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Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis

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Also Known As: Robert Lee Zemeckis Died:
Born: May 14, 1952 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA Profession: director, producer, screenwriter, actor, editor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

ix Academy Awards, including statues for Best Picture and Best Director for Zemeckis.Biding his time after such a monumental success, Zemeckis chose to wait nearly three years before helming his next project, the ponderous adaptation of Carl Sagan's "Contact" (1997). Despite terrific special effects, the film was bogged down addressing big themes like spirituality and technology that failed to translate well into clear storytelling. The pretentious tone alienated most reviewers while audiences were unable to fully embrace it. Zemeckis went another three years before directing his next feature. In that time, he turned to the small screen, participating in the documentary series, "In the 20th Century" by probing America's reaction to its vices in "Robert Zemeckis on Smoking, Drinking and Drugging in the 20th Century: The Pursuit of Happiness" (Showtime, 1999).Through interviews with historians and drug treatment professionals, Zemeckis explored America' long-running relationship with various mind-altering substances. He returned to the big screen with two major films, starting with "What Lies Beneath" (2000), a tense thriller that clearly demonstrated both his strengths and weaknesses. While...

ix Academy Awards, including statues for Best Picture and Best Director for Zemeckis.

Biding his time after such a monumental success, Zemeckis chose to wait nearly three years before helming his next project, the ponderous adaptation of Carl Sagan's "Contact" (1997). Despite terrific special effects, the film was bogged down addressing big themes like spirituality and technology that failed to translate well into clear storytelling. The pretentious tone alienated most reviewers while audiences were unable to fully embrace it. Zemeckis went another three years before directing his next feature. In that time, he turned to the small screen, participating in the documentary series, "In the 20th Century" by probing America's reaction to its vices in "Robert Zemeckis on Smoking, Drinking and Drugging in the 20th Century: The Pursuit of Happiness" (Showtime, 1999).Through interviews with historians and drug treatment professionals, Zemeckis explored America' long-running relationship with various mind-altering substances. He returned to the big screen with two major films, starting with "What Lies Beneath" (2000), a tense thriller that clearly demonstrated both his strengths and weaknesses. While delivering on a visceral and technological sense, the pedestrian nature of the ghost-haunting thriller coupled with the histrionic performances from stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford helped turn the Hitchcockian thriller into a derivative wannabe.

Zemeckis' second film of that year, "Cast Away" (2000), was far more intriguing and ultimately successful. Joining forces again with "Forrest Gump" star Tom Hanks, Zemeckis took on the challenge of a story that had little dialogue in its second act to craft a critically-lauded drama that earned considerable praise, numerous awards and a hefty share of the box office. "Cast Away" told the tale of Chuck Noland (Hanks), a Federal Express systems analyst obsessed with time who survives a plane crash and awakens by himself on a deserted island, while his fiancé (Helen Hunt) wonders whether or not he is alive. Prior to Noland's ill-fated flight, Zemeckis did an excellent job of setting up the emotional stakes with his two main characters, while staging a harrowing, all-too-real crash sequence. The bulk of the film took place on the island, where Noland's only conversations were with a volleyball imprinted with his blood that he names Wilson. While the film could have easily devolved into a maudlin claptrap of a man longing for home, Zemeckis instead managed to draw another fine performance from Hanks while carefully balancing the survival drama with fear, regret and humor. The director's only mistake was overstepping in the third act with Noland's overly sentimental return to civilization. Still, "Cast Away" was one of the director's finer dramatic efforts, earning Hanks another Oscar nod and netting over $400 million worldwide.

Following "Cast Away," Zemeckis settled into the role of producer while taking a step back from directing to shepherd projects like "Thir13en Ghosts" (2001), "Ghost Ship" (2002), "Matchstick Men" (2003) and "Gothika" (2003). In the meantime, the director was conducting tests on his own dime to see if he could successfully adapt the popular children's book The Polar Express into a CGI-animated film for the big screen. Intrigued by the technological challenge of collaborating again with Hanks, this time with the actor playing all of the roles, Zemeckis' production team experimented with a new technology called Performance Capture, which allowed computers to capture the subtle nuances of an actor's performance and transfer it to the CGI character. Once he had determined that this technology worked, Zemeckis put the film into production and released it in 2004. An instant holiday season classic, the film told the story of a young boy excited for Christmas who goes on an unforgettable train ride while embarking on a journey of self discovery. Despite the film's success, however, critics worried that his use of the technology would eventually lead to the elimination of actors, while the technology itself gave the characters a creepy, dead-eye look.

After returning to producer duties on "House of Wax" (2005), "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" (2005) and the animated "Monster House" (2006), Zemeckis employed the same Performance Capture technology from "Polar Express" to animate Ray Winstone, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie and a host of other top actors for "Beowulf" (2007). Adapted from the Old English epic poem, the film earned Zemeckis praise for his deft use of the technology while essentially staying true to the original story of a mighty warrior's defeat of the demon Grendel. Sticking with a winning formula, he used the technology for his third straight film; this time capturing the considerable motion of Jim Carrey for the faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic, "A Christmas Carol" (2009), in which the rubbery actor portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge, as well as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Returning to live action for the first time since "Cast Away" (2000) and making his first R-rated film since "Used Cars" (1980), Zemeckis directed the widely hailed drama "Flight" (2012), which starred Denzel Washington as an airline pilot with a substance abuse problem who averts disaster by making a daring crash-landing after his plane malfunctions, only to see his heroic actions questioned during an investigation. Co-starring Don Cheadle, John Goodman and Bruce Greenwood, "Flight" generated serious Oscar buzz while also courting controversy for depicting a pilot flying a plane while under the influence. Anheuser-Busch formally petitioned Paramount Pictures to remove or obscure their Budweiser logo due to Washington drinking the beer while flying the plane.part. This time, Marty goes all the way back to the Old West of 1885 where he tries to save Doc Brown (Lloyd) from the villainous Tannen Gang. After writing with Gale the surprisingly hard-boiled action script for Walter Hill's riveting "Trespass" (1992), Zemeckis branched out into producing for network television, including the short-lived "Johnny Bago" (CBS 1993), as well as features like "The Public Eye" (1992). Zemeckis' next feature, "Death Becomes Her" (1992), was both a commercial and critical disappointment, though the special effects that helped transform Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep into indestructible zombies won an Academy Award.

Despite that disappointing effort, Zemeckis had perhaps the greatest triumph of his career with "Forrest Gump" (1994), a fanciful and often moving comedy-drama about a simple Southern man (Tom Hanks) with a low IQ who finds himself at the forefront of major events from the 1960s through the 1980s, all the while pining for the love of his childhood friend, Jenny (Robin Wright). Typically in love with special effects over the other elements of storytelling, Zemeckis proved to critics that he could also tackle a large-scale story that was held down by genuine human emotions. Adapted from the book by Winston Groom, "Forrest Gump" featured Hanks delivering one of his finest performance as a child-like man who teaches Elvis Presley how to dance, becomes a college football star, wins a Medal of Honor fighting in Vietnam, meets presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, and starts a shrimp-catching business with his now legless Army sergeant (Gary Sinese). Not only was the film a huge box office and critical success, lines like "Stupid is as stupid does," and "Life is like a box of chocolates" entered into the cultural lexicon. But the film was not without its technical marvels; Zemeckis seamlessly inserted Hanks into archival footage, including having him watch the integration at the University of Alabama, while effectively making Sinese look like he did indeed lose his legs. Most importantly, "Forrest Gump" was lavished with numerous awards which culminated in s

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Allied (2016)
2.
  Walk, The (2015)
3.
4.
  Flight (2012)
6.
  BEOWULF (2007)
7.
  Polar Express, The (2004) Director
8.
  What Lies Beneath (2000) Director
9.
  Cast Away (2000) Director
10.
  Contact (1997) Director

CAST: (feature film)

3.
4.
 68th Annual Academy Awards, The (1996) Presenter
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, IL
:
Began making 8mm films in high school
1971:
Met future writing partner Bob Gale at USC
1972:
Directed first "professional" short "The Lift," an 8-minute student film
1973:
Made award-winning 14-minute student film "A Field of Honor"
:
Screened "A Field of Honor" for Steven Spielberg and John Milius, who helped him and Gale get a development deal for an original screenplay that became "1941"
1978:
Feature film directorial debut," I Wanna Hold Your Hand"; also co-wrote script with Gale
1979:
Co-wrote with Gale "1941," a sprawling comedy directed by Steven Spielberg
1980:
Helmed the comedy "Used Cars"
1984:
Enjoyed box-office hit as director of the adventure love story "Romancing the Stone"
1985:
With Gale, co-wrote the blockbuster "Back to the Future"; also directed
1986:
TV directing debut, "Go to the Head of the Class," an episode of "Amazing Stories"
1988:
Directed the live-action and animated combination "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"
1989:
TV producing debut as one of the co-executive producers of "Tales From the Crypt," an HBO horror anthology series
1989:
Helmed the sequels "Back to the Future II" (1989) and "Back to the Future III" (1990) back to back
1991:
TV acting debut, "Parker Lewis Can't Lose!," a Fox sitcom that featured his then-wife Mary Ellen Trainor
1992:
Feature debut as executive producer, "The Public Eye"
1992:
Directed the black comedy "Death Becomes Her," featuring Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn
1992:
Scripted and executive produced "Trespass," helmed by Walter Hill
1993:
Produced first network TV series, "Johnny Bago," a CBS adventure-comedy series
1993:
Created and produced "Tales from the Cryptkeeper," an ABC animated series
1994:
Directed box office hit "Forest Gump," starring Tom Hanks; film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director
1995:
Was one of the executive producers of the feature "Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight"
1997:
Helmed the screen adaptation of Carl Sagan's book "Contact"; also produced
1998:
Served as a producer on the remake of "The House on Haunted Hill"
1999:
Made "Robert Zemeckis on Smoking, Drinking and Drugging in the 20th Century: In Pursuit of Happiness" for Showtime
2000:
Reunited with Tom Hanks as producer and director of "Cast Away"; filmed over a stretch of time in 1999-2000 with a break for Hanks to lose weight
2000:
During break from filming "Cast Away," produced and helmed the thriller "What Lies Beneath," starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer; film released before "Cast Away"
2004:
Helmed the animated feature "The Polar Express" starring Tom Hanks in several roles
2007:
Helmed the big-budget film version of "Beowulf," using the performance-capture technology utilized for "The Polar Express"
2009:
Wrote, directed and produced the animated adaptation of "A Christmas Carol"; Jim Carrey played several roles, including Ebenezer Scrooge
2012:
Returned to live action features as director and producer of "Flight," a drama starring Denzel Washington
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Northern Illinois University: De Kalb , Illinois -
University of Southern California: Los Angeles , California - 1973

Notes

Some sources list 1952 as the year of Mr. Zemeckis' birth.

Zemeckis was the first recipient of USC's Mary Pickford Alumni Award in 1995.

In October 1998, Zemeckis donated $5 million to the University of Southern California for the creation of a cutting-edge digital arts studio, known as the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts.

On discussing his and partner Bob Gale's taste in movies while in film school: "We like[d] Clint Eastwood movies, and we didn't get Godard." --Robert Zemeckis in Premiere, December 1989.

"Johnny Bago," an hour-long action-comedy with the emphasis on comedy, will follow the fractured tales of an ex-con named Johnny Tenuti [Peter Dobson], who's running for his life in a secondhand RV. Johnny Winnebago--Johnny Bago get it? We're not making this up. The series will debut on CBS in the spring. So what's this show like, Mr. Zemeckis? "Well, if you can imagine a Ralph Kramden for the '90s mixed with "The Fugitive," "Route 66," and "On the Road with Charles Kuralt," that's what "Johnny Bago" is like," the producer-director said. "We like to call it a random exploration of the burgs and byways of America ... " --From Daily News, January 21, 1993.

With deep emotional underpinnings, it ["Forrest Gump"] is not the sort of frenetic comedy that one would expect from Zemeckis. "One of the first conversations we had about this movie," [actor Tom] Hanks recalls, "was that this movie broke all his rules drilled into him to work on basic storytelling levels. There's no jeopardy. There's no clock running. Bob is a master at explaining the illogical, as in the "Back to the Future" movies, and having them make sense. But this is the opposite. He had to take this emotional story and put it in the trappings of a special effects epic in a way that was so natural, it served the human elements of the story, instead of how he usually works, where it serves the fantastic elements of the story." --From "Reality Bites Back" by David Kronke, Los Angeles Times Calendar, July 3, 1994.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Mary Ellen Trainor. Actor. Appeared in several films directed by Zemeckis, including "Romancing the Stone" (1984) and "Death Becomes Her" (1992); also acted in the TV series "Parker Lewis Can't Lose!", as Mrs. Lewis; other feature roles include the police psychiatrist in the three "Lethal Weapon" films; co-starred in TV series "Relativity" and had a recurring role on the WB series "Roswell"; separated c. 1997; divorced.
wife:
Leslie Harter. Actor. Eloped on December 4, 2001 in Venice, Italy.

Family close complete family listing

son:
Alexander Francis Zemeckis. Born on December 11, 1985; mother, Mary Ellen Trainor.

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