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The Truth About John Hughes and Dede Allen

The Truth About John Hughes and Dede Allen

Frequent TOH contributor Tim Appelo sets the record straight on John Hughes, Dede Allen and Planes, Trains and Automobiles:

I blabbed, Anne blogged. Sipping Cari Beauchamp’s excellent Prosecco, I told her brunch guests that Dede Allen secretly edited the end of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And I’m glad, because Anne made me replay my 1994 John Hughes interview, and otherwise I’d have gone to my grave unaware that I’d misunderstood the gutteral mutterer, thanks to his Watergate tapes-worthy sotto voce and desultory runaway train of thought. Evidently when he said “Del” (John Candy’s character) after talking a lot about his debt to “Dede,” I misheard him (and never double-checked because I never published this bit). And by “we,” he meant not he and Dede but he and Paul Hirsch, editor of PTA, Star Wars, Ferris Bueller, Footloose, and my fave, Blow Out. (Talk about a good scream.)

Hughes meant to say that Dede Allen was his film teacher, and inspired his own most inspired editing feat. “I knew nothing about it when I started,” he said, “and then got to work with the greatest editor of the modern era, who really taught me how to make a movie. If you look at 16 Candles, there’s no closeups, there’s nothing, there’s no coverage. And I went and did Breakfast Club, and I had this genius mentor. Every night at dailies was like film school….Dede Allen, and she, she cut my, my –that changed the way I that I cut pictures…Pictures are made in the editing room.” The editor, said Hughes, is “the single most underrated person in the whole business, second only to the writer.”

When Molly Ringwald cut and dyed her hair mid-Breakfast Club, “I was freaking out about it. Dede Allen said, ‘You know, honey, if they’re watching her hair, you’re dead anyway. So don’t worry about the mismatches, it’s totally irrelevant. You’re tellin’ a story—if you’re telling a story well, it’s compelling, nobody’s gonna notice the mismatches.” Dede was the platonic ideal editor, who “says not, ‘Where do you want to put the cut?’ but ‘What do you wanna do with this character?’”

In the continuity-risking, character-perfecting way Dede Allen taught him – but not with her physically present, as I erroneously, vividly remembered – Hughes invented, he said, a last-minute revision of Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ finale, and told Hirsch how to structure it. (“My heroes are Jerry Greenberg, Alan Heim, Dede Allen, Paul Hirsch – ah, a couple more.”)

Originally, Martin escapes his accidental travel companion Candy, hops a train, goes home to Chicago for Thanksgiving – and finds Candy has followed him home in a cab, a relentless pest. “I realized I don’t like this guy at the end…He just went from being a pain in the ass to a tragic pain in the ass.” Hughes decided to make Candy “a noble person” who catches the hint, lets Martin go back to his family, and goes off to suffer alone – until Martin realizes Candy’s a tragically lonesome noble person, and invites him back for Thanksgiving.

“I was walkin’ across the lot, and was puttin’ the whole thing together in my head, and then I walked in and I said [to Hirsch], ‘Hey, I got the whole thing, here’s how it goes. I’m just gonna say it once ‘cause I’m gonna forget it.’…I believe that any creative effort ought to be spontaneous.” Hughes asked Hirsch to find alternative takes of Candy’s scenes throughout the movie, for nobilifying flashbacks. He also required a shot of Martin reflecting on Candy’s good heart, changing his mind about the guy. But he couldn’t reshoot: it was July, there was no snow to match Chicago, and he was over budget. So he used a shot of Martin in an unscripted moment he’d taken without telling him, just because he liked his expression. “If I’d said, ‘Well, we’re gonna roll off Steve here,’ he’d say, ‘Whoa, whoa, what are we doin’?’”

It was an artistic power play between Hughes, the poet of lonely yearning, and Martin, a man so remote that his old boss Tom Smothers told me, “Spending time with him is like being alone.” Hughes regarded Candy as his “simpatico” soul bro, closer than any other actor (he wrote 25 uncompleted or unfilmed screenplays for him). Martin was emotionally elusive. I’ve spent days on set watching Martin shoot scenes, and he’s improvisationally inventive and flexible, but always in control, an unknowable precisionist actor (who collects Precisionist paintings). Hughes said, “You say, ‘Gee, Steve, why don’t you do this, why don’t you’—he does what he wants to do, you know?” What Hughes wanted was to catch Martin off guard, when he thought he was alone, in a revealing emotional moment under Hughes’ artistic control. “I just turned the camera on, I didn’t know if it was gonna be in focus or if it was lit.” Martin was between scenes, preparing for the next, which he had to nail perfectly in the next few minutes, because they could only film on the train for one mile. “Steve had a really beautiful expression on his face, ‘cause what he was doing was trying to learn his lines, he was thinkin’ about his lines.”

Hughes had no plan to use the shot, but at the last minute it turned out to be the ideal fragment to convey the character’s change of heart and fix the ending — “This deep, this look that in context looked like he was troubled.” It was hard to match with the Chicago footage, since it was shot in Pasadena. Instead of fretting about continuity, he “just never went to the masters, played it tight the whole way, and it worked. But that was a complete change, a total change.”

“What a director should be doing,” said Hughes, “is making it appear as though there was no script.”

I never confirmed any of this with Hirsch, Martin, Candy, or Allen. But Hughes wanted Hollywood to know that he was a Dede Allen disciple and a Dede-esque editing auteur in his own right.

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