By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Tonight is Oscar night. Don't get too dizzy with excitement. Just bring out the chips and dips.
And prepare for endless analyses of why the major Hollywood studios have been overshadowed this
year, at least in the nominations, by independent' (more or less) film makers. Be still my overhyped heart.
Meanwhile, a glimpse of the real world of independents, in all its eternal optimism and grubbiness, can be
found on "Split Screen," a magazine series written and produced by John Pierson for the Independent
Film Channel an affiliate of Bravo. Tonight's half-hour installment of "Split Screen," the fourth,
will be shown on IFC and repeated Friday at 9 P M. on Bravo.
A word about Mr. Pierson, who might be described as the Ubermensch of Independentsville. Since graduating
from New York University Film School in 1976, he has been immersed in the Off Hollywood film scene as, among
other things, repertory exhibitor for the Bleecker Street Cinema and festival director for American Mavericks.
Then he became what is nebulously called a producer representative. As such, he wound up as the largest
equity investor in Spike Lee's 1986 film "She's Gotta Have It."
Since then, Mr. Pierson has been involved, in one way or another, with such independent productions as
"The Thin Blue Line," "Slacker," "Go Fish," "Clerks," "Crumb" and,
hitting big money (relatively speaking), "Roger and Me." In short, he knows the scene, and tonight,
amused and affable, he offers a tour of some of its hot spots, most notably Robert Redford's Sundance Festival
referred to solemnly as "the mecca of submissions."
In a format that sometimes resembles a Marx Brothers routine, Mr. Pierson sends a character called Bob the
Mailman (he delivers the endless tapes from aspiring film greats) to link up with Jerry Lentz, "a disgruntled
film maker living in Hollywood," for a trip to the festival in Park City, Utah. Meanwhile, Mr. Pierson
interviews other film makers on the tricks of their trade. How did P. H. O'Brien ("Asylum") get the money
to finance his project? "I crashed my car," he says, to get the insurance. He's serious.
At Sundance itself, confusion and anxiety reign. One guest sagely observes, "Everybody's a somebody and,
at the same time, everybody's a nobody." The event is described as a media orgy packed with weirdos and
business people. The film makers may claim pure roots, not concerned about selling their product, but
the festival is really about being picked up by major studios and distributors. One young woman says of
the distributors, "They didn't put money into it, but they can make money out of it."
In fact, the festival, originated as a distinguished showcase for independents, has exploded into chaos.
One official notes that 800 films might be submitted for competition and "500 will never see the light of
day." There are already two renegade offshoots, Slamdance and Slumdance, prepared to cope with the overflow.
Meanwhile, would-be film makers, brimming with youthfully smug self-confidence, strut about seemingly
unfazed, sure that they will be the next Orson Welles or Martin Scorsese. Perhaps that's the way it has
to be, even as the vast majority inevitably fall by the wayside.
Mr. Pierson captures the scene affectionately. His offbeat series is shrewdly on target. What other program
can you think of in which the final credits include a plug for a restaurant, in the vicinity of Mr.
Pierson's Hudson River Valley home, and for a book, Mr. Pierson's own "Spike Mike Slackers and Dykes: A
Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema"?
And now, let's see what the dazzling celebrities are wearing for this evening's annual blowout in Hollywood.
Independent Film Channel, airs at 8:00pm and 11:00pm every Monday on IFC
Created by John and Janet Pierson; Howard Bernstein and Tim Perell, producers; Michael LaHaie, editor; Mr. Pierson,
writer and co-producer; Jon Fordham, on-line editor; Dean Silvers and Marlen Hect, executive producers. A Grainy Pictures production.