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August 28, 1998 2:00 AM
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Pierson's "Split Screen" Debuts Third Season, Last Days at Bravo?

by Anthony Kaufman




"Split Screen," John Pierson's 30-minute "wild ride through the indie
film world" got its third season debut Monday night on the Independent
Film Channel
. Hosted and created by Pierson, popular producer's rep and
author of "Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes," executive produced by his
wife, Janet Pierson and produced by Eureka Pictures' Howard Bernstein,
the series continues its trip across the country as Pierson and his
"Split Screen" RV check out offbeat and eclectic stories "made by
filmmakers, for everyone," the program's slogan maintains.


"We truly didn't know what we are doing and now we are 30 shows in and
we just sort of make it up as we go along. So, I think that's progress,"
joked Pierson at a special season kick-off screening Tuesday night at
New York's Walter Reade Theater, where much of the show's staff
appeared, including Bernstein, Associate Producer and Editor, Michael
LaHaie, and IFC bigwigs Jonathan Sehring and Caroline Kaplan.


The premiere episode, which will repeat again tonight on Bravo's IFC
Fridays, features another assured batch of wacky indie tales. Filmmaker
Estep Nagy follows headliners Matt Damon and Edward Norton playing Poker
to prepare for their upcoming film "Rounders;" P.H. O'Brien, whom
Pierson called "the heart and soul of Split Screen," together with Doug
Stone document a rather pathetic stuntman; and filmmakers Amy Elliott
and Lizzy Donius bring a bunch of cows to a drive-in to watch "Red
River."


"It's really amazing that they had faith in our ideas," said
writer/director and "Split Screen" RV chauffeur Amy Elliott. "That
really says something about John and Janet and 'Split Screen'." Elliott
and the rest comprise the roughly 50 filmmakers that contributed to this
season's batch of new shows. Besides regulars like O'Brien, Stone, and
Elliott, who return with more segments throughout the season, other
budding filmmakers make contributions. Chris Smith ("American Job")
documents people projecting their films against flowerbeds, Marina
Zenovich ("Independent's Day") goes up in the air with Northwest
Airlines' "Indies in Flight" program, Steve Yeager ("Divine Trash")
takes a look at legendary George Kuchar and Todd Phillips ("Frat House")
puts his far from polite lens on his porn hero, Seymore Butts.


Incidentally, the "Split Screen" RV didn't make it to the Tuesday night
screening, noted Pierson, who came with a toy model instead. After
12,000 miles of cross-continental travel, the famed roving vehicle of
indie film broke down 11:00 p.m. Monday night at Exit 12 on the New Jersey
Turnpike returning from Red Bank. "It was almost a relief," noted
Pierson, "Only we couldn't just irresponsibly walk away from it or burn
it which would have been kind of amusing."


Also added to this season are 5 hilarious "Toy Story" segments from the
"Adam and Joe Show" by two Brits Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish who lampoon
famous indies using stuffed animals as the characters. Tonight, a
mocking rendition of Cronenberg's "Crash." Later, "The English
Patient
," "Seven," and "Kids" all receive brilliantly wry treatments.
Other highlighted segments this season include a close-up look at recent
Congressional debates over the National Endowment for the Arts, a talk
with Todd Haynes and Christine Vachon, in Cannes with "Velvet Goldmine,"
about their own controversies, a visit to Red Bank with Kevin Smith, and
Yvonne Welbon's "How Do You Do That" series, which includes, among other
"How to's," how to work with a deaf actress.


"Honestly, the public service part of 'Split Screen' is let's put some
filmmakers to work," Pierson told indieWIRE last May. "And let's give
them showcase for that work." In an interview in the August issue of
the Independent Film and Video Monthly, Pierson explained the show's
ability to provide a forum and opportunity for new filmmakers. "Instead
of kicking around for years trying to make something, it's like, 'Hey,
here's a good segment idea, what would the budget be? Okay, here you go,
here's the money. Do it. And by the way, it's going to be on a show in
three weeks, so can you get it cut really fast?' Theoretically when it
works, it benefits the show as a whole and the individual filmmaker as a
single filmmaker -- that's the beauty of it when things click."


Although "the television show is spreading the wealth," said Pierson,
"we're not keeping much of the wealth." As far as the future of the
show goes, "Split Screen" has already been renewed for another round of
shows, beginning production in January, 1999. But Pierson hopes for
more profitability and more audiences. "If it does go on, and we do
twenty-plus shows next year and the system which we do it in is
regulated, I also hope more profit comes out of it and who knows how
that winds up getting used. I'd like a pool table, for starters," he
jokes.


One of the revenue options always open to a series like "Split Screen"
is video. But as of now, the series is not available, something which
Pierson maintained in a conversation this week is something they are
working towards. Still worldwide television sales have taken place and
one can see the American indie film ambassador John Pierson from South
Africa to Brazil, Australia to Turkey, and even Saudi Arabia.


Expanding the audience, however, has hit a bit of snag -- Bravo is going
commercial and due to certain programming needs, "Split Screen" will
no longer be on Bravo's IFC Fridays schedule. Pierson stated this week,
"As far as we know, Friday, September 25, 7:30 EST will be the last
complete episode of Split Screen on Bravo." Although a representative
from the IFC assured indieWIRE that this situation is not set in stone,
Pierson lamented the loss of the 33 million homes which
now receive Bravo, (while the IFC goes out to 15 million.) "It is
really weird when you're just on IFC land. We have all these shows and
we get a lot of feedback, but it's not like having that one time pop,"
said Pierson in May. "We've all been having withdrawal pains during this
period. We were like in limbo. It was like, 'It's Friday night and
we're not on, oh god.'"


But their exclusive relationship with the IFC, where they are now
broadly championed as the IFC's "signature show," makes the channel
"more attractive," Pierson claimed. "[The Independent Film Channel]
basically trusts us to make an entertaining show that loosely deals with
independent film culture. Of course, our motto this year is to make the
word 'loose' have a real meaning. . . So it's been really great to
have that kind of hands off, 'it's your vision, it's your show, it's the
filmmakers you want to choose to deal with, that's great by us. . .,
therefore go ahead and do it.'"

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