Shane Nyman, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Published 7:21 a.m. CT Feb. 11, 2018 | Updated 2:36 p.m. CT Feb. 14, 2018
Had they traveled to the year 2010, “Back to the Future” fans of the 1980s would’ve been horrified at the state of their beloved DeLorean.
The car, which first appeared on the big screen in the now-iconic blockbuster in 1985 and went on to become perhaps the most famous vehicle in Hollywood history, spent years in utter neglect.
Wild animals made it their home. It was warped and bleached by California sunlight and pounded by rain. Fans pulled off parts to keep as souvenirs.
As “Back to the Future” co-creator Bob Gale put it: “It was a wreck. An absolute wreck.”
But there’s good news further up the timeline: With the backing of Universal Pictures, a team of superfans and restoration experts came to the rescue. The year-long process that brought the dilapidated DeLorean back to its original condition was documented by Waukesha native filmmaker Steve Concotelli.
“OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine,” his first feature film, will be shown at 8 p.m. Saturday as part of the Wildwood Film Festival at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton. The screening closes out the two-day celebration of movie-making with Wisconsin ties.
We don’t need roads
Wisconsin native filmmaker Steve Concotelli's "OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine" is one of the feature-length films getting a screening at the Wildwood Film Festival. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Steve Concotelli)
Concotelli graduated from Mukwonago High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1990s and, in 2000 moved to Los Angeles. He’s spent the time since working as a television editor and producer, with jobs on “Attack of the Show!” (featuring Olivia Munn, before her ascension to movie star status), “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Street Science,” among dozens of others.
In that time, he made friends with folks in the industry big into the movies he’d loved since childhood.
“I thought I was a huge ‘Back to the Future’ fan and a huge ‘Ghostbusters’ fan,” he said. “Then I move out here and I start meeting these guys who’ve built their own time machines, built their own proton packs, own their own Ecto-1s. I’m just like holy s—t, these guys are on a fandom level I didn’t even know existed.”
Included in this group of movie prop fanatics Concotelli met was Joe Walser, the man Gale would enlist to steer the DeLorean restoration project. With their shared love for these movies from the ’80s, Walser asked Concotelli to get involved.
“The only problem was I didn’t have any skills to actually help restore the car,” he said. “I’m not a mechanic, I don’t own a DeLorean, I have no mechanical aptitude whatsoever. … So Joe (Walser) turns to me and says, ‘What is it that you can actually do for this project?’ And I said, ‘I’m a very good filmmaker. I can make a film about it.’”
And so it went. Concotelli became the official documentarian for the project, which took about a year of meticulous work. Walser, as “OUTATIME” is sure to point out, isn’t one to cut corners. Anything on the car that was able to be salvaged was cleaned or fixed. If it was ruined, an exact replacement was found — down to every last screw, regardless of whether or not anybody would ever lay eyes on it.
There was one goal: Get the DeLorean Time Machine to look exactly like it did when it rolled off the back of Doc Brown’s truck back in 1985.
“Everybody thinks that restoring the most famous film car in the world is fun and rainbows and it’s not,” said Concotelli, who spent countless nights and weekends with the restoration crew, all while still working a day job. “You have the pressure of all the ‘Back to the Future’ fans in the world, their expectations, on your shoulders. The car means just as much to them as it does to you and you need to make sure it’s done right. If there was any detail that we would have missed or that was wrong, we would have been raked over the coals for it.”
This is heavy
There were three cars used in the “Back to the Future” movies: the A car, the B car and the C car. The A car is the one most prominent. The B car was used for stunts and the C car was mostly for internal shots, and both were destroyed — the B car, quite famously, which was obliterated by a train in “Back to the Future Part III.”
As the restoration team’s Sean Bishop says in “OUTATIME,” “Every time you think of the DeLorean Time Machine, you’re thinking of the A car.”
And it’s the A car that wound up being a pretty serious focus of Concotelli’s life.
After the year’s worth of work in the garage was complete, he spent another year doing interviews and other shooting, then another two years of editing and other post-production. When it all came together, though, the 100-minute film earned him approval from fans around the world — as well as from the man he called “the godfather of ‘Back to the Future.’”
“I sent Bob (Gale) a copy of the film when it was done … and I’m thinking, 'Oh my God, what’s he going to say?' He said, 'Steve, it’s fantastic.' He said, 'I love it.'
“Getting an endorsement from the guy who created Doc and Marty, the guy who created the time machine, having him like my film about his film, it’s the highest honor I could possibly get.”
Gale and the other bigwigs at Universal liked the film enough that, when it came time to release the 30th anniversary “Back to the Future” Blu-ray in 2015, a 15-minute version of the documentary was included in the bonus features. That’s about as official an endorsement as possible.
“It was surreal,” Concotelli said. “Especially my favorite film of all time, it was a tremendously cool honor to have that.”
The DeLorean Time Machine, in all its restored glory, is now on permanent display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles — well protected, away from the elements. It looks as good as it did — if not better — than when it made its debut in the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall.
Aside from continuing promotion for “OUTATIME” — and coming back to Wisconsin this week to show it at Wildwood — Concotelli continues his day job as TV editor and producer. He’s on the lookout for whatever’s next as far as features go, but the grueling nature of the DeLorean project has him thinking he’ll be a one-and-done as a car restoration documentarian.
"I guess you could say I'm always looking for my next fascinating story to tell. If they want to restore the Ecto-1 A and they want to call me, that's fine,” he said with a laugh. “I would certainly consider it.”
WILDWOOD FILM FESTIVALThe 17th annual Wildwood Film Festival is Friday and Saturday at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton. All film screenings are in the Kimberly-Clark Theater.
The event is a celebration of filmmaking with Wisconsin ties. Showcasing 32 shorts and three full features, each of the festival's selections have a connection to Wisconsin. Some are directed or produced by Wisconsin natives. Some might star Wisconsin actors or feature music from a Wisconsin artist. Some were shot somewhere in the state. Whatever it might be, the selections each have some link to the state.
3 to 5 p.m.: Community Conversation: Exploring Human Trafficking, with Paul Evansen
7 p.m.: "The Rocket" (feature)
9 p.m.: "Wraith" (feature)
9 to 11 a.m.: Workshop: "The Business of Filmmaking," with Richard Blake, Michael O. Sajbel and Brian Murray (McIntosh Room of the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel)
1, 3, 6 and 8 p.m.: Short film sessions
8 p.m.: "OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine" (feature)
10 p.m.: Official Stella Artois Wrap Party (Fox Cities PAC lobby)
Tickets: $50 for complete festival package. Friday double feature tickets are $20. Saturday all-day tickets are $30. Single-session tickets are $12.