Friday Night Lights: The big-screen adaptation of H.G. Bissinger's acclaimed book that vividly depicts a small West Texas town and its single-minded devotion to its high school football team-recently began principal photography on location in the state capital of Austin. Produced by Imagine Entertainment's Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Brian Grazer for Universal Pictures, "Friday Night Lights" is being directed by Peter Berg ("The Rundown") and stars Oscar® winner Billy Bob Thornton. The film is slated for a nationwide release on October 15, 2004.

Set in Odessa, Texas, Friday Night Lights chronicles the 1988 season of Permian High School's legendary Panther football team with players, coaches, mothers, fathers, boosters, fans and families struggling with ongoing personal conflicts while the team fights for a state championship. In depicting the daily grind of coach Gary Gaines' winning team and the potential destinies of its individual players, the story paints a vivid portrait of Odessa (and places like it all across America) where, once a week during the fall, the town and its dreams come alive beneath the dazzling and disorienting Friday night lights ... when the Panthers take to the field. Friday Night Lights illuminates the hopes and dreams of Odessa's townsfolk, who ardently fill Ratliff Stadium's 20,000 seats every Friday night. For the young men of the team, every moment, every play is a chance to transcend their small town and the fleeting fulfillment of a gridiron stardom whose pinnacle may be reached by the time they turn 18.

Originally published in 1990, Bissinger's book went on to become a best-seller, has gone through several re-printings (currently in its 10th paperback edition) and was named by "Sports Illustrated" as one of the Top Five books ever written about sports and the Number One book about football. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Bissinger spent a full year in Odessa after hearing about the locals' allegiance to the Permian Panthers -- long considered one of the greatest high school football programs in Texas. Oscar® winner Grazer has been nurturing the project through development ever since he acquired the film rights to Bissinger's book 13 years ago.

Academy Award®-winner Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Bad Santa, The Alamo) heads the film's dynamic cast as Gary Gaines, the school's dedicated coach under intense pressure by school officials and Odessa's citizens to capture Permian's fifth state championship in its 30-year history. Grammy-winning country and western recording artist Tim McGraw joins the cast as Charlie Billingsley, the former all-state Panther player who shares a contentious relationship with his son, a boy who cannot live up to his father's expectations on the playing field.

Thornton's gridiron squad includes a quintet of star players embodied by a cast of Hollywood's upcoming young stars, including: Derek Luke ("Antwone Fisher," "Pieces of April") as Boobie Miles, the Panther's powerful running back whose dream of stardom on the college circuit is jeopardized by a serious knee injury; Jay Hernandez ("Torque," "The Rookie," "crazy/beautiful") as Brian Chavez, the brainy, brawny tight end who eyes a college education at Harvard; Lucas Black ("Sling Blade," "Cold Mountain") as Mike Winchell, the uncertain, insecure quarterback cheered on by his chronically-ill mother; Lee Thompson Young (Disney Channel's "The Famous Jett Jackson," "Redemption") as Chris Comer, the massive second-string running back who replaces the ailing Miles in Gaines' lineup; and Garrett Hedlund ("Troy") as Don Billingsley, the cocky, self-destructive fullback at odds with his disheartened, overbearing father, a former star player at Permian a generation before.

Film newcomer Lee Jackson, a Texas native who makes his professional acting debut, rounds out the young cast as Ivory Christian, the gifted middle linebacker whose cathartic pre-game ritual rouses his fellow teammates.

The film is produced by Imagine Entertainment's Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Brian Grazer ("A Beautiful Mind," "Apollo 13"). Marking his third motion picture assignment in the director's chair, filmmaker Peter Berg ("The Rundown," "Very Bad Things") directs from a screenplay by David Aaron Cohen and Berg, based on Bissinger's 1990 book. John Cameron ("Bad Santa;" "O Brother, Where Art Thou?;" "The Man Who Wasn't There") and Imagine's Jim Whitaker serve as executive producers. Bob Graf (the Coen bros.' "Intolerable Cruelty;" "O Brother, Where Art Thou?") serves as co-producer, with Sarah Aubrey ("Bad Santa") as the film's associate producer.

Berg's creative squad behind the cameras includes cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler ("The Rundown," "Bait"), production designer Sharon Seymour ("Bad Santa," "The Cable Guy"), editors Oscar®-nominated David Rosenbloom ("The Insider," "Primal Fear") and Colby Parker, Jr. ("The Rundown, ABC's "Wonderland"), and costume designer Susan Matheson ("Blue Crush," "Honey"). Veteran second-unit director and stunt coordinator Allan Graf ("Any Given Sunday," "The Replacements," "The Waterboy") will coordinate the film's football action involving over 90 plays that spotlight not only the principal cast, but a formidable team of 40 extras (hand-picked by Graf, a former lineman with U.S.C., from over 850 applicants), who will fill out Permian's ranks and portray the opposing football teams.

Friday Night Lights will film in a variety of locales around Texas' state capital of Austin over five weeks, before heading west to the stark landscape of West Texas and the site of the story's origin, Odessa, where Berg and company will shoot for three additional weeks, primarily at Ratliff Stadium, the country's largest high school football arena. Filming will conclude in Houston, when Berg and Graf will stage the story's climactic and controversial state championship showdown between Permian's Panthers and Texas' then Number One-ranked high school football team, Dallas Carter.

Brian B.