Far above the 50-yard line at Ford Field, comfortably ensconced
in a luxury suite with a Detroit Lions cap pulled snugly over his
head, director Peter Berg expands on his new film “Friday
Night Lights.” Berg, who has appeared in
“Collateral” and “Cop Land,” is making the
difficult transition from acting to directing, and “Friday
Night Lights” is his biggest film behind the camera so
far.

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To capture the reality of high school football, Berg took a
crash course in athletic cinema. “ I saw every football movie
you could think of. From ‘North Dallas 40’ to
‘The Longest Yard’ to ‘Any Given Sunday’ to
‘The Waterboy.’ But the movies I liked the best were
one film called ‘The Last Game,’ that was a documentary
about a school in Pennsylvania, and another called ‘Go
Tigers,’ which was a documentary about a high school team in
Ohio. It was the documentaries that I thought were the most intense
and got my heart pounding.”

As Berg slouches in his chair and mentions the great Texas film
“Dazed and Confused,” H.G. Bissinger, the Pulitzer
Prize winning author of “Friday Night Lights” and a
cousin of Berg, pipes in with his own comments from across the
table. “Was Ben Affleck in that?” Berg counters,
“No, that was ‘Clerks,’ that was Kevin
Smith.” Still unconvinced at his cousin’s answer,
Bissinger continues prodding away and insists that Affleck appeared
in the Richard Linklater film. Eventually, one of the editors of
“Friday Night Lights” definitively settles the dispute
when he reveals that Affleck did in fact appear in “Dazed and
Confused.”

After the amicable resolution of this familial dispute,
Bissinger launches into a discussion on allowing his cousin to film
his book. “We sort of did grow up together. Pete grew up in
Westchester County outside of New York and I grew up in New York
City. My parents are very close to his parents. We saw each other
at family gatherings. The book came out in 1990 and Pete was just
starting out on his film career. Pete’s very brash and very
confident and said ‘I’m going to make this one
day.’ I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I’d
ever heard, we didn’t know where Pete was making a living. He
kept at it and kept at it and he’s having a great acting
career and then a great directing career. He directs with a lot of
intensity and style.”

When asked about the challenges of working with a young cast,
Berg tartly responds, “Pain in the ass. They’re chasing
girls and trying to get in the bars. I’d steal their girls
and drink their beer. They were great kids. I think the best part
was I like movies where you really forget you’re watching a
movie. And when it’s a movie star, unless it’s a really
good movie star, I tend to never forget. There’s Tom Cruise
or there’s Brad Pitt or whatever. For me, to have guys like
Tim McGraw and some of these young kids that nobody really knows as
an actor, it’s cool because you can just forget that
you’re watching a movie. That’s something that’s
hard to do.”

Before the trio is forced to depart for an appearance on
“The Mitch Albom Show,” Berg jostles to get in the last
word. “I love acting, but now that I’m an old man I
don’t want to have to go out there and take the hits every
day. It’s fun to be creatively in charge.”

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