The Best Behind The Scenes Stories Of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
June 20, 2022
The incomparable writer/director John Hughes owned the ‘80s. His 1986 “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” continues to charm generations long after its heyday. Incredibly, the quintessential ‘80s flick started with a simple one-sentence pitch from the iconic director to Paramount, "I want to do this movie about a kid who takes a day off from school and ... that's all I know so far."
Thanks to his impressive collection of Hollywood hits, that’s all Hughes needed to get the greenlight in what would become one of the greatest high school movies ever made. Here are the highlights of what made “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” such a classic.
Hughes’ proven record of success always came back to familiar territory, Chicago. "It was my city, and I really wanted to show it at its best. I think it's wise for people to concern themselves with the things they know about. I don't consider myself qualified to do a movie about international intrigue - I seldom leave the country. I'd feel extremely self-conscious writing about something I don't know."
A prime example of such familiarity comes in the scene where Bueller and Co. get high and go to the Art Institute of Chicago. As the director admitted, filming there was “Self-indulgent. I went there quite a bit. I loved it. I knew all the paintings. I knew the building, and this was a chance for me to go back into this building and show the paintings that were my favorite." Hughes’ commitment to realism also didn’t stop at the setting.
Depth Of Characters
To flesh out the little details of his title character, Hughes continued to draw upon his own life for the decor of Ferris’ room. "I thought that his room should really reflect his mind. It should be filled with lots of interesting, unrelated stuff. It kinda looks like my room in high school. I had every square inch of my room covered with pop music record sleeves and photographs cut out of English pop magazines."
Apparently, even much of the co-star Cameron’s personality, played by Alan Ruck, came from a childhood friend of the director, who he called a "lost person". "When he was sick, he actually felt good because it was difficult and tiring to have to invent diseases. When he actually had something real, he was relaxed."
Undoubtedly, a major reason for the success of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” remains due to the chemistry of the cast. Besides “Sloan Peterson,” played by Mia Sara, being way out of Ferris’ league, the trio emanates the good vibes of true friends. That’s because in real life Matthew Broderick and Ruck were actually friends and even shared a trailer since Ruck’s was embarrassingly small compared to his co-stars.
The only aspect of that casting that feels slightly off is their ages. At the time of filming Ruck was 29 and Boderick was 24. Only Sara, at age 18, was age-appropriate. However, according to Hughes that was by design. "I wanted to use real high school kids and put the main principal cast — who are all in their 20s — in this world of real kids so that there would be a greater contrast." It worked as Ferris, Cameron, Sloane, and even Ferris’ sister all feel like the Beatles compared to their high school counterparts.
Other directors would have eschewed small touches that added a true sense of realism. For instance, the production team spent an obscene amount of time training a squirrel to run across a phone line while Ferris draws the blinds. As Hughes said on the DVD commentary, "Everyone always thought it was a fake squirrel, but it was actually a real squirrel. He was just catatonic. The first one ran away, just left. He's probably still in that stage. The second one had stage fright and just clung to the wire.”
The director wasn’t the only one getting in on the realistic act. Famously, Charlie Sheen stayed awake for two days straight to develop the sleepless, burnt-out look in the police station, “drugs?” Perhaps that sense of verisimilitude led to one of the three Ferrari 250GT California Spyder replicas (!!) being sold for $235,000 or the fictional parents of Ferris actually getting married in real life!