Deep Thinking

Plus:Screen Play

They'll need more than bus tickets to get them out of this jam, because safety is merely part of the challenge. You can give away trust easily, but it's hard to buy it back. In the next few weeks, a new ad campaign will be unveiled, centered around the slogan "What is it about Deep Ellum that keeps you coming back for more?" By then, Lamonica hopes to have a full slate of events scheduled, including a Halloween street fair.

None of these things will really solve the problem. But they could eventually, if the Bar and Restaurant Association sticks with it and sticks together.

"The question you asked me before: When do you think people will start coming back, you know, in masses? I don't know," Lamonica says. "But I do know that they're going to be missing out. But we're gonna keep on hitting away. And even when we get it back to where it needs to be, that's when we really need to stay strong. Keep on coming together and meeting every two or three weeks...You can never let up. That's the key. It's hard to get to the top, and it's twice as hard to stay there." --Zac Crain

Deep Ellum business owners hope to reduce scenes like this.
Mark Graham
Deep Ellum business owners hope to reduce scenes like this.
Watching actors, including Garrett Hedlund (second from right) and Lucas Black (far right), fill their uniforms was intense for the real players of Friday Night Lights.
Watching actors, including Garrett Hedlund (second from right) and Lucas Black (far right), fill their uniforms was intense for the real players of Friday Night Lights.

Screen Play

A long time ago, Mike Winchell, Don Billingsley and Jerrod McDougal lived for Friday nights. Everything they did during the week was about just getting to that moment when thousands would congregate at Ratliff Stadium in Odessa to watch those boys play football. So larger-than-life were the exploits of the Permian Panthers, and the hope placed upon them in 1988, when they were expected to waltz to the state high school title, that a man named H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger would write a book about them after having spent a year in Odessa living with the players and among the townsfolk who smothered them in adulation and expectation. That book was a 1990 best seller called Friday Night Lights, which outraged a city that peeked in the mirror and found the reflection unflattering. After 14 years of deals that never came to fruition, it has been turned into a movie featuring characters named Mike Winchell, Don Billingsley and Jerrod McDougal.

So on this Friday night in late September, these boys are playing football once more, only they're doing so on a movie screen, and actors fill their uniforms. The real Winchell and Billingsley and McDougal sit in a screening room at the Angelika Film Center in Mockingbird Station, watching director Peter Berg's adaptation of his second cousin's book. Winchell, the quiet QB who looks much as he did 16 years ago, is nervous, waiting to see how a stranger has depicted their young lives; Billingsley and McDougal share his unease.

"You're a little apprehensive," Winchell says, explaining how he felt before the lights went down. "You've seen the previews and the commercials on TV and heard stuff that's on the Internet. Then five minutes into it you're real apprehensive."

Early on, it was Winchell who became unnerved. As portrayed by Lucas Black, the quarterback is seen first in the film, going over the playbook with his mother, who's drilling and grilling him as bad as any coach. Billingsley grabs his old friend's arm and tells him to relax, that it's just a movie. Then a few minutes later, Billingsley appears on screen, played by Garrett Hedlund. The scene is a Permian practice, and young Don keeps dropping the ball. The actor playing his father, Charlie, country singer Tim McGraw, charges onto the field to scold Don. In the theater, it is Winchell's turn to remind his friend to calm down. The two men joke with each other that maybe they oughta just get up and run like hell out of the movie theater.

"But we weren't running anywhere," Winchell says later. "It's a great movie, but it's just unnerving when you see yourself up there and you know it's about you. There are a couple of things that are hard to watch."

"I actually really enjoyed the thing," says Billingsley, now a senior account representative for a major insurance company with an office in Irving. "It was cool to see your life played out up there in front of everybody. That's pretty cool for me. Now, it didn't make me look real bad. I could have looked a lot worse in that than I did. And there were several scenes in there that captured the camaraderie."

After the film, Bissinger introduces the men to the audience, which greets them with a warm shower of applause. After a Q&A, they will even ask them for their autographs. "It's so far on the other side of my normal life, it's not even funny," says Winchell, now a land surveyor in North Texas.

The men do not love the movie unconditionally. Later that night, at a hotel bar, Berg asks the men what they think of the film. Billingsley tells him that his father is not the violent, bullying drunk he's depicted as in the movie. He says his father never would have been allowed on the field during practice and that his old man never kicked out the windows of his car, as shown in the movie.

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