Company/Organization Profiles | Local Industry

Independents in the Loop

1 May , 1998  

Written by Kiersten Conner-Sax | Posted by:

The first screening of WBUR’s 'In the Loop' film series was held on a rainy night at the Kendall Landmark Theater, in Cambridge. While the nor’easter raged outside, the viewers munched free popcorn, learned about former film stars living in Reading, Massachusetts, and took in the American countryside.

The first screening of WBUR’s "In the Loop" film series was held on a rainy night at the Kendall Landmark Theater, in Cambridge. While the nor’easter raged outside, the viewers munched free popcorn, learned about former film stars living in Reading, Massachusetts, and took in the American countryside.

I arrived at the Landmark with high expectations. I was, after all, about to receive both free stuff and a badge, in the form of free popcorn and a soda, and a press pass. Such things probably go one-two on my list of what makes life worthwhile. Settling down into my chair and munching away, I took in the usual national public radio crowd of white people wearing glasses and layer upon layer of natural fibers.

Hosted by WBUR’s Bob Oakes, and sponsored by the Landmark, Bravo, and Media One, the event was a showcase for two film makers: Vermont native John O’Brien, and independent film producer extraordinaire John Pierson. Oakes introduced the two men, then segued into a discussion of Pierson’s project, "Split Screen," for the Bravo Network.

Pierson, while not a director, has been intimately involved with the independent film scene since his days at the NYU film school in the late 1970s. His book, Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes, chronicles his involvement with film makers Spike Lee, Michael Moore, Richard Linklater, and Kevin Smith over the last ten years. Clearly brilliant while also somewhat off-putting (the trivia question he asked at the end of the evening involved the number of dicks sucked during Clerks), Pierson is now taking the independent big screen experience to the small screen in his aptly titled Bravo series, "Split Screen."

The audience watched two segments from "Split Screen." The first featured a Texan actor, making independent westerns, and was about what you’d expect: he started out as a cowboy, went to Hollywood, and now is coming back to his roots. The second, however, was both hysterically funny and particularly suited to a New England audience. Big Jim is a former small-time actor, professional wrestler, and bag man, who now runs a sub shop in Wilmington. Amidst scenes from Big Jim’s movie roles (he appears in the background of a scene with Jack Nicholson), we visit his sub shop and his home in Reading. "A lot of people have told me that this is a dining room that belongs in Beverly Hills," he explains, sitting down at his fur-covered piano.

The main attraction, however, was Vermont film maker/sheepherder John O’Brien’s Man with a Plan. This "political mockumentary," as Bob Oakes referred to it in WBUR’s ads for the evening, is O’Brien’s third feature, and the second installment in his Vermont trilogy. The movie covers retired dairy farmer Fred Tuttle’s campaign for congress. O’Brien commented that the story was somewhat inspired by Ross Perot’s campaign for President; O’Brien decided that if people could take Perot seriously, why not Fred? (For more information on Man with a Plan, see the review, also in this issue.)

During the question-and-answer session immediately following the films, O’Brien revealed that Fred has become a super star in Vermont—that to walk down the street with him is like "walking down the street with Tom Cruise." His next movie, Nosy Parker, will be about a tax assesor who, surprisingly enough, is from Vermont. "It will be the best movie ever made about a tax assesor," he said.

It was during this time, however, that Pierson really shined. He commented that the rise of the independent film scene in the United States parallels the decline of Hollywood. Over one thousand American independent films will be made in the next year, he further explained, at least in part because most upper middle class kids graduating from college can put together the resources to do so, either through credit cards, friends, or friends of friends. Making an independent film today is what starting a rock band was in the 1960s: a career choice.

For any of those upper-middle class kids, or those interested in their fates, "Split Screen" is the program to watch.

For more information on John Pierson and Split Screen, see http://www.grainypictures.com
For more information on John O’Brien and Man with a Plan, see http://www.spreadfred.com
Read an interview with John O’Brien in a past issue of NewEnglandFilm.com


For more information on John Pierson and Split Screen, see http://www.grainypictures.com For more information on John O’Brien and Man with a Plan, see http://www.spreadfred.com Read an interview with John O'Brien in a past issue of NewEnglandFilm.com