SFIFF: Kanbar Award Winner Frank Pierson

The San Francisco International Film Festival’s Kanbar Award tribute to screenwriter Frank Pierson started 10 minutes late. But it was worth the wait.

Pierson’s work ranges from memorable ‘60s classics like Cool Hand Luke to one of the best TV shows of recent years, Mad Men. As the Festival speaker who introduced the event put it, “Clearly what we have is not a failure to communicate.”

After some clips from his work, Pierson was interviewed onstage by Roy Isenhart (I’m not sure of the spelling), then he answered questions from the audience.

Among his more statements:

  • “I don’t know if I learned anything [working in the industry], but I can testify to an awful long of change in the business and in the world…The craft of movies hasn’t changed that much. It’s become much more efficient with computers and such. When I started in westerns, we literally communicated with flags.”
  • On the role of screenwriter during 60s and 70s:: “Hollywood was a smaller place then. Everybody liked to sit at the writer’s table. The conversation was better then.”
  • When asked if he would go into the same field today: “I guess I’m masochist enough to do it anyway. I’d do it for minimum wage. Thank god the studios don’t know it and the writer’s guild won’t let me.”
  • On Sidney Lumet: “An extraordinary director and underrated. Not a stylist, but a story teller. Needed the style that matched that particular story. You don’t recognize it as a Lument picture.”

This was followed by a screening of Dog Day Afternoon. It was my first time seeing it on the big screen with an audience. It’s much better that way. Pierson and Lumet did the almost impossible: They started the movie as a comedy and turn it into something serious. I’ve seen that attempted many times and seldom seen it done successfully. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more successful attempt.