John Hughes was one of the most influential and prolific filmmakers of the 1980’s and 90’s. In a twenty year period, the American went on to write, produce and direct some of the most successful and iconic films of the period.
Hughes wrote over 30 screenplays and created comedy classics such as National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; Uncle Buck and Home Alone.
Hughes was known for speed writing. He is said to have written Weird Science in just two days. The prolific writer described his writing process in The Making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Essentially he’d lock himself away for hours on end until the story was done.
Below we’ve put together 24 timeless John Hughes quotes on screenwriting and filmmaking to inspire and help fellow filmmakers. If you find this article helpful, then don’t forget to share with others.
John Hughes Screenwriting Lessons
When a book is written, it’s a final product. But, when a script is finished, it’s really just a blueprint.
If I’m on a roll, and I finish a script at 3:00, I’ll start another at 3:02.
When I did Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I had the idea on Monday, and the following Tuesday it was in budget at Paramount. I couldn’t walk.
I happen to go for the simplest, most ordinary things. The extraordinary doesn’t interest me. I’m not interested in psychotics. I’m interested in the person you don’t expect to have a story.
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 really like to do something on gangs, but to do that, I’ve got to spend some time with gang members. I’d feel extremely self-conscious writing about something I don’t know.
I borrow liberally from the past and the present. All this stuff, I’ve been witness to it first-hand or I’ve either gone through it or seen someone else going through it.
My early prose style – this is so embarrassing – was sort of a suburban, Presbyterian knockoff of Woody Allen.
Life is not always funny. Life is not always tragic. And to portray it realistically, it’s gotta have a mix of both.
I think any good comedy has to have a variety of styles. You don’t want to just keep hitting the same notes with jokes. I’d like you to smile. To laugh. I’d like you to chuckle. I’d like you to go grab the seat in front of you and shake it and scream with laughter. I want all of it. A balance of these different kinds of laughs.
The thrust of my work has been ordinary people. It’s keeping it as ordinary as possible. As true to life as possible.
Characters are those people you’d be interested in meeting. I always try to tailor the speech patterns for the character. Not just the words that they say. But how they say them.
Art goes a long way towards getting you through loneliness because you’ve always got your art to fall back on and it builds a certain amount of self-reliance. And I didn’t really much care what other people thought of me because I could go look at my work and say I like that, and I did that, and it was self-recognition.
Those who say you only live once have never read a book.
When writing a screenplay, you’re not done. You haven’t completed the idea. You’ve just taken it a certain distance. Then a director comes in and takes it the rest of the way. It’s very frustrating for me to take an idea halfway and give it to someone else to take the rest of the way. Not to follow the process through. When you’ve completed a screenplay you’ve only really completed part of a total project. I just want to follow the process all the way through.
On Directing the Movie
What a director should be doing is making it appear as though there was no script.
My main intent in directing is getting the performance from the actors to execute the story correctly and clearly. Fill it up with wonderful little performance pieces. I’m not a technical director, I’m not interested in lenses or the other technical aspects.
I stumbled into this business. I didn’t train for it. I yelled, ‘Action!’ on my first two movies before the camera was turned on.
I so desperately hate to end these movies that the first thing I do when I’m done is write another one. Then I don’t feel sad about having to leave and everybody going away. That’s why I tend to work with the same people; I really befriend them.
Hughes on Film and Cinema
At the time I came along, Hollywood’s idea of teen movies meant there had to be a lot of nudity, usually involving boys in pursuit of sex, and pretty gross overall. Either that or a horror movie. And the last thing Hollywood wanted in their teen movies was teenagers!
My heroes were [Bob] Dylan, John Lennon, and Picasso because they each moved their particular medium forward, and when they got to the point where they were comfortable, they always moved on.
I was obsessed with romance. When I was in high school, I saw Doctor Zhivago (1965) every day from the day it opened until the day it left the theater.
Things don’t always go right for me. And you get kind of used to it. And you can either get incredibly depressed about it, or you can laugh at it. Find humor in it.
When you’re in the middle of something it’s very hard to chronicle it, it’s much easier when you’ve been through it. You can look back and the wounds have healed, and things have been put into perspective. The highs aren’t so high anymore and the lows aren’t quite so low.
I had a very particular strategy for the timing of those movies, which I kind of had to educate the studios about. I told them, “I’m gonna grow an audience,” which they didn’t think I could do, but I did it – first of all, I tried to line up the release of each new movie with the video release of the previous one. That way, the first one might not do so well at the box-office, but people would become familiar with it by the time the second came out, and so on. That’s why my movies would come out every six months or so, and if you look, you’ll see that the grosses steadily increased with each one. So I grew an audience, and I tried to be as true to that audience as possible, play to what they like and appreciate.
John Hughes Quotes Final Words
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Looking for more filmmaking quotes from the masters of cinema then check out our film director article section of the website for quotes from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Terrence Malik, Billy Wilder and more.