35 Amazing Photographs From the Making of “Back to the Future Part III” (1990)

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Back to the Future Part III is a 1990 American science fiction Western film and the third installment of the Back to the Future trilogy. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, and stars Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson, and Lea Thompson. The film continues immediately following Back to the Future Part II (1989).

The origins of the western theme for Back to the Future Part III lie in the production of the original film. During filming for the original, director Zemeckis asked Michael J. Fox what time period he would like to see. Fox replied that he wanted to visit the Old West and meet cowboys. Zemeckis and writer/producer Bob Gale were intrigued by the idea, but held it off until Part III. Rather than use existing sets, the filmmakers built the 1885 Hill Valley from scratch. The western scenes were filmed on location in Oak Park, California and Monument Valley. Some of the location shooting for the 1885 Hill Valley was done in Jamestown, California, and on a purpose-built set at the Red Hills Ranch near Sonora, California. Some of the train scenes were filmed at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, a heritage line in Jamestown.
The shooting of the Back to the Future sequels, which were shot back-to-back throughout 1989, reunited much of the crew of the original. The films were shot over the course of eleven months, save for a three-week hiatus between filming of Parts II and III, and concluded in January 1990. The most grueling part was editing Part II while filming Part III, and Zemeckis bore the brunt of the process over a three-week period. While Zemeckis was shooting most of the train sequences in Sonora, Gale was in Los Angeles supervising the final dub of Part II. Zemeckis would wrap photography and board a private plane to Burbank, where Gale and engineers would greet him on the dubbing stage with dinner. He would oversee the reels completed that day, and make changes where needed. Afterwards, he would retire to the Sheraton Universal Hotel for the night. The following morning, Zemeckis would drive to the Burbank Airport, board a flight back to the set in Northern California, and continue to shoot the film.
Although the schedule for most of the personnel involved was grueling, the actors found the remote location for Part III relaxing, compared to shooting its predecessor. The Hill Valley Festival Dance scene proved to be the most dangerous for Lloyd and Steenburgen; overzealous dancing left Steenburgen with a torn ligament in her foot.
Shooting a film set in the Old West was appealing to the stuntmen, who were all experienced horse riders. Gale recalled in 2002 that many stuntmen in Hollywood wanted to work on Part III. Thomas F. Wilson, who played Buford Tannen, chose to perform his own stunts and spent a great deal of time learning to ride a horse and throw his lariat. Filming was paused when Fox’s father died, and when his son was born.
The photography in Part III was a “dream” for cinematographer Dean Cundey, who shared with much of the crew his excitement to shoot a Western. Zemeckis wished to create a spectacular climax to the film. He coordinated the actors, a live 4-6-0 ten wheeler steam locomotive (the Sierra Railway), pyrotechnics, and special effects, and countless technicians all at once. As they had done with the previous two films in the trilogy, the visual effects for Part III were managed by effects company Industrial Light & Magic; the head of its animation department, Wes Takahashi, returned to once again animate the DeLorean’s time travel sequences.
Back to the Future Part III was produced on a $40 million budget back-to-back with Part II. Part III was released in the United States on May 25, 1990, six months after the previous installment, and grossed $245 million worldwide during its initial run, making it the sixth-highest-grossing film of 1990. The film received a positive response from critics, who noted it as an improvement over Part II.

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