2010: Matula Tickled by His Success

Director turns his attention to creating comedy

Thaddeus Matula
If you haven’t met former SMU student Thaddeus Matula, attend a football game this fall. He plans to be at most of them. (Staff photo by Chris McGathey)

By Dan Koller | Staff Writer

Let’s be honest: As many readers have guessed, our “30 Years, 30 Stories” series was inspired by ESPN’s “30 for 30,” a batch of documentaries that marked the network’s three decades as “the worldwide leader in sports.”

The final entry in ESPN’s series was Pony Exce$$, a movie about the glory days of SMU’s football program. So it’s fitting that our series finale focuses on that film’s director, Thaddeus Matula, whom we profiled on Dec. 24, 2010.

Thaddeus Matula
Thaddeus Matula

Because it debuted after the presentation of the Heisman Trophy, Pony Exce$$ was the highest-rated film in the “30 for 30” series. It was also critically acclaimed in an ESPN.com fan poll, consistently finishing No. 2 behind The U, a similarly themed picture about the University of Miami football program.

So with all that success, you would think Matula’s next project would be another documentary. If so, you’d be wrong. Matula is developing a comedy, a feature-length version of a short film he made 10 years ago.

“It’s about two guys who really want to be cops, but they’re not, and they go out and try to be cops anyway,” he said. “I call it a cop-buddy pic without the cops.”

Matula said he is putting the finishing touches on the script while meeting with producers and actors in Los Angeles.

“We want to get some A-listers to throw in there for stunt casting, you know, so the answer to ‘who’s in it?’ is not ‘no one,’ ” he said with a laugh.

Moving from a documentary to a comedy doesn’t sound so odd once you hear about the origins of Pony Exce$$.

“I’d always wanted to tell the story of the SMU death penalty, but I’d always intended to tell it as a narrative, as a scripted film with actors,” Matula said. “But the idea of doing that had always been on the backburner, because that’s a project that’s, you know, at least $50 million, because you’re recreating an era, you have giant crowd scenes, you’ve got hundreds of locations …”

It was a casual conversation with a friend in Austin — a friend who coincidentally had produced a couple of sports documentaries — that convinced Matula to change his format.

“Things just fell into place,” he said. “I mean, good luck, being in the right place at the right time, happy chances, the team finally turning it around and going to a bowl game and winning it — every step of the way, it was like, ‘Yes, I’m doing the right thing.’ ”

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On May 29, the University Park pool opened with two new features: a 3-meter diving board and a two-story water slide that seemed more suited to an amusement park than a municipal park. The Curtis Park facility was rechristened the Holmes Aquatic Center to honor former Mayor James “Blackie” Holmes.

On Nov. 2, University Park voters opted to get wet. A proposition that allowed stores to sell beer and wine was approved by 57 percent of voters, and another that allowed restaurants to sell mixed beverages was OK’d by 65 percent. The election drew more than 8,000 voters — nearly four times the turnout for the council elections in May.

On Nov. 15, University Park resident Robert Dowe Coleman videotaped a young neighbor, alarming the boy’s parents. Columnist Merritt Patterson did some digging and found out Coleman had twice been convicted of sexual abuse of a child. Coleman was not registered as a sex offender, due to a legal technicality, but the new attention led him to register on Nov. 24.

On June 9, Lake Highlands High School principal Walter Kelly was hired to replace the retiring Patrick Cates at Highland Park High School.

On Aug. 1, James Fisher retired as town secretary after 38 years of employment in Highland Park. Gayle Kirby was promoted to replace him.

On Oct. 15, Randy Allen became Highland Park High School’s all-time winningest football coach, breaking a tie with Frank Bevers, who retired with 134 victories as a Scots coach.

Valedictorian: Tianen Li
Salutatorian: Cotty Kerridge
Blanket Award winners: Allie Mootz and Ben Zieman

Kaleta Hardin Blaffer Johnson, Madeline Kelly Lewis, Mary Caroline Young, Michael Ann Young

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