Francis Ford Coppola says he was 'depressed' and 'had lost everything' before kids encouraged him to make 'The Outsiders'

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·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·4-min read
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Francis Ford Coppola had already directed the indisputable classics The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather: Part II (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979). But the disastrous release of a single film, 1982’s genre-bending romance One From the Heart, nearly broke him.

“I was very depressed at the time [after One From the Heart], which was a heartbreak to me and involved some stupidity on my part,” the 82-year-old Queens-raised filmmaking titan tells us during a rare interview promoting the new 4K Ultra HD release of his 1983 coming-of-age favorite The Outsiders (watch above). “And I was very despondent about the terrible reaction.”

Starring Frederic Forest and Teri Garr as a couple whose relationship hits the rocks during an anniversary getaway to Las Vegas, One From the Heart is Coppola’s biggest flop by a long shot, grossing only $600,000 against a budget of $26 million. The filmmaker says he pulled the film from its limited run in theaters after only week, anticipating it’d later have a wider release — not realizing such a move would relegate it directly to home video.

American director and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola on the set of his movie One from the Heart. (Photo by Nancy Moran/Sygma via Getty Images)
American director and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola on the set of his movie One From the Heart. (Photo: Nancy Moran/Sygma via Getty Images)

“So it was stupid of me to do, but nonetheless I was depressed and I had lost everything and I was facing a bankruptcy,” he explains.

That’s when a large envelope arrived in the mail for him from the library class of Lone Star Elementary School in Fresno, Calif.

“These children had voted that I should take their favorite book and make it into a film,” Coppola recalls of the package, which came with about 10-15 pages of signatures from seventh and eighth graders, courtesy of their librarian Jo Ellen Misakian. “And the fact that these kids had voted for me to do their film meant for sure I was going to [at least] read the book. … And I read it, and I was very touched by the book because it showed how young people really have such strong feelings. I was very moved by it.”

That book was S.E. Hinton’s 1967 gang drama The Outsiders, which fittingly, the Tulsa, Okla., native had begun writing when she was only 15.

American actors Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Thomas C. Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez, and Patrick Swayze on the set of The Outsiders, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez and Patrick Swayze on the set of The Outsiders, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. (Photo: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

The rest is history. Coppola began rolling cameras on The Outsiders, the movie, in Tulsa in March of 1982. The beloved film, which tracks the exploits of the working class “greasers” and their wealthier rivals “The Socs,” helped introduce some of the most popular young actors of the ’80s, including C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise. (The film, in fact, was Cruise’s last non-starring role for 16 years, until his Oscar-nominated supporting turn in 1999’s Magnolia.)

It was a significant bounce-back for Coppola, earning strong reviews (with Gene Siskel comparing it to Rebel Without a Cause and American Graffiti) and a $33 million haul (on a budget of $10 million).

The film’s legacy has only grown over the years, and kids have continued to play a key role in it.

C. Thomas Howell, Francis Coppola and Rob Lowe on the set of
C. Thomas Howell, Francis Ford Coppola and Rob Lowe on the set of The Outsiders. (Photo: Nancy Moran/Sygma via Getty Images)

After encountering young readers in his granddaughter’s classroom who wondered why certain scenes from Hinton’s source material weren’t included in his adaptation, Coppola released his director’s cut, dubbed, The Complete Novel, in 2005.

It’s that version the filmmaker restores with the new hi-def 4K release.

“Once again, I listened to the advice and the opinion of the young people,” Coppola says. “Which is what we should be doing in the world today, in my opinion.”

The Outsiders: The Complete Novel is now available on 4K Ultra HD.

— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo

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