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For Pizzo and Anspaugh, "Hoosiers" is a Dream Come to Life

To hear Angelo Pizzo tell it, the movie that basketball fans have loved for 30 years now, nearly died on the vine.

"There were just times, there were a lot of times where it just felt so overwhelming, where it just felt like we were trying to survive," said Pizzo.

Luckily for the state of Indiana, basketball lovers, and film buffs alike, not only did screenwriter Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh survive the making of "Hoosiers", they thrived.

However, the journey from the inception of the film to its release ended up being so loaded with potholes and pitfalls, that the timeless movie's inclusion on lists of greatest sports movies feels nearly as miraculous as Jimmy Chitwood's game-winning shot (sorry for the spoiler).

As undergrads at Indiana University, Anspaugh and Pizzo became fast friends due to their shared interest in movies and Indiana basketball history. Late one night, the pair kicked around ideas about how cool it would be to not just make movies in Hollywood after college, but to make a film specifically about Milan's 1954 state championship run. By that time, the story had become gospel for coaches in Indiana.

"Having played high school basketball, you knew it was tournament time every year, because every coach, and I'm assuming every other school like mine, would sit the team down, and we'd think, oh god, here we go, the Milan story again," Explained Anspaugh. "(They were) trying to inspire you that, you too, no matter how bad you were, you could go up against the big guys."

After the two finished their undergraduate programs at IU, they both headed west. Pizzo found success as a producer, so he had the connections he needed to make the pair's dream become a reality. Amazingly enough, Hoosiers was Pizzo's first script, so it was only right that he give the duty of directing to Anspaugh, who had yet to direct a feature film.

Initially, Pizzo struggled to animate his characters while writing the script. He felt as if, despite the stories he developed for his characters, they were all just manifestations of himself. They weren't ringing true.

So Pizzo dug back to his middle-school memories, crafting the characters loosely on people he actually knew growing up. In doing so, he managed to authenticate the voices of the characters, allowing his script to come to life.

While it's easy to look back now at what a universally acclaimed success the film was, at the time, the duo couldn't look beyond the task at hand, as the challenges and reality of making a movie from start to finish sprung up all over.

"When we were in the process of making it, there was never a moment where we were in the context of stepping outside of ourselves and thinking look at us now," Pizzo said. "Making a movie is mounting a campaign, it's going to war, there are so many moving parts to it."

It was hard enough to train up the teenagers who played the kids on Hickory High, most of whom had never acted before, but the challenges were made greater by some of the more experienced actors having creative difference with Anspaugh's directing.

Add to it the limited budget for production, which made their margin of error in shooting and editing the film even slimmer, and you have an environment where every day felt like it brought the possibility of critical failure.

"It was a collection of things that were difficult for us," Pizzo said. "We knew we only had one opportunity, we were making a movie about something we cared about, you know, where we grew up and the passion that we had for basketball and we wanted to do it right, not just for ourselves, but for the people who live here."

By the time Pizzo and Anspaugh wrapped up shooting and editing the film, they were beyond relieved to just know it was going to be released in theaters and video stores. There was no thought that the film, based on Bobby Plump's legendary game-winning shot for Milan, would reverberate throughout cinematic and sports history.

And yet, here they are, set to be honored during halftime of the Pacers' game with the Phoenix Suns. Indiana will be wearing the jerseys whose name, colors, and story came from a couple of college kids staying up late at night imagining if they could make a movie about something they loved.

They took a shot, and just like Chitwood, they made it.