'Kids': The Oral History of the Most Controversial Film of the Nineties

Twenty years later, cast and creators tell the inside story on the most notorious teen movie ever made

Rosario Dawson, center, and Chloe Sevigny, bottom right, in 'Kids.' The actresses and other members of the cast sat down with Rolling Stone to share the story behind the film. Credit: Independent Pictures

It was the summer of 1995. Bill Clinton was president, Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York, and OJ Simpson was on trial. That summer’s youth-oriented movies included Pixar's first movie Toy Story, the Disney musical Pocahontas — and Kids, in which wayward, stoned teens fuck each other senseless and head-stomp random strangers.

It might be hard to remember just how notorious Larry Clark's indie-skater odyssey was. The movie grossed a modest $7 million at the box office that summer — a wild success when you account for the fact that it seemed no one would be able to sell a single ticket without going to jail. There were threats of child obscenity. There were accusations of pornography. There was a crippling MPAA rating of NC-17 (it was eventually released unrated). In-between updates on Johnny Cochrane and Kato Kaelin, it was fodder for outraged reports on CNN. And somehow it never seemed like much ado about nothing. Kids felt dangerous. Two decades later, it still does.

From the beginning, this Grimm fairy tale for the doom generation came with a great story, the one about the legendary photographer who met a 19 year-old skateboarder and told the unvarnished truth of what it's like to be a teenager in the city. But it was actually more like a dozen stories converging around this film, along with one of the greatest gathering of amateurs in film history. It was the 52 year-old Clark's first movie. It was Harmony Korine's first anything. Chloe Sevigny had previously been a shopgirl; Rosario Dawson had previously been in junior high. Some of the actors became stars. Others went back to the streets. Some, like Spirit Award winner Justin Pierce and skate legend Harold Hunter, are no longer here at all.

The following is a narrative woven together from interviews with nine of the most prominent players in the Kids story, conducted over the past month in person, by phone, by email, and with elements added from the author's public discussion after a 20th anniversary reunion screening at Brooklyn's BAMcinemafest. We would warn you about the explicit language and content to follow, but fuck that. This is Kids. You know what you're getting into.

Park Life
Harmony Korine (Screenwriter): I had just graduated from high school, and had moved from Nashville to New York for NYU's writing program. I didn't have any money, so I would commute from my grandmother's house in Queens to school each morning. I had been going up to New York ever since I was a kid — my parents were both from there — just hanging out on the streets and skateboarding, spending summers alone. I'd known a lot of those kids in the movie, like Harold and Justin, and we would just hang out, sleep on rooftops. So when I moved up there for college there was already a crew of kids.

Leo Fitzpatrick (Actor, "Telly"): I'm from New Jersey, the youngest of five kids. Like most single moms, my mother thought my brothers and sisters would be watching me — but they were all teenagers, so they were all fucking off partying, and I was left to my own devices. Luckily I had discovered skateboarding. What I liked about skating was that everybody sort of formed this mutant family of fucked-up kids, roaming the city like a pack of wild dogs. And nobody liked them — they were kinda like the Bad News Bears. I really gravitated towards that. I remember the first day I came to New York: There was a weird, dangerous element to it. People would throw bottles at you from out of their windows for skating in front of their buildings.

Chloe Sevigny (Actor, "Jennie"): I moved to New York from Connecticut in the summer of '93, the year I graduated from high school. I was working at Liquid Sky [a downtown rave retailer], living in Brooklyn Heights with five other kids who all worked for [nightclub impresario] Peter Gatien at different clubs. So you can only imagine what my life was like — having a free pass, entry into all of the clubs in NYC, working at rave central. I never really thought I was a club girl, but I was really into going out and being in a scene. I couldn’t get enough of the weirdos and freaks. 

Korine: I didn't have a place to go between classes, so I would spend all day on the streets, or wasting time in movie theaters. There would be places you could go on St. Marks Place where you could watch double features for three dollars, or I would go to the media library and watch films. So I was starting to think in that way. But I was also a kid who had just left Nashville. I was figuring it all out. I was still in it.

Fitzpatrick: Larry was always lurking around. Nobody really knew what his deal was, because he was 50 at the time, and always had a camera. Now, kids don't trust adults, especially adults with cameras. But he would hang out with this young photographer named Tobin Yelland, who said no, he's okay, he's with me. Larry was hanging out with the best skateboarders, like Mark Gonzales and Julien Stranger and John Cardiel — all these amazing guys I idolized. So I broke my skateboard, we all go back to his house and he gives me a board. Like, here you go kid. I was like, that guy is cool.

Korine: I was between classes, sitting by the fountain in Washington Square Park, and Larry was walking around taking pictures of skaters. He was sitting next to me, and I asked him about his camera — I saw he had a Leica. And from there we started talking, and he said he's a photographer and wanted to make a movie. I said that's what I do — I want to make films. I used to carry around VHS copies of movies I made in high school; if I saw somebody I recognized on the street, I would just run up to them and hand them the film. So when I was talking to Larry I just pulled out one of the films from my backpack and handed it to him. I didn't really know anything about contemporary art, and wasn't familiar with his photographs, so I wasn't sure what was real and what wasn't real. I remember asking people if they knew who he was, and they were like, yeah, he's famous.

Fitzpatrick: In order for Larry to photograph something, he has to be part of it. He can't just be an observer. So, at 50 years old, he taught himself how to skateboard so he could keep up with everybody. None of us knew what an artist was. We didn't understand that there were cool adults, adults that think teenagers have something of value. Our whole life was getting kicked out of spots, being told we were losers. And Larry was like no, what you guys are doing is cool. He was actually curious about what we had to bring to the table. The smartest thing he did with the film was have Harmony write it. Because he knew that he needed a kid to write Kids.

Korine: I had put my number on the videotape, and got a phone call that he liked [my stuff]; he wanted to see if I could write. By this strange coincidence I had just written a script for a school assignment, about a kid whose dad takes him to a prostitute on his 13th birthday — he talks the kid through the whole process as he's boning. Larry seemed excited by it. He said he had this idea to make a movie about a kid, Telly, who takes girls' virginities, like a kind of virgin surgeon. I was a huge fan of My Own Private Idaho and Drugstore Cowboy, and I started to realize that it was all real when I met Gus Van Sant at Larry's apartment in Tribeca, because he wanted to produce it.

I figured it should take about a week to write. There was a very simple outline that Larry had come up with, but otherwise I really didn't know what would happen from page to page. I just sat down and let it fly.

Larry Clark (Director): He was writing about a lot of real people. Taking all these experiences that he knew about — and I knew some of it — that happened over three or four years, and just cramming it all into a 24-hour period. Which makes for a great movie. A rollercoaster ride.

"We wanted to make an insider's look at gnarly adolescent culture that you'd never get to see otherwise — like The Real World pushed into something hyper and insane."

Korine: They were the voices that were in my head, the voices that my friends spoke. I would sit down and write 10 to 12 pages each day in my grandma's basement. She would give me fruit, slice up some kiwi, and made me this steak that tasted like a leather shoe. I had no idea what the ending would be until I got to the page where it actually happened. There was pretty much one draft of the script that was written in one week. I handed it to Larry and he loved it.

We wanted to make a kind of insider's look at this gnarly adolescent culture that you would never get to see otherwise — like The Real World pushed into something hyper and insane. Neither Larry nor I were interested in making a documentary. It was conceived of as a piece of pop filmmaking. At the same time I was coming out of skate culture where things were super aggressive, and it was exciting to try to make something that was confrontational and provocative in that way. I was trying to entertain myself, to crack myself up, to invent new ways to get in trouble, new ways to mess with people, new ways to make people angry. You can't discount how excited I was, and we were, with the idea of making people — and grown-ups specifically — angry.

Clark: Everything in the film had happened [in real life], except for Jennie. We had to have the maiden tied to the railroad tracks. And I came up with this thing about a girl getting HIV from one sexual experience. What happened was they were going to start giving out condoms that school year, in '94, and the Catholic Church was up in arms about it. HIV was in the news, and that's kind of where the idea for that plot point came from. That's what tied it together.

Korine: The AIDS thing was like Jaws. It was a device that propelled it. We didn't know anything about this disease other than that we didn't want to get it.

Cary Woods (Producer): Gus Van Sant called me, and said, I met this kid. He's coming to L.A., he's written these two scripts and you've got to read them. So he sends me Kids and Ken Park. I read them both, and I'm like who the fuck is this guy? He's the Sam Shepard of a different generation. So Harmony flies in the next day and comes into my office. He's got like long skater shorts and a T-shirt, looks like he's 14. I have friends who are pranksters, and I literally thought somebody was fucking with me. He's like Hi, I'm Harmony, in that squeaky voice of his. And I'm like no, you're not.

So we sit down on the couch and start talking, and he's brilliant. I told my secretary cancel everything for the rest of the day. We went to Venice, and we just walked around for six or seven hours. I mean, if he was a chick I would have taken him to Vegas and eloped. He was the real deal. And he was funny as fuck. 

Eric Allen Edwards (Cinematographer): I was shooting To Die For in Toronto and I got a call from Larry. Apparently Gus gave him my number and Larry said, "Wow, you mean I can use Eric? I thought he was your bitch." So I flew down to New York and met Harmony, who had this really wonderful, bouncing, crazy frenetic energy. My impression of the script was that it was like somebody had sold his soul at the crossroads, because it was too good.

Lou Barlow (Musician, Composer of Kids' Score): Harmony was into my music pretty early on. He liked my home-recorded stuff and started to send me fan letters. He actually sent me the scripts for Kids and it was incredibly crude. The kids talked like real kids. But you didn't know if it would materialize, because Harmony went between being very earnest and just lying outright about all kinds of things. But all of a sudden it was like: I want you to come down and get a feel for what we're doing because I want you to do the score for it.

So I hung out with Larry and Harmony for a day, like a little slumber party at Larry's place. They were quite a duo. It wasn't a father-son thing — it was way creepier than that. They took me to a really high-end sushi restaurant and were telling me their whole plan of making this groundbreaking movie that was going to win an Oscar, and when they accepted their Oscar they were going to walk to the podium to this Slint song "Good Morning Captain." They had it all mapped out. They were the kinds of New Yorkers who just walked into traffic. Larry Clark's smoking a joint in the street, and Harmony's throwing poppers — those little snaps — at cops and old ladies the whole time. They're cutting such a swath through the city, and I'm scrambling behind them. And I was like wow, I'm into it.

Woods: Some people are saying get me Mark Wahlberg, get me Johnny Depp, but no one's making the movie. I had just met these financiers who wanted to be in the movie business. One of the guys was Michael Chambers — his father was Ray Chambers, this huge venture capitalist and philanthropist during the Eighties. Michael said if you see a script that's under $5 million, send it to us. So I sent Kids to them. Now, to this day I'm not sure if they read it or not. Could you imagine that you've never read a script and all of a sudden you're reading Kids?!?

But he says okay, let's do it. Now, one of the executive producers at the time was Marty Scorsese. And Marty's independent film person was his ex-wife, a woman called Barbara De Fina, and there were some disagreements with Barbara. She was taking control of the project even though they didn't own it; she didn't want to give the money guys executive producer credits. She wanted to bump me to executive producer and make herself the producer. And I'm like, listen, no way. Well, then Marty's leaving, she says. And I'm like, oh fuck, Marty's my idol — he's leaving? And you know in terms of selling the movie, losing Marty's name, I mean…there are no stars. So I call Larry and I go listen, if we make this deal, Marty is going to be gone. Do you care? And he goes, "Are we going to be able to start this summer? Yes? Then fuck him."

The next thing I know we're making a movie.

Child's Play
Sevigny: I had moved to San Francisco to be with this boy, kind of following love. But after a few weeks I was like, this is no fun. Being underage in San Francisco is not the same at being underage in New York City. Harmony and I were still in communication — we had been friends since high school and he was one of my best friends. We'd been talking about him writing the script all along, but this time he was like, "We're making the film — come back." And I was like all right, fuck it. I was originally cast as Joy, which was like a peripheral character.

Clark: A lot of the characters were loosely based on people that Harmony and I knew. When we cast the film, we used a lot of people, like Justin and Harold, who the characters were based on.

Fitzpatrick: Harold was the first person that everyone met in New York. He was that guy. If there was a weird alternate universe, he could have run for mayor of New York and won. Sure he was crazy, but that's what made him endearing.

Sevigny: I had done some photo shoots with Larry, as well as this weird video that I hope never surfaces. He knew me, he had photographed me a couple of times. He wasn't as interested in the girls as much as the boys. But I kind of looked like a boy.

Fitzpatrick: Larry said that when I was a kid I was the angriest kid he'd ever seen on a skateboard. Because if I didn't land a trick I would freak out. Obviously I have a weird voice, so that when I was cursing and screaming you could hear that crazy voice across the parking lot.

Korine: Nobody could understand him.

Clark: The producers wanted to me to have him get voice lessons. All the Hollywood films, the hero, the guy who got the girls is always some blonde-headed blue-eyed kid. And I wanted to do something opposite of that. Because guys that get girls are not particularly the best-looking guys. Guys who get girls are guys who...all they think about is pussy. That's all they want. And so the reason that I was so happy with Leo was that he wasn't typecast like that.

Sevigny: Leo and I were more the outsiders. We weren't as down as Justin or Harold or the other kids. I was like a knobby-kneed skinny white indie weirdo girl. I don't know what I was.

Rosario Dawson (Actress, "Ruby"): I had just graduated eighth grade, and I was hanging out on my stoop on Avenue C. They were filming a Vibe commercial, and they were looking for people, dancers and stuff. My dad was like, you love dancing, you'd be perfect for this if they need anybody from the neighborhood. I lived in what had been an abandoned building, a squat basically. There was a homeless guy who was asking if there were any apartments available, and I started cracking up because he looked just like the classic cliché Jesus. You know, the long willowy clothes and hair, and these really bright blue eyes. He started cracking up. I didn't know what he was laughing about but I started giggling with him just to be polite. But then I realized I was humoring Jesus, and I thought that was hilarious. So I like, guffawed. And literally in that moment, they all turned to look at me.

Korine: I was like, who's this beautiful girl?

Dawson: I thought they were with the Vibe crew, because they were shooting sound that day and I thought they were coming over to tell me to be quiet. But instead Harmony was jumping up and down really excited, going "Oh my god I wrote this for you, I don't even know you but I wrote this for you!"

Korine: I said hey, will you come and audition for this movie?

Dawson: "Dad, some weirdo's talking to me about some movie." So they gave me a script, I read it and my parents read it, and they thought it was cool. Most people would have read that script and said "Oh hell no!" But the only issue my mom and dad put their foot down about was that my character couldn't be smoking. Otherwise they thought the film seemed really smart.

So my dad took me out on his bicycle, which was a normal thing — he used to peddle me out everywhere, with a t-shirt or towel on the bar in the middle and I would kind of scrunch up — and that's how we got to the production office on Broadway, right off Houston. I remember Larry peering out and going "Is that your boyfriend?" That's my dad, what's wrong with you? After that my parents would let me bike by myself down to Larry's place for the rehearsals. I felt very mature, going to my job by myself.

Clark: We couldn't cast Jennie because there was no [real] Jennie. She was made up.

Woods: I was making two movies at the same time, and during rehearsals and casting on Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead I met with this girl called Mia Kirshner. She had just done her first movie with Atom Egoyan, Exotica, and she's hot. I'm like, I'm doing another movie and you might like the script. I send it to her, she loses her shit. Larry was not that excited because she's an actress, but I'm like, read with her for a few days — give her a shot.

Sevigny: She'd never been to New York, so they asked me to take her around, show her the ropes. I was like, you've got to be fucking kidding me. I get this bit part and now I've got to show this girl around? I was so pissed. But I was a good sport.

Dawson: Harmony, Larry, myself, the rest of the cast — we were all first-timers. But this girl was really big on doing acting exercises, which also created a different dynamic. She had to play at being meek, but she wasn't a very meek person. She was very full on.

Woods: I get a call from her agent and he's like "What the fuck is going on? Mia called me and she was fired and she's coming home." And I said this is embarrassing, but I swear this is the first I'm hearing of this. So I call Larry and I say what happened? And he goes, you know what, she just stuck out like a sore thumb. So then we didn't have a Jennie.

"The AIDS thing was like Jaws. We didn't know anything about this disease other than that we didn't want to get it."

Dawson: Harmony pulled me aside and said we've decided to make a change. I originally wrote this [Jennie part] for my best friend Chloe. Though we really love this other actress, we think having Chloe do the part that I wrote for her would work better

Clark: It was a Friday night and we were shooting that Tuesday. We called Chloe up, and she said give me the weekend to think about it

Sevigny: I was in Connecticut living with my parents, because I had given up my place in Brooklyn to move to San Francisco. I showed my dad the script and asked what he thought about it, and he said I think you should do it. You've always wanted to be an actress — it's something I did all through school, at summer theater camp. I had been doing music videos and stuff, trying to figure out a way into that world. It just seemed like a natural trajectory.

Dawson: There maybe was a bit of shyness in all of us, and I think it made us relax, because then we were all in the same boat — as opposed to feeling, Larry included, like Mia's the most experienced person on the set. It felt a lot more inclusive. And the lines were really easy to memorize because they sounded exactly like how you would say them if you were those people.

Korine: Half the script was written in a kind of slang that was specific to that time in New York, and to those kids. There was a lot of inner coded language that we thought was really interesting, and I guess I had a good ear for it.

Fitzpatrick: When you shoot a film you have to memorize three to seven pages a day; for this, we had to memorize 120 pages and be able to do it at the drop of a hat. There's no way in hell I could ever do that again. But we had never made a fucking movie before, so we didn't understand what is the right or wrong way to do things, what's acceptable or unacceptable. My openness to just try things, believing in Larry and Harmony that this would work.

Sevigny: I felt like that maybe I was asked more of than the other kids. Because I had the real dramatic scenes, like hearing that I had HIV for the first time. I remember being in that nurse's office with Larry and the woman who was playing the nurse, a day player who was not the most generous of performers, just being like how am I going to do this? I think I cried because I was so nervous, and Larry was just like, it's going to be good, just trust me. And I really did.

Sex, Drugs & New York
Fitzpatrick: On the first day of shooting, we were supposed to do the scene after the opening scene, of us walking down the street. And it fucking rains. So it's all right, let's just shoot the first scene. So that first scene is the first day I've ever acted in my life. Once you do something like that, everything else is pretty fucking easy.

Edwards: Larry was saying okay, you guys are going to kiss for six solid minutes. For a full mag of film in the camera. That was outrageous. But he walked them through the sex scenes, and they seemed to handle it pretty well. He was throwing them into a situation that might have been a little over their heads — I mean everyone talked about giving head or whatever, but what was their experience with sex? Are we asking them to do more than their experience has been?

Fitzpatrick: All these kids were basically acting. Because they weren't even that sexual, they were like 15, 16. So they're all trying to put on airs, saying like, "there was this one time when I had this girl," and blah blah blah. But it was all a front. That's what acting is. It's bullshitting. I had had sex once, maybe. Maybe not even real sex. I didn't know what the fuck I was doing.

Dawson: I remember my first kiss happened during the middle of shooting. I only shot like four days of the movie. But I remember my first kiss happened when I had gone to Tompkins Square Park with a bunch of my friends and we played spin the bottle. I ended up making out with this guy, and it was this weird, you know, mouths open and tongues just going around in a circle — it was weird and kinda gross. And we were shooting the scene in the waiting room before we're going in to find out about our test results. I'm going, Oh my god Chloe, I made out with a boy last night. She's like — and I'll never forget how she said my name — "Ro-SAR-io!" And I was like I know, I know, it's crazy. Then it was action, and then I was full on talking about all the different kinds of sex that I've had, relieved that I'm not HIV positive.

Sevigny: Rosario was super innocent. Actually if we were going to play who we were, Rosario should have played me, and I should have played Rosario's part. I was the more promiscuous one. Not wild, but a little wild. There was a lot more dry humping. Isn't that what you do? I feel like I dry humped with a lot of skate boarders in that period. But I didn't know anybody that was having sex in that way — or a lot of it. I didn't like the scene [with the girls talking about sex]...I found it a little vulgar. I wasn't really like a homegirl, either, though sometimes I wanted to be. Because those girls were like the Puerto Rican girls that all the boys liked, the juicy girls.

Dawson: I remember 14 specifically being the year when a lot of the girls stopped playing with stickers. They were blossoming, they would make sure to have their sneakers super clean, [with] their nails done and their earrings, talking about the sex they were having raw-dog style. I was never dazzled by the idea of having a fake ID, or going into the clubs. I'd be like, the floors are sticky, you smell and don't look that cute even in this lighting — I don't really get the draw. But a lot of the girls around me were just desperate to get out of their homes, and were sleeping with a lot of these drug dealer kind of guys, and they'd be talking like "he doesn't like using a condom," blah blah blah. They were little girls. These were not worldly or adults, but they were playing very adult games. So for me the script felt like the conversations I'd hear. It wasn't my lifestyle, it was definitely easy to emulate and mimic.

Korine: Every dude was trying to bone Rosario on the movie.

Woods: The whole thing took place over 24 hours, so whatever they were wearing, that's what they were going to be wearing. We had two or three of each [piece of clothing], and during the first or second week, kids started robbing shit. I said to them, "No, listen, we'll give you the shit when the movie's over." So we started to have to keep an eye on things. A couple of the kids slept at Larry's house, or wherever — we borrowed that idea from Hector Babenco and [the Brazilian movie] Pixote. Because these guys could go out and you might not see them for days. It's a miracle this thing went through without anything like that happening.

Sevigny: They put me and my friend Lila in the costume designer's apartment. It was like one of those tenement style apartments where the bathtub was in the kitchen and the toilet was down the hall, and you had to use a key to get into it. The junkies would go in there, and I remember writing a note to them: "Please clean up your Snickers bars and hypodermic needles. Thank you, Chloe."

Edwards: Drugs were a big thing. Obviously those kids were smoking dope in the park. There's no illusion about that. So at some point that became a thing: Can we legally show kids smoking dope? And what does that mean? 

Woods: I went to San Francisco with Larry to have some of their parents to sign off on it, because these were real kids, all professional skaters, and they're 12 and 13 years old. And their lifestyle was wake and bake. That's how they lived.

Clark: The film is all written except for that one scene. They just walked in the door from San Francisco one day, and I said Harmony we've got to get them in the shot. But there was no time at all, so we sat them on the couch, suggested stuff for them to say, and they just improvised. We shot for 15 minutes and there it was.

Korine: That movie could never exist today. I don't even know what the laws are now, and what the rules are. I just don't think any of it could happen. I was stoned for a lot of it.

Woods: They would send me videocassettes of dailies. I remember I was up in Denver and I got the dailies for the Washington Square Park fight scene. I'm watching it and thinking, I'm never going to work again. I'll never work in Hollywood ever again.

Edwards: They line up this black kid and they just beat the shit out of him. They whack him with this skateboard and bring him to his knees. The kids were obviously homophobic and they were leering at the gay couple walking through the park — that's who they are. But we talked a bunch about the un-PC nature of the encounter with the black guy. Larry and Harmony were both like, look, we don't have a problem with race. It's not an issue. We're all just guys in the city, and it's not about race, it's about somebody fucking with you. So it's like ok, why is the guy black? Well, because that's the point. It could be a black guy or it could be a white guy. They wanted to push that through.

Korine: That was something that would happen all the time. I remember Justin had gone into the bathroom there and some guy peeked at his dick and tried to jerk off on him, and I remember that they just beat the shit out of the dude. That's something you would see all the time. So it was interesting when people got so upset about it. I knew it was extreme, but for a lot of us it was more shocking just to see it on a movie screen. 

Fitzpatrick: It seemed like a regular fucking day whether or not we were making a movie. Just some days there was a camera there. I hear of some kid from Ohio being like, that shit was crazy. I'm like, not really. Not if you were in New York.

Edwards: There were times when Justin would get really fucked up, drunk, and get arrested. The thing that happened when we were shooting at the Tunnel is that he was stealing bottles of liquor from the bar. The bouncer caught him and was whaling on him. And then Larry got him into the camera truck, saying, "You're not going to fuck up my movie." It really got to a point where Larry's playing the dad role. All of a sudden you're the older guys. Not the enemy, but you're those guys they have to respect.

Fitzpatrick: Me and Justin got into like fistfights on set. I'm already an awkward kid, and you keep pushing my buttons I'm only going to take it so much. The problem was that we were supposed to be best friends, and during that film we were like oil and water. But there was a respect there. The night before the last day of shooting, Justin got into a weird fight. He actually fought the cops and broke his wrist, and ended up in jail for a day or two. I've always been curious if that wasn't on purpose. He wanted to keep that film going. That was the first family-like situation Justin had ever been in, and felt important. And the idea of losing that was probably scary for him.

Marketing, Miramax & Sundance
Woods: I had a friend who worked at New York Magazine. And she begged me to see the movie. I said look, here's the deal: if you see it and don't like it, it's just me and you and that's it. But if you like it and want to do something on it, let's talk about it. Then she lost her mind for it, and it ended up on the cover of New York even though no one had seen the fucking movie yet. It was fantastic. Then Harvey Weinstein wanted to see it, and because we're good friends I showed it to him before anybody else.

Harvey Weinstein (Co-Founder of Miramax): I sat and watched it in our screening room in Tribeca and, honestly, there's no simple, concise way to describe how I felt. Dumbstruck? Awestruck? Impassioned? All I knew was that we had to somehow put it out, whatever it took, because this was something raw and real on the level of the cinema of the Seventies, when filmmakers all of a sudden took a turn towards capturing our dark underbellies.

Woods: He goes, "That's quite a movie you got there. What do you think I should do?" He wasn't negotiating — we're friends. I said you should probably just pass because Michael Eisner is going to rip your balls off if you buy this movie. I mean, [Miramax] was owned by Disney. And he said, "Well then, what are you going to do?" I said I'm going to open it at Sundance and sell it for a ton of money to whoever's going to be the next Miramax. He goes, "Be at my office at three o'clock." He wanted it, and typical Harvey, he'd figure out how to make it work.

Weinstein: We weren't naïve about it. But I thought it was such an important film that maybe people would make exceptions. Obviously, I was wrong, and we had to go through that incredibly complicated method of distribution.

Eamonn Bowles (Former Head of Acquisitions at Miramax/Head of Shining Excalibur Pictures): I was working at Samuel Goldwyn Company, doing distribution in L.A. Harvey Weinstein calls and says you're going to work for me — we want you to do this new company that's going to release Kids. It's difficult to remember now exactly how fraught with peril the whole release was. There were these strong intimations of child pornography, legal battles. In general it was a movie that freaked people out. I thought it was terrific but it was really extreme for the time. As we were moving into our new house, I told my wife to put the phone in her name.

Weinstein: We started a distribution company strictly for the purpose of putting Kids out and called it Shining Excalibur Pictures.

Bowles: Harvey wanted to call it Excalibur. In the back of my head, I have an association with that name for some reason, and it's not a positive one. We did a title search and realized that Excalibur Films was one of the big porno companies. So then it was Shining Excalibur. It was like, you know, throw a gerund on there. We set up an office in the Tribeca building. Six or seven people worked there, but obviously Miramax publicity was very much involved throughout — it was all done to steer clear of Disney. We did try to get an R rating; in fact, when the R was rejected, I remembering going out to L.A. with [lawyer] Alan Dershowitz, who was doing the appeal at the MPAA. There was no actual nudity in the film. But at every juncture, and I have to emphasize this strongly, every strategic thing we did we had vetted by a whole team of lawyers, including the preeminent child pornography lawyer in the country.

Woods: There was some law that you cannot show a nipple if [the actress] is under 18, and if you did it was like a criminal offense. So we had to have some special effects house smooth it over. It was more expensive than anything else we did on the movie. 

Weinstein:  Not only were we threatened on a censorship level, we were threatened on a criminal level.

Woods: The guys at Sundance wanted to put it in competition, but I was like, it's gonna show one time, at midnight, at the Egyptian. Then I'm getting the print right out of there. It's in Utah, and I'm not having this fucking print rolling around and have somebody seize it. They agreed to that, and it sold out in an hour.

Sevigny: They didn't bring any of the kids out to Sundance. First of all, we were a lot to handle — not me, but the boys. Obviously Larry wasn't the best disciplinarian, and I think nobody else wanted that responsibility. Also the Harvey Weinstein 1990s publicity machine believed that it would be stronger if some people thought that these kids were still living in the street.

Fitzpatrick: It was in Miramax's best interest to keep the movie feeling as much like a documentary as possible. Which is a great way to keep the mystery alive.

Bowles: We did not promote the kids. To keep that air of verisimilitude was important.

"You can't show a nipple if [the actress] is under 18. So we had to have a special effects house smooth it over. It was more expensive than anything else we did on the movie."

Dawson: A year later I got a call that we were doing a photo shoot for Harper's Bazaar. That they'd taken the film to Sundance — of course I'd never heard of Sundance — and everyone had lost their minds about it, it was coming out and I needed to be a part of it. That they'd put me on the poster. I remember it felt like a very Pretty Woman moment. I got to watch the movie that, at 16, I probably wasn't allowed to see. The screening room was so packed that I sat by myself in the aisle. I remember watching myself and looking around, going like, did you guys see that? It was my first time really taking in what we'd done, and it was revelatory. And it changed my life.

Korine: At Cannes, I was like skateboarding down the red carpet. It was funny and completely retarded. Mostly it was the girls who were around that were exciting for me. I remember seeing a girl deep-throating an ice-pop made of caviar, and she's wearing, like, a thong. It was another world. Also being around a lot of directors that I had loved was surreal. I just wanted to make movies. And I was off to the races.

Sevigny: People were really interested in me — I did the cover of Interview and New York — but I wasn't going to any of the festivals. But when the film went to the Indie spirit awards, they brought us all. They put us all in the Chateau [Marmont] and we were all in one bungalow. I brought my mom. I remember being at the pool, and it was one of my first times in LA, and my mom had like some crappy point-and-shoot camera, and I was like mom, it's too bright. And Paul Schrader was sitting by the pool, and he was like "You've got to learn to look in the light if you want to be an actress." I was like, whoa.

"Jesus Christ, What Happened?"
Korine: I didn't know the film would get as much attention as it did. It's hard to prepare for that. It's one thing to understand it intellectually; it's another thing to experience it. There was really mixture of accolades and venom. People getting upset just seemed part of the thing. Eventually that would follow me through pretty much every movie I made.

Fitzpatrick: After the film came out, immediately I didn't like the association with it. I played the biggest fucking villain of the summer. So if wasn't getting laid before, how do you think I was doing now? I'd have other skaters come up to me and go, "You know why I wasn't in Kids? Because I ain't no kid!" I still get vibed at bars because of that shit. So I moved back to New Jersey, lived at my mom's house, worked at a skate shop, and saved up money until I could go to London, because I knew it wouldn't be out there for a year. I wanted to get away from it as much as possible. Now I can appreciate it, but back then I was like what the fuck?

Sevigny: I had gotten my job back at Liquid Sky and I was working there when the movie came out, when it was playing at the Angelika. And then people started calling me at the store about being in movies.

Fitzpatrick: I thought was kind of fucked up was that Miramax never helped us make a transition into anything. Hollywood people scared me — I thought they were all creeps. It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I was comfortable really acting again.

Dawson: I actually ended up getting an agent from it. Offers for roles would come in and I'd say that's not really me — I'm not actually that person [in the movie], that chickenhead from the neighborhood. So I would audition here and there but didn't think anything of it until I got He Got Game in my senior year. And that's when it felt like my career took off. It's because Spike had seen Kids, and was really interested to see if I could do that again, but do it better and differently.

Sevigny: Harmony and I really fell in love after the movie. And then we just became wrapped up in our own world.

Korine: My first apartment was actually with Chloe — she was my girlfriend at the time. We lived on Prince and Crosby right above this restaurant called the Savoy. And all these kids were just right down the street. Basically they would sleep on my fire escape and bang on my door all day, come to my apartment to get high. There weren't any rules. It's a beautiful thing and it's a dangerous thing.

Sevigny: People would walk by all day long, just hollering up: "Yo Harmony, Chloe!" You didn't even have to buzz. You didn't have to call. It got to be a little much.

Korine: There was no buffer. It was really that movie and then back into reality. Just kind of figuring out how to lose your anonymity. It was more difficult for [the cast] than it was for me. They were more closely associated with the characters.

Dawson: I used to watch it every year. Just because it was my first film, and I wasn't friends with everybody — that was my connection. But then when Harold died and Justin killed himself, I stopped watching it.

Korine: They were stars before they were stars. Maybe that's why it was difficult for them to move into Hollywood-like things. They scared people. Justin would go into auditions drunk and get into fights. Casting directors loved him but they were also scared of him. He was the real deal. They were street legends. And they were beautiful.

Fitzpatrick: I think Justin was just drunk and made a mistake. And I think we've all been there. Some of us are smart enough to sleep it off and others aren't. The older I get the more I'm surprised any of us survive our 20s. The older I get the more I realize how none of it makes sense. There's no rhyme or reason. Harold and Justin, those are the only two reasons I would rewatch the film — just to hang out with those guys for two hours more. It sucks when you don't know what they could have grown into. But you have to appreciate the time they were here.

Dawson: Harold bet me a box of donuts on the L train we were going to get married. I'm still mad at him about that.

Korine: You have to remember that they were all just kids at that park. That really was just it.

The Legacy of Kids
Clark: The film wasn't an accident. We wanted to make a movie that had never been made before. We wanted to make something that was totally original. We wanted to make something that was totally honest. And we made it.

Sevigny: It's the main thing that people bring up with me, still. Years later, it's shocking. It's really like a huge benchmark. I think coming of age films, especially anything with a little rebellion — there's such a romanticism around teens. And when you're growing up, you want to watch those movies where kids are being wild, or that are a foray into something more artful.

Korine: This idea of selling out, it was really at the forefront of the way that everyone was living back then. There were certain things that you could never do, that you'd never want to be a part of. For a lot of us, street culture was more like a kind of shadow culture. It was like about receding and inventing your own thing, your own language your own logic. Money was never really discussed because nobody ever had it. It was more just like you looked up to people that were more inventive and more outcast. Whereas now the culture seems to be all about selling out. There is no selling out because everything is already sold. There is no underground because everything is level, with the Internet and social media. You could make the argument that now there's no rules and culture is up for grabs. There was no camera phones, no cell phones, you didn't know what everyone was doing. Now the culture is all on display, and everyone wants to talk about what they ate, and take pictures of, like, their sneakers.

Fitzpatrick: What's weird to me is how many kids I run into to this day who say that's the movie I moved to NY because of. And I'm like, you know it's kind of like a cautionary tale? These are young kids who have their own scenes, but it still resonates with teenagers somehow. To me it's strange that it still holds up 20 years later. I wish I could see it with fresh eyes again. I want to be shocked by seeing it for the first time.

Dawson: For many years when people would recognize me they'd say yo, that movie saved my life. I stopped doing drugs like that. Or I stopped going and breaking into pools and hanging out with people I didn't really know so well, because the amount of times I almost got raped I could count on both hands and feet. Now I have people who are adults who say I show that movie to my kids because it scared me when I was their age and I want to scare them now with it. That's what film does, it lets you have an experience that's not your own and learn from it. I think it's provocative and smart and shows you what kids are up to when the adults aren't paying attention. And that's not anything different then than it is now.

I remember my grandmother watched it, and she walked into the movie all excited, you know, "My granddaughter is in this movie!" And then she walked out with her head down, like I can't believe what I just watched. And I said Oh I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you or be too provocative. And she was like Rosario, please. I have five children, you think I don't understand what you're doing? I've been there and done that. I just wish you'd have warned me so I wouldn't have told all the ladies at church to see it.