Apple TV+’s documentary Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie sets itself apart from the deluge of celeb documentaries. Yes, it’s a documentary about the actor’s life and his battle with Parkinson’s disease. Some may even approach it thinking they’ve seen a doc like this before. But when you pull away from the film, it feels like you’ve watched a fully-bodied autobiopic about the Family Ties and Back to the Future star.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim and his editor Michael Harte (Three Identical Strangers) pulled off the feat by using moments from Fox’s cinematic canon — Back to the Future, The Secret of My Success and Bright Lights, Big City among other titles — in re-creations of the movie and TV star’s life.
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Guggenheim explained during a panel for Still at Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted awards-season event how the style came to be with Harte, particularly in those moments where they didn’t have footage from Fox’s early days.
“Sometimes there’s good battles and sometimes there’s bad battles. This was a good battle,” Guggenheim said about the creative arguments with his editor.
“My solution was to do re-creations,” the filmmakers says, “And his solution was looking at Michael’s movies and TV shows and reconstructing that material in a way that hadn’t crossed my mind.”
“In the best case, [both those ideas] intermingled,” Guggenheim said.
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Essentially, old movie and TV footage are interspliced with re-created scenes the director shot with another actor. When it came to showing Fox on his first date with now wife/then girlfriend Tracy Pollan, moments from Bright Lights, Big City mixed with Guggenheim’s footage.
“You know it’s from a movie, but when you’re watching it you think they’re falling in love,” said Guggenheim, who also serves as a producer on Still.
“As a filmmaker, you understand the leap that the audience takes — once they want to imagine something, they do.”
“Michael’s life is the movies, and the movies are Michael’s life,” added Guggenheim, who drew inspiration from the candid actor’s books Lucky Man and No Time Like the Future.
Yet subverting audience expectations for a documentary was a great string for Guggenheim to pull on when paying homage to the comedic actor’s life.
Says Guggenheim, “It’s about running toward your truth, and embracing the harder things in life — that’s a universal idea that’s very meaningful.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.
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