They grew up on the outside of society. They weren't looking for a fight. They were looking to belong.
The Outsiders comes to the screen through school petition.
Chance plays a significant part in the genesis of many movies, but The Outsiders was surely the first to spring to life because a group of schoolchildren wanted it to happen.
In the spring of 1980, a librarian at Lone Star Jr. High School in Fresno, California, took courage in hand and wrote to Francis Coppola. She told him that the students and faculty of her school wanted him to make a movie from a book they all loved very much, The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton. The librarian, Jo Ellen Misakian, wasn't sure of the director's current address, so she sent the letter, along with a copy of the book and a petition signed by the youngsters, to the New York offices of Paramount Pictures. This was the studio that had produced two of Coppola's best-known films, The Godfather and its sequel.
Missives such as this often get lost, but this one didn't. It was duly forwarded to Coppola's Zoetrope Studios in Los Angeles and, lo and behold, actually read. Not only read, but investigated by the director's long-time associate Fred Roos. Mr. Roos learned that the book was a bestseller in the field of adolescent literature and was taught in school systems throughout the country. It was dear to the hearts of thousands of school children, as well as their parents and teachers, but only the kids at Lone Star did something to see it transformed into another medium.
One thing led inevitably to another, and two years later Francis Coppola began filming The Outsiders in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A long talent search had preceded the selection of a cast he considered one of his finest ever, and all, with one exception, under twenty years of age. The best known were Matt Dillon and Leif Garrett, who played poor boy and rich boy respectively, and Diane Lane, who took the only substantive role for a girl. Seventeen-year-old Darren
Dalton, from Albequerque, New Mexico, and Michelle Meyrink of Vancouver, British Columbia, made their professional debuts, but all of the others were experienced: C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise.
The Outsiders is proof that kids can make a difference. A copy of Jo Ellen Misakian's letter and petition to Francis Ford Coppola are attached.
Francis Ford Coppola presents The Outsiders, a Warner Bros. release, starring C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe and Diane Lane and co-starring Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise and Leif Garrett. The film was produced by Fred Roos and Gray Frederickson and directed by Francis Coppola from a screenplay by Kathleen Knutsen Rowell, based upon the novel by S. E. Hinton. Music is by Carmine Coppola. The production designer is Dean Tavoularis; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum, A.S.C.
The Outsiders production information
Once upon a time, back in 1965 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a teenage boy got beat up on his way home from school. A fairly common occurence, but with one difference: this boy had a friend named Susie with a penchant for writing, and the incident made her mad. She started a short story which quickly ballooned to forty pages as she shared her work-in-progress with classmates. When she got stuck, they'd make suggestions like "why don't you burn the church down?" And so she did. The story blossomed into a novel entitled The Outsiders, published, as if by unspoken teenage fiat, in 1967 by Viking Press. It was about teenagers growing up both "tuff" and tough, and the story told about poor boys without families called "greasers" in tragic conflict with kids from affluent backgrounds called "socs" (pronounced "soshes"). The name under the title was the gender-less "S.E. Hinton," the recommendation of a Viking female editor who didn't want the authenticity of the story doubted just because a girl wrote it.
By the following year, The Outsiders had become a "must-read" for kids in junior high and high school, and a genre of American literature called "young adult fiction" was never quite the same again. It must also be noted that until the film's first release, a great many people did not know that "S. E. Hinton" was a young woman called Susie. In 1980, Francis Coppola received a letter at his Zoetrope Studios from the librarian of the Lone Star Junior High School in Fresno, California, stating that the faculty and students of her school had nominated him to make a movie out of a very special book called The Outsiders. A hand-signed petition from the students was attached.
Coppola asked Fred Roos, to look into the matter. Roos has a special affection for stories about childhood, having overseen the production of Zoetrope's The Black Stallion and its sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, as well as a movie about the escapades of a youthful magician, The Escape Artist. He accepted the task with relish.
He learned that The Outsiders had sold some four million copies in the United States alone, and was in the curriculum of many school systems across the country. It had been translated into seven languages, including Japanese, and was hugely popular with youngsters in other lands. It seemed that when you got right down to basics, like wanting to belong and feel secure, to love and be loved, kids everywhere were just alike.
After completion of his research, Roos asked Coppola to read Susie Hinton's book.
"I made some rather bold connections right as I was reading it," says Coppola. "I realized I wanted to make a movie about youth, and about belonging, belonging to a group of people with whom you made identification, and where you felt real love. Even though those boys were poor and, in a way, insignificant, the story gives them a kind of beauty and nobility."
The Oklahoma sunsets are a leitmotif in both the book and the film. Brilliant and variegated in hue, and seeming to hang in the sky a little longer than elsewhere, they are, to Coppola, the perfect metaphor for his film.
"Even as we look at a sunset, we are aware that it is already starting to die. Youth, too, is like that: at its very moment of perfection you can already see the forces that are undoing it. The Outsiders takes place in an enchanted moment of time in the lives of all those boys. I wanted to catch that moment; I wanted to take these young street rats and give them heroic proportions."
In order to capture on film that evanescent moment of youth, performers whose real age approximated that of their characters were selected insofar as possible. After a major talent search, eleven young people were chosen for the starring roles of "greasers" and "socs," Tulsa-style, 1966. Many are well known from film and television, while others were making their professional debuts.
The Outsiders presskit as a printable PDF document. (184k)