The production needed a home town for the picture, and writer-producers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais kept an open mind about choosing the best location for shooting. They spent several weeks and hundreds of hours flying to various cities to see what each had to offer. In the end, they opted for the metropolitan site that had always been their first choice: Chicago in Illinois, USA.
The picture had the rare distinction of being one of the few motion pictures in which the same film crew shot in three different American states on the same day. That occurred when the company boarded an Amtrak train in downtown Chicago. They began shooting interior scenes as the train moved through rural Illinois; continued as the train proceeded to Michigan city, Indiana, and then finally they called it a wrap as the train approached Niles, Michigan.
Production began on 2nd March 1987 and 95% of the film was shot in the Windy City [Chicago, Illinois]. Director Brian Gilbert literally blanketed the metropolis with his cameras. For example, the department store in the story, Vigar and Avery, was actually a combination of four different stores. The exterior was filmed outside of Marshall Fields on State Street. The downstairs level was shot inside of Marshall Field's Water Tower store, the executive offices were filmed in the former corporate headquarters of Montgomery Ward, and the other levels of the department store were the Park Lane Shopping center in suburban Oak Park.
Significant Chicago landmarks and locations that appeared in the movie included the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Science and Industry, the city's famed "EL" rapid transit system, Percy Julian Junior High School in Oak Park, the Niles Sports Center, and the Riviera Nightclub.
Judge Reinhold, whose first name is a nickname bestowed on him when he was a kid by his attorney-father, was able to judge the character of Marshall Seymour in Vice Versa (1988) after his very first glance at the script. As a yuppie in his prime, his character of Marshall was familiar territory. Reinhold explained: "He represents contemporary, urban, executive mania. He's neurotic, ambitious, aggressive - completely self-absorbed. He's not a nebbish, though, he's a whiz-kid, talented and outspoken".
The greater difficulty for Judge Reinhold in taking on the challenge of Vice Versa (1988), was to portray eleven year-old Charlie, and for that he needed a refresher course on what it's like to be an eleven year-old kid. His co-star, Fred Savage, proved to be the best teacher he could have asked for. Reinhold said: "I wanted to try to portray a kid of exactly this age, and Fred helped me a lot in that respect. He showed me what's important for kids. The basic concerns are the same as they were when I was growing up, but they have a lot more of a hi-tech sensibility." To get in the right frame of mind, he would walk around schools and try to remember what it was like to be a child. Reinhold added: "Kids never give conflicting signals. If they don't like you, you can tell right away. They don't cover it up. Also, they have such a freshness about them, an energy and a very clear attitude - everything's either really great or it's a drag. They're demonstrative".
Director Brian Gilbert said of filmmaking in the production notes for this picture: "Most people think of the director as being like a general, the man who takes total charge and runs the entire operation during the making of a movie. I don't see myself like that at all. As a matter of fact, my job is more like that of a midwife, helping to bring something to life, a new baby".
The cast and crew also had the pleasure of heading for Bangkok, Thailand, for location footage that gives the motion picture an international flavor. It is in Bangkok that the supernatural elements of the story originate, and the visual style of the scenes in Thailand had to be accomplished in such a way as to give the impression, right from the beginning, of an undercurrent of hidden mystical powers. This mood has its pay-off later in the story, when the skull begins to illuminate and pulsate with an eerie life of its own, and a strange mist pours out from the mouth.
Third theatrical feature film version of F. Anstey's "Vice Versa (1882) novel. The first two versions were the British silent fantasy film Vice Versa (1916) and the British comedy film Vice Versa (1948). This Vice Versa (1988) movie is the first American version and like the earlier pictures is also a comedy.
Director Brian Gilbert felt that the best preparatory research he undertook for the film was "having children". Gilbert's own recollections of what he was like at age 11 didn't stand him in such good stead, he said with a hint of tongue-in-cheek, because, as Gilbert puts it, "At 11, I'm sure I was horrible".
Brian Gilbert, the film's director, felt fortunate he developed a great rapport with then child actor Fred Savage, who plays the boy in the film. The key to the movie, said Gilbert, was in "paying close attention to the interaction between Judge [Reinhold] and Fred, the interaction between father and son".
The picture's director Brian Gilbert said of this movie: "The comedy of the film comes from the comedy of inappropriateness. It's the humor of things being in their wrong places, of justifiable and decent attitudes in the wrong context, the whole sense of perspectives turned upside down. Judge [Reinhold] and Fred [Savage] have had to think things through with quite a degree of logic and also intuition. It's been very demanding to make it real and to make it organic".
Both Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold play dual roles in this picture. Their principal characters are son Charlie Seymour and father Marshall Seymour respectively but, vice versa, they also portray each other's character, as per the age swap / body switch nature of the movie's storyline.