Thursday, June 26, 2008

John (and friends, some very talented friends and filmmakers) on the Radio

For the last three years, John's been teaching a Master Class at UT - holding great conversations with some of the most talented filmmakers around. Some guests are close friends, some are just delightful new friends. Either way, it's been a real highlight for me. I can't get enough of hearing John talk up close and personal with these various artists. It's not the standard Q&A. In many cases, John shares a rich history with the guest. In others, the guests are aware of his own deep commitment and immersion in quality film - so there's a rare level of honesty, mutual respect and ease.

The classes are small (even when expanded and moved to the ACL studio), limited to UT students and 30 lucky AFS subscribers. But you can get a sampling. Some of the Radio students in the RTF dept edit down the 2+hour talks to a 30 minute radio show for broadcast on KUT. Tune into Steve Buscemi and David Simon this Sunday, June 29 at 11am. After that you can listen to the podcast - available somewhere from the UT RTF Master Class page or directly on It's great stuff. And not just my own opinion - both the Chronicle and Statesman this week weigh in with their regards as well.

Better Than Book-Learnin'

'Master Class With John Pierson' premieres on KUT

John Pierson (l) with Matt Stone
Photo by Chris Margrave

Education has its perks, for sure – just ask the UT undergrads who attend John Pierson's Master Class in the Radio-Television-Film Department. Every semester, they get front-row seats to Pierson's lively discussions with some of the industry's best and brightest, like Spike Lee, Kevin Smith, and Gus Van Sant. But for the cost of something less than a four-year stint at a public university – the cost of nothing, in fact –you can check out abbreviated sessions on KUT's The Best of Public Radio program, starting this Sunday, June 29, at 11am (nestled, as Pierson puts it, in the "sweet spot between This American Life and Prairie Home Companion"). Pierson's own students take the original two-hour sessions, some of which were taped in the Austin City Limits soundstage, and whittle them down to half-hour highlight reels. Teeing up first are actor Steve Buscemi and David Simon (creator of The Wire); airing July 27 are interviews with Bravo reality-programming wizard Lauren Zalaznick and South Park's Matt Stone (always funny, especially when remembering his early days, when he and partner Trey Parker sold their first film to Troma for dirt cheap, or what he calls "a salad and a bag of peanuts"); followed by an Aug. 31 program featuring pioneering African-American filmmaker Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep) and chronicler of American eccentrics Chris Smith (American Movie). The shows are funny and revealing and – given that the audience largely comprises college kids – not your typical Q&A song-and-dance. To wit: You can bet Charlie Rose never asked Buscemi if he'd considered a career in porn.

Catch wisdom of filmmaker's famous friends on radionews

From John Pierson's Master Class to Michael Madsen's ghost friend, Austin is popping with movie-related news.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Movie news permeates Austin, and sometimes we must pause to organize it all. This week's column is a due compendium of local movie miscellanea, more of which is available at the Austin Movie Blog at

Among University of Texas professors with rock-star status is John Pierson, the storied Radio-Television-Film instructor, who arrived at UT earlier this decade with a fat résumé listing his IFC television program "Split Screen," his best-selling movie business memoir "Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes" and years as one of indie film's most important producer's representatives.

Pierson has clout and sway. And lots of famous friends. That muscle pulls major players from film and television to Pierson's Master Class, long, casual interview sessions conducted before a live audience in the "Austin City Limits" studio at UT. Pierson, rangy and amiable, interviews longtime friends and acquaintances with an expansive, good-humored tack.

Only the privileged, lucky and enrolled get to attend these special conversations, but KUT (90.5 FM) airs select shows in keenly edited one-hour formats, with two guests getting 30 minutes each. The new season, recorded during the spring semester, airs at 11 a.m. Sundays, beginning this week with Steve Buscemiand David Simon. I got to listen to a few.

The Master Class lineup:

11 a.m. Sunday — Buscemi (pronounced, we learn, "Boo-semmy") sounds a little nervous, and later admits he is, during this career-delving dialogue, tracing his days as a New York fireman before discovering theater, then appearing on television's "Miami Vice" (in which Willie Nelson beats him up) and becoming a director in his own right. Why did Quentin Tarantino cast him as Mr. Pink in "Reservoir Dogs"? "You look like a criminal," the actor recalls QT telling him.

Fresh off a sizzling streak with the critically worshipped HBO series "The Wire," Simon emanates street-smart authenticity. He talks about his years as a former police reporter at The Baltimore Sun and how it sharpened his appreciation of the American city. Troubled urban centers enthrall Simon, as do crime and Greek tragedy, which deftly twine in his shows. He's now working on a project set in New Orleans.

"I actually do believe that cities matter," Simon says, "and I think that's what we were saying with 'The Wire.' "

11 a.m. July 27 — "South Park" co-creator Matt Stone and Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick. With the satirically incisive "South Park," Stone and Trey Parker molested chaste TV formula and vaulted Comedy Central to cable stardom. Pierson points out how "South Park," with its ruthless cultural acumen, explains our world to us.

He reminds Stone that he and Parker have lampooned some rather prominent celebrities. Like Mel Gibson.

"He's a crazy loon and anti-Semite," says an excited Stone. "But there's just something awesome about a crazy guy with $500 million who wants to (make) movies!"

11 a.m. Aug. 31 — Director Charles Burnett ("Killer of Sheep") and director Chris Smith("American Movie").

Listen to past Master Classes, featuring Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, Mark Cuban, Gus Van Sant, Richard Linklaterand Joe Dante at


Jette said...

Thanks for the heads up on the upcoming broadcasts! I posted to Slackerwood about it and included a photo I really liked of John with Matt Stone.

Annie in Austin said...

Maybe you've already seen it - Jette has a different fun photo of John Pierson with Matt Stone over at the Slackerwood, Hopelessly Devoted to the Austin Film Scene Blog

Annie at the Transplantable Rose