Frank Pierson
Frank Pierson

Meeting Frank Pierson was intimidating, to put it mildly.

I was sitting outside the old WGAw boardroom, waiting to find out whether I, as a runner-up, would be filling a seat. I don’t remember who ushered me inside, but I sure remember Frank.

As President, he politely and courteously informed me that the Board had voted to have me fill the vacancy, then nodded his head at the one remaining seat, directly across from him.

Frank had a regal bearing – my fellow screenwriter David Freeman called him “God’s idea of a writer.” The old boardroom had pictures of past presidents sitting behind the current one – among them, a photo of a younger Frank, from when he had first served in the position about a decade before (the only writer ever to have served non-consecutive terms). As if this were not enough to cow someone making their first appearance, there were also Frank’s credits.

But what really got me was the piercing look Frank gave me as I sat down. The consummate dramatic writer, Frank always knew when a look was worth more than words. And this look was crystalline – “Don’t fuck up; this is serious business affecting writer’s lives.”

I got it. So did everyone in the room. Just as audiences would “get” the looks that came from the characters Frank created.

Frank could as easily have been elected the President of the DGA as the WGA (as he was later to be the President of the Academy). He chose to identify as a writer rather than take the mantle of the more glamorous profession. He believed in the primacy of the script, but it was more than that. For Frank, writing was not a vocation; it was his essence.