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
Charting his rise from a movie house programmer to prestigious producer's rep for struggling first-time filmmakers, Pierson offers a knowledgeable but unctuously schmoozy, insider's account of the independent film business of the last 10 years. In 1985, he gave Spike Lee $10,000 to complete his first feature,
She's Gotta Have It, a deal that launched Pierson as a producer's rep-a go-between who funds and finds distribution for films made outside the studio system. He brokered similar deals for Michael Moore's Roger and Me, Richard Linkletter's Slacker and the lesbian romantic comedy, Go Fish (hence the book's clunky title); in meticulous, sometimes self-aggrandizing detail, Pierson recounts the players involved, the negotiating tactics and financial terms of each. Interspersed are a series of gossipy conversations with Kevin Smith, the 24-year-old director of Clerks and Mallrats. There is much of value here for aspiring filmmakers; yet Pierson's penchant for business jargon and his determination to appraise each film in economic, rather than cinematic, terms will alienate readers outside the film industry. Pierson now has a "first-look deal'' with Miramax, a subsidiary of Disney. (Jan.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Pierson's name may not be a household one, but the filmmakers he's been associated with-Spike Lee, Michael Moore, Jim Jarmusch-are well known to fans of independent films. Pierson has been friend, investor, and, most importantly, business agent to these and lesser talents and has been a fixture on the festival scene for over a decade. His account of that scene is both honest and maddeningly incomplete. He offers immense detail on some of his deals (even reprinting the
Roger and Me contract highlights) but is sketchy on others. He's frank in appraising the work and personality of filmmakers but vague about himself, especially his background. Still, within his milieu Pierson is a heavyweight, and his book is a good choice for collections with large film sections.-Thomas Wiener, editor, "Satellite DIRECT"