machine Restoration project. A team of BTTF superfans, led by project leader Joe Walser, worked for over a year to restore the DeLorean and return it to its original glory.
The entire process is the subject of the brand-new documentary, Outatime: Saving The DeLorean Time Machine, which is now out on DVD and Blu-ray. The film is a one-man passion project written, directed, produced and edited by Steve Concotelli. And as you might have already guessed, he’s a huge Back to the Future fan, too.
We talked with Concotelli about his love for the franchise, and how a guy with no filmmaking experience wound up making the ultimate fan film about his favorite movie car.
How did the process of making the documentary come about?
I’m good friends with Joe Walser, and when I found out that Joe was doing the restoration, I, of course, wanted to be involved. I found out early on that no one had planned to shoot any video of the restoration. Universal hadn’t planned to do it, no one on the restoration team had planned it. This was quite a big surprise to me, because I knew that this was a project that Back to the Future fans around the world would want to see. It’s the ultimate restoration of the most famous movie car in the world. Since nobody else was doing it, I looked around and said, “OK, I guess it’s up to me, then.” So, I went and bought a second-hand camera on Craigslist, and I simply started footage with the hopes I could one day turn it into a movie, and thankfully, we did.
I think many people will be amazed that in a time when nostalgia is so pervasive in pop culture, that such a major piece of movie history could find itself in such bad shape.
We’re lucky we have the car at all, because Universal Studios kept it, at a time when many props were either thrown away or discarded. The fact that it still exists and they still had it is a testament to how important that prop was. In 2012, it simply wasn’t on anybody’s radar.
When did you first get in contact with Bob Gale?
I was in contact with Bob very early on. When the restoration was still in progress, I shot a series of progress videos with Bob, in which Bob was letting fans know how the restoration was going and giving small updates. That was the first time I met him. So, over the course of those update videos, I got to know him pretty well, and he saw that I knew what I was doing. So, when I told him I wanted to make this into a film, he was completely supportive.
I can’t over-emphasize how important Bob was, not only to the restoration but to the film. He went out of his way to help me get the film made. He made phone calls, He made introductions, he opened doors that I never could have done by myself...got me access that I couldn’t have dreamed of. He was my liason with Universal Studios. Bob helped arrange getting the 15-minute version of Outatime on the 30th anniversary Back to the Future Blu-ray set.
He did all this, completely on his own, just because he thought the project was cool. He didn’t have to do these things at all. But Bob cares very much about the franchise. He’s very involved, in every aspect. He wants to make sure it’s taken care of respectfully and that the fans are always well served by anything that has the BTTF brand on it. As I was making the film, I asked Bob for his input, which he very kindly and generously gave. To have Bob Gale give you support and advice on your film is a great thing.
To get his stamp of approval on the film , means the world to me. And to create something that he feels contributes to the legacy of the Back to the Future franchise…it’s truly an honor.
What was the biggest surprise you came across during the making of this movie?
Let me just say that making a documentary about BTTF is a dream come true. And I loved it. That said, the process of actually making a documentary is miserable! It's a long, arduous, complicated process. The restoration was an entire year, shooting every weekend. I shot 100 hours of restoration footage, over the course of an entire year. I had no idea what I would need for the film, so I shot everything. Then, I spent another year shooting two dozen interviews, then I spent two years editing. When you’re dealing with as small a film crew as I was – and my film crew was essentially, ME – I wrote it, directed it, edited it and produced it. It’s a very complicated process. Far more difficult than I ever imagined.
To answer your question, I was pleasantly surprised by how emotional the process was [for the restoration team]. People have an emotional connection to Back to the Future and the time machine.
It was hard work. Joe Walser was very demanding of his team during the restoration. He pushed people to the breaking point in the restoration because it's the time machine, and it had to be perfect. When the restoration was done, Joe focused his attention on me and my film like a laser beam (note: Joe Walser is also a producer on Outatime) and he had the exact same standards for the film as he had for the restoration. He constantly pushed me, to do more stories, make it more entertaining, more footage...and he did it for a reason, to make the very best story possible.
Where did you get all the archival photos of the car at Universal Studios Hollywood we see in the film?
If you look closely, most of the photos are our photos [the restoration team] that we would take when we would go see the car at Universal Studios in the 1990s. In fact, there’s one shot of me leaning against the car. When we talk about people sneaking on to the backlot [in the movie], there's the picture of me, because that’s exactly what I did.
But, we also put it out on the Internet asking fans if they had photos of them with the car because we were looking for every photo we could find. We got a lot of, ‘Oh, I think I have a photo of that back home.’ Great, now call your parents, tell them to dig up that old Polaroid, scan it and send it to us! (laughs)
Thankfully, many fans around the world dug through their old photos, scanned them and sent them to us, so we were able to use a bunch of great photos in the film.
A lot of sacrifices were made to make this movie, not just by you and the team restoring the DeLorean, but your families. It was particularly stressful for your family, wasn't it?
We had a newborn son at the time, he was just a few months old [when the restoration project began], and that was terrible. My wife was very much a trooper through all this. I and the other guys on the restoration team owe our wives many ‘thank you’s’ for how patient they were.
How does your wife feel about the movie now that it's finished?
She’s extremely proud of it, and of me, she’s glad I finished the film, and she’ll be even more glad when we don’t have to stare at time machines for a little while (laughs).
In fact, the first time my wife met Bob, it was after the restoration and he took us to dinner at Universal Studios. It’s Bob Gale, you know?! My wife knew I was nervous, and that I wanted to make a good impression, and so she goes and introduces herself and tells him, “So you’re the man who’s been keeping my husband away for the past year!” And Bob had a huge laugh about that.
What kind of reaction do you hope the fans get when they see your movie?
When fans see this film...I want them to fall in love with the time machine all over again. The real-life story of the time machine is a comeback story that no one had ever heard yet. It’s a new story I thought fans would love. That's why I went down this journey. And I want them to see the love and dedication that this group of guys put in to the restoration.
Here's a clip from Outatime: Saving The DeLorean Time Machine: