Thursday, 28 October 2010

postheadericon Back to the Future and my inaugural blog

So it’s the 25th anniversary of Back to the Future and I have to admit I’m feeling ‘old’. This is not the old that requires me to crawl away with some Deep Heat and a blanket over the knees - more like I’m reaching an age where I finally think I’ve lived long enough to have something to say. Either that or I’ve lived long enough not to care. Whichever - the result is the same and I’m joining the blogging community.

I just rewatched Back to the Future for the first time in years. In it Doc Brown talks about travelling forward 25 years from 1985. This of course means he was planning on visiting us now in 2010. This concept messes with the head slightly if you were a kid back in 1985 watching the film. It makes you think; ‘what would that kid make of the person I am now?’ If she could travel forward in time and get a glimpse, would she go back and do things differently? Would I go back ‘Peggy Sue’ style and give her a few pointers? Undoubtedly we might all have a few things to say to our younger selves, but all this is just another reminder of the classic movie status now due Back to the Future.

What does it have that few have been able to match? For one thing it takes the big ‘what if’ science fiction scenario of time travel and explores it on an intimate, family level. What if you could go back in time and meet your parents when they were kids like you? What would you find out about them? Maybe that your mother is not quite the good girl she makes out, or that she fancies you more than your dad and your whole existence is now in jeopardy! Diving straight in with the oedipal style worst case scenario, (just as great an engine for comedy as for tragedy!), Back to the Future nabs us and tickles us on an psychological level. We all have parents and everyone was young once. And what the hell would you do if your teenage mom was coming on to you?!

This kind of intimate escapism seems disappointingly rare. Too many science fiction and supernatural fantasies tend to skip over the more imaginative and psychologically intriguing elements of their ‘what if’ scenarios. We get a taste at the start but then things quickly descend into prolonged, empty sequences of violent battle. Now I don’t mind a good scrap and of course the stakes have to be high, but surely the dreams and nightmares of science and the supernatural have something more to offer us? At least some of the time.

This reminds me of an, as yet, unproduced script I once read on my travels; Telepathy by Stephen Volk. It explores the impact of a telepathic link on Russian twin brothers who become involved in the space programme. Volk knows how to push the psychological buttons and really does explore the potential ups and downs that having this power might bring. It’s a supernatural/sci-fi scenario, but it’s the intimate human impact that packs the punch. Its been a while coming but Telepathy is currently listed on imdb as in production, so I look forward to seeing it.

It looks like the 80s are now the ‘in’ decade for nostalgia on TV and at the movies. I remember a while back it was the 70s. Funny how that happens.

I was a kid in the 80s, so perhaps it’s a shame I don’t have a feature or TV series about that time tucked up my sleeve and ready to go. Even back then I was more interested in the ‘what if’ stories of science and the supernatural. But I guess if you can come up with a great one of those - it could be timeless.

Now, back to the future and the London Screenwriters’ Festival this weekend. I’m going to be on a discussion panel on Sunday, but hanging out for the whole festival to give the old creative and networking juices a big shot in the arm. Somehow I imagine this event could include the source material for a second blog, so maybe come back and get some festival highlights next week. Otherwise, if you’re heading to the festival, look forward to seeing you there.

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Sarah Olley
Hello. I'm a UK based script editor, development producer and writer working in film and TV. You can visit my professional website at: and the developers' group I co-host and organise at:
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