Before Hemdale Film Corporation signed on as the production company, Howard Baldwin (co-owner of the National Hockey League franchise Hartford Whalers) and Bill Miner of MGM were mentioned as possible producers. The Baldwin Entertainment Group later produced David Anspaugh and Angelo Pizzo’s The Game of Their Lives (2005).
In January 1985, Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton, and Wilford Brimley were being mentioned as possible lead actors.
Writer/producer Pizzo believed that if Nicholson had been cast as Coach Norman Dale, Hoosiers would have become known as a Jack Nicholson film, not an ensemble piece. (Source: Hoosiers (2005), audio commentaries (DVD), MGM Home Entertainment LLC.)
Hackman accepted a salary of $400,000, lower than his normal rate, in exchange for also receiving 10% of the film’s gross profits (including videocassette sales).
An open casting call was held in Indianapolis to find the Hickory Huskers. The press release and publicity that described the casting call specified that those trying out should “possess excellent basketball playing skills” and that they would be required “to demonstrate individual basketball playing skills.” Nevertheless, according to basketball technical advisor Spyridon “Strats” Stratigos, watching the hundreds of young men who auditioned, it was obvious to him that many of them were not skilled players.
Huskers Buddy, Ollie, and Whit all had real-life brothers who tried out for the movie. Brad Long’s brother Mike, Wade Schenck’s brother Todd, and Brad Boyle’s brother Dan showed up for the open casting call.
The Schencks’ sister Libbey was cast as one of the Hickory cheerleaders.
Hickory Husker Maris Valainis was discovered at open-gym night at St. Luke’s school in Indianapolis by Stratigos and casting director Ken Carlson. They had heard that some excellent basketball players could be found at St. Luke’s. The two men spotted Valainis making shots from all over the court and told him about the auditions for Hoosiers.The next day, they excitedly reported back to director Anspaugh, “We found Jimmy Chitwood!” He replied, “OK, but let’s bring him in and have him read from the script first!”
The players on the teams of Hickory’s opponents were chosen from among those who tried out at the open casting call to find the Huskers. The first auditions for basketball players were held in late August. Some of the hopefuls didn’t hear back from the casting director until mid-October. One young man was notified on October 14 that he should report for game filming on November 9.
A press conference was held in Indianapolis on October 14, 1985, just before filming began, to announce Hackman and Barbara Hershey as the lead actors and to introduce the Huskers. Dennis Hopper wasn’t mentioned. His first day of filming wasn’t until about halfway through the shooting schedule.
Extras who played fans in the stands were not paid. Featured nonspeaking extras (such as players on opposing teams), permanent extras (continuity people who appeared in many scenes), and pep band members earned minimum wage, $3.50 an hour. A few extras hired through modeling and commercial agencies in Indianapolis got $20 a day. Extras who had some dialog received $361 per day. Anyone who provided an old vehicle for the filming got $50 for each day it was used. Those who provided an animal, such as for farm scenes, received $30. Most store owners in downtown New Richmond were given less than $100 for the use of their shops. Those whose names appeared on a sign outside their establishment, such as Byron Alexander of Alexander’s Furniture and Al Boone of Boone’s Quality Hardware and Dry Goods, received up to $200.
The filmmakers initially planned to shoot some scenes in Gary, because in the original script Norman Dale worked at a steel mill before moving to Hickory.
The team bus was a 1939 Chevy. Its Wayne body was built in Richmond. It had been used as a school bus for 10 years before being retired. Its owner, mechanic Jack Baker of New Ross, was paid about $800 for its use.
The school bus, a 1946 Ford, was from Brown County. It appears in the scene where Coach Dale pulls up in front of the school for the first time. It also appears in the deleted scenes “Coach Dale and Cletus Walk Through School” and “The Caravan.”
“Smoker pots” were used in indoor locations such as the gyms and classroom to create smoke to help diffuse bright light.
The melody of Hickory’s fight song was borrowed from Manchester High School. The music of Linton’s fight song, heard during the regional game, was borrowed from Southport High School. Both songs were original compositions, unlike most high school fight songs, which are borrowed from colleges.
Some high school boys turned down the chance to be extras when they found out they would have to get their hair cut.
In the Hickory locker room before the first home game, the Bible verse that Rev. Doty recites (“Be strong and of good courage. For the Lord thy God is with thee, withersoever thou goest.”) is from Joshua 1:9.
Husker David Neidorf sprained his ankle during the filming of one of the home games.
Husker Brad Boyle preferred shooting scenes where he wore regular clothes as opposed to his basketball uniform and warm-ups, which he found uncomfortable.
During the montage of basketball games, in one of the shots of Coach Dale and Shooter on the bench, Norman says something to Shooter, who laughs and puts his head down. Many years after the filming, Anspaugh learned what they found so funny: “Hackman had said, ‘Hopper, I hope you’ve invested well, because you and I are never gonna work after this movie. This is a career-ending film for both of us.’” (Source: John Bailey. “Director David Anspaugh reflects on ‘Hoosiers.’” Indiana Public Media, January 6, 2015.)
By mid-November, Husker Wade Schenck was feeling homesick. On Friday, November 15, he left Knightstown at the end of the third day of filming of the season-opening Oolitic game. He headed to L&M High School for his team’s season opener against Switz City’s Central High School. L&M won but struggled early in the season, losing its next four games.
On Thanksgiving Day, Hackman, Dennis Hopper, and other cast and crew members joined Pizzo and his family in Bloomington for dinner. Although Hackman had often clashed with Pizzo and Anspaugh early in the movie’s production, by that point the tension between Hackman and the filmmakers had diminished considerably. Pizzo’s family treated the actors without adulation, as if they were average people.
Hopper ad-libbed his lines “Son, kick their butt,” and “Don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry.”
Hackman ad-libbed his line “Scout’s honor.”
The residents in almost all of the filming locations seized the opportunity to sell souvenirs—even Terhune, which the crew visited for only a day.
New Richmond postmaster Wilma Lewellyn obtained a special letter cancellation stamp to commemorate the filming in her town. Under “New Richmond, IN 47967,” the stamp said “Filming site of ‘Hoosiers,’ Hickory, IN.”
Ball State University theater professor Alan English played the part of the patient in the other bed in Shooter’s hospital rehabilitation unit.
Students from Western Boone High School (alma mater of Hickory Husker Kent Poole) were allowed to miss school to serve as extras at the regional game. But not everyone wanted to go. About 150 kids chose to stay in class.
In the locker room before the state-finals game, Rev. Doty’s words (“With God of Heaven, it is all one, to deliver with a great multitude or a small company. For the victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of hosts, but strength cometh from Heaven.”) come from 1 Maccabees 3:18–19, a book in the Catholic Bible. The David and Goliath Bible passage that Preacher Purl recites (“And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on the head, and he fell to the ground.”) is from 1 Samuel 17:49.
In the locker room before the state-finals game, the names of the opposing players written on the blackboard are the real-life names of the actors who play the Huskers.
When thousands of extras were needed for the filming of the state-finals game, the initial information provided to the media incorrectly stated that “the only requirement for being an extra is to come dressed in early 1950s fashion.” This error, which may have discouraged many potential extras from showing up, was corrected in subsequent articles that were printed on the remaining days of filming. Instead of saying that period dress was required, the articles said it was optional.
In order to attract extras, a real high school basketball game between Broad Ripple and Chatard took place at the shooting of Hoosiers’ state-finals game. The filmmakers received permission from the IHSAA to extend the halftime of the real game to 30 minutes. During that half hour, the filmmakers captured as much footage as they could of Hickory playing South Bend Central. Broad Ripple later ended up winning the real game 69–57.
Before the Chatard-versus-Broad Ripple game, the producers pledged to donate $1 for each person who attended to the charity of that person’s choice. The amount of $1 per person is insignificant—unless many in the crowd chose the same charity or nonprofit. The fans of the high school teams who were playing that night designated their school as their charity—and each team brought hundreds of fans.
Husker Brad Boyle never played in the state finals in real life; his high school basketball team made it only as far as the regional. So, he said, “For the later part of the movie I pretended like it was the 1984 regional finals instead of a fictional 1950s state championship game.” (Source: Lorrie Hamrick. “‘Bigger perspective’ on life gained from film.” Decatur (IN) Daily Democrat, November 27, 1985.)
Director Anspaugh’s parents were present for the filming of the state-finals game. His father, a professional portrait photographer, played a news photographer.
At the conclusion of the filming of the state-finals game, about one-third of the extras who had borrowed their 1950s costumes from the wardrobe department left without returning them.
As a nonspeaking extra, Roger Hamilton, Jr. didn’t receive any pay for his role as the boy shooting baskets in the empty gym in the last scene. But after the scene was filmed, Hackman took a $20 bill out of his wallet, autographed it, and handed it to Roger.
The cast attended a wrap party at the end of filming. Hackman gave each Husker a plaque. The young men also received souvenir rings from Husker and Josten’s salesman Brad Long. Each ring featured a red garnet surrounded by the words “Indiana State Champs 1952.” On one side was an outline of the state of Indiana. On the other side were the player’s name and jersey number.
At the time Hoosiers was filmed, New Richmond resident Ben Miller was president of the United States Telephone Association. His wife, Maxine, placed a notice in the USTA’s national newsletter, telling association members about the making of Hoosiers. The ad asked members to send the Millers any articles they ran across that mentioned Hoosiers, its stars, and/or the filmmakers. New Richmond postmaster Wilma Lewellyn also gathered articles about the movie, many from Indiana newspapers. Together, they amassed a huge collection of Hoosiers-related items from publications all over the country.