American director Robert Zemeckis studied filmmaking at Northern Illinois University, and then got his start with a job with the film editing department at WMAQ-TV, Chicago's NBC flagship station. After commercial work, Zemeckis and his friend and collaborator, Bob Gale, became assistants to Steven Spielberg. It was Spielberg who lined up Zemeckis' first directing job, the 1977 comedy/nostalgia blend I Wanna Hold Your Hand; despite the film's low budget, it demonstrated Zemeckis' ability to combine credible live-action sequences with elaborate special effects devices. Spielberg next had Zemeckis and Gale work on the screenplay of 1941 (1979), which, despite its disappointing box-office returns, convinced the young director that his protegés were valuable commodities.
Working again under Spielberg's aegis, Zemeckis directed his first real financial success, Romancing the Stone (1981), a wild adventure yarn that somehow never lost sight of its sense of humor. The director then took on Back to the Future (1984) and its two sequels, once again proving that live actors could be combined with special effects to produce spectacular results. Zemeckis further proved this when, in collaboration with Spielberg and cartoon producer Richard Williams, he directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), a groundbreaking combination of cartoon animation and "real" action, which went on to become one of the decade's biggest moneymakers. By the early '90s, Zemeckis was recognized as a director of great technical skill but little personal viewpoint, something that changed with the 1994 release of Forrest Gump. Beyond its top-heavy special effects, the film was a distinctly human drama about a mildly retarded young man (Tom Hanks) who achieves professional and personal success by refusing to see anything but the good in people. Expected to be a moderately profitable feature, Forrest Gump amazed everyone by becoming the top moneyspinner of the summer of 1994 -- and one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. As an added bonus, it helped Zemeckis snag a Best Director Oscar, as well as several other awards.