John Pierson isn't a director, writer, or actor, but he may be the most important person in independent cinema today. He's a backer, a truffle pig with a nose for indie gold, a reluctantly-monikered cinematic "bag man." Over the last dozen years he's been drumming up hype and hard cash -- and frequently putting his own bank account on the line -- for promising filmmakers. Along the way, his stunning instincts have led him to gamble on talents like Spike Lee, Michael Moore, Errol Morris, Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, and Terry Zwigoff.
Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, Pierson's alternately exhilarating and crushing recollections of a dozen years on the independent scene, efficiently puts to rest any naive assumptions that temper tantrums, power plays, and budgets-run-amok exist solely on Hollywood backlots. The author's not above pettiness himself, and at times, his regard for certain filmmakers seems in direct proportion to the financial success of their output. The vitriol of his chapter on Rob Weiss -- director of the slick, commercially and critically disastrous gangster film Amongst Friends -- reveals as much about Pierson as it does about the filmmaking team, particularly in his self-congratulatory reprint of a letter to the producers in which he accuses them of "pigheadedness, blind optimism, woeful ignorance, vague answers, and championship whining."
Throughout the book, Pierson demonstrates that despite a handful of breakout successes every year and a growing circuit of celebrity auteurs, there's no shortage of broken dreams and dusty film canisters on the independent circuit. He sardonically titles a later chapter "In Hock and Staying There." With a certain malevolent glee, he chronicles some of the hilarious and godawful pitches he's endured - concepts like "bowling noir" and titles like "Blood 'N' Donuts" and "Let's Get Bizzee."
But in Pierson's infectiously admiring remembrances of his early encounters with the rough gems that eventually became Go Fish, She's Gotta Have It, and other small classics, he reminds us all of the intoxicating thrill in discovering something special. It's the rare jubilation that makes you want to call your friends and say, "You've got to see this." The difference is that before the festivals, before the art house circuit, before the home video, Pierson does it first -- and he does it best. -- Salon