Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
You might think you know a lot about the 1987 classic ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, but there are so many stories that hadn’t been told before screenwriter David Simkins and stars Keith Coogan and Maia Brewton got together to tell them to the audience at the Egyptian theater in Los Angeles tonight. I, myself, interned at BABYSITTING producer Debra Hill’s production offices in the late nineties and didn’t know two-thirds of these fun facts. Those anecdotes include tidbits about the original draft, names of celebs that weren’t cast and reflections about what makes them cringe a little now.
In director Chris Columbus’ film, a reluctant Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) is tasked to babysit the Anderson kids – Brad (Keith Coogan) and Sara (Maia Brewton). However, a simple night in becomes a wild night out when Chris’ bestie Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) calls, desperately begging Chris to come get her at a downtown bus station. Not only are they forced to take Brad’s pervert pal Daryl Coopersmith (Anthony Rapp) along for the ride into Chicago, hijinks and hilarity ensues when a series of unfortunate (but character building) events befall them.
Screenwriter David Simkins wrote this on spec. At the time, he was working in the industry as a development executive at Roger Corman’s old company – New World Pictures. They passed on his idea, but he felt that someone ultimately would want to buy this story. “The script went from a friend to a friend, to a friend and then to Lynda [Obst] and Debra Hill. I wrote it really fast and knew at that time the script didn’t need to be perfect. It didn’t need to be all that great. It just needed to have an idea that was pretty solid.”
There originally was a heist element. Simkins elucidated, “The first draft was pretty much what you saw after that it turned into this very complicated OCEAN’S ELEVEN heist film. That was the script Lynda and Debra read that their unpaid intern, Stacey Sher – who’s now a big deal – she got it to them and it was pretty quickly when Lynda and Debra said to me, ‘We’re not doing all this crazy heist stuff. That’s way too expensive.’ And that’s when it became a series of adventures.”
The role of babysitter Chris was first pitched to Molly Ringwald. Simkins told the crowd, “Paramount bought the movie – they optioned the script. We were in development for a year. FERRIS BUELLER was kind of the big inspiration for this. So they had Molly Ringwald there. Debra and Lynda took the script to Molly, thinking it was a slam dunk. She said, ‘No. I’m done with this.’ Paramount had a dilemma – they were trying to figure out who in their roster of stars they had deals with that they could put in the babysitter role. For about a week we all seriously considered Bette Midler, which would’ve been a major re-write, and then that fell away, thank God. Then they brought us Cher. Then they put us in turnaround and we were all kind of bereft. I thought my career was over. I looked for another job. Debra, Lynda and Chris, bless their hearts, took it and shopped it all the way down and got to Disney. Jeffrey Katzenberg said, ‘yes,’ and it happened right away.”
Valerie Bertinelli and Phoebe Cates screen tested for babysitter Chris. At sixteen-years-old, Coogan was excited to test with these ladies – one in particular. He stated, “Phoebe Cates was an event horizon for me. During screen tests, I got to go to lunch with her at Sizzler.”
Keith Coogan and Anthony Rapp swapped roles during the audition process. It’s hard to imagine either one of these actors not being assigned to their respective roles as “Brad Anderson” and “Daryl Coopersmith,” but it happened, said Coogan. “We got swapped and that was weird. It was all very comfortable to go back to Brad and Daryl.”
Chris Columbus gave Keith Coogan movies to watch as research. “[He] said I need to watch ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, HORSE FEATHERS and AFTER HOURS. I think those three films distill ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING.”
Director Chris Columbus wanted to make it Chicago to capture the city’s blues scene. Simkins said, “When Chris came on board, one of his many contributions was telling me he wanted this set in Chicago for the Chicago blues scene. None of that music was in the script and that was all Chris’ contribution.”
That iconic blues bar scene wasn’t in the original draft. Simkins explained, “Chris said to me early on, ‘As these kids are running around, escaping from these bad guys, I want them to run into a blues bar and stop to sing a song.’ I was like, ‘Are you nuts?! There’s no way to do that.’ He said, ‘Figure it out.’ Weeks go by and he knocks on my door and he says, ‘How’s that scene goin’?’ I said, ‘Oh it’s…not. Chris, I really don’t want to do it. I don’t understand that scene. I don’t know how it happens – why they’re being forced to sing on stage.’ Chris looked at me and said, ‘It’s a house rule. They don’t leave the stage until they sing the blues.’ I wish I could take credit for that, but that’s Chris.”
There was too much snow outside the Anderson house. Coogan remembered, “They had to get out there and melt the snow every morning and just leave a little bit to match the non-snow we had in Chicago.”
The hot dog scene with Brenda at the bus station was a last-minute addition. Coogan stated, “They had shot out the bus station and on the chop shop set, they built an insert set just for the hot dog scene.” Simkins continued, “Disney was asking for something, more time, or whatever, Chris and I thought it was ridiculous. I wrote this scene we’d never use, which was ‘Slip me the wiener’ and they used it! I was mortified.”
The subway clerk is Producer Debra Hill’s father. Simkins said, ‘The guy who yells out, ‘Someone’s gotta pay for those kids,’ is Debra’s dad.
Elisabeth Shue doubled as an extra at the college party. Simkins spilled the anecdote. “In the Southside Johnny scene, we were there forever getting coverage of all those people and the music. It was the last shot of the night and it was 2 or 3 cameras running. Elisabeth Shue, at the end of the night, she had been wanting to dance all night long. So she ran to the costume trailer, grabbed a black watch cap and a sweatshirt. When you watch the film, they’ve just come in and the camera pans across, you can see Lisa just rockin’ out.”
David Simkins doubled as a University of Chicago student at that party. He played the guy with the glasses who mistakes Chris for the Playboy model. “In the frat scene!”
The Anderson parents’ company party had lots of extras related to the filmmakers. “It was such a family event. Chris Columbus’ parents were in that room. My parents were in that room. Lisa [Elisabeth] Shue’s dad is in that room. Lynda’s mom and dad were there too, I think,” said Simpkins.
Anthony Rapp’s brother plays one of the gang members on the L train. Coogan said, “…very Irish red-haired kid.”
Because of child labor laws, Maia Brewton had a Canadian double. Let’s just say Brewton’s double didn’t bring it exactly the same as her. “A lot of the child labor laws don’t allow kids to work past certain hours. And somehow they had finagled with SAG to let me work until midnight – and that was super cool. I had a Canadian double that would take over at midnight, because they have no rules there.” Coogan later added, “On the Canadian Sara had this very thick Canadian accent. It was hysterical when she would do the lines too. Anytime you see the helmet up in the movie, that’s usually the other Sara…” “The back of the helmet,” Brewton clarified.
An accidental bungle with one of the props led to a narrative breakthrough. Simkins said, “We’re shooting the sequence behind the toy store, running down the alley with that really clumsy line of dialogue. It was late and we were stuck and we need to get out. So, Sara had the hat, the hammer, the backpack, the cape – this girl’s loaded up. We’re done for the night, everyone was all gone, and our script supervisor, Sioux Richards, comes up to me and says, ‘I feel so terrible. She didn’t have the backpack in that scene. She should’ve had it and she didn’t have it.’ Chris and I are thinking this is a big deal and then we thought, ‘Wait! We can use this!’ We never really thought how George Newbern, the boyfriend, showed up at the house unless the skate was in the car with the address on it. Sioux forgetting the backpack is how the skate ended up in the car and how he ended up in the house. It was a fortunate accident.”
The original script didn’t include Thor – it was Dan Rather. Sara’s idol-worshiping apparently went through a few phases. Simkins said, “Originally she had a crush on Dan Rather. In the original script, she was a news junkie. Then we changed it to her having a crush on the Chicago Bears and Jeffrey Katzenberg wisely said, ‘No. In ten minutes, nobody will remember them.’ And then we started landing on comic book characters. We tried to get Spider-man. That was our big push. They said, ‘No, no, no.’ Finally, Marvel came to us and said, ‘We’ve got this Thor guy. Just take him and use him. Do whatever you want with him.’ We got the run of the litter with him.”
David Simkins now regrets that derogatory line about Thor. When we’re introduced to Sara’s fandom over Thor, Brad calls him a “homo” to tease his little sister. Simkins said that now when he watches the movie, “there’s a few things that break my heart. Brad calling Thor a ‘homo.’ That one’s tough for me now – just hurts a little bit.”
ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING screened on September 8 at the Egyptian. It’s available to stream on Netflix Instant, and to buy on Amazon.