Matt Austin Sadowski

The 1980′s. The yuppie was in, fast cars and fast women were the norm, working hard was a must, and the only thing more enjoyable than making money was spending it. People bought huge homes but the divorce rate was at its highest. Superficiality ruled. The excesses of the 80′s adult are well documented, but what about the life of the 80′s teenager? Many believe you can’t find their story in history books, but rather in the films of the era: the 80′s teen movie. Nowhere are the lives of the teenagers in the 80′s documented more so than in the films of John Hughes.

More than just a filmmaker, John Hughes was one of the first directors to take teenagers and their problems seriously. His films Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Pretty in Pink focused on the pressures and angst of white middle class adolescence – set against the backdrop of the superficiality of the decade, a time when what you had and who you knew were more important than who you were – as if adolescence wasn’t already difficult enough! John Hughes opened an entirely new genre of film with these four movies. No longer was teenage life to be viewed through comedic portrayals as in movies such as Porky’s (1981) or fantastical wish-fulfilment ala Risky Business (1983). The films of John Hughes introduced the idea that teen life could be serious and trying, that their life wasn’t all fun and games, and the expectations and goals that parents lay out for their children are often difficult to live up to. The teenagers of the 80′s didn’t always have their parents to help them and they had to learn a lot of things about life on their own, but through his movies John Hughes managed to speak to his audience and tell them they’re never really alone.

Whilst John Hughes made his iconic films – Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Pretty in Pink – in the 1980′s, the themes present within them still resonate today. His fanbase continues to grow with each generation who discover his movies, but he has never returned to the genre that made him so popular. His last teen effort was the under-rated Career Opportunities in 1991 and since then he has concentrated on writing kid friendly fare such as the Beethoven and Home Alone franchises. I have often wondered why Hughes never made another teen movie, and how did one man manage to capture such a sociological zeitgeist in an industry that thrives on the lowest common denominator? Much like John Hughes told teens they were not alone in his films, it turns out I am not alone in my quest for answers either…

A group of novice Canadian filmmakers, led by actor/director Matt Austin Sadowski (pictured above, [far left in the pink shirt] with his crew and some local teens), had begun production on a documentary called Don’t You Forget About Me that aimed to answer some burning questions on Hughes’ films and career: How did John Hughes manage to the growing pains of adolescence so perfectly? Why do his films resonate with those that grew up with them, and those that have just found them? Armed with those questions and many more, they began a four year journey that would take them across America, interviewing countless Hughes fans and alumni alike. I managed to track down Matt to ask him about his film and his love for John Hughes’  movies:

John Hughes’ films have touched so many people across so many countries. Why do you think that is?
I think the emotional touchstones of adolescence are universal, no matter where you’re from or how you grew up. Hughes’ understood that and was able to translate that to the screen better than anyone.

In what way did the films of John Hughes speak to you?
I really identified with the Anthony Michael Hall characters. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized he was playing “The Geek.” I just thought he was cool, and that gave me confidence through high school. Also, other than having a crush on Molly Ringwald, I think that in an odd way I enjoyed watching these female driven (Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles) movies because it gave me a better understanding of girls at my school.

You’ve spent so much time on this documentary, how has is it affected your life?
That could be a really long answer. Working with a team for that long, at the beginning of our careers and for very little money, certainly tested us as well our relationships with our significant others. Road trips, the ups and downs of production. That sort of thing. We’re still to see what kind of recourse it will take on our life really. We are all waiting to see what happens to our careers once this gets “out there”. Of course, you hope and pray that it helps to make the next one that much easier and people start knocking on YOUR door. At the end of the day though, it was a tremendous learning experience. One you can’t get in school. That is priceless…and I hope attractive to the next people we work with.

On your blog ( you’ve already mentioned interviewing Ally Sheedy and Mia Sara, but which other Hughes alumni have you interviewed?
[You can] check out our main website for the whole list, [but the list includes] Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Gedde Watanabe, John Kapelos, Illan Mitchell-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Annie Potts, Andrew McCarthy, Mia Sara, Alan Ruck and Howard Deutch.

Who, in your opinion, gave the best interview?
Kevin Smith was hands down a pro. The way he incorporated my question into his answer was seamless. Usually you ask a question and have the interviewee answer with the question at the beginning. “Who, in your opinion, gave the best interview?” “In my opinion, the person who gave the best interview was Kevin Smith.” He didn’t do that. He would dance around it, wind, detour, come back to it, answer it, and then conclude in a way that made me forget which question I asked.

Was there any unexpected interviewees? Or anyone whose responses surprised you?
Judd Nelson. Without hesitation. When he showed up to the interview with his sunglasses on and a bit of a mess, I remember saying to myself “Okay, here we go.” We chatted for a while, shared a smoke, as I set up, and then I told him we were ready to start rolling. He took off his sunglasses and swapped them for his prescription glasses. Snap! Like that, he came alive. Let me say this. Judd Nelson is no Bender. He’s extremely intelligent, articulate, caring, emotional, and he has been so supportive ever since. The nuggets he gave us on camera and off were totally educational, thought provoking and inspirational.

What conclusions have you drawn about John Hughes and his movies?
Well, you’re going hear our conclusion at the end of the film, so I’m reluctant to answer that now. What I will say, is that if you ever met this man, now or when he was making the films, you would never think he was going to be the guy to speak to teenagers like he did. How he did it ? There’s no blueprint or formula. Those who have tried have either screwed it up entirely, or come close but no cigar. He was of a “time”, and amazingly for us, his films don’t feel outdated, so they can continue to be enjoyed today. Maybe no one will ever be a substitute for him. Maybe that’s okay?

When can we expect to see the finished film?
The documentary is finished and we are waiting to officially announce the release date on our website/blog (but it is around the corner). Our blog details our entire journey making the film. When the blog reaches the end of production, that’s when the film will be made available. If you read the blog postings and watch the footage, it will make watching the documentary a much fuller experience. The blog also has a preview of our soundtrack and cutting room floor interview segments. And polls, links and all that other fun stuff, of course.

Do you have a distributor in place, or are you pursuing the independent route for release?
We’ve decided to embrace the “indie revolution” and use the web to our advantage. We’re distributing the film ourselves. We’ve chosen the print-on-demand company we’re going with and the DVD and soundtrack will be available online. Keep checking our website and blog for more information about this. We’ll also be launching some contests around our DVD/CD so keep your eyes peeled for that. Subscribe, subscribe, subscribe. Join our facebook/twitter. Or at least bookmark our site and visit often!

And the all-important quick questions, just for fun:

1) What’s your favourite John Hughes movie?
Sixteen Candles.

2) What’s your favourite song from a John Hughes movie?
Beat City, by the Flowerpot Men from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

3) Who’s your favourite actor/actress from the John Hughes canon?
Molly Ringwald. It’s a real shame she didn’t want to participate in the film…

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