Pretty in Pink is one of John Hughes’ early hits and, much like his other cinematic creations, it has managed to endure in the pop culture landscape. In this case, for nearly three and a half decades. Directed by Howard Deutch, the movie helped to cement the icon Hughes would become. It also included a stacked cast led by Molly Ringwald full of future stars, including Jon Cryer, James Spader, Andrew McCarthy and the late Harry Dean Stanton, among others.
The movie has also remained popular enough to make the jump to various forms of home media over the years. Case in point, Paramount Pictures has just released a brand new Blu-ray of Pretty in Pink. This latest release was supervised by Howard Deutch personally as part of the studio’s “Paramount Presents” line.
I had the opportunity to speak with Howard Deutch about the movie in honor of the release. We chat about the enduring legacy, what it was like having his debut feature become so successful, his work in TV and more. Enjoy.
We’re here to talk about Pretty In Pink. To start out, this is something that John Hughes wrote, and you directed it. But it still very much feels like one of his movies. How did you go about interpreting his words so that it still felt true to what he had already established up to that point?
Howard Deutch: Very good question because he always said to me, and I was beginning, so I didn’t know anything. He always said to me, “Directing is interpreting and I need you to be my interpreter, and I trust you. So if there is anything that you need to ask me, or if there is anything you don’t feel is clear.” He was very open and available to any kind of thoughts, or anything. The answer to your question is that I felt honored that he trusted me. I also feel that there was a simpatico between us, in terms of the people he wrote. I felt like I understood them emotionally. It wasn’t like a reach for me. I didn’t ever, as I did in other movies, go, “I don’t understand the motivation of this guy.” Or, “I don’t understand what makes him tick.” I just felt like I got it. I got those people, and he felt like I did. So there wasn’t a lot for us to have to talk through about character, which is really what drives his stories. Character. That’s how we started and it pretty much defines our relationship as filmmakers.
I apologize. I’m sure you’ve talked about this a bunch before. John Hughes directed a lot as well, so how is it that this project came to you? Especially because it was very early on in your career that you ended up getting to do this.
Howard Deutch: I had a company with my partners. We made movie trailers. We were working on the Sixteen Candles trailer. I was also directing music videos at the time, and they needed a music video. I did that and he liked it. We also liked each other because neither of us went to film school. We were both from advertising and both from the street. And by the street I mean we weren’t cinephiles. We had similar tastes, and so we got along. He wrote this for Molly and when he saw the music video I had done for Sixteen Candles, Ned Tanen, who ran Paramount Pictures and was a producer on The Breakfast Club, also knew me. I think they decided that he [John Hughes] wouldn’t direct it, but that it would be the first movie that he produced, which was a big deal to him. Just as big as directing, because he had a very entrepreneurial brain. He wanted to build an empire. This was the first movie he was going to produce. It was a big deal, and I was lucky enough for them to trust me to do it.
Aside from being given what I would assume to be a gift, getting to direct a John Hughes script out of the gate, this movie has a killer ensemble. But a lot of the people in this movie weren’t quite as big as they would go on to become. Did you have any sense of what you had at the time and how crazy it was that all of these people were in the same movie together?
Howard Deutch: No. Because, first of all, he hadn’t blown up yet, John, like he did, as you say. Breakfast Club didn’t become as iconic as it did at the time. It was just new. And Sixteen Candles was not that big of a hit. I certainly thought he would, and a lot of people did, but it wasn’t like it is looking back now. Also, Pretty in Pink was a small movie. It was a $7 million budget. Paramount’s attitude was, “We can’t possibly lose money unless it’s really terrible.” It was about a girl who wanted to go to her prom with the cute boy. No one ever saw this coming. All I wanted, and all John wanted, was for it to be a good movie that we were proud of. That was all we were after. In terms of the cast, Molly broke after Pretty in Pink. That really was the icing on the cake for here, between Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Those actors you’re mentioning who blew up, it was afterward. It wasn’t like I was going into it with a big cast.
So what’s it like looking back on that in hindsight? Because, if I’m not mistaken, that was your first feature.
Howard Deutch: Yeah. It’s funny, my Lea [Thompson] is an actress and she was in Back to the Future and [Robert] Zemeckis a couple of years ago had a big dinner to celebrate the 30th anniversary, or whatever it was. And with tears in his eyes he said to his cast, “I’ll never make a better movie than this movie,” and he thanked them all. The reason I mention it is because it was my first movie. Not even a clue to me was that I’ll never make a better movie. So I look back on it gratefully because I was really lucky to get a shot at doing that movie. But remember, it wasn’t like at the time I was getting a script from Shakespeare. John at the time was not as iconic as he became. He was on his way, particularly after Home Alone and Ferris [Bueller’s Day Off], Planes, Trains [and Automobiles] and all of the others. But all he had at the time was Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club. Which, a lot of critics didn’t jump on board with Breakfast Club. It wasn’t beloved at the time.
It’s interesting how narratives change over time. I’m 31 and, for me, when I grew up, those were the John Hughes movies. They’re classics. It’s interesting hearing that perspective. For me, they’ve always been the big movies that they’ve always been.
Howard Deutch: John always said, honestly he said, “We’re going to make our own stars.” He meant it. It wasn’t like, “Oh we can get this big star for this movie!” Because Paramount and the other studios with the other movies we made, they were always pushing big stars and he would be like, “We’re going to make our own.” That whole Brat Pack group was a lot of his doing. So he did make them.
If I may switch gears a tiny bit, about ten years ago you started directing a lot more TV. I find that interesting because that lined up with the time when we started hitting this new golden age of TV. Was that transition for you deliberate? Or was it kind of a happy accident?
Howard Deutch: It’s funny. It was deliberate because I like to work and the movie work was not as plentiful, for anyone. Including me. But also, I had been asked to do television much earlier, and I had an attitude that was a bad attitude about it. Like, “Oh, I do movies. I don’t wanna do [TV]. I look down on it.” I thought it was a step down like a lot of people, who were wrong. So I could have been doing television years earlier, and I regret it because I could have been doing so many great things, and I just didn’t. The answer is yes, it was deliberate.
It’s funny you say that. In doing my research for this, I didn’t realize you directed a couple of episodes of Tales from the Crypt. And you directed one of my favorite episodes of Tales from the Crypt, which was Dead Right. I don’t really have anything else to say about that other than just to let you know I love that episode.
Howard Deutch: Me too. I think it’s one of the best things I ever did. I remember Demi Moore calling it a little gem. It’s just one of those things that really, really came together. I loved it. It still holds up. Every time I think of Jeffrey Tambor doing that dance to the song Heaven [Cheek to Cheek], it was just special. I appreciate that you liked it. I really did too.
I have very fond memories of sneaking onto HBO to check that out back in the day. That episode always stuck out to me.
Howard Deutch: Apropos to your question, that was not considered television. That was Joel Silver saying, I’m going to get only feature directors and we’re going to make these. It’s for HBO, which is not television. We’re gonna do it for them and it’s gonna be like that. So I could convince myself, “Well, it’s not TV so I can do it.” Ironically, of course, like everybody else, all I wanna do is TV now.
Circling back to Pretty in Pink, we’re definitely in a time where everything old is new again. A lot of people would certainly even view talk of this as sacrilege, but do you think a remake of this movie could work? Do you have any thoughts on what something like that might look like? Because I just can’t help but feel that no matter how sacred something seems, inevitably, that’s a conversation that might come up at some point. Some way, somehow.
Howard Deutch: I don’t know about a remake but I do know that I have been talked to about a musical, a Broadway musical. I’ve been considering that. Before John passed away he did say to me, and it was prior to the whole trend of movies becoming Broadway musicals, that we should do Pretty in Pink as a musical. So I always wanted to honor that by doing that, what he suggested. I think it lends itself to that. It’s not like, “Well let’s just turn this movie into a musical!” The thing is a musical, basically. It’s very, very much driven by the music, and by the characters, and by the simplicity of the story. So in that form, yes. But not as a reboot, as a movie. I think that’s always asking for trouble.
I would tend to agree. Writing about movies all of the time you’re always surprised.
Howard Deutch: Yeah, I know. They’ll do anything for a buck.
We’re looking back at something important in pop culture, and you are at the very head of that. You kind of touched on this a bit earlier, but this is your first feature. How do you wrap your head around the idea that your first feature is still being talked about so fondly, and is still such a huge piece of pop culture all these years later?
Howard Deutch: It’s hard to, because it’s odd to me. I cannot, actually. I feel like it was a small, heartfelt story that we did our best to tell the truth of it. It became what it became. The answer is, I don’t know how to wrap my head around it. I’m just grateful that it has endured, and that I was able to make a good movie, given the opportunity from John.
Grab your copy of the Pretty in Pink blu-ray today, from Paramount Pictures.