It was an adaptation of a young adult novel about gang violence written by a 15-year-old author from Oklahoma. The director’s career was in the doldrums when he made it. The glories of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now must have seemed very distant at the time Francis Ford Coppola embarked on his 1983 film version of SE Hinton’s The Outsiders. His previous movie, the big-budget musical One from the Heart (1981), had been a resounding flop. His company Zoetrope was close to bankruptcy and he was said to have racked up a personal debt of $20m.
Coppola later claimed that he had been close to quitting the movie business altogether. Instead, working with teenagers a long way from Hollywood helped him rediscover his passion for filmmaking. “I used to be a great camp counsellor, and the idea of being with half a dozen kids in the country and making a movie seemed like being a camp counsellor again. It would be a breath of fresh air. I’d forget my troubles and have some laughs again,” he told The New York Times.
The story of how Hinton’s book first reached Coppola could have inspired a movie itself. In July 1980, Jo Ellen Misakian, a librarian from the Lone Star School in Fresno, California, had sent him a copy with an accompanying letter explaining that this was the one book all her seventh and eighth grade students had actually read. They now wanted someone to make a movie of it – and thought he was the right man for the job. By sheer luck, the letter reached Coppola, who thought it was “cute” and passed it on to his producer, Fred Roos, who saw something in it.
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