AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Dead Poets Society
Director: Peter Weir (Dir)
Release Date:   2 Jun 1989
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles and New York openings: 2 Jun 1989
Production Date:   14 Nov 1988--15 Jan 1989 in Delaware
Duration (in mins):   125
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Cast:   Robin Williams (John Keating)  
    Robert Sean Leonard (Neil Perry)  
    Ethan Hawke (Todd Anderson)  
    Josh Charles (Knox Overstreet)  
    Gale Hansen (Charlie Dalton)  
    Dylan Kussman (Richard Cameron)  
    Allelon Ruggiero (Steven Meeks)  
    James Waterston (Gerard Pitts)  
    Alexandra Powers (Chris Noel)  
    Norman Lloyd (Mr. Nolan)  
    Kurtwood Smith (Mr. Perry)  
    George Martin (Dr. Hager)  
    Leon Pownall (McAllister)  
  Featuring Colin Irving (Chet Danburry)  
  Featuring Lara Flynn Boyle (Ginny Danburry)  
  Featuring Melora Walters (Gloria)  
  Featuring Welker White (Tina)  
    Carla Belver (Mrs. Perry)  
    Joe Aufiery (Chemistry teacher)  
    Matt Carey (Hopkins)  
    Kevin Cooney (Joe Danburry)  
    Jane Moore (Mrs. Danburry)  
    Steve Mathios (Steve)  
    Alan Pottinger (Bubba)  
    Pamela Burrell (Directing teacher)  
    Allison Hedges (Actor/Fairy)  
    Christine D'Ercole (Titania)  
    John Cunningham (Mr. Anderson)  
    Debra Mooney (Mrs. Anderson)  
    John Martin Bradley (Bagpiper)  
    Charles Lord (Mr. Dalton)  
    Kurt Leitner (Lester)  
    Richard Stites (Stick )  
    James J. Christy (Spaz)  
    Catherine Soles (Stage manager)  
    Hoover Sutton (Welton professor)  
    James Donnell Quinn (Procession alumnus)  
    Simon Mein (Welton vicar)  
    Ashton W. Richards (Phys. Ed. teacher)  
    Robert Gleason (Father of Spaz)  
    Bill Rowe (Dormitory porter)  
    Robert J. Zigler, III (Beans)  
    Keith Snyder (Russell)  
    Nicholas K. Gilhool (Shroom)  
    Jonas Stiklorius (Jonas)  
    Craig Johnson (Dewey)  
    Chris Hull (Ace)  
    Jason Woody (Woodsie)  
    Sam Stegeman (Sam)  
    Andrew Hill (Senior student)  

Summary: At Welton Academy, an elite, all-boys preparatory school in Vermont, headmaster Nolan welcomes students and parents in a ceremony celebrating the start of fall semester, 1959. The boys are asked to repeat the school’s “four pillars” – tradition, honor, discipline, excellence – and are reminded that seventy-five percent of last year’s graduating class went on to study at Ivy League universities. Mr. Nolan introduces a new English teacher, a Welton alumnus named John Keating, and, later, greets parents as they bid goodbye to their sons. An introverted new student, Todd Anderson, meets his roommate, Neil Perry, whose overbearing father barges into their dormitory room and demands that Neil drop one of his extracurricular activities in favor of his studies. Meanwhile, Todd suffers from feelings of inadequacy because his older brother, Jeffrey, graduated Welton as valedictorian. On the first day of class, John Keating leads his students into a hallway to view old photographs of former students, reminding everyone that they are now dead. He quotes Walt Whitman’s poem about Abraham Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain!” and invites the students to address him as their captain. Next, he instructs Gerard Pitts to read a line from a Robert Herrick poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” and acquaints the boys with the phrase “Carpe diem,” Latin for “Seize the day.” As Neil and Todd examine the photographs of their predecessors, Keating whispers “Carpe diem” into the students' ears. That evening, Neil invites Todd to join his friends in a study group, but Todd declines. Another study group regular, Knox Overstreet, leaves campus to have dinner at the home of family friends, the Danburrys. There, he meets Chris Noel, the girl friend of Mr. Danburry’s son, Chet, and becomes smitten with her. Returning to the dormitory, Knox announces that he has just met the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. The next day, Keating asks Neil to read a chapter from their textbook titled Understanding Poetry, which outlines a metric to determine the value of a poem. Denouncing the concept of measuring a poem’s worth, Keating instructs the class to rip the chapter from their books. Later, when they find the Welton annual from Keating’s senior year, the boys pore over his entry and notice “Dead Poets Society” listed as one of his interests. When they ask him about it, Keating explains that he and his friends used to gather at an Indian cave on school grounds and read poems by the Romantics, in addition to their own works. Inspired, Neil forms a new Dead Poets Society, including the free-spirited Charlie Dalton, bookish Steven Meeks, strait-laced Richard Cameron, Gerard Pitts, Knox, and Todd, who agrees to participate by taking meeting minutes instead of reading aloud. Keating leaves Five Centuries of Verse, the book used by the original Dead Poets Society, in the dormitory for Neil to find. At their first meeting in the cave, Neil reads Keating’s opening statement, scrawled inside the book, a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. For the rest of the meeting, the boys share food hoarded from the dining hall, read poems, and listen to Charlie Dalton’s original verse. In another class, Keating asks the students to stand on top of his desk to gain new perspective and find their own voice. He assigns the boys to write an original poem, to be read aloud the following Monday, and tells Todd he knows the assignment must terrify him. Later, as Todd works on his poem, Neil announces plans to audition for a local production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Todd remarks that Neil’s father will not approve, but Neil does not intend to tell him, insisting that he is going to do what he wants for the first time in his life. After he wins the role of “Puck,” Neil forges permission notes from Nolan and his father. Back in class, Knox reads his love poem, “To Chris,” aloud, and the boys mock him. Keating calls Todd to the front of class, but he refuses, saying he did not complete the assignment. The teacher encourages Todd to believe in himself and draws him out of his seat. Upon Keating’s prompts, Todd composes an impromptu poem that impresses his classmates. At another Dead Poets Society meeting, Charlie plays saxophone and Knox complains that he will kill himself if he cannot have Chris. He is inspired to call her, and Chris invites him to a party at Chet’s house. When Keating takes his class into a courtyard and asks three boys to walk together, the boys quickly match their strides and begin to march. Keating uses their behavior to demonstrate the dangers of conformity, then encourages the boys to establish their own style of walking as Nolan observes the exercise from afar. That night, Neil finds Todd sitting alone with a shrink-wrapped desk set. He admits that it is his birthday, and his parents sent him the same gift they sent the year before. Neil makes light of the situation by suggesting the desk set is aerodynamic and encouraging Todd to toss it over a ledge. Knox goes to Chet’s party and gets drunk, eventually sitting down next to a sleeping Chris and daring to kiss her forehead. As his friend points out the transgression, Chet attacks Knox and threatens him to stay away. Charlie tells the others that he entered a column in the school newspaper on behalf of the Dead Poets Society, demanding that girls be admitted to Welton. The group panics as Nolan announces an inquiry into the offending article. Charlie confesses and receives corporal punishment, but refuses to name his cohorts. Later, Keating reprimands Charlie, telling him to use better judgment. Although Neil’s father finds out about his participation in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and forbids him from appearing onstage, Neil decides to perform anyway, lying to Keating that his father reluctantly gave him permission. Meanwhile, Knox goes to Chris’s school and reads her a poem in front of classmates. In turn, she comes to Welton to warn him that Chet plans to retaliate, but Knox charms her with his persistence and convinces her to accompany him to Neil’s play. With Keating and the Dead Poets Society in the audience, Neil delivers a bravura performance as “Puck”; however, his father arrives during the play and forces him to return home after the performance, announcing plans to remove Neil from Welton and enroll him in a military academy. Devastated, Neil waits until his parents are asleep, then retrieves a gun from his father’s desk and shoots himself. Hearing the gunshot, Mr. Perry rushes downstairs to find his son’s dead body. Nolan announces to grieving students that an investigation into Neil’s death will be conducted. At a meeting of the Dead Poets Society, Cameron reveals that he confessed about the group to Nolan, who plans to implicate Keating in Neil’s suicide. Only Charlie is unwilling to comply with Nolan’s investigation, and he is expelled. The others sign a document that claims Keating abused his authority and encouraged Neil to perform onstage despite his father’s disapproval. Keating is fired, and Nolan arrives to take over his class. He begins by asking Cameron to read from the Understanding Poetry chapter that was ripped out upon Keating’s orders. A frustrated Nolan provides his own text for Cameron to read, while Keating arrives to collect his personal belongings. Todd apologizes for signing the letter, then stands on his desk and says, “O captain, my captain.” Nolan shouts at him to get down, but Knox follows suit, as do Pitts and Meeks. Before he leaves, half the students stand on their desks, and Keating tells the boys, “Thank you.”  

Production Company: Touchstone Pictures  
  Silver Screen Partners IV  
  Witt-Thomas Productions  
Production Text: Touchstone Pictures presents
in association with Silver Screen Partners IV
a Steven Haft production in association with Witt-Thomas Productions
a Peter Weir film
Brand Name:

Distribution Company: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc.  
Director: Peter Weir (Dir)
  Duncan Henderson (Unit prod mgr)
  Alan B. Curtiss (1st asst dir)
  B. Thomas Seidman (2d asst dir)
  Brian T. Fong (2d 2d asst dir)
  John Rusk (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Steven Haft (Prod)
  Paul Junger Witt (Prod)
  Tony Thomas (Prod)
  Duncan Henderson (Assoc prod)
Writer: Tom Schulman (Wrt)
Photography: John Seale (Dir of photog)
  Stephen Shank (Cam op)
  Brian W. Armstrong (1st asst cam)
  Howard Rose (1st asst cam)
  Thomas E. Miligan (2d asst cam)
  John J. Ellingwood (2d asst cam)
  Norman Harris (Chief lighting tech)
  Ron Kenyon (Best boy elec)
  Robo McCarthy (Rigging gaffer)
  Robin Knight (Key grip)
  Charles Brown (Best boy grip)
  David I. Merrill (Dolly grip)
  François Duhamel (Still photog)
  Plummy Tucker (Loc liaison)
Art Direction: Wendy Stites (Prod des)
  Sandy Veneziano (Art dir)
  Louis M. Mann (Asst art dir)
Film Editor: William Anderson (Ed)
  Priscilla Nedd (Film ed)
  Lee Smith (Film ed)
  Deborah Zeitman (Assoc film ed)
  Louise Innes (Assoc ed, Australia)
  Armen Minasian (1st asst film ed)
  Noelleen Westcombe (Asst ed, Australia)
  Kathy Fenton (Asst ed, Australia)
  Gillian L. Hutshing (Asst film ed)
  Lee Grubin (Apprentice ed)
  Kimberly Walls (Apprentice ed, Australia)
Set Decoration: John Anderson (Set dec)
  Nigel Bouchet (Leadman)
  Chuck Lipscomb (Leadman)
  Louis S. Fleming (Prop master)
  Michael Carrillo (Asst prop master)
  Stan W. Cockerell (Asst prop master)
  Carleton E. Reynolds (Set des)
  Cal DiValerio (Const coord)
  George C. Fouche (Const foreman)
  Hank Giardina (Standby painter)
  Alexander Scutti, Jr. (Cave constructor)
  Dale Covey (Greens foreman)
Costumes: Eddie Marks (Cost supv)
  Marilyn Matthews (Set cost)
  Anthony J. Scarano (Set cost)
Music: Maurice Jarre (Mus)
  Dan Carlin, Sr. Triad Music, Inc. (Supv mus ed)
  Patricia Carlin (Asst mus ed)
  Joel Moss (Mus rec and mixed by)
  Record Plant Scoring (Mus rec at)
Sound: Charles Wilborn (Sd mixer)
  Gordon Webb (Boom op)
  Paul Murphey (Cableman)
  Alan Splet (Supv sd ed)
  Peter Townend (Sd ed, Australia)
  Robert Shoup (Sd eff/Foley ed)
  Ann Kroeber (Sd eff ed)
  John Verbeck (Sd eff ed)
  Frank Eulner (Asst sd eff ed)
  CJ Appel (Supv ADR ed)
  Marilyn McCoppen (ADR ed)
  Luis Colina (Asst ADR ed)
  Karen Spangenberg (Supv dial ed)
  Gloria D'Alessandro (Dial ed)
  Michael Silvers (Dial ed)
  Barbara McBane (Dial ed)
  E. Jeane Putnam (Asst dial ed)
  Gwendolyn Yates (Asst dial ed)
  Polly S. Holmes (Asst dial ed)
  Martha Pike (Asst dial ed)
  Robert Graham Jones (Re-sync)
  Bob Marty (Re-sync)
  Jeff Watts (Supv foley ed)
  Mary Helen Leasman (Foley ed)
  Tina Fallani (Foley asst)
  Robin Lee (Foley asst)
  Leigh French (ADR group coord)
  Phil Judd (Re-rec, Australia)
  Lorimar Studios (Re-rec at)
  Michael Kohut (Re-rec mixer)
  Aaron Rochin (Re-rec mixer)
  Carlos DeLarios (Re-rec mixer)
Special Effects: Allen Hall (Spec eff coord)
  Gary L. Karas (Spec eff foreman)
  Neal Thompson (Title des)
  Cinema Research Corporation (Titles & opt eff)
Make Up: Susan A. Cabral (Makeup artist)
  Bette Iverson (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Howard Feuer (Casting)
  Elina deSantos (Delaware casting by)
  Hope Williams (Scr supv)
  Julie Karen Offer (Loc projectionist)
  Russell McEntyre (Transportation coord)
  Wayne Stone (Transportation capt)
  Walter Freitas (Transportation capt)
  Allen E. Taylor (Prod accountant)
  Robert Gonzales (1st asst accountant)
  Katharine Ann Curtiss (Prod coord)
  Tom C. Peitzman (Asst prod coord)
  Lori Balton (Asst prod coord)
  Michael J. Meehan (Loc mgr)
  Lauren Beth Strogoff (Unit pub)
  Tracy L. Kettler (Asst to prod)
  Jacqueline A. Shea (Asst to prod)
  Andy Weltman (Asst to Mr. Weir)
  Yvonne Kingon (Asst to Mr. Haft)
  Kim Roth (Asst to Mr. Witt)
  Marlene Fuentes (Asst to Mr. Thomas)
  Marsha Garces (Asst to Mr. Williams)
  Leigh Feitelberg (Prod asst)
  Jay Gibson (Prod asst)
  Daniel S. Kudart (Prod asst)
  Jack Tice (Studio teacher)
  Lisa Birnbach (Tech adv)
  Plummy Tucker (Loc liaison)
  T.J. Healy (Loc liaison)
  Spectrum Films (Post-prod facilities)
  George Sheanshang Esq. (Prod counsel)
Color Personnel: Bruce Pearson (Col timer)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: George Frideric Handel, "'Water Music': Suite III In D 'Allegro'," performed by The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Karl Münchinger, courtesy of London Records, a division of PolyGram Classics; "Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9," performed by Fritz Reiner and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, courtesy of RCA Victor Red Seal, a division of BMG Classics; "Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 In E Flat Major, Op. 73 'Emperor'," performed by Wilhelm Kempff with The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Ferdinand Leitner, courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, a division of PolyGram Classics.
Songs: "Rainbow Voice," written and performed by David Hykes, courtesy of The Harmonic Arts Society; "The Fields Of Athenry," written by Pete St. John; "The Battle Of New Orleans," written by Jimmie Driftwood; "Let's Have A Party," written by Jessie Mae Robinson, performed by Wanda Jackson, courtesy of CEMA Special Markets (Capitol Records, Inc.); "Ridgeway Fight Song," written by Jerry Rehberg; "Sound Off," written by Willie Lee Duckworth and Bernard Lentz; "Stranded In The Jungle," written by Al Curry, James Johnson and Ernestine Smith, performed by The Cadets, courtesy of Kent Records; "Hey Little Girl," written by Henry Roeland Byrd, performed by Professor Longhair, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp., by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
  Henry Roeland Byrd
  Al Curry
  Jimmie Driftwood
  Willie Lee Duckworth
  George Frideric Handel
  David Hykes
  James Johnson
  Bernard Lentz
  Jerry Rehberg
  Jessie Mae Robinson
  Ernestine Smith
  Pete St. John
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Touchstone Pictures a.a.d.o. the Walt Disney Company 5/6/1989 dd/mm/yyyy PA415024

PCA NO: 29797
Physical Properties: Sd: Color by Dolby Stereo® in selected theatres
  col: DuArt Film Laboratories
  Lenses/Prints: Camera and lenses by Panavision®; Prints by Metrocolor®

Genre: Comedy-drama
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  Preparatory schools
  Secret societies
Subjects (Minor): Actors and actresses
  Fathers and sons
  Henry David Thoreau
  Latin language
  Romantic rivalry
  Unrequited love
  Walt Whitman
  William Shakespeare

Note: Producers thank the following organizations and individuals in end credits: The trustees, headmaster, faculty, staff and students of St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, Delaware; Delaware Office of Development; The people of New Castle, Delaware; Charles Harrington; Derin Seale; and Wally Williams.
       In a 23 Jun 1989 LAT article, writer Tom Schulman stated that Dead Poets Society was inspired in part by his school days at Nashville, TN’s conservative Montgomery Bell Academy. Producer Steven Haft first read the screenplay as a writing sample after it was rejected by “by every studio, including Disney,” according to a 7 Jun 1989 HR item. Signing on to produce, Haft circulated the script to agents and elicited a positive response from actors and directors. He then received an offer in spring 1987 from a production company that wanted to further develop the script. However, around the same time, Disney’s chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg alerted Haft of the studio’s new interest and made a production commitment shortly thereafter. A 10 Jul 1988 LAT brief noted that Dustin Hoffman was considering directing and starring in the project before actor Robin Williams and director Peter Weir came aboard.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, over seventy private schools and universities were scouted before St. Andrew’s School in Middleton, DE, was selected as the setting for the fictional Welton Academy. A 12 Oct 1988 Var news item stated that principal photography was slated for 14 Nov 1988--15 Jan 1989, primarily during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays so that St. Andrew’s academic schedule would not be disrupted. Keating’s classroom scenes were filmed in a replica classroom built on a soundstage in Wilmington, DE. Other locations included the Everett Theatre in Middletown, a mansion in Westover Hills, and the town of New Castle, where three sets, including the interior of a cave, were built in a warehouse.
       Serving as a style consultant, Lisa Birnbach, author of Official Preppy Handbook (New York, 1980) and wife of producer Steven Haft, took Weir to Ralph Lauren’s Polo stores for inspiration, and forbid leather jackets and greased hairstyles according to 1959 dress codes, as stated in a 26 Jun 1989 People brief .
       In its opening weekend, Dead Poets Society took in a promising $340,456 in box-office receipts at eight theaters, as reported in a 7 Jun 1989 HR column. The film went on to gross $35.6 million in its first four weeks, according to a 28 Jun 1989 LAT article, and a 7 Feb 1990 Var item noted that the picture went on to become an overwhelming box-office success in France.
       Critical reception was mixed. While the 2 Jun 1988 LAT review referred to Dead Poets Society as “one of the best American movies of a so-far undistinguished year,” the NYT review of the same date deemed the picture “dim” and “sad.” However, Robin Williams’s performance received consistent praise, with the 30 May 1989 HR describing his role as “delicately balanced and compellingly delivered.” Tom Schulman received an Academy Award for Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen), and the film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Picture; Actor in a Leading Role (Robin Williams); and Directing. Dead Poets Society also won Best Foreign Film at Italy’s David of Donatello Awards, the country’s equivalent to the Academy Awards, according to the 4 Jun 1990 DV, and was ranked fifty-second on AFI’s 2006 100 Years…100 Cheers list of the most inspiring films of all time.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   4 Jun 1990.   
Hollywood Reporter   30 May 1989   p. 4, 8.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jun 1989.   
LAHExam   4 Jan 1989.   
Los Angeles Times   10 Jul 1988.   
Los Angeles Times   2 Jun 1989   p. 1.
Los Angeles Times   23 Jun 1989   Calendar, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times   28 Jun 1989.   
New York Times   2 Jun 1989   p. 8.
People   26 Jun 1989.   
Variety   12 Oct 1988.   
Variety   31 May 1989   p. 26.
Variety   7 Feb 1990.   

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