The Front Lines of Indie Film

Chances are you've never heard of John Pierson, but if you make a point of reading the Film section, chances are you'd enjoy his book. Pierson has spent the last decade working in the independent-film industry, under the job title "producer's representative." This roughly translates as "the guy who gets the completed movie up on actual screens." His very entertaining tome Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: AGuided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema (Hyperion) is a biting personal history of the film-festival circuit of recent years, detailing the search by low-budget indies for a distributor that can give them that all-important audience.

The title is descriptive of the arc of Pierson's career: He was the investor who provided Spike Lee with the final $10,000 needed to finish his debut film,She's Gotta Have It. He shepherded Michael Moore's Roger & Me to a record-breaking (for an indie) initial sale of $3 million.

Pierson has also been involved with such indie faves as Richard Linklater's Slacker, Kevin Smith's Clerks and Rose Troche's lesbian romance Go Fish. He has come to be known within the industry as the man to see to break unusual, non-Hollywood products open to a wider, more mainstream audience.

Spike, Mike, etc., is filled with anecdotes about the great and far from great who have put it all on the line to create their first film--in most cases spending every penny, only to end up with a finished 16millimeter work with little hope of seeing the inside of a commercial projection booth.

The rare occasions which produce films like TheThin Blue Line or Slacker are part of what make the book such a fascinating read, although the low points of Pierson's career are memorable, too--the chapter about Rob Weiss, the young auteur of the gangster indie Amongst Friends, is a classic account of ego and opportunism run wild.

Pierson writes in an easygoing style that keeps the yarns coming. He also goes into great depth about the financial truths of the movie-completion process. Would-be filmmakers will find this side of the book captivating; the rest of us may roll our eyes. It might have been for the independent-film business that the term "creative financing" was coined.


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