How Spike Lee mentee Stefon Bristol landed Michael J. Fox for Netflix's See You Yesterday
Sometimes when you shoot for the stars you get the whole galaxy. That’s how Stefon Bristol, the director behind Netflix’s time-travel film See You Yesterday, reacts to the Michael J. Fox cameo in his directorial feature debut.
Fox’s role as a high school science teacher is revealed through EW’s exclusive photos from See You Yesterday, which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival this week, and the director explains how a letter to the actor was enough to make it happen.
“That day we shot him was the best day of my life. I kid you not,” Bristol, a mentee of BlacKkKlansman Oscar winner Spike Lee, tells EW. “Back to the Future is one of my greatest inspirations as a filmmaker, and I’m shooting a legend here in my little movie.”
Based on Bristol’s short film project for NYU’s graduate thesis program, See You Yesterday follows two black science-savvy teens in Brooklyn who discover time travel for a high school science competition. Things take a turn when police fatally shoot C.J.’s unarmed older brother in the streets for a crime he didn’t commit, prompting her and Sebastian to use their time machines to try to save him.
The story, co-written by Bristol and Fredrica Bailey, balances the trauma of this serious subject matter with far lighter moments, like C.J. (played by Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Dante Crichlow) casually running an underground Genius Bar out of their garage. Another fun moment is the presence of Fox.
“We had another really great cameo that we wanted to go for. Unfortunately, he was unavailable by the time we needed to book somebody,” Bristol teases. “I was all set about who was gonna be it and we can’t get him. And I thought of another actor in the movie, and someone said, ‘Why don’t we just go with Michael J. Fox?’ I was like, ‘Alright cool! Let’s go with that.'”
Bristol and his team proceeded to write a letter to Fox, “explaining what the movie’s about, how his role can really impact people and teachers around the country to really look at young black kids in the schools,” to not “overlook them” and “see the potential in your students.”
“I believe the role would be able to facilitate that kind of thought into any educational environment,” the filmmaker added, “and [Fox] appreciated the letter and he said, ‘Yes, no problem. I’m able to do this.'”
Fox, according to Bristol, fell ill during the summer when the team were supposed to shoot, but they were finally able to make the cameo work the following January. The young stars — including Duncan-Smith, Crichlow, and Johnathan Nieves — were equally ecstatic.
“When I was sitting with him in between setups,” Bristol recalled, “I said, ‘Hey, what do you think of the script?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t read the script. I’m just doing this off your letter… I loved the letter, I loved your concept, and I really appreciate how Spike is helping the next generation of filmmakers move forward, so I had to do this.'”
Bristol, at a loss for words in that moment, just said, “I really appreciated that.”
See You Yesterday will premiere on Netflix this May 17.