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26th September update: I’ve edited the part about the tribute movie as I’ve been informed that this wasn’t produced for nor funded by the WGB team. Also see Video Bob’s comment (click to open top right) clarifying his involvement. Thanks.

My Son and I are huge fans of the Back to the Future movie trilogy and we wanted to do something for the 30th anniversary on October 21st 2015. Fans will know that isn’t the anniversary of the movie release, but the date that Marty McFly arrives in the future in BTTF2.

We’d missed out on a previous celebration in 2010 – organised by a group of fans via the http://www.weregoingback.com/ (WGB) website. So when we discovered they were organising a five-day event for 2015 we decided to book. We signed up for email news and purchased as soon as advance tickets were available. Tickets were expensive $800 per person – and that price went up to $880 after the advance tickets were sold. Individual day tickets were also available at between $200 and £300.

You’re probably wondering why it’s taken almost eight months for me to write about this experience. The main reason? It could have been better and I didn’t want to write about the problems until the emotions of the organisers and attendees had time to settle down. The organisers were pretty stressed out and I believe that they tried to do a good job – but they seemed to have this joint view that their time and energy sacrifice meant that any criticism should be vigorously rejected. Equally, the attending fans tended to worship the organisers and most posts were of the “thank you for the best time of my entire life” format. That’s not to say that we didn’t have a good time – we really did. And it was certainly much better than the Secret Cinema event in London (review here). However, with the number of attendees multiplied by the ticket cost, we are talking a serious amount of money and I think this could have been better spent.

We flew to Los Angeles on Virgin Atlantic (review here). The first two nights we stayed in the Wyndham in Costa Mesa (review here) as we had tickets to see Luke Bryan on October 18th (review here). Then we moved to a great AirBnB in Burbank (review here).

Free coach transport: WGB ticket holders were entitled to free coach transport from one of three nominated hotels to all of the WGB events. We drove as we were in an apartment in Burbank. Those who stayed in the most-expensive of the three hotels (Loews Hotel in Hollywood) did benefit from direct and regular access to the organisers who were staying there.

Wristbands: For each day, we were given a different colour wristband, with three tear-off tags. The tags were for food, an event, such as hoverboarding and maybe something else – it wasn’t clear if we should be expecting anything or not. Wristband distribution was originally only available at the Loews Hotel on Tuesday evening – we couldn’t make that and another WGB ticketholder kindly picked them up for us. Apparently the distribution was a mess that evening with people waiting hours for their bands.

08:00 Wednesday October 21st 2015: Universal Studios

There were crowds of WGB ticketholders – more than we’d imaged and certainly enough to fill a cinema – plenty of Martys and Docs in various costumes. We boarded two sets of Universal tour trams and headed off to the Hill Valley Courthouse filming location (part of the Universal Studios backlot).

There was plenty of time to wander around the Hill Valley square – certainly if you were on the first tram. There was even a wedding on the steps of the Courthouse. Sadly there wasn’t a DeLorean to be seen and that would have been a nice touch. There was the restored ‘A’ DeLorean mounted on a plinth that was visible from the tram – but we weren’t able to stop and view it.

Back on the tour trams, which did the entire Universal tour before we were deposited back at the theme park, with fast-pass front of line tickets and two $12 food vouchers. We were told to meet at a Universal cinema/movie theatre at 16:00.

Apparently there was a Goodyear blimp flying over Universal Studios with a ‘We’re Going Back’ display – but nobody told us to look out for it.

We took our seats in the cinema. There were many people with questions about the forthcoming events as there hadn’t really been much communication. For example, we still expected to be visiting a museum to view the restored ‘A’ DeLorean but that had been cancelled. Some guy called ‘Video Bob’ stood at the front and tried to answer questions, but he clearly wasn’t one of the organisers, just one of their sidekicks who enjoyed the attention.

The first short movie we watched was the premier of a spoof fan BTTF tribute produced by the WGB team. This featured Tyler Dunivan, a Marty McFly impersonator who was also employed as the ‘house Marty’ for the duration of the WGB events. The movie was professionally produced by Ricky Dean Logan (Data in Biff’s BTTF2 gang) and part of it had been filmed on location at Universal Studios. You can watch the movie here:

It’s pretty good isn’t it? I don’t know how it was funded but it apparently wasn’t from the WGB Budget. So thanks to Ricky for premiering the movie to us.

We were then treated to a screening of BTTF2. As we left the theatre the organisers were handing out copies of a limited edition copy of the ‘Gang Jailed’ version of USA Today. There was a bit of scrum, which would have been unnecessary had someone just walked the rows of the theatre handing out copies.

Here are some pictures from Day 1:

There was clearly some value to being a WGB ticketholder; access to the Hill Valley Courthouse, access to Universal studios park with fast-pass tickets, food vouchers, the movie screening and the USA today newspaper.

Thursday October 22nd 2015: Hoverboarding Hill Valley

A town called Filmore, an hour’s drive from Hollywood had been re-created as Hill Valley and a couple of cranes were set up with wires and hoverboards. Many of the shops had been partially set up to look like those from Back to the Future. There were some screen-used vehicles. A DeLorean had been placed on the railway tracks and people could pay for rides. It was a good atmosphere there, with plenty of people in costume. As a regular town, the place was open to all visitors, not just WGB ticketholders.

The cinema was showing a documentary called ‘Back in Time’ which we stood in line for and gave up on after 40 minutes wait. Those who did see the documentary were also given a series of Hill Valley mock-up newspapers. Again there was a scrum and not everyone received a full set – something that could have been managed with the wristband tags. We ended up having to purchase a set on the last day.

Video Bob had a BTTF DeLorean parked on one side of the railway track – we tried to take a picture but he asked for $5. Update to this: It turns out that the $5 collection was organised by Oliver and Terry Hollar who were raising money for TeamFox – Bob didn’t receive any money. We would have been happy to donate $5 had we known.

Lunch and dinner were pretty poor fast-food offerings, with long lines waiting. We tended to just give up and visit a local restaurant.

We discovered that USA Today had printed a ‘Youth Jailed’ version for general sale. So we left Filmore/Hill Valley for a while and did a tour of local gas stations, trying to find copies. This would have been a perfect item that could have been exchanged for a wristband tab.

The lines for hoverboarding were long all day. I waited until late and then had my ride – see the video below.

In the evening a makeshift cinema screen was set up on the lawn in front of the ‘courthouse’ together with rows of foldaway plastic chairs. A repeat of the WGB tribute movie was screened followed by BTTF3. Sadly the picture and sound quality wasn’t very good and so we left before the movie finished.

We enjoyed the day but for us, the only benefit of holding a WGB ticket was the Hoverboarding – everything else (well apart from the food) was available to anyone who happened to be in the town of Filmore. We didn’t feel especially valued or looked after by the WGB team – although the guys running the Hoverboarding were great.

Here are some pictures from Day 2:

Friday October 23rd 2015: Locations Tour

We were given the list of locations that the tour buses would visit. We’d actually toured these a few years before as the locations are publicly available. We basically sped ahead of the WGB buses and arrived at most locations early. The locations visited and WGB itinerary were as follows:

  • Griffith Park @ 9:00 am (Tunnel & Start Line) – 2700 N Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA
  • Gamble House @ 10:30 – 11:30 am – 4 Westmoreland Pl, Pasadena, CA 91103
  • Bushnell Ave @ 12:00 – 1:00 pm – 1761 Bushnell Ave South Pasadena, CA 91030
  • Lunch @ Burger King @ 1:30 – 2:30 pm – 545 N Victory Blvd, Burbank, CA 91502
  • Whittier High @ 4:00 – 5:30 pm – 12417 Philadelphia St, Whittier, CA 90601
  • McFly Block Party @ 7:00 – 10:00 pm – 9303 Roslyndale Ave Los Angeles, CA 91331

There was some confusion at the first location as the buses weren’t supposed to stop there. Some did, some didn’t. The Gamble House (Doc Brown’s 1955 house) was so much better. The owner of the screen-used Doc Brown car was there with the car – a 1948 Packard Custom Eight Victoria. A few BTTF DeLoreans arrived. There was a scene recreation that was done really well – here’s the video:

And here are some pictures:

Then we moved on to Bushnell Ave, the location for 1955 McFly, Baines, Biff’s garage and “You want your ball? Go get it, Haha.” house. The residents of the street were really friendly. There was some lying in the street, a BTTF DeLorean drive by and plenty of fun with the Doc’s and Marty’s.

Next was lunch at the Burger King – although there had been a kitchen fire and so lunch was actually outside with burgers sent by a nearby Burger King. The burgers didn’t travel too well. The line was pretty long and burger distribution slow. Video Bob escorted the house Marty and Lorraine to the front of the line and then addressed the crowd – we still weren’t sure if he was an official part of WGB.

We drove (maybe an hour) to Whittier High (Hill Valley High) and arrived well ahead of the buses. The school was open and we were able to wander around without anyone asking who we were, although I did ask someone who I thought was a teacher but turned out to Jeffery Wiseman(!) – who portrayed George McFly in BTTFII and BTTFIII, after Crispin Glover refused to return due to salary disputes.

The house Marty and Jennifer arrived and rehearsed a movie re-creation scene, which I was able to video:

And then when the bus crowds arrived, I took a video from inside the school:

Everyone was able to wander the school and grounds – plenty of recognisable locations. Claudia Wells (BTTF1 Jennifer) arrived and was surrounded by Jennifers. Here are some photos:

I think the buses took everyone direct to the McFly block party. We went back to our apartment for a rest and to change.

Roslyndale Ave. had been blocked at both ends for the block party. A replica of the Lyon Estates gates had been set up at one end of the street. There were some more poor fast-food trucks, although the lines didn’t seem so long this time.

We saw Donald Fullilove who played Goldie Wilson in BTTF1. Apparently there was a re-creation of ‘Roads where we’re going we don’t need roads’ but lack of communication meant that we were in line at the food trucks and missed it. A makeshift cinema screen had been resurrected to show BTTF1.

Here are a couple of photos:

Again, we enjoyed the day but, again, the only benefit of holding a WGB ticket was the food – anyone could have visited the locations at the same time and joined the block party.

Saturday October 24th 2015: Enchantment Under the Sea Party

There was a screening of the Outatime documentary and a movie prop auction in the morning but we didn’t bother attending.

The evening event commenced at 6pm, held in the Hollywood United Methodist Church (the original filming location).

A photographer took pictures of arriving guests. Inside, the place looked very much like the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Several stars from the movie were in attendance; Lea Thompson (Lorraine), Claudia Wells (Jennifer), Jeffery Wiseman (George) and Harry Waters, Jr. (Marvin Berry). If you wanted an autograph or a photo then you had to pay. Lea Thompson was $50, the rest $25.

On stage were the WGB house band ‘The Flux Capacitors’ which was disappointing as they tended to just play 80s music. The place was extremely hot, only a couple of fans were set up by open doors to cool the air. Free bottled water was available – no alcohol as the venue is a church. There wasn’t any information as to what would happen during the evening and when.

The WGB attendees really embraced the experience, re-creating the “Oh, and one more thing, if you guys ever have kids and one of them, when he’s eight years old, accidentally sets fire to the living room rug – go easy on him.” scene. I especially liked a George McFly lookalike who had the voice and dance style exactly right. Below a really short video of him dancing.

Nothing seemed to be happening and so we popped across the road to the Loews for a beer and cool down. Of course, we then missed a Marty impersonator perform the Johnny B Goode scene.

Dinner was a variety of delivery pizzas left on tables in the hall.

A couple took to the stage and the guy proposed. That meant we were lucky enough to see a repeat of Earth Angel performed by Harry Waters, Jr. Here’s a video of that:

Here are some photos from the evening:

The event ended soon after around 10pm.

This event was definitely one where a WGB ticket was required. The single night ticket was $300 so I’d guess the organisers has over $100,000 at their disposal. The biggest expenses were the venue hire, the band, the photographer and the pizza – actors were making their fee from autographs. Imagine if you had over $100k to plan a wedding and contrast that with what was provided and then it doesn’t look like very good value.

Sunday October 25th 2015: Twin Pines Mall

Twin/Lone Pine(s) Mall is actually Puente Hills Mall, 1560 S Azusa Ave, City of Industry, CA 91748. The WGB itinerary was as follows:

Coach Buses Load 8:30 – 9:00 am
Departs Hotels @ 9:00 am
Discussion Panels @ 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Lunch @ Noon – 1:00 pm
Proclamation & Dinner @ 6:30 – 7:30 pm
Flux Capacitors warm up crowd @ 7:30 – 8:00 pm
Screening of Part 1 @ 8:00 – 10:00 pm

The discussion panel schedule was as follows:

10:00 am – Michael Scheffe / Kevin Pike – DeLorean design / build
1:00 pm – Artie Schmidt / Harry Keramidas – Editing
1:45 pm – Rick Carter / John Bell – 2015 – CANCELLED
2:30 pm – David DeVos – The Ride
3:15 pm – Michael Klastorin – Publicity and BTTF Ultimate Visual Guide
4:00 pm – Dennis Sands (scoring mixer), Mike Matessino (soundtrack producer) — Music
4:45 pm – Dean Cundey – Cinematography – PENDING SCHEDULE

The only panel of interest to us was the ‘DeLorean design / build’ but it’s quite a drive from Burbank to Puente Hills Mall and so we decided to skip the daytime activities. I heard from those who attended, that the WGB lunch vouchers weren’t accepted by the mall outlets and everyone had to buy their own lunch.

We arrived early evening to find crowds already in attendance. Most WGB ticketholders had been at the mall all day. A Twin Pines Mall sign was set up in exactly the right position. A replica of Doc Brown’s Truck was there with photo opportunities for both WGB attendees and the general public. Food was the usual food-truck experience.

Here are some photos:

A re-creation of the Libyan chase was staged. It was a pity that they didn’t re-create the iconic DeLorean emerging from the back of the truck scene. There wasn’t any special viewing position for WGB ticketholders.

Chairs were set out ready for a screening of BTTF1 – albeit on the same make-shift movie screen that had been used on previous days. Again, there wasn’t any control over the seating, with anyone able to sit and watch.

There was a really bad attempt at a Skype call to Christopher Lloyd, who was in a hotel room on the East Coast. Connection issues meant that he was barely visible or audible. This despite what seemed like a satellite van parked nearby to provide a connection. I had a 4G connection on my phone and was able to make a Skype video call home without any problems.

Everyone enjoyed the screening of BTTF1 and WGB2015 came to a close.

Obviously it was our choice not to attend the discussion panels, where a WGB wristband was required. For the evening event it made no difference at all if you had a wristband or not.

Conclusion

I’m really glad we chose to attend WGB2015. There were some great moments – many of them provided by the fans who attended. I’m sure there was a lot of work that went into the organisation, but this could have been so much better, particularly communication.

Would I consider it good value? Probably not. The event was always touted as non-profit, ‘by the fans for the fans’ event, with any surplus going to the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. There was a lot of money available from tickets and I’m sure everyone was disappointed that some of this wasn’t spent on a personal appearance by MJF and/or Christopher Lloyd.

I’ve yet to see anything related to a donation to the MFJ Foundation. Ideally, I’d like to see a set of accounts published that show where the money was spent. Please be assured that I’m not accusing the organisers of any dishonesty.

Would I go again? Well yes, but this time I’d only purchase a ticket if there was a guarantee of a personal appearance by MJF and/or Christopher Lloyd. Without that, I might be tempted if there was an event that promised to be well organised and exclusive to ticket holders only – such as a visit to the otherwise inaccessible Twin Pines Ranch. Otherwise, I’d just roll up at the publicly accessible events and join in for free.

A semi-official video of the entire event that I found on YouTube:

Makes you wonder what I’m complaining about when you watch that eh?