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Obit: Screenwriter Frank Pierson Fought Against the Impoverishment of Film Language

Thompson on Hollywood By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood July 23, 2012 at 7:04PM

Frank Pierson, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay of “Dog Day Afternoon” in 1975, was nominated for two other Oscars, and then turned himself into an Emmy-winning director, died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 87 after a short illness.
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Adrien Brody and Frank Pierson
Adrien Brody and Frank Pierson

Frank Pierson, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay of “Dog Day Afternoon” in 1975, was nominated for two other Oscars, and then turned himself into an Emmy-winning director, died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 87 after a short illness.

More than just a screenwriter and director, Pierson was also a creative force behind the scenes in the movie industry.  He served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 2001 to 2005, was on the Academy’s Board for 17 years, and served on more than 25 Writers Guild of America committees, in addition to twice being the WGA’s president.  The guild honored him with its Laurel Award for lifetime achievement.

Nominated for Oscars for “Cat Ballou” (1965) and “Cool Hand Luke (1967), he was on the writing staff of “Mad Men” and “The Good Wife” when he was over 80 years old. As a director, he helmed the 1976 version of “A Star Is Born,” starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.  He was nominated for an Emmy and won the Directors Guild of America award as a director for the television movie “Conspiracy,” (2001) about the infamous meeting held by the Nazis to decide the fate of Europe’s Jews.    

In 2003, in an interview for the Writers Guild, Pierson worried about the quality of screenwriting.  “I’m really disturbed about two things,” he said. “One is that among the big audience pictures, which are being financed by the major studios, the range of subject matter is so narrow and is aimed at a particularly small and not especially demanding audience.”  The second, he said, was the “impoverishment” of film language.

This article is related to: Stuck In Love, AFI, Obit


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.