Photography by Joshua Mellin and Heather Kaplan. Post-Production Hollywood Magic by Cap Blackard.
Music, Movies & Moods is a regular free-form column in which Matt Melis explores the cracks between where art and daily life meet. With Ferris Bueller’s Day Off turning 30, four friends return to Shermer, Illinois, to re-create the most famous sick day in film history.
Earlier this year, a film series called Is It Still Funny? ran in Chicago. The screenings featured comedy classics like Animal House, Blazing Saddles, and Duck Soup. No matter how old those films grow, I can’t imagine not finding them hilarious. If anything, a series like that tells you more about how you’ve aged than about a particular film. That’s something I’ve discovered as I’ve gotten old enough to have aged alongside the art I love. Certain movies, music, and literature remain fixtures, but my relationship and distance to them changes as the years pass. That’s as it should be, but at times there’s a sadness in not being able to connect to an album or film in the same way that once mattered so very much to me.
The day out depicted in John Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off always prodded my imagination as a teen. A guy, his girl, his best friend, and a dream car speed off on an adventure together, seemingly nothing that can stop them. It’s the type of All-American adventure I envied when younger but never actually embarked on once old enough to do so. When Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman, Film Editor Dominick Suzanne-Mayer, and I sat down to brainstorm a project for this anniversary, we landed on re-creating the trio’s day off rather quickly. Sure, it made sense because we live in Chicago, where the most iconic filming locations are, but part of me suspects they’ve also daydreamed their fair share of rides in that Ferrari. Just a hunch.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron borrow that Ferrari, prank their principal, and twist and shout dozens of times, and it holds up like those comedies I mentioned before. Sure, no teen has ever been such a smooth operator, no parents as blissfully naive, and no principal that hellbent on crushing a child, but after all these years, the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads are still right: Ferris is a righteous dude. But what about me? Finally, at nearly 33 years old, a chance to make Chicago my playground like Abe Froman, that seductress in the cab, and George Peterson before me. Would I get pinched, survive, or just stay at home in bed with nothing good to do? Or, more troubling yet, would I realize this once idealized adventure was one I didn’t really want to go on anymore?
It took one look at my friends Michael (Ferris), Heather Kaplan (Sloane), and Justin Gerber (Cameron) in costume to alleviate that fear. As we toured Chicago, I began hanging back and watching them walk down the street together. It was like seeing those characters I’ve known for two decades step out of the film and into my own city. Even more fun was watching complete strangers approach them wherever we went — Willis Tower, Wrigley Field, the Art Institute of Chicago — each just so excited to see them. Children 20 years younger than the film and adults who saw the movie in theaters when they were my age equally lit up when they saw Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron pass by on our adventure. At one point, we had to delay our production at the Art Institute because so many people wanted not a picture of Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon… but a picture of our Cameron staring at the painting. Still fine art, I think.
Photo by Joshua Mellin
As I’ve grown up watching Ferris, I’ve come to appreciate the film as being about more than simply skipping school. It’s one of the last hurrahs for three dear friends who face uncertain futures and know that their roles in each other’s lives are likely to change very soon. As a teen, the film signified carefree adventure to me. As an adult, I see it as a warm reminder that I only have so many adventures left with my own Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron before our lives inevitably change some day. It’s the reason I still drag myself out of bed whenever Ferris calls. It’s why I spent a Saturday running around Chicago with a clipboard full of shooting locations and scenes to re-create.
To paraphrase a righteous dude: Life moves pretty fast, and I don’t intend on missing it.
Click ahead to experience our entire Ferris Bueller’s Day Off adventure in full!
Casting and Wardrobe
Cast: Michael Roffman as Ferris Bueller, Heather Kaplan as Sloane Peterson, Justin Gerber as Cameron Frye, and Matt Melis humbly as John Hughes.
Great productions are often made or sabotaged during auditions. As a director, it’s my job to know perfect casting when it drops into the backseat of my friend’s dad’s Ferrari. On rare occasions, an actor is born to play a certain role, able to instinctively tap into the essence of the character they’ll be portraying — like Ed Rooney doing Dirty Harry. When that happens, a director need only step back and roll camera. Broderick, Sara, Ruck — absolute no-brainers. Roffman, Kaplan, and Gerber — not so much. I’d like to tell you that Michael Roffman is as naturally smooth as Ferris, Heather Kaplan as wildly untamable as Sloane, and Justin Gerber as emotionally damaged as Cameron, but only the observation about Justin would be true. It took all of my skills as a director to coax remarkable performances from these three, a feat that should not go ignored come awards season.
Day Off on a Budget: Also critical to final casting decisions was the fact that Michael and Heather had dressed as Ferris and Sloane a couple Halloweens ago (both Ferris’ vest and Sloane’s jacket actually made by Heather). Given our tight budget, having two costumes already accounted for largely secured a green light for our project. Justin didn’t own a Gordie Howe jersey, but I’m sure they didn’t ask Olivier to bring his own tights to play Hamlet either.
— 1 Gordie Howe Red Wings jersey x $70 = $70
Running Production Budget: $70
WLS 890 AM (Soundtrack): “Love Missile F1-11” (Extended Version) by Sigue Sigue Sputnik
Odds are you’ve never heard of London’s Sigue Sigue Sputnik. What country do you think this is? Right. Led by former Generation X bassist Tony James, the new wave outfit’s first single brings us into the world of Ferris Bueller with its manic pop sensibilities that oscillate between a happier Suicide and a more frantic Devo. Wouldn’t you know that Giorgio Moroder produced this ditty; listen carefully at the beginning, and you’ll hear a sample from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
You can find this track on Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s 1986 debut, Flaunt It.