Mary Stuart Masterson, Eric Stoltz and Lea Thompson in a promotional picture for Some Kind of Wonderful
Writer and director John Hughes was just starting to make a name for himself with three films he made for Universal (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science) when Ned Tanen lured him to Paramount with a general contract making the filmmaker a filmmaker a mogul. In less than three years, Hughes wrote, produced, and / or directed five films for the studio (Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Some Kind of Miracle, Planes, Trains, and Cars and She's Having a Baby), all of which have Now On Paramount's Blu-ray "John Hughes 5-Movie Collection" reissued with a generous range of additional features, including a great piece in which Kevin Bacon interviews Hughes about Some Kind of Wonderful and She & # 39; s Getting a Baby. These two films are making their Blu-ray debut in a bundle and it is great to rediscover along with the other three better-known films. For me, She & # 39; s Being a Baby Hughes & # 39; remains the best film as a director, witty and wise and self-deprecating, with an impeccably calibrated comedic performance by Kevin Bacon, which takes a higher emotional gear in the deeply moving climax of the picture. Not only was it Hughes' best film, it was also his most autobiographical and self-critical – and sadly, his least commercially successful. His failure led Hughes to focus on broader, less personal comedies like the Home Alone series and a number of anonymous remakes and reboots (Miracle on 34th Street, 101 Dalmatians, Flubber) for the rest of his career. His best work was thus concentrated in a period of only about four years (from 16 candles in 1984 to having a baby in 1988), but in those four years he had the best run of all American writers, producers and directors since Preston Sturges in the 1940s.
For its first production under the Paramount deal, Hughes turned the direction over to Howard Deutch, a first-time feature filmmaker who edited trailers for previous Hughes films such as Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. The result, Pretty in Pink, would become a highlight in both men's filmographies thanks to Deutch's careful attention to visual detail and performance. It's one of those debut films where a director with a lot to prove infuses every frame with passion and artistry, resulting in a film that has all of Hughes' strengths in observational humor and empathy, but also feels more alive and feels more authentic thanks to Deutch's naturalistic and spontaneous approach. Deutch and Hughes 'follow-up collaboration, Some Kind of Wonderful, is equally strong, partly due to the working-class San Pedro environment that separates them from the suburbs of Hughes in Hughes' other 1980s productions. Some Kind of Wonderful is fun, touching and yet another example of Deutch's immense sensitivity when it comes to young artists. As the three members of the love triangle at the center of the film, Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Lea Thompson (who Deutch would later marry) perfectly capture what it is like to be teenagers uncomfortable with their own skin, and Deutch captures perfectly these performances with lens selection and framing that emphasize the loneliness, vulnerability and dizzying excitement of the characters. The effectiveness of the film is all the more remarkable given that the production, which Deutch got on late in the game, is chaotic. On the eve of the new Blu-ray release, I spoke to him on the phone to see how he brought the film together.
Filmmaker: Let's start with the origins of Some Kind of Wonderful. How different was the original script from the film you ended up making?
Howard Deutch: Completely different film. It was a really funny comedy about this guy whose dream is to have the biggest date ever. He's orchestrating a date with the Blue Angels flying overhead in the restaurant they're in and stuff like that, and it really was an outrageous comedy, nothing like what we ended up doing. And I didn't know how to cast it, except for Michael Fox. I thought, "Michael Fox can do this" and called him myself – I was so naive I didn't know you didn't do it that way. Next his lawyer and agents called me and yelled, "Who do you think you are and call him directly?" But it passed and then I didn't know what to do.
I had staged Pretty in Pink, but I was still a beginner. I was on a plane sitting next to Brian De Palma, who I met once but didn't really know well. I told him about what I was doing and that I didn't know how to cast it. He just said, "Well, if you can't work it, you shouldn't do it." I thought, "Well, if Brian De Palma says I shouldn't, I probably shouldn't." So I said to Ned Tanen, the head of Paramount, "I don't think I can occupy it." And the next morning there was a padlock in my office. I was a persona non grata. I was thrown from the studio lot. John wouldn't talk to me. Everyone was mad at me. And I said "what?" I had no idea how much trouble I was in. There was another movie that John had written, Oil and Vinegar, that I wanted to make, and I thought I could just switch to it. But he was really mad at me.
Filmmaker: And Hughes was a notorious resentment holder. How did you return to his good graces?
Deutch: Not easy, that's for sure. They had hired another director for Some Kind of Wonderful and John had tailored the script for that director, which made it more dramatic. One night I got a call from Ned Tanen and he asked me, "Have you ever seen the Truffaut movie day after night?" And I didn't do it. He said, "Go into the video store now and borrow it because it's the story of your life." So I watch day after night and go: “Yes. This is the story of my life. "And Tanen said," Look, John is not having a good time with that other director. If you want to get back in, this is your chance. "I met with John and he let me back in and we were fine. But the train had left the station. They already had locations, they hired a crew, they hired a cast.
John asked me what I wanted to do and I said the most important thing I had to do was rewrite it. So I hired Lea, recruited all other parts except Eric and jumped in. I played catch-up from the start, but that's how it went. Most importantly, when I started, John went back and made the script a little funnier again, if not as much as it was originally.
Filmmaker: How did you deal with the challenge of having so little preparation time?
Deutch: Well the key was the confidence I had in the cast I had chosen and in Jan Kiesser who was a great DP. He did a wonderful job and he and I got on really well. Everyone else, when I didn't fall in love with them, I just made the most of it, even though I was lucky – most of them were great.
Filmmaker: You also had a great cameraman for Pretty in Pink, Tak Fujimoto.
Deutch: I may not be able to express enough praise, thanks, and gratitude to Tak for being my teacher. I almost didn't hire him … I met every cameraman in LA and he came in and didn't say much because he's not that loud. But I always thought of him and asked him to come back and said, “Look, you need to talk. If you don't speak, I can't hire you because I have to speak. I am nervous. This is my first film. “And he said," Well, I don't talk a lot, but I'll do a great job for you. " I said, “Okay, thanks. It will not work. “He wanted to leave, and when he comes to the door to leave, he turns and says,“ I really need this job. ”There was something about that moment, and I fucking did it, I hired him And it was like the movie gods were looking for me because he saved my life not only creatively but politically, he did it in every way a friend and teacher could do, and he is Responsible for Pretty in Pink more than any other person, there is so much of him in this film, from the frugality of visual style to the locations to the humor … a kind of grace and belief that the character is what drives the comedy , this is Tak.
I remember going with him to my first location and he said, “What do you think? How do you like that for the record store? “I said," I don't know. " He said, "Well, that's okay. Think about it like that. How do you feel when you're standing in this room? Emotionally, not technically." Then I began to understand how to make those decisions. I can't tell how important he was to me, and I ended up doing three films with him.
Filmmaker: And he made Ferris Bueller for Hughes, one of the most visually elegant Hughes films.
Deutch: Yeah, as soon as John saw Pretty in pink he said, "I want this guy."
Filmmaker: Back to some kind of wonderful thing. You've been talking about catching up the whole time …
Deutch: I was to the point that I lost confidence in the film in the middle of filming. I was so exhausted and just tried to put my arms around it. I thought, "That girl chauffeuring around these two on a date, will anyone believe that?" I felt like nobody was going to do it. I was starting to lose confidence in myself and in myself so it was an uphill battle all along. I just didn't know it was going to work, and you can't show that to the cast and crew – they'd smell the blood. So I performed; I'm the director, so I have to act like a director. But whenever I had private time, I just broke down. I don't want to exaggerate, but I really felt the film was a trial by fire. Can I get through this and do it the best I can? Remember, I had just gone through a situation on Pretty in Pink where we had to re-shoot the whole ending. So I thought, "Do I have to re-shoot half of this movie and will it work?" I didn't know if I could go through this again.
Filmmaker: How quickly did you realize you were in such trouble?
Deutch: It started with Eric on the first day of shooting. He had long, long hair and you could hardly see his face. My agent Jack Rapke called me and said, “Ned Tanen calls me and says you're punishing him. You can't even see the actor's face.” I said, “Why should I punish Ned Tanen? I love Ned Tanen. "He said," Because he didn't give you enough time or money or whatever. " I said, "I'm not punishing him, I'll have Eric cut his hair." So I cut his hair. And then they called again and said, “Why are you punishing him again? You cut Eric's hair. Now they have to turn over the whole first day. "
It started like this. And Eric was much better and more confident and confident as an actor when he had long hair. After we cut his hair off, I felt like he had no character. I realized this is the guy who played Rocky Dennis in Mask, so he's comfortably hiding – now I've cut all his hair off and he's bare. So I'm getting fucked. And I thought, "Well, I have to find a way to use that. Maybe it's good if the character feels exposed and vulnerable and their skin is on fire all the time." We did it that way, and it worked . I've made many, many takes on this film, probably more than ever – I never gave up until I got what I needed emotionally. Often times, Eric had the choice of playing it self-contained, and I wanted it to feel like the stakes were higher, or the moment, or whatever it was. It was worth it, because in the end people love this achievement. And he was great, but it wasn't like, "Okay, let me see what you're doing well, then we'll move on." It's never been like this.
Filmmaker: One of the things I like about the film is that the love triangle is really exciting – you really don't know who Stoltz will end up with because Lea plays with a lot of what could have been a one-dimensional object of desire, more complexity and honesty than you might have found in a more conventional teen movie of the time.
Deutch: Well, I'll acknowledge the triangle because that was my big concern. I knew no one could know who would end up with whom for the film to work. But I can't appreciate Lea's character. That's all Lea. She honestly brought the whole dimension in and elevated it and made the character all you see. All the behavior made her do it.
Filmmaker: Another thing that sets the film apart is the attitude towards San Pedro, which is very unusual for a John Hughes film – it's one of his only scripts from that period that is not set in the Chicago suburbs.
Deutch: He wanted a more industrial feel so that Eric's character came from a place a little tougher than the suburb of Lake Forest. He and the other director chose San Pedro and when I got on the train I said, "Okay, it's San Pedro." Not "Oh, let's change that."
Filmmaker: I love the opening credit sequence where you introduce all of the characters in a montage showing Mary Stuart Masterson's drums and see Eric playing chicken with the train …
Deutch: We would never manage that today. Without telling me he would, after the first or second shot he walked right in front of this train, like inches away. It's not just a long lens. That could have ended right there. That's the guy he is. He said, "Watch out," and I almost had a heart attack.
Filmmaker: Part of the John Hughes mythology is how quickly he wrote his scripts. But I think it's a bit of a mistake because he kept rewriting them even while he was shooting. What new things did he add to Some Kind of Wonderful when you were on production?
Deutch: It was incredible. First of all, what John called the "kiss that kills" scene was off-script.
Filmmaker: The scene where Eric Stoltz practices kissing with Mary Stuart Masterson who is secretly in love with him? This is the best scene in the movie!
Deutch: I know. There wasn't. John came up to me and said, "I think we need a 'kiss that kills' scene," and he wrote it right there in an hour. He would do this all the time. I was shooting a scene at breakfast with the whole family. Eric comes down after his first date and everyone is looking at him. I shoot and the AD comes up to me and says, "I think we'd better take five. Something just came in for you." I said, "Okay, cut." I go in and there's a whole new scene that John sent in. It took me an hour to look at it and find out, then go back and shoot it for the rest of the day, and it was a better scene than what was there.
It's been happening all along. And he was quick. I remember sleeping in his office once – we had dinner, then I fell asleep in his office around ten while he was out all night writing and smoking chains. One time I woke up around six in the morning and he gave me 50 pages. I thought he was doing a little paraphrase of Some Kind of Wonderful, but he gave me those 50 pages and I looked at the front cover and it said Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I said "what is that?" And he says, "I don't know. I don't know what it's about. But do me a favor, read it. Tell me what you think." He had written the first half of this script in seven or eight hours. Then he finished it a few days later.
Filmmaker: Wow. All three films you directed for Hughes – Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and The Great Outdoors – survived and followed decades later. How were they received then?
Deutch: The critical answer was exactly what it was for his other films. I mean, Sixteen Candles never got the best reviews, and The Breakfast Club wasn't as revered and admired as it is now. Pretty in pink was fine. Some sort of wonderful was called "Pretty in Blue". I remember walking around the airport with John when we were on a press tour for the film. The New York Times came out reading the review. He gave it to me and said, "This is the best rating we've ever got. Appearance." And I read the review of Some Kind of Wonderful. Below was: "Directed by John Hughes." I said, "Oh, oh."
Filmmaker: That's funny. You know, I've always been a little jealous of people like you who had opportunities like Hughes gave you on Pretty in Pink. You need to make a well-endowed studio film that was personal and a crowd favorite from the start. What was your directing experience before?
Deutch: Well, I did theater. I was in a workshop at the Ensemble Studio Theater where you are directing a play. I've played two one-act plays, but not that much. I had done four or five music videos with the likes of Billy Joel and Billy Idol. So no, not much. But I wouldn't be jealous of myself because once you start at this level there is no other place but descent. (laughs)
The universe I came from was the trailer universe in which I worked on trailers like Apocalypse Now for Coppola. Our company worked with Scorsese and Woody Allen, so I got into that level of filmmakers and saw their rough cuts the whole time. It was a very elitist perch that I sat on. Basically, I was spoiled. I didn't know how lucky I was to get a $ 7 million studio film because I was dealing with the likes of Coppola and Scorsese and Warren Beatty and Robert Redford every day – I thought the way they were treated was like all directors was treated! Now I realize how wrong I was and how lucky I was to take such a break.
Jim Hemphill is a filmmaker and film historian and lives in Los Angeles. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.