As a child, Anton’s favorite movie was Space Jam (1996). He began acting at 9, and when he got serious about it, his parents exposed him to more high-brow American and international cinema, so he’d have a greater perspective on the art form. He became a student of filmmaking and acting, watching classics like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978), taking extensive, deeply analytical notes, and compiling an encyclopedic knowledge of film that he loved to share. “It was always fun and interesting to talk to Anton about film and get into the critical theory of it, which he seemed fluent in for someone who hadn’t studied it formally,” says Pegg. “It seemed to me the logical thing was for him to become a filmmaker, because he was interested in photography and he had a definite aesthetic, a visual palette which he favored, and he loved music. He was an auteur-in-waiting.”
Despite an evident preference for high-minded cinema, Anton didn’t consider himself above mainstream popcorn fare. He intellectualized pop culture, but he did, after all, voice Clumsy Smurf in multiple Smurfs movies and act in the blockbuster Star Trek and Terminator franchises.
“At the beginning of [filming] Star Trek Beyond, we all went to see Jurassic World (2015), and it was the antithesis of what Anton loved about cinema. I think he wanted to go down the road to the art house and watch Truffaut,” says Pegg. “The fact that we were involved in making a big popular culture movie, not as weighty as some of the films he loved, was interesting. He wasn’t a snob about it. He understood the value of pure entertainment.”
No matter what project he was working on, Anton was always devoted to his craft and contributing his best to the collective creative process. This is perhaps best illustrated by priceless home video footage that Price discovered while delving into the Yelchins’ extensive archive. “The very first piece of footage that I saw when I started digging in was of [Anton] getting drunk for the first time as a teenager for his Alpha Dog role,” says Price. Anton had snuck some of his parents’ liquor and recorded his mental and physical sensations, shot for shot, so he could accurately portray it on camera and do his character justice. “It’s such an incredible piece of footage that says so much about him. He did it for the love of cinema.”