American Film

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August 2012

  • FRANK PIERSON 1925-2012

    Frank Pierson, Artistic Director of the AFI Conservatory and member of the Institute’s Board of Trustees since 2005, died at his home in Los Angeles on July 23 at the age of 87.

    Pierson served as President of the Writers Guild of America, West, Inc., from 1981-1983 and 1993-1995; and was President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences from 2001-2005.

    It was Pierson who wrote the legendary line: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” from COOL HAND LUKE. However, in a letter to faculty and staff, AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale and AFI Conservatory Dean Bob Mandel remembered Pierson as a superb communicator. “The great irony that it was he who etched the line into the pantheon of pop culture is that nobody could communicate like Frank,” they wrote. “With words imbued with wit and wisdom. With glances that had you stand a little straighter. With smiles that gave you the confidence to realize your dreams.”

    Pierson was an outspoken champion of America’s cinematic storytellers who resisted any narrowing of their artistic vision, whether imposed by government censorship abroad or the search for global profits by media conglomerates at home.

    Among Pierson’s other film credits are CAT BALLOU, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and A STAR IS BORN. His television credits include such contemporary hits as MAD MEN and THE GOOD WIFE and reach back to another era with HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL; NAKED CITY and ROUTE 66. In addition to writing, Pierson directed many television movies, including DIRTY PICTURES, CITIZEN COHN, CONSPIRACY and SOMEBODY HAS TO SHOOT THE PICTURE.

    Pierson was born in Chappaqua, New York, and attended Harvard College. His mother, Louise Randall, was a screenwriter portrayed by Rosalind Russell in the film ROUGHLY SPEAKING (1945). Jack Carson played his father, Harold C. Pierson. He is survived by his wife, Helene Pierson, two children and five grandchildren.


    Final film selections are being made for the AFI Latin American Film Festival, which kicks off its 23rd edition on September 20. The Pase Especial, an all-access festival pass valued at more than $500, will go on sale August 17 at Early Bird rates: $125 at regular price, $100 for AFI members. The pass is good for one admission to every screening in the festival, including Opening and Closing Night and Festival Happy Hours. Pass holders also receive discounts at Nando's Peri Peri in Silver Spring throughout the festival!

    Members receive a $25 discount on all passes, and save another $25 during the Early Bird window (August 17–30).


    When everyone else at the beach is poring over E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey,” you can dive into “The Epic Film in World Culture,” “Slapstick Comedy,” “European Film Theory” and 22 other scholarly tomes thanks to your AFI membership.

    The AFI Film Readers series, published by the Routledge Taylor & Francis Group in association with AFI, offer 25% discounts to AFI members for a limited time. To take advantage of this offer, click here. Add the eligible items to your cart and, once you’re ready to check out, put the discount code AFI25 into the “Apply Discount Code” box and press the “Update Cart” button to the right. These are serious savings for those who take film seriously.


    What’s black and white and mailed all over? Your 2013 AFI calendar. This exclusive membership benefit will arrive by the end of the month, and you’ll notice a new look this year: elegant black and white photographs from classic films on the AFI’s 100 Years...100 Movies list.


    On September 19, AFI will host an intimate dinner and conversation with legendary filmmakers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (both AFI Class of 1975). Their combined filmography includes such award-winning films and television shows as BLOOD DIAMOND, GLORY, MY SO-CALLED LIFE, ONCE AND AGAIN, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, THIRTY SOMETHING and TRAFFIC. The event is exclusive to members of the AFI Premiere Circle. If you are interested in upgrading your current Star-level membership to join the Premiere Circle, click here or contact Greg Copeland for more information.


    Robert Mandel is the Dean of the AFI Conservatory, named the #1 film school in the world by The Hollywood Reporter for the quality of its instructors and speakers, and its “glittering parade of alumni.” He graciously agreed to answer 10 questions on a busy afternoon with original screenplays by AFI Fellows piling up around him. Before coming to AFI Mandel directed several feature films, including F/X (1986), BIG SHOTS (1987) and SCHOOL TIES (1992). His television credits include THE X-FILES: “Pilot” (1983), NASH BRIDGES (1997-2000) and LOST (2005).

    1. Where are you from? I’m from New York City – Queens Village.

    2. Where did you go to school? I went to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and received a BA in Chemistry, went to Columbia School of the Arts for an MFA in Theatre Directing and then went to the American Film Institute in 1978-79 for an MFA in Film Directing.

    3. What did you do before you came to AFI? I directed theater in New York for about 10 years, and then I directed films followed by lots of TV shows – movies for television and episodes – before I became the dean at AFI.

    4. How long have you been at AFI? This is the end of my seventh year.

    5. What do you do at AFI? I am responsible for the curriculum that the Fellows study, which is comprised of a mix of hands on learning-by-doing production experience and classroom training. I am responsible for maintaining our high standards, creating the goals and objectives that will serve the mission statement of the Conservatory and, of course, hiring and guiding the faculty, from whom we expect the very best.

    6. How does that affect members? Well, I think if I were a member of AFI – and I am – I certainly would be very, very proud of the films that are produced, directed, written, designed and shot by the Fellows who have gone through the AFI Conservatory program – from David Lynch and Terrence Malick to Darren Aronofsky, Patty Jenkins and, most recently, Julian Higgins, the winner of both the 2011 Student Academy Award and Student Emmy Award who directed his first episode of HOUSE M.D. within a year of graduating. We’ve had so many great alumni who make me very, very proud as a member – and as the dean.

    7. What was your best day at AFI? Deciding which thesis films will go forward each year and which directors and which teams will form around these thesis films. We read many scripts – let’s say a hundred scripts – and we put about 35 into a pool. Then the Fellows choose the 26 to 28 thesis films that they will make. So right now we are all very busy reading scripts and deciding which ones go forward.

    8. What are you working on today? Today we are finalizing the schedule for the AFI Directing Workshop for Women. The participants shoot their films in July. The next few months will involve intensive Directing Workshop for Women activities. We also have a faculty meeting this afternoon and it's exciting to see everyone together. It's the last faculty meeting of the year, which allows us to reflect on all of the great work that’s been done this year. We’re also creating a virtual tour for our website for AFI applicants that we expect to have up and running this summer.

    9. What don't your colleagues know about you? You know, I truly think I’m an open book. I am so transparent.  I think they know everything about me, from what I like to do weekends, what I like to do with my family and, if we go out in the evenings, what I like to drink.  If I can think of something, I’ll let you know.

    10. What's your favorite film? My favorite film is probably LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) because I decided I had to be a filmmaker after I saw it. David Lean’s movies, whether it was LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957), those were the films I was raised on and they really changed my life.