Bright Lights, 1988 Style
Dreams of stardom and fame, glitz and glamour, and stars on walkways are not uncommon for those filing onto a movie set. Attempting to attain these perks while wearing big, curly hairstyles with claw bangs, acid-washed jeans and faded Converse sneakers? That was a different story.
Despite working in television for most of the past decade, I had only participated in a few independent films and shorts, so upon arriving at the 1988-era set of “Friday Night Lights,” a new Billy Bob Thornton film, I was surprised. My notions of eight-hour days proved to be entirely incorrect, as I often spent more than 12 hours at the literal camp of trailers, trucks, tents, go-carts, people scurrying everywhere, security barriers and horses.
“Friday Night Lights” is based on the H.G. Bissinger book of the same name, detailing the economically disadvantaged town of Odessa, Texas and how their Friday night football love of the Permian High Panthers holds them together across generations. For most of my time on the set, I was part of re-enacting the 1988 state football championship game between Permian and the Dallas Carter Cowboys. The re-enactment took place in the Astrodome, filled with hundreds of extras, and around 800 blow-up dolls. Through the miracles of computer animation, it will appear that 20,000 people were in attendance.
I played a local sports reporter (imagine that) and was given the task of rushing the field after Permian’s victory to interview the combatants. Having covered title victories by the Rockets and Comets, I was pretty sure I could sell the believability of this moment to the audience. The adrenaline was surging on the first take as I sprinted across the field to my spot; by the time we had done the same scene about 20 times, my sprint had been reduced to a jog.
Thornton was cast as Permian High coach Gary Gaines, a fiery leader capable of barking out a slew of commands without once slipping into profanity. Those on the set who had worked with Gaines commented on the excellence of Thornton’s performance; he was an excellent guy to have around the set as well. On breaks, Thornton was always joking around with extras and crew members; kicking field goals became one of his favorite hobbies.
Periodically, as I stood around for 15 hours in the Astrodome awaiting another chance to streak across the field, I let myself really become part of the moment: This is a project that millions will see, and I had something to do with it. I wasn’t the star, but it didn’t matter; having a small part was just as impressive to me. Then, I heard “Action!” and I breathed deeply and burst out across that field again, hoping that when you see it in October, you believe in the moment occurring. H
After nine years at “Fox 26 News,” Darian Ward Nichols launched Joy in Motion, a public relations/video production company. Her debut book, “How to Catch a Mate – With the Right Bait” is coming out soon. The book was co-written by her husband, KPRC-TV’s Byron Nichols. Contact them at www.howtocatchamate.com