If you don’t count sequels, Robert Zemeckis has gone out of his way to make sure he’s not repeating himself when selecting movies to direct. That’s why for his latest project, he opted to direct “Allied,” a love/spy tale set against World War II.
Before working on his latest film, which stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, Zemeckis made “Romancing the Stone,” an adventure/romance; “The Polar Express,” an animated holiday family tale; “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” blend of live action and animation; and “Back to the Future.”
“It’s hard to put ‘Back to the Future’ in a category,” Zemeckis says. “Back when we had video stores, they would put it in science fiction and comedy.”
Before shifting the topic to “Allied,” Zemeckis, 64, talks about how surprised he is that the “Back to the Future” movies remain so popular. He calls the continued response “outstanding.”
One reason could be the special effects. Since the Chicago native started working in films, he’s always shown great skill in creating imaginary worlds.
“Allied” doesn’t appear to have as many special effects as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” or even “Forrest Gump.” But the holiday movie has its share of visuals – such as some massive air raids. The difference is the audience won’t pick up on the visuals as fast as with his other movies.
The director has found the most difficult visual effects to do are those where the final images must look absolutely real.
“That’s because everyone would notice the flaws,” Zemeckis says. “If you are doing alien landscapes and creatures, no one knows what they look like so they don’t see the flaws.
“The trick to all filmmaking is to make all techniques look invisible. A digital effect is as important as a camera move. They all have the same mission. I give the same attention to all parts of the process.”
Zemeckis has been dealing with visual effects for so many years that he has a confidence about that part of the process. It’s not as cut and dried when casting actors.
The characters played by Pitt and Cotillard look like they could fall in love, but Zemeckis had to predict the pair would have the kind of chemistry he needed once the cameras started rolling. It wasn’t a tough gamble to take as he knew the odds were in his favor.
“If you had a leading lady and cast a lesser-known leading man, I have to see them in a screen test. With actors of this caliber, you just go for it,” Zemeckis says. “It is a gamble, but when you are fortunate and it works, that’s a great thing.
“You just have to make sure not to screw it up.”
The chore was to make sure that he balanced the love story with the war elements. Zemeckis knew his prediction was right when he started filming a wedding reception where Pitt and Cotillard stand and stare at one other.
With “Allied,” the director gets to put a check mark next to the war/love story box. Zemeckis has been able to direct films in a wide number of genres over his more than 35 years behind the camera. There’s at least one genre left to conquer.
“I have never done a musical … yet,” Zemeckis says with a smile. “As for the movies I have done, I have been very fortunate. I don’t know how those guys who do movies in the same genre do it.
“I like to mix it up and been fortunate enough to get to do that.”