John Hughes started the screenplay for Ferris Bueller's Day Off on February 25th, 1985. On March 3rd, the script was finished (source). Suddenly that eight-to-ten page research paper you have for your English class doesn't sound so bad, does it?
The Art of Binge Writing
With a writers' strike looming, Hughes was under pressure to get a new project down on paper. We'll let Hughes himself tell you how his writing process kicked off:
"I thought, 'Geez, John, you better write something,' and so I got this sentence… out of the ozone: 'I am 17 years old and I know exactly where my life is going.' And then I thought, 'I am 17 years old and I have no idea where my life is going.' And I thought, 'That's it!' I called Ned Tanen (head of Paramount films) and said, 'I want to do this movie about a kid who takes a day off from school and… that's all I know so far." (Source.)
Tanen and Hughes already had a rock solid relationship at Paramount, so Tanen gave him the okay, and Hughes got down to business on Bueller. Hughes typically churned out pages in twenty-hour writing benders, and went in with little or no plan, instead preferring to let his characters surprise him (source). In other words, Hughes was pretty hardcore. We do not recommend this binge-writing regimen for your academic essays, Shmooper.
The Philosopher of Adolescence
"It's not the events that are important," Hughes said of writing screenplays. "It's the characters going through the event." With Ferris, Hughes "wanted to create a character who could handle everyone and everything" (source).
Ferris Bueller was a departure from the "everyman" and "everywoman" heroes that Hughes was known for, like Sixteen Candles' Samantha Baker or The Breakfast Club's Brian Johnson.
Still, Hughes retained the same knack for nailing the way teens talk. During the mid-80s, Hughes wrote a fantastic run of teenage flicks, each grappling with the problems that really plague teens: things like peer pressure, parents, cliques, dating, and identity. Roger Ebert, who knew a thing or two about movies, went so far as to dub Hughes "the philosopher of adolescence" in his review of Ferris Bueller's Day Off (source).
According to Vanity Fair contributor David Kamp, "Hughes wanted the teen pictures to convey a sort of universal truth: that no age group takes itself more seriously than teenagers. 'At that age,' [Hughes] said, 'it feels as good to feel bad as it does to feel good'" (source). Feeling good to feel bad? We're looking at you, Cameron Frye.
Hughes wrote one more teen film, 1987's Some Kind of Wonderful, before putting his pen to more grown-up projects like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, She's Having a Baby, and The Great Outdoors. It wasn't long before he was cranking out hits for the kids again, though. We're talking about actual children this time. The 1990 mega-hit Home Alone? That's a John Hughes joint.
A year later, pockets padded with Home Alone cash, Hughes basically checked out of Los Angeles, moved back to sweet home Chicago, and became a recluse. He stopped directing movies and focused only on screenwriting—specifically kid friendly movies like Flubber and Baby's Day Out. We're not claiming Hughes wasn't proud of these movies, but he did write several of them under a pseudonym.
So what gives? Basically, Hughes was "over" Hollywood and wanted to raise his two sons in the Midwest (source). Now, we know what you're thinking, Shmooper. "You can still write good movies in the Midwest, John Hughes! What's with all of the Beethoven sequels and stuff?"
In a word, he was dunzo. "My heroes were Dylan, John Lennon and Picasso," Hughes famously said, "because they each moved their particular medium forward, and when they got to the point where they were comfortable, they always moved on" (source). It seems that as the '80s ended, so did the Philosopher of Adolescence's urgency to speak for teens.