AUSTIN, Texas — Richard Linklater, helmer of high school tale “Dazed and Confused,” is going back to school, this time concentrating on the hallowed Texas gridiron.
Terrence Malick, who like Linklater lives in Austin, is producing with Edward Pressman and Anne Walker. Co-producers are Peter Atherton and Erin Ferguson.
Linklater recently received the approval of the Bay City, Texas, school board to film its high school football team this fall for use as “fictional documentary” footage in the first half of the untitled project. The second half, to be shot in Austin in spring 2003, will follow four teammates in their first year out of high school.
“It was important that we find a state champion caliber team that had many returning starters,” Linklater said in a letter to the school board. “It was also important that the team be ethnically diverse.”
Bay City’s Black Cats lost in the state championship game in 2001, but won in 2000, and the team is expected to be a contender this year. Bay City, a town of about 20,000, is located 80 miles southwest of Houston.
It’s a second try at a Texas high school football epic for Linklater, himself a former backup quarterback in Huntsville, Texas. He has long wanted to adapt H.G. Bissinger’s book “Friday Night Lights” for the bigscreen and was tapped to direct it for Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment in 1998. After he had written a script, booked locations in Odessa, Texas, and cast football players, Universal Studios pulled the plug.
Instead, Linklater had to sit back and watch MTV lense “Varsity Blues” that year in his hometown of Austin.
Striving for authenticity
“Films such as ‘Varsity Blues’ and ‘Any Given Sunday’ use extras and stuntmen to re-create the feeling of football games, but never quite achieve the sense of excitement and anticipation present in reality,” Linklater wrote to the school board. “We hope to accomplish that by filming real games and fans. We would intercut the game footage with fictional documentary footage of our actors to create the illusion of them being on a real team.”
Bay City school superintendent Richard Walton said, “We really were quite taken aback that this was the real deal and not just some people wanting to make a documentary or play filmmaker. (Linklater) said, ‘I just want people to understand what it means to play Texas high school football because it meant so much to me and to so many people.’ ”
A Linklater spokesman said funding is “not set in stone,” but the director told the school board that distribution is set through Sony Pictures Classics.
Almost 1,600 young men with high school football experience auditioned for roles through videotape submissions, personal recommendations and open casting calls in the Texas cities of Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Texarkana, Longview, Lufkin, Beaumont and Houston. The four main roles have yet to be cast.
(Joe O’Connell is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.)