About The Production
"It doesn't happen often, but every now and then you read a story that hits you on an emotional level," says director Joe Johnston, who after an Academy AwardÂ®-winning stint with Industrial Light and Magic went on to explore the relationship between hope
"It doesn't happen often, but every now
and then you read a story that hits you on an emotional level,"
says director Joe Johnston, who after an Academy Award®-winning
stint with Industrial Light and Magic went on to explore the relationship
between hope and imagination with such films as Jumanji
and Rocketeer. "October Sky involves themes
that are so universal to the experience of coming of age in twentieth
century America that it approaches the status of a modern fable."
Seventeen year-old Jake Gyllenhaal, who stars as Homer Hickam,
adds that "being a teenager, no matter what era you're in,
is basically the same. For me, as a teenager growing up in the
'90s in Los Angeles, it's like flipping my world around to be
a teenager growing up in the '50s in Coalwood, West Virginia.
The essence of being a teenager and wanting to figure out who
you are and how you fit into the world is the same."
It's 1957. Elvis Presley is all the rage and the Soviets have
stunned America with the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite.
As the townfolk of Coalwood gather to watch the tiny dot race
across the West Virginia sky, some are frightened, others disgusted.
But Homer Hickam sees a future and, just maybe, a way out.
"This story takes place at a time in our history when people
had hope," says producer Chuck Gordon. "There was a
camaraderie. A community was a community and when a Soviet satellite
is about to fly over, people got together to watch it. That doesn't
happen anymore. I mean, now you get together to see the police
helicopters flying over."
Gordon likens October Sky to one of his earlier projects,
Field of Dreams. "This story has several layers to
it, like Homer's precarious relationship with his father and family
as well as his uphill battle in fulfilling his lifelong dream."
"For me, the notion of this near mythic common ground combined
with the fact that this is a true story, is both an attraction
and a great challenge," Johnston says. "Everything about
this project intrigued me: the period, the locale and the characters."
The coal mine is the center of life in the closely-knit community
of Coalwood, West Virginia. John Hickam (Chris Cooper), Homer's
father, is mine superintendent and fully expects Homer to follow
in his footsteps. "John loves the coal mine," says Johnston.
"The mine is the whole reason for the town to be there. There
was no Coalwood before someone found coal there and they built
the town around the mine. Homer's father is a central figure in
all this and would love for Homer and his brother to grow up to
be mine supervisors."
But Jim has won a football scholarship and Homer has other ideas
about his future. Says Jake Glyllenhaal, who stars as Homer, "Throughout
the story, Homer's trying to get out. Every scene you can feel
him trying to get out of Coalwood and follow his passion. He wants
to be a scientist, and his father can't understand that. It's
like Homer saying he wants to be a martian. So they constantly
bump heads. There's a wide range of emotions that Homer experiences
throughout the story -- from his anger with his father to his
love for the woman he eventually meets to anger for his brother
and love for his friends. So, it's really just about growing up
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