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One of the things that instantly sprang to mind this past week when the first ever pictures of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick with their new brood hit the public hungry for celebrity photos wasn’t that here was a gorgeous family. No, my first reaction was, “When did Ferris Bueller start sporting mutton chops and a swooping, graying bob of a haircut that makes him look like an extra in a stage production of The Pirates of Penzance?”
I am fully indoctrinated into the lasting effects of John Hughes’ films.
One of the things that I’ve been working on for the past almost 2 and a half years is chasing down a story about a gaggle of filmmakers who went out to find out whether John Hughes still strikes a chord with today’s youth, decades after he made the core of his adolescent oeuvre, and to opine with some of the film’s stars about the process of working with the man who would be permanently a part of many teens who are now grown adults.
What is striking about this is what while it’s taken such a long, long, long time to finally have a story to write about for you all to read about is that this couldn’t have been a more appropriately fitting story to share with an audience who has come this way via Kevin Smith, not only an appreciator of Hughes’ work but who makes an appearance in this documentary, DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. The four filmmakers who put themselves at the center of this film, Matt Austin, Michael Facciolo, Kari Hollend and Lenny Panzer, go out on a road trip to put together the legacy of what made Hughes so influential to them, to those who have seen his films, and to make their way to his front door. Literally.
This is merely the beginning of a multi-part interview series with the film’s creative nerve center and to hopefully get all of you interested enough to pick up next month’s 80’s themed issue of GEEK MONTHLY magazine where I have written a full piece on this. As well, if you want some behind the scenes/on the cutting room floor snippets of the documentary please feel free to patronize these filmmakers’ blog right here. They are planning release this as a movie you’ll be able to directly buy but until that happens please enjoy the conversation below.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Where to begin? It’s probably best to start where you and everyone else came together to want to do this.
KARI HOLLEND: Matt and Lenny were the ones who came up with the idea this was their brain child. The two of them were working on writing a script together and they were trying to write a good coming of age teenage story and they started talking and obviously when you are going down that road John Hughes comes to mind and it sort of provoked the question – “What ever happened to the guy?”
What ever happened to films like those and it became the bigger question and once they started talking about it they realized like there is no way we could ever write a script close to John Hughes – here’s an idea – why don’t we go figure out where the guy is. So I get a call from Matt who already had Michael and Lenny - at that time they were all actors as well. I am the only outcast who doesn’t act, or you could say sane person, and I get this call from Matt who I met once or twice and he’s like, “Kari, I have to come visit you at your office. I have this idea but need to pitch it to you in person.” So he came by but the original pitch of the documentary in the end is ironic – they had proposed that the four of us get on a bus – they wanted me to get on board and be a producer with them and then we get on a bus for two weeks and we travel across to Lake Forest, which is where John Hughes lives and we go to deliver a script to John Hughes and along the way we find out if anyone knows who he is, does anyone remember his films fondly, where do they fit in the world today? So I was kind of like, “You know what? I don’t really know you guys that well. I’m not getting on a fucking bus for two weeks to live on a school bus and I don’t really see that thing entertaining. I do like the idea of the John Hughes idea. Why don’t we work from there and formulate it?” We sort of left it at that and thought of who we could interview. Three days later we had Ally. She was our first yes and we are forever grateful.
CS: That’s wild.
HOLLEND: It was so fucked up. We were like, “OK, this is crazy.” I will just throw things out there and see what happens. I said, “Why don’t we see if anyone will even talk to us?” So, this was February of ‘06 by the way. Then Matt emails me and says there is this John Hughes film festival at the University of Maryland in March. We should go check it out. So we thought it was really crazy that these university kids are having this film festival because that means they are aware and here becomes the beginning, the evolution of what our original thesis is and part of it today which is do people today relate to the Hughes films and do they relate to films of that genre today. So sure enough, we drive to Maryland – our first road trip of many – and that was really a big bonding experience for us. We didn’t really know each other that well. So we get in the car in March and in Toronto it’s still really snowy and kind of gross and Spring is looming and it’s around the corner and we drive to Maryland and it’s all beautiful and blossomed and warm and we get to the picturesque American town and University actually the town wasn’t so picturesque it was kind of ghetto but the University was beautiful and sure enough, we started talking to all these teenagers who started to unload on us about how they don’t make films like this any more, what’s wrong with Hollywood, we hate all the films today, we can’t relate to anyone. I believe one of the first quotes we got was “I relate to Molly Ringwald more than Jessica Alba – I just don’t look like that.”
I’ve seen those films 100’s of times and they talked about where they saw them and it was either a hand down from their parents or TV. It was just a part of their world. You almost didn’t meet one person on that campus in their early 20’s who hadn’t seen some or all of the Hughes films. So, then it was like, “OK, we’re on to something, let’s do this documentary.” That March road trip was the kickoff.
And even though the University was behind this film festival it was students who were running it and I think it showed us the voice is coming from the kids. It wasn’t the teachers saying let’s do this film festival for John – it was the kids, the students, saying this was important.
And just to give you some insight none of us had ever done a documentary before. In the name of Kevin Smith, we said fuck it, he says to credit card it, let’s just keep going and rack up enough debt until we run out of money, someone will give us money. So at this point we had no funding. We were just like GO. We didn’t even have preproduction. We went from pitch to production. So you can imagine now as more experienced filmmakers we realize the importance of development and preproduction are so imperative and we basically did everything ass backwards. And it has made for a very entertaining line. So here we are again without a penny to our names, we all have our credit cards and what is in our bank accounts and we start to proceed and so begins the huge list, everyone we tried to contact and how we got all the interviews and what it took to get them.
MICHAEL FACCIOLO: And you know, following up on what she’s saying one of the things that after she said yes it kind of became a real snowball effect.
CS: How did you find that getting answers to how these unknowns became known actors?
HOLLEND: We got to interview Jackie Burch who was the casting director for 16 Candles and Breakfast Club.
She mentioned how the Jake Ryan character almost wasn’t cast – all these stories about how she found these kids and Judd Nelson’s character Bender – wore the clothes he was wearing to the audition. The clothes that he wore in the Breakfast Club – his character - was a direct reflection of who he was during the audition. He wasn’t a known actor yet and Jackie was one of our first yes’s and she gave us this incredible interview. Everyone who came on board was very generious two of the biggest ones, Louise Ward and Pam Silverstien. They both came on board early on and helped to shepherd us as did Jackie. They put out their feelers and were really supporting us. My first call to Louise – she’s this amazing woman, very intelligent, and has the craziest vocabularies she asked me, “So, who else do you have?” And at that point I think I only had Ally and someone else and she was like, “Oh honey. You need some help – you can’t go calling people and tell them that you have one person. Don’t you have John Hughes?”
That is when she took pity on us and decided to shepard us.
CS: When you first started rolling tape and you don’t have a real thesis in mind other than to find out the cultural impact of John Hughes, what were you finding in your dailies and going back finding out what people were saying, were there any surprises when you started to take a look at the footage?
FACCIOLO: When we looked back at the footage? Like what was the feeling of the responses we were getting while it was happening?
CS: Right. Anything your were assuming going in that maybe you weren’t …
HOLLEND: We started to ask, “Where did you go, John Hughes, in the middle of Hollywood?” People are not happy. Not just the people working in the system but people who are going to see films and paying $20.00 plus for the experience and coming out really unfulfilled. We went back to the drawing board…how a film gets made – we almost had too much to talk about. For example, we met with a guy and this is already a year and a half into it who does market research for the studios and talked about the process now vs. then. “You could never make Breakfast Club now in a studio,” he said, “One location. All dialogue. It’s like, where’s the sex, drugs, everything, you know?” So, really the idea of how Hollywood changed became a focus point. We didn’t have any studio executives as it was difficult to get them on camera and then halfway though we finally got some to sit down with us to talk about how the system has changed. , I don’t think that’s coming back into the documentary because that veers into a whole other film we will show some of the footage on our blog.
We started to realize that what was going to make our film better was to let things be assumed and not hit them over the head. So by hearing teenagers say “I’m not happy” and hearing the actors talk about what it took to make the films back then one would assume you could put A plus B equals C because in those messages it says, “We’re not happy.” You got your audience and the industry saying things have changed.
But we don’t want to beat them over the head with it in the film. You either pick it up or you don’t.
CS: So what was the genesis of tracking down John Hughes?
FACCIOLO: Basically, after we interviewed all sorts of people, it became pretty clear that the one thing we were missing…there is a little bit of sub story to this…Kari and I went over to David Anderlie’s house in Los Angeles, who was the music supervisor for Hughes, and he was the head of A&M Records at the time and was responsible, along with Hughes, for making popular a lot of those bands in the 80’s….
HOLLEND: Simple Minds
FACCIOLO: Simple Minds, Echo and The Bunnymen, all those guys, and he happens to be neighbors with Judd Nelson. I mean, next door neighbors.
HOLLEND: Literally next door. Like, “Hey, buddy, here’s your mail in the morning. How’s it going Judd?”
FACCIOLO: So Judd did an interview with us for the film, and Kari and I were like, “There’s Judd Nelson sitting in the yard.” And if you were want to know about his yard, he’s got gargoyles and Barbie with her head cut off handing from his front door as a chime.
HOLLEND: He’s a dark guy.
FACCIOLO: So anyway we convinced him to come down to our edit suite and we would screen the film for him. So he sat there and watched the film. He didn’t say a word really. He sat there pretty quiet through the whole thing. This was one of the earlier cuts in the film.
But this was before our road trip idea. So at the end of it, he sat there for quite a while and after about 10 minutes he changed. And the first thing out of his mouth was, “I want to hear about you guys. I want to hear about these people that were passionate enough and felt it important enough to find answers to these questions.” And on Kari’s, we’ll call it her 29th birthday, it became clear that what we needed to do was go find John Hughes himself.
HOLLEND: It was my 31st birthday.
FACCIOLO: So that was the genesis for the road trip. Us understanding that we had to go and find the man himself.
HOLLEND: It was important to us….we kind of came at this road trip from a few different perspectives. One being that that was the original idea. I said no to two weeks on a bus with these guys and it ended up being Deal / No Deal and I always refer to that because I chose the wrong suitcase. I said no to two weeks so I sign up for three fucking years on the road without ever realizing what I’m getting into. So we said we’re going to pack ourselves into a van and come at this with a bit of an apology. We’re coming at this from a place, it’s been three and a half years, we were four inexperienced filmmakers, we’ve done everything wrong and right at the same time and the one thing after 21 cuts of our film, 80 hours of footage, make blood, sweat and tears literally, 3 of us got married over the course of this film, one of us, two of the guys – their wives are about to have babies, our executive producer producer had twins – so many things have happened with our personal lives, so many things have happened. But this film is us coming to the audience and saying here we are 3 and a half years later. But this film is us coming to the audience and saying here we are two and a half years later, x amount of money in the hole, in debt – we feel like the thing left to do now because one of the questions that came out through the documentary is, “Did you get to Hughes and did you try?” And we felt like now is our time. Now is the time to get on the road and do this and to tell you where we’re coming from because we did make a lot of mistakes doing this and we’re coming to you almost naked saying, “Here’s our story, here’s how it happened, why it happened and we think without our story intertwined in this it doesn’t have as much potency, it doesn’t have as much heart.” And this road trip really shows the heart of the film in two days, which is ironic again because all of Hughes’s films take place over: a) a journey and b) a very short time. Breakfast Club, an afternoon, 16 Candles, the birthday, Weird Science, a weekend when the parents went out of town, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. So this is our little version of our Hughes experience.
CS: But, it wasn’t planned like that.
HOLLEND: No, it wasn’t planned like that. We realized it after and over the course of this weekend of us driving in a van and searching through Lake Forest to find him and all the discoveries that happened, again, tensions are high. It’s been two and a half years, we all have very different personalities, which certainly come out and we all have conflicting ideas and a lot of this came out on camera. This road trip was a linchpin – a beginning, middle and end. We start at the end and sort of preface what is about to be shown which is the conversation that happens in all the interviews and then you sort of follow us and wonder – do they get him? Do they get to Hughes? That’s the question of the whole film.
CS: That aside, about whether or not you talk to him and whether or not you had any conversation with him, what were some of the thoughts and reflections on some of the people you talked to as to why he made all these really rock solid films and then just pulled a J.D. Salinger?
FACCIOLO: It came out he was always an outcast. I don’t think ever really cared to be a part of that Hollywood scene and don’t think he enjoyed it much. He directed to protect the material. He’s a writer. He’s always been a writer. As Kevin Smith said, F.U. guys. “You’re lucky if your filmmaker gives you one good film.” It’s like “I gave you 5 good teen films” how much more do you expect him to give? You’re selfish if you do ask for more, that sort of thing. Going back to the JD Salinger thing, it’s funny – it comes up a lot. Him being a recluse.
But then all of a sudden we drive into this town where he lives in, which is this beautiful Norman Rockwell type town. He lives in this absolutely beautiful house. He’s happily married to his high school sweetheart. He’s a family man now and is certainly not a recluse within his own home. We met his mailman, we met his pizza man. He’s living his life which is one of the conclusions I got that is directly related to his last teen film that he directed, and in my opinion, this quote that I will say gives his most adult advice without the actors saying it or showing it – life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around you are going to miss it.
He was just taking his own advice.
HOLLEND: As a teenager and adolescent you can never have the foresight to understand what that really means. You only understand that as you get older. And for the most part we all get greedy. We want more and more and more. And he’s sort of saying, you know what? My pockets are pretty full right now. I have this incredible life. He’s got quite a lot of money in the bank. Maybe he’s just not hungry anymore. Like Andrew McCarthy, he took his bat and ball and went home. He’s living a wonderful, beautiful life. So, to me, he’s not a recluse. He’s just living off the fruits of his labor and basically hanging it up when it’s time to retire and enjoying retirement.
FACCIOLO: Do you want to hear my theory?
FACCIOLO: He’s coming back.
Just like Edmond Dantes, from the Count of Monte Cristo, and he’s been quoted as saying he’s going to have the last laugh. And I don’t know… Are you familiar with the story of the Count of Monte Cristo?
CS: He eventually comes back and…..
FACCIOLO: Yeah, he takes revenge on people who have harmed him. So, if you ask me, John Hughes’s story is the story of Edmond Dantes.
HOLLEND: I wouldn’t agree with that necessarily and I think it’s a little convoluted. I think he’ll come back. I don’t think he’s as bitter as people think. Michael says he writes as Edmond Dantes which is not really true. He uses that as an alias. But all the things that have been rewritten with his name, those are stories he wrote 20 years ago. The only thing they gave the writers for Drillbit Taylor was the pitch. High school nerds hire a bodyguard to help protect them from a bully. They never got to see the original treatment, which is John’s. He just got the story idea. The majority of stuff you see with his name on it, other than Edmond Dantes, are things he wrote years ago – taking things out of the vault. So he hasn’t really written anything new in years. It’s all old stuff of his from the vault.
CS: Why does his last few movies feel so different, in your own opinions? Why does his last couple efforts didn’t have the same kind of feel, the same kind of resonance as his other films?
HOLLEND: In my opinion, he was hired to do a job. The other ones came from him. I think it’s fair to say the ones that came from his heart and his mind were the ones that had the most pull. The other ones that he started just working for a studio – make us more money, make us more money here’s the idea – Go – I think that’s when, and there’s a great interview, that he starts to become disingenuous. That’s when it starts to fall apart because those weren’t his ideas. I think he writes very much from experience and from his own personal thoughts and his heart. Asking him to write something he’s not connected to, I think you get a combination of a big blockbuster hit that appeals to the masses but doesn’t really resonate with anyone.
FACCIOLO: If I had a hundred million dollars in my bank account and I never had to work again – I don’t know how that would affect me as an artist but I think it would affect me someway.
CS: Talk to me about the interviews. You probably got from students how important he was – his films are obviously different than the teen films we get today – which are really not very good – whether that’s us waxing nostalgia or whether that’s the absolute truth – what were you finding from the actors, the players, what are some interesting tales of how John Hughes orchestrated his film sets?
HOLLEND: I think one of the most interesting things was how he treated them. He was really a collaborator. He was very open. He would talk to them on their level rather than pandering down to them which was very apparent because it comes across on screen. He’s not talking down to his audience. He would let these kids, because they were essentially kids at the time, be very much a part of the process and contribute to their characters.
FACCIOLO: And you know, he was a writer. Before he was a director I think his true talent was in writing, and as director Howard Deutch said, he directed to protect the writing a lot of the time.
HOLLEND: I think what we found was they appreciated his willingness to let them go where they needed to go. And the other thing, every single person talked about music. Judd Nelson said the thing was, “he was getting it from somewhere.” He knew what we were listening to before we were listening to it.” He was just amazing at getting inside the minds of these teenagers at the age of 35. I remember, Ally talked about how at one point on the Breakfast Club he would go up to each one of them and say, “You are playing me.” Each one of them were playing a character that he played or that he was in high school. I just think he was open and collaborative.
He wasn’t afraid to say I don’t know.
Judd Nelson said that. All of a sudden, overnight – I’m paraphrasing what Judd Nelson said – overnight somebody in this day and age becomes a director and all of a sudden that means they know everything there is to know about editing, everything there is to know about sound, they know everything there is to know about color-correction, which is isn’t the case. And I think John was very open and surrounded himself with the right people and saying, “I don’t know, what do you think?” That’s an important lesson and I think that’s something that now with everyone being a filmmaker, with You Tube and the digital age, everyone thinks they knows what it takes and I think one of the biggest things, as an artist or filmmaker, is being able to say, I don’t know.
FACCIOLO: You know it’s funny, if you watch The Breakfast Club you see so many similarities between David Lee’s films – obviously completely different right? But, David Lee is known for taking his actors and giving them a year’s worth of preparation on their character. So while we met and talked to these actors who took part in his films, they understood those characters in such a deep, intrinsic level that it was easy to go off the dialogue and it was easy to create really good stuff because they were so into the character and so into the process and I think, like Kari was saying, I think he instilled a little bit of himself into each of those characters.
And Howard Deutch talked about he’s almost a freak in his genius. Howie Deutch directed Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink and one night he said, again, paraphrasing, he was on John’s couch and they were in production supposed to be doing some rewrites for Some Kind of Wonderful and 5 hours later John comes up with 50 pages and he hands it to Howie and he said “What are you doing man? I thought you were supposed to be doing some rewrites?” and he said, “I was but read this.” And it ended up being the first 50 pages of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, that he wrote in a matter of hours.
CS: How was John Hughes able to make his films feel so intimate?
HOLLEND: I think there was a combination of things and this is where it helps to talk to people like Jackie Burch for starters, regarding casting. She cast real teenagers. They were really people you would see in high school. Look at Anthony Michael Hall – he looked like a 16 year old boy. Today, they don’t. And all these glamorous lives and cars and toys that everyone has in films today – it’s not like that everywhere. He hit it on the head and made it available not just for the rich and famous living in LA and New York. He lived in the middle of nowhere. He’s got the weird aunts, got the grandparents feeling you out during puberty. He painted all these details It’s what everyone relates to. With broad strokes, everyone can laugh and it’s funny. It’s the heart of the matter that makes you say, “I could be that person or I understand what that person is going through.” And, by making these films in Chicago, in Northbrook or Shermer, or some fictitious place we’ve been to three times, he really painted a picture of what so many people lives are actually like.
FACCIOLO: And I think if you go back to his hometown and you spend just 20 minutes in that town, you just know, you understand where these characters came from. They are real people. John Hughes didn’t grow up in a wealthy neighborhood. He grew up on the outskirts of a wealthy suburb of Chicago, which he now lives in.
HOLLEND: It’s a combination – the setting, the costumes, the characters, the writing, the directing.
FACCIOLO: I think the writing was the biggest thing. He was able to speak the language that people understood.
People at the time didn’t – Mia Sara during her interview said, “I had no idea, I had no idea at the time that this was going to be such an anthem-like film.” None of them realized at the time that these films would carry them throughout their entire lives. One of them said “Yeah, I had an idea that it would be big as it was” but they had no clue.
HOLLEND: And they still get fan mail today. Andrew McCarthy had a great quote, “It was our objective in that day as an actor, to just be a good actor and to get a job. The focus was not on wearing the most designer outfits. One weekend I’m auditioning for Weekend at Bernies, the next I’m auditioning for Pretty in Pink. It was about doing a good job.” It wasn’t about – their agenda wasn’t about becoming famous.
CS: Why do you think he took so many chances with unknowns? Looking back on it, the casting was brilliant.
HOLLEND: I think everyone at some point is an unknown. If you keep going back to the well, these people become so known that it actually hurts them because they are not able to play a role. Without knowing these people, you love them as the characters they are playing. And I certainly think they took the time to cast and find the people that were going to play the parts well but you bought them as these characters. Some of this is our fault because they almost got pigeon holed.
CS: What do you they think? What do they…..let me try to wrap my mouth around the question. When you got these actors to talk about it, a lot of the actors I talk to when they have features coming out in a week, two weeks, three weeks, all talk about that it was just a job, a good experience. But now these guys you talked to, they’ve had the benefit of pop culture catching up with them and seeing how much an impact they do, what do they feel? The ones that got out of acting all together, how do they view these films in regards to their own life paths – do they look at it as just a job or do they look at it as something more?
HOLLEND: They look at it as something more. I think they were all: a) nostalgic and b) sad and almost set them up for disaster because they never got those experiences again. In each film you have an experience – a bonding experience. Each film is unique to its own. A lot of them were saying, “We’d love to work with him again. Come back.” One of Judd’s last sentences was, “Let’s do it again.” When someone says it’s just a job I find that interesting. Did you not read the script at all? What made you want to do it? And I think a lot of them found that in years to come, that was some of the best writing they ever got to speak.
When you start off that good, it’s hard to find that again. I think they would love to get back to that place in the film world, where they can erase some of the past, and do some good work. Be really inspired by a script.
I know Mia talks about she went to this art school from Ferris Bueller and John really recreated a high school environment so I think part of what was captured was him again, creating this real world that they were playing from. It wasn’t just a set. There was this real life high school happening while they were shooting it. It’s the chemistry. She was a 17 year old girl, so she was so awkward and uncomfortable it translates.
FACCIOLO: Like Roger Ebert said, he put them up in a motel outside of O’Hare and got all the kids out of Hollywood – there was no flying them in and out of Hollywood and you’re on the set for three months, you’re secluded and you’re bonding with thee people as your friends, as your high school peers and you’re going to deal with it because that’s what you are dealing with in character so that’s what you are going to deal with in front of the camera.
Mia has a quote that he would take Alan and Matthew down to the record store and buy thousands of records – just listen to all this different music. His wall, Ferris’s room is covered in posters with all the British rock bands they never knew of. He really went into the psyche and gave these guys all this extra material to work with.
FACCIOLO: Like we had a little scene in our film where after the interviews we would ask them to give a message to John Hughes. And Mia said she was very sorry and was very apologetic for the way she behaved on that film. She was Sloan but as time went by I think she reflected on that and she’s obviously changed and you know, she was 17 or 18 years old when she did that film. But now she has the perspective to look back.
Special thanks to Emma McIntyre for some photo assistance
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