Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Joe's Top 10 Texas film stories of the decade

The last decade has been a wild ride. I started writing about the Texas film industry in the late '90s, mainly covering film festivals for the San Antonio Express-News and writing the occasional film feature for the Austin American-Statesman. Then I had the notion that Texas needed a column about the industry itself that looked forward not backward. I, of course, was clueless that Jane Sumner had been writing just such a column for The Dallas Morning News for a couple of decades.

Being the fool I am, I proceeded to write a column with hopes that I could sell it to smaller newspapers all over Texas. I was wrong. But I got lucky and the Austin American-Statesman picked the column up in early 2000. I moved the column to The Austin Chronicle in 2004 and added a Dallas Morning News column in late 2005—a year after Sumner took early retirement. As we end the aughts, here are the top film stories I covered during the last decade. They provide a microcosm of what the state's film industry underwent:

1. The Alamo comes to town. I heard rumors that Ron Howard was planning to do a remake of The Alamo and shoot it in Texas. When Howard went to the governor's mansion to announce the project, I was there covering it for the Statesman. Unfortunately so was one of their capitol reporters. I wrote the story anyway, and it ran the next day on the cover of Variety. Later I sniffed out the filming location and that story ran on the cover of the Statesman. During filming I visited the set and provided this report for the San Antonio Express-News. Are you getting the point of why this film that wasn't directed by Howard and wasn't particularly good (blame Disney and its cost-cutting and script-chopping ways) still tops my list? It also is perhaps the biggest example of the Texas Myth.

2. My original Statesman column was titled “On Location,” which made it easy to convince my editors to send me to the sets of such local productions as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Rookie, which was directed by Texan John Lee Hancock, the same guy who would go on to direct the ill-fated The Alamo. He's a great guy, a fine writer and we'll be seeing more and more for him years to come.

3. The most in-depth stories I wrote about the film industry
appeared in The Austin Chronicle. Certainly my best journalism is contained in a piece that put a face on the slow down of the Texas film scene, but this piece on the death of Burnt Orange Productions also had its merits. Both pieces are about dreamers and what happens when art runs up against business.

4. I wrote about the technical side of film as well in this piece marking the death of VHS. Video Business, a sister publication to Variety had me investigate the now-forgotten EZ Disc. And then there were the high-def format wars and the changes in film distribution.

5. Friday Night Lights reared its head majorly during the decade, including in the under-reported case of Richard Linklater, who started work on what I now realize was his last try at directing a version of the book. He even cast Mehcad Brooks, an Austin native who credits the nascient project with getting his career going. Linklater declined to talk to me about the project, despite widespread publicity in Texas, and wasn't pleased by this story that ran in Variety. I somehow didn't cover the actual FNL film much, but I did visit the set of the television show both in the first season and in the second.

6. I've written a few hundred film columns across the decade. Here's an example from the Statesman, another from The Austin Chronicle and yet one more from The Dallas Morning News.

7. The Alamo Drafthouse's Rolling Road Show
gave me the chance to try more creative writing approaches as I watched The Last Picture Show in Archer City and viewed The Goonies in a cave with tiny Corey Feldman in attendance.

8. It all began for me with coverage of film festivals. I wrote about Tim McCanlies' Dancer, Texas at one of those early festivals, which was technically in the '90s. But a blurb from my review still appears in publicity materials. This piece about Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's film Bella was a cover story in The Austin Chronicle. The Texas Film Hall of Fame awards are a chance to do a little star gazing. Here are some fun photos and a few more.

9. The big film industry battle of the decade was the long struggle to convince the Texas Legislature to create a film incentives program, then to adequately fund it. Here's a story about the side battle over how Texas is portrayed on screen, and here's another piece about the overall incentives push.

10. Television series production is clearly the current savior for the Texas film industry. Here's a visit to the set of North Texas-shot The Deep End and a chat with star Billy Zane.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Joe's Top 10 articles of 2009

As a free-lance writer I get to (mostly) pick and choose what I write about. The Texas film industry, literature and college football have been my specialties of late. Here are my picks of the best of what I wrote in 2009:

1. I spent a very long lunch at Threadgill's World Headquarters with Joe Lansdale for this in-depth piece in The Austin Chronicle.

2. I love the challenge of visiting a movie or television show set and conveying the experience to readers. My visit to the The Deep End set and chatting with Billy Zane for The Dallas Morning News is a case in point.

3. I turned my wife's high school homecoming into a tale a bit larger that included the young guy touted as the nation's best ball carrier (it's debatable) and a certain guy (Britt Daniel) from the band Spoon.

4. Tommy Warren used the skills he got designing prisons to create a film studio called Spiderwood out near Bastrop. He gave me a tour of the facility and of his life's journey for this Austin Chronicle article.

5. Just prior to when films are released, press people are herded one by one into a hotel room to interview the director and/or stars. I got to sit down and chat with Mike Judge about Extract and found him to be a pretty good interview and a very interesting person. The resulting article ran both in the San Antonio Express-News and The Houston Chronicle.

6. My favorite up-and-coming literary writer is Dan Chaon. I sent him a fan email after reading his short story "Big Me," so you can bet I jumped at the chance to interview him about his latest novel Await Your Reply for both The Austin Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.

7. While I'm no longer a regular film contributor for The Austin Chronicle, I have been writing a weekly blog for them about Colt McCoy, Coach Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns football team as it aims for a nation title. In this last installment, I talked about luck and the literature of football.

8. Larry Hagman and others were inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame to open the South By Southwest Film Festival in March. I don't do a lot of short-deadline journalism, but this piece was hammered out very quickly on the spot during the festivities for The Dallas Morning News.

9. I used to advise the student newspaper at St. Edward's University and did much of the programming for the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association's statewide conference in 2004, which we co-sponsored. I invited Clarence Swensen, one of the last surviving Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, to speak to students as part of the on-site feature-writing contest. He and his wife Myrna were great people and I even got a peek inside their Pflugerville home. Clarence died this year and I wrote a short piece honoring him in The Austin Chronicle.

10. I cut my teeth as a beat reporter covering mainly politics. I was known for being thorough and having a bit of a killer instinct about my various beats. I continue that as a Texas film industry columnist, a job that ended in July for The Austin Chronicle when they made some major cuts due to the tough economic times. I continue as the Shot in Texas film columnist for The Dallas Morning News. In the Morning News I broke the news both that The Deep End would shoot in North Texas and that the Coen brothers version of True Grit would film in Central Texas. Oh, and I was right there with the media pack with news of ABC's series Jack and Dan being set in and filming in Dallas. Here's the first scoop on True Grit.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

TV shows jump start Dallas film scene

My latest SHOT IN TEXAS column from the Dallas Morning News talks about the shows The Deep End and Jack and Dan,which are waking up the North Texas film scene.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

ABC moves "The Deep End" premiere up to January

Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. Central to be exact, an ABC rep revealed this evening. The Deep End finishes a six-episode shoot at the Studios at Las Colinas this week. If you didn't already read my report from this set as published in The Dallas Morning News, it's here.

It appears now that an additional episode order will be based on how the show does in the ratings in January.

Here's thr press release from ABC:


ABC announces the series premiere of new drama “The Deep End,” which brings to life the tragedies and triumphs of five earnest twenty-something first-year associates fighting to stay afloat in one of Los Angeles’ top law firms, THURSDAY, JANUARY 21 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network.

In a city where wealth and power rule, everyone strives to make it to the top. For five eager and attractive law associates, being accepted into one of Los Angeles’ most prestigious law firms is the first step on their way up. But as they soon realize, the law offices of Sterling are far more cutthroat than they could have ever imagined and they must fight for themselves and their clients to stay afloat in these shark infested waters. These young and impressionable associates are immediately thrown into cases and forced to deal with the emotional and ethical decisions that come with the job they’ve worked so hard for.

In the premiere episode, “Pilot,” Dylan (Matt Long, “Jack and Bobby”) is given an impossible pro bono custody case, Beth (Leah Pipes, “Sorority Row”) keeps mum when a 90-year-old man signs an agreement thinking that she’s his daughter, Liam (Ben Lawson, “Neighbours”) must get a client to sign with the firm under false pretenses, Addy (Tina Majorino, “Big Love”) finally gets some attention from her boss when she speaks her mind, and Malcolm (Mehcad Brooks, “True Blood”) gets off on the wrong foot when he’s hired outside of the firm’s traditional process.

While these five ambitious associates struggle to adjust their appetites and ideals to the fast-paced demands of their jobs, they’re faced with the warring partners at Sterling who hold the keys to their future, and a reluctant mentor, Rowdy (Norbert Leo Butz), who tries to guide them and the firm through the trenches. For Dylan, saving face with one partner in particular is much more difficult after he falls for the firm’s paralegal -- unbeknownst to him, she’s already in bed with firm partner Cliff Huddle (Billy Zane, “Titanic”), who is married to fellow partner Susan Oppenheim (Nicole Ari Parker) and fighting for the soul of the firm with its namesake, Hart Sterling (Clancy Brown, “Carnivale”).

“The Deep End” stars Matt Long as Dylan Hewitt, Billy Zane as Cliff Huddle, Clancy Brown as Hart Sterling, Norbert Leo Butz as Rowdy Kaiser, Leah Pipes as Beth Branford, Tina Majorino as Addy Fisher, Ben Lawson as Liam Priory, Nicole Ari Parker as Susan Oppenheim and Mehcad Brooks as Malcolm Bennet.

Guest starring are Rachelle LeFevre (“Twilight”) as Katie, Reggie Lee as Robert, Sarah Habel as Erin, Meredith Monroe as Molly, Maxwell Huckabee as Will, Abigail Marlowe as Lisa, William Schallert as Mr. Douglas, Timothy Omundson as Mr. Ollerman, Noa Tishby as Rachel, Richard Gant as Judge Cole and Kate Burton as Mrs. Graham.

“Pilot” was written by David Hemingson and directed by Michael Fresco.

The series executive producers are David Hemingson and Jan Nash. It is from Twentieth Century Fox Television.

Kirkus Reviews, Editor and Publisher bite the dust!

That's right, Nielsen shut down both Kirkus Reviews--one of the top four book review sources in the nation--and Editor and Publisher, the Bible of the publishing world.

Meanwhile, Nielsen unloaded The Hollywood Reporter.

Not to be left out of the mess, Variety announced it will start charging again for its online content. Chumps.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Luck and the literature of football

My take on the Texas Longhorns football team's win over Nebraska in the Big 12 title game (it was ugly) can be seen at the Austin Chronicle's sports blog.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Colt McCoy's Heisman hopes await in Nebraska

A preview of the Big 12 title game this Saturday in my Austin Chronicle blog. Could Colt McCoy win the game and lose the Heisman race?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bryan Poyser's 'Lovers of Hate' in Sundance

A big congrats to Austin's Bryan Poyser (Dear Pillow), whose Lovers of Hate, which shot both in Austin and near where Sundance is held, was selected as a dramatic competition film for this year's Sundance Film Festival.

To understand what a big deal this is for Poyser, read the opening of this Austin Chronicle article I wrote a while back.

Here's the skinny from Variety:

Lovers of Hate - Directed and written by Bryan Poyser, about how the reunion of estranged brothers is undermined when the woman they both love chooses one over the other. With Chris Doubek, Heather Kafka, Alex Karpovsky, Zach Green.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Independent Spirit award noms go to McCay, Humpday

Film Independent announced its Spirit Award noms yesterday, which included Christian McKay of Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles for best supporting actor and Humpday--which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival--for the John Casavettes Award for films made for less than $500,000.

Richard Linklater's 'Liars (A-E)' dies

Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater calls himself a "promiscuous" filmmaker in this interesting interview with England's Guardian about Me and Orson Welles. He also talks a bit about how his planned road movie Liars (A-E) fell apart:

This summer he was due to shoot a romantic comedy but the studios wouldn't play ball (what he saw as a mainstream outing, they saw as an art movie). He has tentative plans to make a third installment in the Before Sunrise/Sunset series, but he doesn't want to do it just because he can. "There are enough of those movies made as it is: sequels, remakes, franchises. It depresses me. It's the way the industry is going. They figure they can make these huge-ass Harry Potters, Batmans and Transformers, spend $200m on a surefire hit, and who cares about the quality? They've basically stopped making my kind of movies altogether."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Coen brothers looking at Central Texas for 'True Grit'

That's really the big scoop in my latest SHOT IN TEXAS column in the Dallas Morning News. Also, more on the television shows lensing in Dallas nnd the Zapata, Texas, TV pilot that Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick are scouting, also in Central Texas.

More specifics not in the column: True Grit is looking at Granger, and Zapata is looking at Bastrop and the new Spiderwood Studios located near there.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Longhorns vs Aggies: a joke or a contest?

Read my latest Austin Chronicle blog for more on the strangest contest around.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Colt McCoy battles the ghost of VY

As Colt McCoy is on the eve of becoming the winningest college quarterback ever, the ghost of Vince Young looms. Read more in my Austin Chronicle blog.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'True Grit' casting call

FEBRUARY UPDATE: Click here for the extras casting call info.

I'm getting a lot of hits here for the True Grit casting calls for the character of Mattie in the Coen brothers version of the tale. And, yes, it looks very likely it will shoot outside of Austin with Austin as the base camp. You heard it here, probably, first.

The Austin call info: No experience required. Bring a current, nonreturnable photo and only one family member. Girls only, ages 12 to 16. Time: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 28, the Omni Austin Hotel, 700 San Jacinto at 8th Street, Austin.

Waco casting call info: Waco casting call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 21-22, in the Dodge Hall at the Heart O’ Texas Fair Complex, 4601 Bosque Blvd.

The description of the character: “We are looking for REAL (scrubbed-down, no make-up), ‘gritty’ girls! Preferably the kind that rides horses, gets dirty & speaks her mind! We are NOT looking for ‘theatrical’ model types! Rodeo girls (who ride & rope) are best! Not ‘actor-like / pageant queens.’ “

Previous casting calls have been in Lubbock and Fort Worth

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jordan Shipley is Texas Longhorn fans' man crush

Will Jordan Shipley "man crush" love keep Colt McCoy from Heisman? My Austin Chronicle sports blog examines this important issue...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dallas gets Fox show "Jack and Dan"

Bradley Whitford

A shorter version of this appeared Friday in the Dallas Morning News:

Fox’s new series Jack and Dan will shoot 13 episodes in Dallas starting in January, adding to a growing television presence in North Texas.

The show features Colin Hanks (Tom's son) as a straight-laced detective who is paired with a drunken partner portrayed by Bradley Whitford (West Wing). Originally plans had the show set in Los Angeles, but the setting will now be Dallas, said Janis Burklund of the Dallas Film Commission.

That is in contrast to the ABC series The Deep End which is currently shooting six episodes—with a potential of more--in Dallas but is actually set in a Los Angeles law firm.

“It’s really going to show diversity of Dallas,” Burklund, said. “It’s not just going to be old stereotype of Dallas.”

Filming all around Dallas will continue for 96 days into June with a conservative estimate of $1 million in local spending for each of the episodes shot. Local production offices are expected to open immediately, and at least one local casting director has already been contacted by show producers.

Increased incentives for filming in Texas played a factor, but those almost didn’t keep Atlanta from luring the series, which Dallas has been courting in some form since June, Burklund said. The difference appears to be a combination of a strong crew and cast base, and heavy cooperation from city officials who offered whatever they could to sweeten the deal, including deals on hotels and longer-term housing.

“The city is using its full capacity to make this a very good thing,” said Bob Hudgins, head of the Texas Film Commission. “It’s pretty amazing to have two series shooting in Dallas and our friends at Friday Night Lights in Austin are chugging along.”

The state’s film incentives program offers rebates to filmmakers based either on total in-state spend or as a percentage of wages paid cast and crew who are Texas residents. Burklund said Fox is leaning toward the latter, which would require at least 70 percent of cast and crew by Texans.

Texas’ incentive is up to 15 percent of in-state spend or up to 25 percent of wages, with both figures increased slightly for filming in areas deemed “underutilized.” Georgia, in contrast, offers a 30 percent tax credit.

“The creatives were wanting to be here,” Burklund said. “Luckily we had them on our side fighting for it.”

The show was created by Matt Nix (Burn Notice), and the 13-episode order was made by Fox without a pilot episode being shot, an unusual show of confidence by the network.
Burklund announced the show Thursday amid a pile of boxes in the Dallas Film Commission offices. The commission is set to relocate today from the auspices of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau to the city’s Office of Economic Development in City Hall.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

'The Deep End' seeks a few handsome men

I'll let the casting call say it all:

Twentieth Century Fox Television is in Dallas filming a new television series for the ABC Television network titled "The Deep End." The production recently completed the shooting of Episodes One through Three and is currently filming Episode Four. The Extras Casting Department is actively searching Dallas for good looking, young, fit, upscale people to be cast as background for all the two remaining episodes. If you fit this description and are between the ages of 20-35, then they are looking for you! Please submit the following to: abcthedeepend@gmail.com

1- A Clear Picture of Yourself
2-Your Contact Info
3-Your Height & Weight
4-Your Schedule Availability (Mon-Fri only) We do not film on weekends.

All roles are paying gigs.

Please make sure all information is on the opening page of the email.

You MUST be a Texas resident to be considered for a spot on our show!

We are also urgently needing good looking males between the ages of 20-40 who are physically fit. If you have previously submitted a picture, please do not resend.

Western filming in Austin

The western film The Legend of Hell’s Gate: An American Conspiracy has been on my radar, but I'm just now getting around to posting about it. San Antonio natives Henry Thomas of E.T. fame and Summer Glau are among the stars. It heads to Austin for shooting and has also shot recently in Granbury and Boerne. Here's more about the film, but it's basically about "three men who cross paths with three gunmen and are forced to go on the lam while being pursued by a sheriff's posse and a tribe of Indians."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are the Coens bringing 'True Grit' to Texas?

See an update here.

The signs certainly are positive that the Coen brothers will shoot their remake of True Grit in Texas (UPDATE: Make that likely to shoot in CENTRAL Texas). The biggest positive omen? Casting calls in Lubbock and Forth Worth (Just found out that another casting call will be in Austin on Nov. 28) for the lead role of Mattie, portrayed by Kim Darby in the original. The Coens' film is expected to be closer to Charles Portis' book in which Addie was the main character. Also said to be circling the film are Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

On the set of 'The Deep End' in Dallas

In an odd mix, 20th Century Fox is shooting the law office dramedy The Deep End in Dallas, though it's set in Los Angeles. I visited the set last Tuesday. Here's my take for the Dallas Morning News: Billy Zane, that girl from Napoleon Dynamite and Post-It notes.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Texas Longhorns, It's Time for Your closeup

I was on the set of the ABC series The Deep End this week in Dallas (look for the story in Monday's Dallas Morning News). It got me making connections to the Texas Longhorn football team's march toward another national title. Read my Austin Chronicle blog about it here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Learning to yodel

Bob Livingston teaches students visiting from Odense, Denmark, to yodel. Straight to you from my living room. (He plays "Cosmic Cowboy" first.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Longhorns ain't afraid of no ghost

The ghost of Texas Tech circa 2008, that is. It's that very same scary Halloween weekend and this time it's a trip to Stillwater for the Texas Longhorns football team. Read my Austin Chronicle blog here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Richard Linklater's 12-year project

Richard Linklater has been quietly shooting his 12-year project and time has certainly passed. It's in year seven now and shooting in Austin this November. The title? Boyhood.

Here are some details via an extras casting call:

I just want to let everyone know that we are in ned of extras on the Richard Linklater's 12 year project called Boyhood. We are now on the 7th year and we need volunteer extras to help us. I know that we all want to get paid especially in this economy but let me repeat that this is Richard Linklater's project. He is a very big deal in the Austin film community and this is a great way to show your support. Plus to be on his set is a learning and growing experience for all.

This is what we need:
Middle School kids
College kids
Few adults

We need a variety of ethnicities in all categories. We will be shooting the majority of the extras on Sunday 11/8 and would only be asking for a couple of hours of your time. It is not a full day event.

If you are interested please email Jessica at thirdcoastextras@gmail.com with a current photo, your name, phone number and your height, weight and age. Please make sure to put BOYHOOD in the subject line.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dan Chaon digs deep into the notion of identity

Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply is an amazing novel by an American writer at the top of his game. Dan speak at the Texas Book Festival this coming weekend (I'll be under the tents signing my book some on both Saturday and Sunday). I talked to him about it all for a San Antonio Express-News article that ran today.

Here's how it starts:

Imagine this: You change your name, dye your hair, buy a new wardrobe and move to a new city, leaving everything you've ever known behind. Would you cease to be you?

That's the central question of identity lurking behind National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon's beautifully written, thoughtful novel "Await Your Reply," and it's a question that hits very close to home for the author.

Read the rest here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What happened to 'Goree Girls'?

The Jennifer Aniston-produced film (she'd also star) Goree Girls about an all-female country band formed in a Texas prison in the 1940s who went on to fame and pardons for their crimes showed some promise of being shot in the Lone Star State, with a script from John Lee Hancock (The Alamo, The Rookie) and a financing team that is also behind Robert Rodriguez's Machete. Oh, and it's based on a Texas Monthly article. Recently film director Michael Sucsy said Aniston will be singing in the film, a clear sign the project isn't dead.

But with a January 2010 filming date supposedly set and Gerard Butler rumored to be in line for a role, there is no indication that it will shoot here or where it will shoot. It's dropped off the radar of the Texas Film Commission. Anyone have any ideas?

Meanwhile there is some word of a cable series potentially looking at a Dallas shoot, and Houston is being looked at for the largest film to shoot there since 1997's Arlington Road. Don't expect much in the way of major filming activity in Texas beyond the currently filming television series The Deep End (with Adam Arkin directly some early episodes) until the new year.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Possible ABC show follows UT grads

This just in from Variety:

ABC has also given a script-plus-penalty order to We Are Here, a comedy from scribe Hilary Winston (My Name Is Earl), who will exec produce with Anthony and Joe Russo.

Project centers on four friends from the U. of Texas, all of whom still live in Austin, but deal with the arrival of adulthood in different ways.

Winston's credits include Community. Sony Pictures TV is behind the project.

I have no idea what that script-penalty thingy is, but I know Winston graduated from high school in Corpus in the early '90s. That's her on the picket line during the Writers Guild strike a while back.

Monday, October 19, 2009

High School Homecoming: The nation's best runningback, the guy from Spoon and giant Mums

That blue hair is on purpose to support the team.

Britt Danial of Spoon in the 1989 class photo.
Wildcat Stadium is bigger than some college stadiums.
Cameras follow Lache Seastrunk after he scores.

Mum is the word!

(You can also find this at the Austin Chronicle sports blog.)

Going to someone else's high school reunion/homecoming is sort of like looking at friends’ vacation slides or being asked to say something nice about their ugly baby. The iceberg of the story is hidden from you – who was cool, who was a fool, who was an angry young woman. The slate instead is wiped clean, leaving the outsider to make it up as he goes along.

But I had two strong lures to tag along for my wife's 20th Temple High School nostalgia fest: a chance to see the guy Rivals.com calls the best running back in the country – the second best player period – and a hazy hint of a surprise performance by fellow alum Britt Daniel's band Spoon at halftime.
No Homecoming can begin before the Frito Pie is served. Big heaping chunks of corn chip were plopped on our plates in the cafeteria line (my wife swears she never ate there during high school) then smothered in chili and laid to rest next to a pile of wilted lettuce and topped with plenty of onions and jalapeños. The older woman at the next table had blue hair – on purpose to support the team – and the junior-high band pumped out a ditty that didn’t sound half bad. We chowed down as fellow alumni settled in around us.

I pointed at a white-haired guy in a Temple High T-shirt as we exited toward the massive 13,000-capacity stadium as if to say to my wife, “Meet your people grown old,” and discovered later I was correct when the same guy babbled drunkenly toward us shortly after midnight in a downtown Temple bar.

What you have to know about Temple and football is it’s been a relationship of ups and downs. Back when Coach Bob McQueen was elected God, the Wildcats were a power to be reckoned with. McQueen’s teams in Temple and before that in Mexia had an amazing combined record of 276-86-9. The Temple school district has repeatedly quashed any efforts to build a second high school, reportedly out of fears it might thin the football pickings. And until not too many years ago, the district didn’t provide buses for its students (the story I heard was a bus system would somehow require that dreaded new high school be built). Students had to trudge from mostly black East Temple past crack houses and a row of run-down bars to the high school near I-35.

The banner year was 1979, the year of Kenneth Davis, the speedy back who went on to success and scandal at TCU where he and six other teammates were kicked off the team Davis’ senior year by Coach Jim Wacker after confessing to accepting cash from boosters. Davis went on to play for the Green Bay Packers from 1986-1988 and the Buffalo Bills from 1989-1994. The 1979 Wildcats had a bruising defense and additional offensive firepower was provided by tight end Albert Reese who also went on to an NFL career.

McQueen’s teams dominated district play in the early ‘80s and in 1992 beat defending state champion Odessa Permian 20-14 en route to a 15-1 record and a second 5A Division II state title. McQueen was pulled out of retirement to “advise” current Coach Bryce Monsen, who must now deal with the monster memory of the McQueen-Davis 1979 squad that Rivals ranks as one of the top 10 Texas high school football teams ever.

Enter Lache Seastrunk, the lanky speedster and cousin of Terrell Jackson, a wide receiver at Buffalo. Could Seastrunk bring the Temple football dynasty back to prominence? He’s already had offers from a dozen or more schools, including the University of Texas, and is said to be leaning toward Auburn. What if you threw in stouter fullback Derrick Davis (Kenneth’s nephew) to take some of the pressure off? The answer so far is mixed. The Wildcats went into the game 2-4 for the season and 1-2 in district play.

Through the stadium gates, amid the giant, beribboned flowers every Texas girl knows and dreams of as a mum, Sam Hill, the quarterback for the rebuilding 1989 Wildcats (class motto: 1 and 9 in ’89) poses for a photo. He shakes his head and tells us Lache (pronounced “Lake”) is a good kid who is a bit of a straight-line-if-not-deep-thinker — give him the ball and tell him to run and he will. Tonight they would face Harker Heights, a team going in at 1-5 that seemed a perfect Homecoming patsy.

We searched for a roped-off area of the stadium reserved for the ’89 class (perhaps in the reserved chair-back section for season ticket holders?), but found none and instead made our own space in the bleachers. Most of the alumni had never heard of Spoon, the alternative band that has risen to national prominence behind the singing and songwriting of their classmate Daniel, who they instead remember as artsy and quiet. But a rumor circulated on Facebook in the weeks before the reunion: expect a special surprise performance by a member of the class at halftime. We put our hands over our hearts for the National Anthem and watched the flag on the jumbotron and wondered what it would be.

Seastrunk looked smaller on the field than I’d expected. Reports list him as everything from 180 to 195 pounds on a 5’ 10” to 5’ 11” frame. Davis appeared sturdier and ripped through the line. Harker Heights quarterback Brandon Bullock stole the show early with a 50-yard breakaway run for a touchdown. But Seastrunk’s feet got up to speed soon after and he disappeared down the sidelines on a 32-yard blur in the first quarter.

Yet it was clear we weren’t reliving 1979, back when the D sealed the deal for Bob McQueen’s boys. The Wildcat defense of old has turned decidedly mild. Heights ball carrier Kerry Sloan scored on a 15-yard run to give the Knights a 14-7 halftime edge. Derrick Davis put on his crown and was named Homecoming King. Was it time for the real show? We scanned the sidelines for Daniel (perhaps that was him on the sidelines in a hoodie?), but came up empty. Then whispers around me revealed the truth. One of the Beazer brothers, clean-cut twins who remained boyish behind dark-framed glasses that gave them a Proclaimers “I would walk 500 miles” vibe, was down there. See? In the Wildcat mascot outfit. Notice how it’s worn and retro? A Beazer is in there. Not a Spoon in sight.

The third quarter began with the Temple Wildcats looking just as dated as their mascot’s costume. Somewhere along the way, Seastrunk had squirted through the line and finessed for more than 50 yards, but the ball squeezed loose and was recovered by the Knights. Sloan soon scored again from three yards out making it 21-7. The Class of ’89 began to filter toward their cars as the lure of drinks and relived memories called. As we descended the stairs, the Beazer-filled mascot approached. I told my wife to pose with him and the Beazer stole a fake-furry kiss.

At the bottom of the stands I looked down as Seastrunk streaked toward the end zone for a 23-yard score. He was indeed for real and finished the night with 113 yards on 15 carries. But it would be Homecoming King Davis (101 yards on 14 carries) who would do the family proud and pull the Wildcats to a 21-21 tie with his 13-yard TD run. In overtime Davis did it again, scoring from nine yards out.

From downtown at Cheeves Bros. Steak House, a swanky restaurant that would look at home on Austin’s Sixth Street, 1989 quarterback turned Navy man Sam Hill announced the final score as reported to him via cell phone: 29-28. Harker Heights had gone for two after matching Temple’s overtime score. The Heights coach, who later said he feared Temple’s relentless running attack, chose to gamble and it paid off.

Daniel wouldn’t show until the next night when he quietly entered a Knights of Columbus Hall and tried his best to shake off a celebrity that was all but invisible at the class’ 10-year reunion. There he was on the wall – top row of the Class of ’89 photo – sweeping bird’s wing of blond hair and a thrift store trench coat. This night he would snap as many photos of his classmates as they would of him. They would dance, drink too much, hug a lot, and remember (1 and 9 in ’89). Lache Seastrunk can take some solace. His team has already won two games in ’09, and his future is a shining unknown awaiting the flash of a future camera. Click.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rob Thomas develops 'Plymouth Rock' for the CW

Former Austinite Rob Thomas is developing a show called Plymouth Rock for the CW with some of his former Veronica Mars cohorts, Variety reports. No new word on Waterloo, his other planned project, which has very strong Austin ties.

Thomas is a former high school journalism teacher in Austin and a former member of the Austin/San Marcos band Hey Zeus. As we told you in August: "Waterloo, an hourlong laffer from scribe Thomas ... is described as a coming-of-age story involving a rock band, and it is loosely based on Thomas' youthful adventures."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Texas Longhorns' season is another sitcom

What does University of Texas football have in common with the new season of TV sitcoms? Read my latest Austin Chronicle blog for the answers.

Putting on the dog

Nicholas was finally convinced to try on his new Halloween costume. Oddly it's a repeat of his cousin Russell, now 20, featured on the right in the bottom photo.

Below is Russell as a dog...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Zen and the art of Texas Longhorn football

My latest University of Texas football blog for The Austin Chronicle knows for sure that it's replaceable. So does fourth-string quarterback Trevor Walker.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"The Deep End" dives into Dallas

I was orginally supposed to be at this event tonight, but word came down of a press lockout. Here's a secondhand take on the event--from those who were there--via Facebook:

It was a beautiful day/night to hold a reception to welcome ABC, 20th Century Fox Television, David Hemingson and our own Garry Brown and the cast of THE DEEP END to Dallas for principal photography. Thank you Cobie and Gordon Russell for being such ...great hosts. It is always great to see Governor Perry in Dallas especially when he presents an almost $900,000 incentives check to the Prison Break team.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Texas Longhorns' next 2 opponents: UTEP and inertia

Wordle: Texas vs. UTEP
Check out my latest in The Austin Chronicle on the University of Texas Longhorns football team. Did Sergio Kindle's swamping of Texas Tech QB Taylor Potts change everything?

For those too busy to read the blog (or with extreme ADD), here it is a Wordle.

Independent film thriving in Dallas

Everything from a guy with a talking "member" to a family-oriented tale about making it big in the biz. My Shot in Texas column in the Dallas Morning News.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When the rains end...

No puddle is safe...

'Rock Opera' turns 10

This just in from Bob Ray, the maniac behind the wonderous and wonderful Rock Opera:

In October of 1999, the Alamo Drafthouse screened the soon-to-be cult classic stoner flick, Rock Opera, for three weeks at their original Colorado Street location. Laughter was heard, weed smell was smelt, fun was had. Chad Holt probably got laid. It was a good time by all accounts and measures.

So, come October 10, 2009, the gang is back! Writer-director Bob Ray will present the film and be accompanied by many of the original Rock Opera hooligans. The screening will feature clips from Ray’s documentary work-in-progress, TOTAL BADASS (featuring Rock Opera’s Chad Holt) as well as a selection of Ray’s short animated “CrashToons” (several of which have been featured on Playboy.com and Turner Network’s Super Deluxe). But the main event is a super-rare screening of the cult fave Rock Opera, with Bob Ray and crew hosting a post screening Q&A and an ear-gasmically sweet post-post-screening rock and roll show with bands from the flick (see below).

Rock Opera tells the tale of Austin musician Toe's (Jerry Don Clark) struggle to put together a tour for his foundering band PigPoke. Back-stabbing, dirt weed-selling Toe double-crosses half a dozen of the meanest sonsa’ bitches in Texas to weasel himself into a position to get his band on the road. Half stoner-comedy, half suspense-thriller and 100% dope ass flick, Rock Opera is the original stoner-action-comedy (despite what Pineapple Express claims)!

Oh, and the after-party features a special reunion show for Austin’s VOLTAGE and Pocket FishRmen.

Kat Candler's 'Spider' spins film web

Congrats to Kat Candler whose script for The Spider in the Bathtub (co-written with Chris Mass) has been optioned with Kat attached to direct. See the details on her blog:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Speaking of Linklater...

Variety reports that Rebecca Hall (Frost/Nixon) is in talks to star in Richard Linklater's latest collaboration with phone-throwing producer Scott Rudin. This one is Liars (A-E), is which Hall will portray "a woman who is dumped by her rocker fiancé on the eve of Barack Obama's presidential election victory. She takes a road trip with a pal (Kat Dennings) to Obama's inauguration, and visits various ex-boyfriends to retrieve lost items.

No word on whether any of this will be shot in Austin.

"Me and Orson Welles" trailer

Check out this little sneak of Richard Linklater's new movie which comes out Nov. 25.

A coming-of-age drama that involves the legendary director's 1937 staging of Julius Caesar, the Austin-based director's Me and Orson Welles stars Zac Efron and Claire Danes and introduces Christian McKay as the young Orson Welles.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Austin native Allen eyes new 'Les Miserable'

Todd Allen is an Austin High grad whose had an interesting acting career including such films as Grand Canyon and Silverado. Now he and partner Stephen Rollins are forming a production company with some pretty ambitious plans, including a remake of Les Miserable. Read more about it here: http://www.screendaily.com/story.aspx?storycode=5005768

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'Whip It' whips up interest

The Drew Barrymore-directed roller derby flick Whip It starring Ellen Page became the poster child for Texas' need for more film incentives (we're still waiting for tangible results from that increase) when the Austin-set film about an Austin-born sports movement written by Austin native Shauna Cross lensed in ... Michigan, where they stood in the streets and threw cash at the film in hopes of creating a film industry from scratch.

With the film about to bow, Variety gives it a very nice review. One small quibble: The film can't be true to the novel. Shauna, who I first met when she was doing extras casting on MTV's Austin Stories in the '90s, told me she got a deal for both at the same time and thus wrote the script and the novel simultaneously.

'Between Floors' get director honors

Jen White won the best director award at the Atlanta Underground Film Festiva for her debut feature Between Floors. It screens this Saturday at the Boston Film Festival. The movie “examines the human condition through a uniquely claustrophobic lens, intercutting between five stuck elevators and the people trapped inside them.” See more about the film here.

The flick's exec producer Paul Alvarado-Dykstra also passes along this important info from the Texas Motion Picture Alliance: "Mark your calendar for Sunday, Nov. 1, which is when TXMPA's having our 2nd Annual Spaghetti Western Fall Fundraiser party at Star Hill Ranch.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sam Bradford and Fred Akers?

The unlikely duo are on my mind as the University of Texas Longhorns enter the second week of a dream football season. See my Austin Chronicle blog here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First day of school

Actually the first day of Parents Day Out, but it's pretty close. Nicholas' teacher used to teach kindergarten and he's in a class of six kids, so we fell pretty good about it.

Nicholas greets his teacher, "Miz Shell."

Monday, September 7, 2009

'Kings of the Evening' to finally hit theaters

Kings of the Evening, which shot near Austin in Bartlett in 2007, has finally found distribution, director Andrew Jones confirms. Expect a small theatrical release by February 2010 through Indican Pictures followed by a wider release for television, DVD and video on demand.

Starring fashion model Tyson Beckford and noted actor Glynn Turman, the film is set in the Deep South in the Depression era. Amid tough economic times, a group of African-American men dress in their finest and compete to be the movie title's King of the Evening. Gary Bond of the Austin Film Office has repeatedly championed the film for its quality. Here's what I wrote about it last year in The Austin Chronicle: http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/column?oid=oid%3A668715

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mike Judge talks 'Extract'

My interview with Austin-based director Mike Judge about his turn from the employees' story in Office Space to the bosses' tale in Extract appears today in both the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Feeding the Taylor ducks

Reaching out.

An upside-down duck.

When you live in Taylor, duck-feeding is almost required by law. Nicholas did his part on Sunday.