Where did the filmmakers get the idea for Hoosiers?

milan 1954 indiansThey were inspired by the 1954 Indiana state champion Milan Indians, the smallest school in state history to win Indiana’s one-class basketball tournament, and by Hoosier Hysteria and small-town life in general.

The real Milan Indians were quite different from the fictional Hickory Huskers. Why didn’t screenwriter Angelo Pizzo stick more closely to the Milan story?

After Pizzo researched the story of the real-life Milan team, he said, “I realized that I needed much more liberty to create drama. These were pretty good boys who did their job, went to school and played as they were told. There wasn’t really much conflict. … …it was just easier for me as a writer to create from my imagination rather than reality.” (Source: “The genesis of ‘Hoosiers.’” Muncie (IN) Star, November 24, 1985, D1) As a result, the Milan story served only as inspiration, not a factual basis, for Hoosiers. Most of the movie’s plot points were Pizzo’s invention.

What are some of the differences between the Milan story and Hoosiers?

  • Milan Coach Marvin Wood was nothing like the Huskers’ Coach Norman Dale. Wood was a soft-spoken, even-tempered, churchgoing family man who was only 24 when he arrived at Milan. The Indiana native and Butler University graduate had coached at French Lick the previous two seasons.
  • The Indians needed a new coach not because the previous one had died, but because he had been fired.
  • The Milan story didn’t include a town drunk who became an assistant coach or a female teacher who wanted to keep the star player off the team.
  • Milan High School had no shortage of basketball players. Dozens of boys tried out for the team.
  • The Indians didn’t have players who quit the team.
  • Milan’s state-championship game unfolded differently than the movie’s final matchup. In the real game, Wood’s team slowed down the action in the final quarter. With five and a half minutes to go, Bobby Plump held the ball for over two minutes. Near the end of the quarter he held it again for 27 seconds.
  • When the Indians won the state title in 1954, it was their second trip to the state finals. The year before, they lost to South Bend Central in the first game of the finals.

Where was the movie filmed?

Originally the filmmakers hoped to find one Indiana location where they could film the downtown, school, and game scenes. But no such perfect location could be found, so they ended up shooting primarily in three central Indiana locations. New Richmond was used for the street scenes, the school was in Nineveh, and the home gym was located in Knightstown. Read more about all the filming sites.

Were the young men who played the Hickory Huskers good basketball players in real life?

Brad Long (Buddy) had played college basketball, and Steve Hollar (Rade) was a freshman on his college team. Wade Schenck (Ollie) was a senior on his high school team. Brad Boyle (Whit), Scott Summers (Strap), and Kent Poole (Merle) all played in high school. Maris Valainis (Jimmy) tried out for but was never chosen to be on his high school team.

How were the Huskers chosen to be in the movie?

An open casting call was held in Indianapolis, at which hundreds of 18-to-22-year-olds demonstrated their basketball skills. At subsequent callbacks, during which the large group was winnowed each time, they were asked to read from the script, talk about themselves in a group setting, undergo interviews, and do some improvisation. Seven of the Huskers were from Indiana. David Neidorf, who played Shooter’s son, was the only one who was chosen at a Los Angeles casting session. Some of the young men who auditioned to be Huskers were cast as players on opposing teams.

When Norman enters Cletus’s office for the first time and finds the principal sitting cross-legged on the floor, Cletus says he’s “floatin’.” What does this mean?

Pizzo explained that “floating” is a colloquialism for “meditating.”

Buddy is kicked out of the first practice but appears in later games without explanation. What happened?

A scene was filmed in which Buddy expresses his regret at transferring to another school and being unable to play for Hickory, and Coach Dale agrees to let him return. During the movie’s editing stage, film distributor Orion insisted that Hoosiers run no more than two hours, forcing the filmmakers to cut many scenes. Director David Anspaugh and writer/producer Pizzo were adamantly opposed to deleting the scene with Buddy, believing that doing so would confuse the viewers, but they were overruled. This scene is included with some other deleted scenes on the Collector’s Edition and 2012 Blu-ray DVDs. Read more about all the deleted scenes.

How many takes were required for the scene in which Jimmy makes all his shots at the outdoor court (except the last one)?

This scene was done in one take. Valainis was a good-enough shooter to make all the shots the first time around. This was a good thing, because the late-afternoon light was fading, and it was about to rain.

Was Jimmy supposed to miss his last shot at the outdoor court?

The script didn’t say that Jimmy misses at the end. Valainis said he was focused intently on making baskets during Gene Hackman’s speech. When Hackman was done talking and walked away, Valainis stopped concentrating and missed.

How many takes were required for the scene in which Jimmy makes the last shot at the state finals?

When the cameras rolled, Valainis hit this shot on his first try. During rehearsals, he missed repeatedly. So the excitement, amazement, and joy displayed by the crowd are real, because they saw him miss many times prior to that. The filmmakers did shoot this scene one more time just to be on the safe side.

Why can dried-up cornstalks be seen standing in the fields during what is supposed to be late winter?

Indiana’s corn harvest is finished by early or mid-December—sometimes much sooner. The outdoor scenes were filmed before the harvest, which may have been delayed by the unusually rainy autumn of 1985.

What plant is being ground up in the scene at Opal and Myra’s farm?

Sorghum, which can be made into syrup.

During production, did the filmmakers and actors feel confident that the movie would be a hit?

Just the opposite. Anspaugh and Pizzo had serious misgivings about how the film was turning out. Pizzo even went so far as to say “Every day I thought we were making a terrible movie.” Hackman was openly negative, opining that Hoosiers would be a flop and calling it a career-killer. Dennis Hopper, though not as outspoken as Hackman, also had his doubts.