Some 15 years after he first fell in love with H.G. Bissinger’s 1990 high school football chronicle “Friday Night Lights,” Imagine chairman Brian Grazer has found a quarterback in Peter Berg.
Berg is rewriting the script draft by David Aaron Cohen and will direct the pic this fall at Universal.
Production will start in time to shoot footage from the upcoming season of the Panthers, the high school team from Odessa, Texas, around which the bestseller revolved.
Bissinger’s book detailed the entire 1985 season of the Panthers, capturing the frenzy of a small town that reveres its school team and its Friday night weekly game. Book parallels gridiron tales like “North Dallas Forty” in the way it depicts the fragile nature of celebrity.
To Grazer, it also evokes period small-town films like “The Last Picture Show” and the edginess of Imagine-produced “8 Mile.”
“Even though it’s set in the ’80s, it’s almost more relevant in how it looks at the power of celebrity in sports,” said Grazer, who’ll produce. “One minute you’re a nobody and the next you are a rock star. The perceptions and expectations that creates in the athletes and the public and culture goes way beyond Odessa, where an athlete who is treated like a god becomes a nobody when he blows out his knee.”
Grazer was first introduced to the material by Alan J. Pakula, the “All the President’s Men” helmer who wanted to direct it. Pakula died in an automobile accident, and Grazer has huddled with numerous directors but never got close to the goal line until Berg.
A former athlete, Berg knows the world from inside the huddle. His directing debut, “Very Bad Things,” showed the edginess that Grazer was looking for. Berg, who got his start as an actor on “Chicago Hope,” became a fave of Grazer and supervising Imagine execs Jim Whitaker and David Bernardi for his scripting work on the Imagine-produced ABC series “Wonderland” and his ongoing efforts to write a feature revolving around a hostage rescue team.
U execs are high on Berg for his job directing “Rundown,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Seann William Scott. Action buddy pic opens in the fall.
“Pete is a forcefully committed filmmaker who goes for the edge this needs,” Grazer said. “There have been about 20 directors who’ve wanted to do it, but the match never worked. Pete will create the intensity in this subculture.”
Grazer and the helmer will begin casting right away.
“This will be a dark, dirty look at a world, much like ‘8 Mile,’ and the casting will reflect that,” Grazer said.