The Creative Mind of John Hughes


‘Life moves pretty fast – if you don’t stop and look around, you could miss it.’ Ferris Bueller

National Lampoons Vacation
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Sizteen Candles
The Breakfast Club
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Home Alone

John Hughes created some of the most indelible and memorable movies of the last 30 years. He defined an entire genre of films that resonated with teenagers and their parents alike, because they were based on truth and authenticity. Hughes believed in creating strong characters that were anchored by honesty and some serious inner soul searching. It’s the biggest reason why the movies that John Hughes made had such an incredible impact on an entire generation of moviegoers.

There’s a lot we can learn from the John Hughes creative process. He was uncompromising in his method of storytelling, refusing to write movies and projects he did not believe in. He worked fast, but only after research had finely tuned his initial spark of an idea.

Here’s just a few highlights and insight into the creative mind of John Hughes

1. He took a risk.
Much like last weeks Incubator spotlight on Bone cartoonist Jeff Smith, Hughes had a very defining moment when he decided to follow his dream. After tremendous success at a Chicago ad firm, Hughes had an epiphany, He simply did not want to come to the end of his life not knowing if he could have been a writer on his own terms. So Hughes left his job at the ad agency, even with his wife expecting their second child. He made the final decision after a snowstorm kept him homebound for a week with nothing t do but write. It was then he knew he had to give it a go.
2. He set a time frame. For him it was three years. His wife agreed and he set out to follow his dream.
3. He built a bridge. He did freelance work for the National Lampoon, writing one piece called Vacation that went on to spawn several hilarious film movies starring Chevy Chase. So even though he quit his day job he still had the bridge of freelance to help pay the bills.
4. He worked fast, believing that good story telling begins with not censoring yourself along the way, instead refining the piece only after getting to the end. How fast? Two days to finish Sixteen Candles, and eight hours to polish off the last 40 pages of Home Alone.
5. He worked off of what he referred to as “benchmarkmoments”. Those times in life when we find ourselves having to adapt to change. Marraige, Death, Gruduation, the birth of a child. He also believed in upbeat endings which is perhaps one of the reasons we find his movies so appealing.
6. He wrote knowing which audience he was writing to.
7. He wrote what he knew but also believed in writing as a “process of discovery”, Writer Joshua James explains Hughes process best when he says “If it’s going to be any good, you’re going to have to find your way in to a part of yourself that you didn’t know existed, so that reading it, your readers can go to places inside themselves that they didn’t know existed.” James continues “He created characters who had the spark of life and truth which only comes from going deep into those unexplored places — if a writer doesn’t do that, he/she will never create anything but cliches and cardboard cutouts”. Planes, Trains and Autombiles was loosely based on an actual incident in his life. His movies based on his memories as a teenager were actually filmed at his former High School.
8. He kept “idea books” jotting things down, generally from his sponge-like observations of his own experiences as well as the experiences of others.
9. He made movies for himself. If your writing is based on authenticity it will resonate with its intended audience.
10. He believed music was a key component to creative storytelling. If you haven’t seen Breakfast Club in awhile, do so now and you’ll see a perfect example of why.



  1. According to another interview John Hughes gave, he said he already had a deal before he moved out to Los Angeles. He never moved on a whim. He had a few deals in place from being with National Lampoon.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s