We had a blast Wednesday night at Fiesta Square Cinemas with our promotion of Friday Night Lights, thanks to Chuck Barrett, Buzz Bissinger and our HawgsIllustrated.com subscribers.
TheInsiders.com, our web partners, gave us the chance to join in a national promotion with Universal Studios two days before Friday Night Lights hit the big screen for movie goers. We jumped at the opportunity and threw a little party afterwards to thank our web subscribers.
It was a chance for me to get to know some of our subscribers and put a name and face to an email. We had almost 300 at our event that was both a private screening of the movie and a chance to promote HI.com with a live broadcast at the theater with Chuck Barrett and his highly rated SportsRap radio show.
We did a little pretending to make it fun. We talked about the chance of having some real stars, like Billy Bob Thornton, Tim McGraw (and his wife Faith Hill). Chuck even threw out the rumor that Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie had asked for tickets. I don't know exactly where he got that rumor, but it made for good theater.
And that's what Wednesday night was all about, having some fun and some good theater. Chuck and I did not wear tuxedos as we said on the radio and there was no red carpet. But, thanks to HI photog Tom Ewart, we had some special art work at the theater on big poster boards. We displayed some local prep action from Fayetteville, Springdale and Rogers, along with our latest HI cover.
We also had some high school coaches as guests with Fayetteville's Darryl Patton sitting in with Chuck during one segment. It gave us a chance to promote high school football in Arkansas and Darryl was happy to oblige.
The highlight of the radio show was a live interview with Bissinger. Chuck Barrett gets the credit for that, not anyone at Universal Studios. As it turns out, Chuck's deep network of friends produced Bissinger.
"We have a mutual friend, Charles Schlumberger, from Little Rock," Barrett said. "Charles set it up and Buzz was very glad to do it."
Turns out Bissinger is a Razorback fan and actually attended the recent Arkansas-Texas game with Schlumberger, an old high school buddy. He told us on the radio that it had been a "dream" to see a UA-UT game for the last 30 years and he finally pulled it off.
"I reminded Charles about that and he said, ‘You are on,'" Bissinger said. "I flew in to Little Rock, stayed with Charles and he took me to the game in Fayetteville. I also got to see Little Rock Central.
"I had always wanted to see a big-time college experience and Fayetteville didn't disappoint. The only thing that didn't work out is that the Hogs didn't quite beat those Longhorns. That would have made it perfect.
"I hate the ‘Horns. They are all arrogant (butt)holes. I wanted to go this time because I might never get another chance."
Bissinger spent over 30 minutes on the phone with us Wednesday night, discussing the movie and his book (and tipping his off to a new book in the works on the St. Louis Cardinals). Of course, he thinks the book Friday Night Lights is better than the movie. I tend to agree, although the movie is grand. It just didn't cover some of the things like racism and other controversial subjects from the book. And, the ending is a little different than the book, but we won't spoil it by disclosing what Hollywood did to juice up the finish.
The book is out of this world and anyone who sees the movie ought to get the book, too. It's still a high-flying success on the New York Times best-seller list. As Bissinger said, "It's had an unbelievable life since it first came out in 1990." And, the end is not in sight.
Did he know he had a best seller when he left Odessa after spending a year to do research?
"I knew it was going to be hot, but this hot? To be honest, no," he said. "I knew I was onto a good story, the quintessential American story. Odessa is a real place, like so many other small towns that place a lot of emphasis on high school football, like many in Arkansas.
"I knew what Texas high school football was like, but I didn't actually start out to go to Odessa. I was looking for a Texas town and I was told by college recruiters, ‘You have to go to Odessa.'"
Of course, they were right. The Odessa Permian story is famous. With a high school stadium built in 1982 for $5.6 million with 19,000 seats and a two-story press box, the legend of Mojo Magic is all by itself in Texas football lore.
"My first Permian game was the most intoxicating event I'd ever seen," Bissinger said. "To see those lights come on and light up the world on those barren plains of west Texas was like nothing I'd seen.
"But the kids were the story to me, the way they tried to uphold the honor of the team, town and community. It was both beautiful and something dark and tragic at the same time."
Of course, Bissinger nailed it in the book, and that part came through in beautiful fashion in the movie. We sat mesmerized for 117 minutes when the big screen came to life.
The football action segments of the movie are out of this world. The on-screen hits are as riveting and moving as anything I've seen. I winced and squirmed in my seat more than a few times when bodies slammed together. And, as usual, I teared up when Billy Bob Thornton, portraying the coach, provided a moving halftime speech to spur on his team in the championship game.
Oh, better not tell you any more. Don't want to spoil your fun. Couldn't be much better than ours Wednesday night.
Buzz Caused Stir
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