Product Placement: An extremely subtle one: John Candy's line asking for an Orange Whip. While also a cocktail,note One ounce rum, one ounce vodka, four ounces orange juice and two ounces cream, shaken and served over ice Orange Whip provided refreshments for the crew, and the costumer, Sue Dugan, was daughter of the director of sales for Orange Whip, Kenny Dugan, who asked the brand be mentioned in the film.
Troubled Production: While it's obvious from all the on-screen mayhem why the movie cost so much to make (they actually dropped the Ford Pinto from a mile up, requiring a special FAA permit), there were a lot of other issues that aren't obvious on screen, as this ''Vanity Fair'' article showed:
Universal won a close bidding war with Paramount for the project, and of course they were overjoyed to have John Belushi, coming off a year when he'd starred in both a top-grossing film and a top-rate TV show and had a number one single. But they didn't have a script. After an experienced writing partner was unable to help him, Aykroyd, who'd never even read a movie screenplay before, much less written one, took his time writing it. He delivered a 324-page monstrosity formatted more like free verse. Landis spent two weeks just cutting it down and converting it to something filmable.
The script was finished but the studio and the creative people hadn't settled on a budget. After the first month of filming in Chicago, where Landis kept Belushi under control and things went well, they finally saw it. "I think we've spent that much already," producer Robert K. Weiss half-joked when he saw that it was $17.5 million.
And then things went to hell. Belushi went everywhere in Chicago when he wasn't on set—and when he did, everybody was slipping him vials and packets of coke. That was in addition to what he could procure, or have procured for, himself, often consumed in his trailer or at the private bar on set he had built for himself, his longtime friends, the cast and any visiting celebrities. Carrie Fisher, who Landis had warned to keep Belushi away from drugs if she could, said almost everyone who had a job there also dealt, and the patrons could (and did) score almost anything there. Dan Aykroyd, who unlike Belushi or Fisher kept his use under control, says there was money in the budget set aside for coke for night shoots.
After Belushi's late nights partying, he'd either be really late for unit calls, tanking almost a whole day's worth of shooting, or only an hour or two late ... but then he'd go back to his trailer and sleep it off. One night, he wandered away from the set to a nearby house, where Aykroyd found him conked out on the couch after he'd raided the owner's fridge. On another, Landis went in to Belushi's trailer and found a gigantic pile of coke on a table inside, which he flushed down the toilet. Belushi attacked him when he came back, Landis knocked him down with a single punch and Belushi collapsed into tears.
Meanwhile, there was Executive Meddling to deal with. Fuming about the skyrocketing cost of the movie, Universal kept trying to get the filmmakers to replace the blues and soul stars like Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway in the case with more contemporary, successful acts like Rose Royce. Landis stuck to his guns, but because he did, some large theater chains refused to book it into theaters in white neighborhoods.
The production returned to Los Angeles for the last month of shooting, already way behind schedule and over budget. Fortunately Belushi calmed down and got it done. But right before shooting the final scene, which required him to do all sorts of onstage acrobatics while performing at the LA Palladium in front of an audience of hundreds of extras, he tried out some kid's skateboard...and fell off and seriously injured his knee. Lewis Wasserman, president and CEO of Music Corporation of America, Universal's then parent company, called the top orthopedist in LA and made him postpone his weekend until he could shoot Belushi up with enough anesthetics to get him through filming
Fortunately the movie was a box-office smash that has since become a Cult Classic.
What Could Have Been: Aykroyd's original script is said to have been phonebook-sized and included special recruitment scenes for each band member. Considering the size of the band, this could have elevated things to unfeasibly epic proportions.
These scenes and many others cut from the original script are in the novelization of the film.
Word of God: The novel, which is based on the original screenplay (which bares only a slight resemblence to the final version), expands on some points, such as what Elwood was doing between Jake getting locked up and the beginning of the film (he worked in a aerosol can factory as a maintenence guy, which is how he got that glue can. In a deleted scene, in fact, he is shown working at the factory on the assembly line, before going to his boss's office to tell him that he's quitting to become a preacher).
The mall chase scene took place at Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois, a shopping mall in the Chicago suburb of Harvey that had already gone out of business in 1979 due to excessively high crime. The filmmakers set up fake storefronts within half of the mall (for instance, the Toys "R" Us seen in the film was actually a Walgreens). After filming finished, the building was left abandoned for thirty years before finally being demolished in 2012.
A number of residents of Harvey tried to sue John Landis for $75,000 for failing to make good on promises of reopening the Dixie Square Mall, which he never made. The suit was thrown out of court.