Click on the following links for fun facts, insightful interviews and more from behind the scenes of "Somewhere in Time" (1980). From Novel to Screenplay
BEHIND THE SCENES OF "SOMEWHERE IN TIME" (1980)We invite you to learn more about the making of "Somewhere in Time" (1980).
Author Richard Matheson was inspired to write Bid Time Return after being mesmerized by the portrait of famous actress, Maude Adams: "My wife and child and I were on a camping trip and we stopped in Virginia City. In the Opera House, I saw a photograph of Maude Adams, the famous American actress. It was such a great photograph that creatively I fell in love with her. What if some guy did the same thing and could go back in time?" 1 Like Richard Collier, Matheson researched Adams and discovered some interesting and mysterious facts about her reclusive life. He wondered what may have happened in her life, and thus the idea for his novel was born!
The title of the book was based on a phrase in a Shakespearean play.
Matheson "sold it right away and it didn't do that well." Then producer Steven Simon (then Steven Deutsch) discovered it. Simon recalls: "I went into a bookstore and picked up a copy of this wonderful book called Bid Time Return, written by this man that I'd heard of, Richard Matheson, who wrote The Incredible Shrinking Man and other things. I read this book and was just enchanted. Something clicked inside of me and said, 'Okay, I gotta make this book. So Richard and I had our first meeting in February or March of 1976 and made a pact that we would make this movie together. It took three years from that point forward... Then in 1978, my boss Ray Stark called me and said, 'There's this director, Jeannot Szwarc, who just did 'Jaws 2' for Universal. We should figure something to do with him.'" 2
Szwarc recalls: "'Jaws 2' was just released, and I suddenly got a call from Ray Stark and he wanted a meeting, so I went to see him. He said, 'We have a book here by Richard Matheson called Bid Time Return. Nobody seems to understand it.' And I said, 'I'd like to read it.' I read it that night and I called Steven and said, 'This is it.' I had an instant affinity for it." 3AUDITIONS AND CASTING
Out of 9 or 10 starring roles in scripts offered to Christopher Reeve after the first "Superman" film, the popular actor chose to do "Somewhere In Time" because of the emotional challenge it afforded him. The film had a much smaller budget than the others and his agent strongly urged him against accepting the role. Reeve recalls: "My problem after 'Superman' was that I was offered many action hero roles that didn't really appeal to me. Somebody seriously asked me to play Erik the Red, the Viking, and I could see myself with that silver cap with horns on my head. But action and adventure wasn't really what I was looking for. I was looking for something very quiet, something very different. I was just struck by this very simple love story that had the unique aspect of time travel." 4
Reeve had one reservation before accepting the role: "I thought, as long as we can make it believe about how the character goes back in time, as long as that doesn't seem to be too strange or unbelievable, then I think the movie work work really well. That was my only reservation. I waited a while, you know, thinking about it, thinking if I could make that believable. Then I decided, 'We should just go for it.' The notion of it was so magical that it could work." 5
In addition, Reeve later became concerned about how to carry the end of the film: "When I read the script, I realized that [Richard] literally dies of a broken heart. I thought, 'Uh oh, here's where I may get in trouble.' But by that time, the audience is so into the film that the thought of him literally dying that way is possible." 6
Actress Jane Seymour "became obsessed with this movie. I read it and I said... 'This is the one. It just, it sang to me, it inhabited me. And it was the first time in my life when this wasn't about wanting something, this was about being this character: 'This is someone I know. I have to do this.'" 7
Seymour came for her audition wearing period clothing and with her hair styled to Edwardian perfection, and declared, "I am Elise McKenna and I have to play this part." Dozens of actresses read for the coveted role, but Seymour's direct approach won her the part. 8
In addition, Seymour recalls her first meeting with Reeve: "I went in to meet them, and Christopher Reeve was there. And Chris was talking to me, I think we talked about silly things like the British royal family, I don't know what the subject was." Director Jeannot Szwarc was struck by their immediate chemistry: "I'll never forget as they sat together, and they were not doing a scene or anything, they were just talking and chatting. There was this chemistry between them and together, they just looked like a real couple. And that was it." 9
Matheson's novel was set in the Coronado Hotel in San Diego. Szwarc remarks: "I knew the hotel and it didn't work. There were problems with TV antennas and things we weren't supposed to be showing. And then we started thinking about alternatives... [T]he associate producer came in one day and brought a book, and in that book was a photograph of the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island. I just fell in love with it." 10ON LOCATION
"Somewhere In Time" was made on a shoestring budget of $5 million, with $1 million of that going towards Christopher Reeve's salary. The shoot involved long, 16-hour days, six days a week. Cinematographer, Isidore Mankofsky, loved the story so much that he would have done the film "for nothing."
Reeve recalls: "[T]hat was an enchanted, enchanted summer we had making that movie." 11
The entire movie was filmed on Mackinac Island, a quiet time-forgotten town with antique shops and cobbled streets. To this day, Mackinac Island does not allow motorized vehicles. As such, the stars were required to travel by either horse and carriage or bicycles only. Reeve, who was very allergic to horses at the time, naturally bicycled everywhere. He recalls, "We didn't get to stay at the hotel. We stayed in dormitories on another part of the island. And we all got around on bicycles because there are no cars allowed on the island. So everybody on the movie had a bicycle with a number on it." 12
Director Jeannot Szwarc recalls: "We had to do some hard negotiating, but eventually we got permission to have one vehicle for the equipment, and that was that. All the rest of us went to work, either by foot, on bicycle, or with the horse and buggy. So it was very romantic." 13
Reeve's allergies caused him to struggle through the scene in which his character has to escape from a stable. By the time the scene was completed, he retreated to his room with swollen, crimson eyes!
Seymour recalls a mistake she made on the first scene that her character meets Richard Collier: "Jeannot had this whole thing planned out. He did this angle and that angle, and take two steps here, two steps there. I was so nervous. It wasn't like two people come together, say their line and they're together. It took all day. Finally, it got to the point where [Reeve] was right up close to me and I had the immortal line, 'Is it you?' I was so nervous I said, 'Issajoo'. It came out, 'Is a Jew,' which really is an incongruous line. But at the time, nobody noticed and nobody had the guts to tell me what it sounded like. So it was looped." 14
Although the quaint island afforded simple pleasures to the cast and crew, Reeve and Seymour enjoyed taking midnight flights on Reeve's single-engine plane. Seymour recalls: "Chris had his airplane there, hidden, so when no one was looking, Chris and I used to sneak out in the middle of the night, like 3:30, 4:00 in the minorning, get on our bicycles, go to the airplane and take off. And we did. We actually flew to Toronto a couple of times. They would have killed us if they'd known." 15 The stars also invited some of the extras along on one of their Sundays off for a flight into another town, for bowling and pizza!
On one Sunday afternoon, two college girls met Reeve while playing frisbee on the lawn along the road up to the Grand Hotel. Reeve was riding his bicycle and stopped to ask if he could join in the game. Immediately recognizing the star, the girls naturally obliged and asked him to autograph the frisbee when he was ready to leave. Reeve willingly obliged, but when the two girls started to argue over which one of them would own the frisbee, Reeve broke the frisbee in two, signed the other half and gave a piece to each girl!
On another afternoon, a group of college boys living near the building that served as the film's headquarters, were grilling in the backyard when Reeve, attracted by the aroma of barbequed chicken, leaned over the fence with "Sure smells good!" The boys promptly invited Reeve to dinner, and afterward, the star went into the kitchen and lent a hand with the dishes!
Christopher Plummer remarks of the film's setting: "There was sort of a faded grandeur about the place. The hotel itself had a feeling of being very much alive over the centuries. It sort of talked at you as if, 'I've been around longer any of my guests.' It contributed hugely to that feeling of going back in time and it did indeed become a character in the movie." 16
In July 1979, when the 7-week shoot was completed, the cast and crew celebrated in an extravagant "Wrap Party" on the lawn of Grand Hotel. The entire company, numbering about 70 people, enjoyed a lavish picnic and many of them ended up in the pool, fully clothed, including Jeannot Szwarc, Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.
After the shooting was completed, there was the remaining issue of who would compose the soundtrack. Seymour recalls: "When we finished making the movie, I asked Jeannot, 'Who are you going to get for the music?' And he said, 'Oh, I don't know. We've got to get someone really good but budgetwise, we're not quite sure who we can get.' And I suggested John Barry, and he looked at me in astonishment like, 'Are you crazy? We can't afford him, we can't even afford to ask him.' And I said, 'He's a very close friend of mine and I'll give him a call.' So I called John and said, 'You've got to do this movie. IT just the most amazing movie, it's a wonderful story. Read it, please. They can't afford to even ask you. This is just for me. Just see what you think.' And he saw it and said, 'I'll do it.'" 17
The haunting and heart-stirring soundtrack that Barry composed was created out of an intimate and painful time in his life: "My father died before Christmas, and my mother died the following April. And 'Somewhere in Time' was the first music I wrote after that. I don't usually write like that. I don't usually draw on my personal life. But that was probably the most shattering experience you can have, your mother and father dying within several weeks of each other. And I think that probably had a lot to do with it." 18RELATIONSHIPS ON AND OFF THE SET
Actress Teresa Wright recalls of Christopher Reeve: "Before I was do to 'Somewhere in Time' I was set to do a play, and I had to call the director of the play. And he said, 'That's fine. I don't mind if you're not there for the first reading but you must be there for the first rehearsal.' So as we were getting close to the time I was worreid that we weren't going to get finished. Chris could tell, and being a stage actor himself, he knew that I'd be worried about it. He said, 'Don't worry about being finished. If we're not finished in time, I personally will fly you there myself.' And I was so touched by that, I thought it was so dear." 19
Bill Erwin (Arthur) recalls the tight-knit relationships on the set: "We were close together... We had our rooms to rehearse where that was necessary. We had a nightclub where we could relax at night if we wanted to. So it... really was a family situation." 20
Reeve has remarked that even decades after the film was made, Seymour remains his favorite leading lady. Reeve and Seymour have remained close friends ever since making the movie. The pair reunited as voices in the Warner Brothers animated movie, "The Quest for Camelot," with Reeve as King Arthur and Seymour as Lady Juliana. After his horseback riding accident, Seymour became involved with the charity that Reeve set up to help fund research for spinal cord injuries. Seymour remarks, "I'm happy to do whatever I can [for Reeve]." 21
When Reeve was presented with his star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Seymour was on hand to give a moving speech to honor her dear friend, beginning with the words, "I love this man," and closing with, "There isn't a day I don't think about him, and there isn't a day that (turning to Reeve) you don't inspire me." 22
Jo Addie, an extra on the set who has since become active in the "Somewhere in Time" fan club, recalls of Reeve: "People frequently ask me, "What is Christopher Reeve really like? He is exactly as he seems on TV interviews, candid and honest, with an easy smile, not the least bit affected by his fame. He exudes positive energy--very optimistic, cheerful, congenial, with a refreshing childlike quality--by that I mean he is enthusiastic and animated about whatever he is involved in. I guess you'd say he's the kind of guy everyone would enjoy having as a friend. I can't help but admit to being a little thrilled when after working a while on the film Chris and I were on a first-name basis." As for Seymour, Addie recalls, "She was so captivating, so warm and spoke openly about her life to me." 23
THE ACTORS ON THEIR ROLES
Both Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour view "Somewhere in Time" as their favorite film of their careers. Reeve remarks: "I feel very fortunate that in my career I've been in a couple of movies that will always withstand the test of time, and one of them is the first 'Superman' film, and 'Somewhere in Time,' which actually really is timeless." And, "This film holds the number one spot by the fireside in my heart." 24
Seymour affectionately remarks: "Of all the movies I've ever made, this is the one I will never forget the experience of making or the pride of having made it." 25
Director Jeannot Szwarc concludes: "I think just the fact that the film got made and that I spent those weeks with this extraordinary group of people both in front and behind the camera, the film was something which is beyond all of us. It has a life of its own. The privilege of being part of it, I think that's delightful." 26
APPLAUSE, AWARDS AND THE AFTERMATH
Despite high hopes from the cast and crew, "Somewhere In Time" failed as a major box office draw. Producer Simon recalls: "We all thought that we could get away with a big wide release with this movie, etc. And we all anticipated that. And the movie came out and pretty much got eviscerated by the critics." 27
Director Jeannot Szwarc remarks: "I must say that it was probably not a very easy film to sell. It was difficult, a stretch. But it was just thrown out there and didn't do well." 28
One year after its release, a new cable station, Z, as well as HBO, aired the movie. Szwarc recalls: "I got a phone call from someone named Jerry Harvey... and he had seen the picture at the screen and went berzerk over it. And he approached the studio and put the film on Z channel for a week, two weeks. They got an enormous amount of mail." 29 Before long, the movie was the most requested film on HBO, primarily by word of mouth from viewers who had happened to catch it on television!
Reeve remarks of the cable phenomenon: "Gradually in L.A., people started watching it and then as cable spread across the country, people found it and fell in love with it. And then of course video came along and gradually it became a cult classic. But I have to say it was really rescued by cable. We put so much into the film that it was hard to see it get trashed and incredibly gratifying that over the years, our belief in it really turned out to be justified." 30
Seymour was surprised by the sudden popularity over the film after its cable debut: "When it suddenly became a cult classic, and it got on to video and people were watching it, and renting it and renting it, and watching it on television... then everywhere I'd got people would say... 'Somewhere in Time'! It's my favorite movie ever!'" 31
"Somewhere in Time" is among the most rented videos of its age and time. It continues to sell on video among Universal Studios's biggest blockbuster movies, including "E.T." and "Jaws."
The film has inspired legions of fans all over the world, as well as its official fan club, called INSITE (International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts), which has over 1,000 members! It is also only one of three movies that has its own official fan club. The other two films are "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz."
The organization promotes a "Somewhere in Time" weekend, sponsored by the Grand Hotel, each year in October. Attendees come dressed in Victorian and Edwardian garb and watch a special screening of the movie. Christopher Reeve attended the weekend event in 1994, and recalls: "It [was] hard to resist. You get a standing ovation for just showing up." 32
In 1995, fifty-five members of INSITE flew to Los Angeles to attend the ceremony to present Reeve with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Reeve delivered a warm acceptance speech, acknowledging INSITE by saying, "This star is a testimony to staying power, to fans who stuck by me over 17 years, through thick and thin." 33
Reeve admittedly reads every issue of the INSITE newsletter "cover to cover" and remarks of the devotion of his fans, "It moves me more than you can know." 34
The film was so popular that it continues to bring legions of fans to visit and stay at the Grand Hotel. In the 1980s, the hotel had to control the crowds by charging people merely to walk the property.
Fifteen years after the movie was made, Reeve had a tragic horseback riding accident that has left him paralyzed. Reeve remarks: "What is curious is that in July of 1995, about two months after my accident, I had a very severe rash to a drug and it almost killed me. In fact, I flatlined for 50 seconds, and I actually left my body. That very same thing [that Richard experienced at the end of the movie] happened to me. I was up on the ceiling looking down at all the people trying to bring me back. Fortunately, they tried a different approach and shot me with a massive dose of epenephrine, and suddenly I was back in my body and all the noise and chaos returned. I never thought I would experience something like that ever. It just made me think of the scene in 'Somewhere in Time.' We're not so far off." 35
The movie has inspired a prequel, Memoirs of Elise, written by David Gurnee. Gurnee first became interested in "Somewhere In Time" when he saw the movie on HBO in 1981. The film resonated with Gurnee on several different levels. "I was doing some channelsurfing and was about ready to move on to another station when this movie on HBO caught my eye and kind of intrigued me," said Mr. Gurnee, going back in time himself in recalling the night. "It was an unusual movie, and the more I watched of it, the more intrigued I was. I wound up being totally drawn into it, and it really made me evaluate my own life." He was going through romantically troubled times when he saw the film and admits, "It has a lot to do with where you're at when you see it." Second, he found the film depicted trials shared by romantics universally: "I think every person alive has been totally enamored with someone that there was no way they were going to have. It wasn't that I thought it was a particularly great film. There's some lousy cinematography and acting, there's all that. But it was the way all of the factors came together to produce a whole that really moved me." 36
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Gurnee watched "Somewhere In Time" "a few more times, and each time it had more meaning for me." Gurnee continues, "Even though the movie 'Somewhere In Time' had a big impact on me, a sequel never entered my mind until 1996. I was older now and could appreciate detail more and knew it was something I had to do. I knew there deserved to be a sequel to 'Somewhere In Time,' and I felt like I had a good feel for what to write." 37
Gurnee elaborates: "In August 1996 my family and I came up here on vacation, and I hadn't seen the movie in quite a while. When we got back to Columbus, I went out and bought the video, and watched it that very evening. I'm always in tears at the ending of the movie, but this time, I'm in tears at the beginning of the movie. I sat and watched the old Elise, sitting in the shadows, waiting to give Richard Collier the watch, and it hit me -- what has she been through. She's waited for sixty years to give him this watch. And I thought, there's a story here. The passion of their love was really Richard, but the strength of their love was Elise, who waited for those sixty years to give him the watch. So I became enamored with this idea of writing the memoirs of Elise McKenna, just thinking about what she had gone through, and how did she figure out he was from the future, how did she find him, how did she know to give him the watch." 38
Gurnee sent a preliminary copy of Memoirs of Elise to Bill Shepard, the President of INSITE, who told him to flesh out the story. Gurnee became so enamored with the project that he began to dread phone calls that would interrupt his writing. Realizing that "I had to write it," Gurnee packed a bag and spent a few days at Grand Hotel in September 1996. With headphones on, Gurnee listened to a tape of "Somewhere In Time" as he walked through the movie's scenes. He described the experience as observing the movie in progress: "I felt like an invisible man." Gurnee also spent many hours in the theater where Elise performs, sitting in the exact chair that Richard sat in as she made her famous speech on stage. Gurnee "spent several days here. Spent a lot of time writing right from this chair, and also standing up on this stage, because my whole story is from her point of view. So I spent a lot of time standing on the stage, thinking, what would she have thought, what would she have felt?" 39
Gurnee continues, "I thought the story would take me about six months, but finished it in three months, in November of 1996, working 11-12 hours a day. I sent it to the stars, including Seymour, Reeve, and Richard Matheson, who wrote Somewhere In Time. Matheson responded with encouragement and recommended that Memoirs be dramatized at the INSITE conventions, held every October at Grand Hotel.
Gurnee's novel was published in 1997, and relates the story of Elise McKenna's life after Collier's disappearance. He remarks, "I wanted to make a film that was a mirror image of "Somewhere in Time," Gurnee explained, "only from Elise's point of view... There's no doubt it's a circular motion. That's why Memoirs of Elise is not only a sequel, but a prequel. A sequel/prequel, if you will. But that's the way it has to be. It starts with where 'Somewhere In Time' ends and takes you to where 'Somewhere In Time' begins. You can't go outside this circle or break the circle because then you would be untrue to 'Somewhere In Time.' And that's not something I wanted to do. I wanted to stay within the framework of 'Somewhere in Time.' The film is so loved that if I wasn't true to it, then I would lose the reader." 40
Gurnee remarks, "The book started out as notes taken for the sequel movie, which was my original intent. That was initially my biggest disappointment -- that the book was only 104 pages. But then my wife said, 'Did you say all you had to say?' And I said 'Yes, I did.' If I would have added more, it would have just been filler. Plus, not much character development was needed since it was a sequel to 'Somewhere in Time,' and if that had been necessary, well, there would have been your extra 80-100 pages or so. After thinking all this over, I was satisfied." 41
In May of 1997, Gurnee and his wife moved to Mackinac Island, and he churned out a revised version: "I'm kind of a perfectionist in the sense that I went over my first version with a fine-tooth comb and found some little errors and some sentences that I wanted to change. I just wanted the book to be the best it could be." 42
Hoping to bring his work to the screen someday, Gurnee forwarded the text to Universal Studio's President of Production prior to its publication as a book. He received a letter back in which the president praised the story but included objections to using the story as a sequel. She wrote that the story assumed strong familiarity with the original film, possibly alienating an already small romantic audience, and that learning that Richard did not willfully abandon Elise diminished the romantic tragedy. Gurnee remarks, "First, it's a sequel. It's supposed to assume strong familiarity with the original." As for the second objection, he sees that as evidence of the president's unfamiliarity with the movie: "In the film, Elise sees Collier fade away involuntarily, so that's a misnomer." 43
Gurnee continues, "My vision for this story has always been for a film. I've said this many times, that Memoirs is not a book I want to see made into a movie, but a movie that I've condensed into a book. I have all the scenes and music, and cues in my mind, and did the best to get the gist down in the book." 44
The underlying truth, Gurnee remarks, is that Universal did not feel there was an audience to warrant a sequel. Gurnee led a campaign from November 1998 through Valentine's Day, 1991, in an effort to change Universal's position. Fans sent nearly 10,000 letters to the production studio. Soon after, actress Jane Seymour revealed that she would do a sequel if it had a good script. Author Richard Matheson, writer of the original story, however, declined the opportunity. Although Gurnee continues to hope that his prequel will someday be brought to life on the screen, he ended up establishing a film company to produce other romantic movies set in Mackinac Island. The company was formed "originally so we could approach Universal Pictures and say, 'Let us assemble the original cast and crew, let us assume the financial risk for this picture. We understand the heart of this picture, we understand what the fans want to see. Let us shoot the picture, or sell us the rights to Somewhere In Time,' and they were not interested. Since then I've thought, this is such an incredible place to film. It's a set director's dream. You don't need props and sets; you already have them. You have a fort, you have soldiers, you have original guns, horses and carriages, you have all this incredible scenery. So the film company right now, our thinking is that we'll be able to produce three feature films over the next five years, utilizing Mackinac Island. Films that have kind of a classic, romantic flavor. And films that really portray the island as beautiful as it is." 45
Still, Gurnee continues to campaign for his prequel, which would star the original actors in their original roles. After twenty years since its filming, Gurnee believes that now is the perfect time to make a prequel, since Seymour and the other actors are themselves the right ages of their characters in his book. Since Richard does not appear in the book, Reeve, who has since been paralyzed in a horseback riding accident, would not be in the film. Gurnee concludes: "I am willing to do anything to see this made into a film because I so believe in this project... We'll see what the future brings. It's just a matter of time." 46Copyright (C) 2000-2003, Eras of Elegance, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without our express written permission is strictly prohibited. This website is best viewed on Internet Explorer at a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. Footnotes: 1. "Back to Somewhere in Time" Behind the Scenes Documentary, from "Somewhere in Time, Twentieth Anniversary Edition" (2000) (hereinafter "SIT Documentary"). 2. Id. 3. Id. 4. Id. 5. Id. 6. Id. 7. Id. 8. "Fascinating Facts About Somewhere in Time," The Official Somewhere in Time Website. 9. SIT Documentary, supra. 10. Id. 11. Id. 12. Id. 13. Id. 14. Id. 15. Id. 16. Id. 17. Id. 18. Id. 19. Id. 20. Id. 21. Id. 22. Unknown source; citation pending. 23. Jo Addie, "Barely In Time, or Confessions of a SIT Extra," INSITE (July 1991). 24. SIT Documentary, supra. 25. Id. 26. Id. 27. Id. 28. Id. 29. Id. 30. Id. 31. Id. 32. Unknown source; citation pending. 33. Jo Addie, "INSITE Honors Christopher Reeve with Walk of Fame Star," INSITE. 34. Id. 35. SIT Documentary, supra. 36. "'Memoirs of Elise' Undertaking Transformed Author's Life," The Mackinac Island Town Crier (August 19, 2000) (hereinafter "Memoirs"). 37. The Dispatch and the Rock Island Argus (July 16, 2000). 38. Memoirs, supra. 39. Michigan Magazine Television Program (January 12, 2000). 40. The Dispatch and the Rock Island Argus (July 16, 2000). 41. Id. 42. Id. 43. Memoirs, supra. 44. Michigan Magazine Television Program (January 12, 2000). 45. Id. 46. "Movie Fan Writes Sequel to 'Somewhere In Time'" The Mackinac Island Town Crier (July 19, 1997).