(Feature Documentary, Work in Progress)
In 1977, STAR WARS became a cultural phenomenon that redefined how studios selected and marketed big-budget spectacles.
Movies would never be the same again. A year later, turns out neither would television.
The STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL aired on November 17th, 1978 and was watched by 13 million people on CBS. It is often considered the single worst piece of media within the Star Wars franchise if not all of television production. To date, Lucasfilm has never officially released it outside of its original broadcast, yet it has become a cult favorite among fans over the decades.
Initially the driving force behind the Holiday Special was to keep the property viable and licensed merchandise, namely toys being available for the first time during Christmas, moving off the shelves until THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was released over a year later in 1980.
No expense was spared with a $4MM budget (adjusted for inflation) to bring on top-tier talent both in front and behind the camera. This included Smith & Hemion (the gold standard of tv specials), Steve Binder (director of ELVIS PRESELY COMEBACK SPECIAL), Ken & Mitzi Welch (THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW), and TV legends Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Harvey Korman. The special was also given the film’s stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, who had all been contractually obligated to appear in the special.
In reality, the story as to how and why the SWHS happened is more complex and has never been fully explored and told…until now.
(Feature Music Documentary, Work in Progress)
The textbook American cult band of the 1980s, the Violent Femmes captured the essence of teen angst with remarkable precision; raw and jittery, the trio’s music found little commercial success but nonetheless emerged as the soundtrack for the lives of troubled adolescents the world over. The group formed in the early ’80s, and comprised singer/guitarist Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie, and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo.
After being discovered by the Pretenders’ James Honeyman-Scott, the Violent Femmes signed to Slash and issued their self-titled 1983 debut, a melodic folk-punk collection which struck an obvious chord with young listeners who felt a strong connection to bitter, frustrated songs like “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off,” and “Add It Up.” The album remained a rite of passage for succeeding generations of teen outsiders, and after close to a decade in release, it finally achieved platinum status.
“American Music” is a warts-and-all exploration of the bands history, including all the of music and the turmoil. For instance, Gordon Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie have navigated lawsuits over the use of their iconic punk masterpiece, “Blister In the Sun”, after Gano licensed the song for use in a Wendy’s TV commercial. Other infighting has also plagued the band in recent years, including the departure of original drummer Victor DeLorenzo not once, but twice.
From idealistic youth to extended layoff, the Violent Femmes have navigated some significant obstacles along the way to alternative rock icons. “American Music” will take us through it all.
Directed by Tim Irwin
Produced by Jeremy Coon
Edited by Barry Poltermann
(Documentary. Potential Feature or Short Doc-Series)
“It’s Morning In America!” and Ronald Reagan is sworn in for a second term. Mikhail Gorbechev becomes leader of the Soviet Union and has yet to take down that wall. “We Are The World” is recorded in response to an epic famine in Ethiopia. Christa McAuliffe is chosen to ride in the space shuttle Challenger… And Homophobia and the AIDS epidemic are in full swing. In NYC, Jewish and Christian religious protestors crash a gay pride parade with signs that read “Smile If You Have AIDS” and “Smash Gay Rights Now.”
In music, Rock Me Amadeus, Take on Me, Like a Virgin, The Heat is On, I Wanna Know What Love Is and The Power of Love top the charts. At the movies, Americans watch Back To The Future, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, The Sure Thing and The Care Bears Movie…
And it is against this backdrop that John Pierson’s story takes flight: a cinephile-geek-fanboy who becomes a major influencer in bringing underrepresented voices to the mainstream market as an accidental sales rep, essentially improvising and inventing an occupation that previously had barely existed.
And it all started in 1985 with Parting Glances – the first theatrical feature to deal with the threat of AIDS and feature homosexual characters as recognizable and ordinary, as well as then-unknown Steve Buscemi’s first leading role. Pierson would discover his passion for bringing diverse voices and perspectives to the big screen, ultimately becoming an essential player in breaking down the cultural walls that kept mainstream theatrical releases white, male-centric and heteronormative. His passion became to represent the underrepresented.
Pierson went on to invest in and bring then fledgling filmmaker Spike Lee’s first feature She’s Gotta Have It to market – a film which served a not just under-represented audience, but a completely ignored one – Black America. Pierson championed and sold Working Girls by feminist filmmaker Lizzie Borden, a film written and directed by a woman and featuring strong female leads making powerful choices about their own sexuality… The list goes on. Film after film, filmmaker after filmmaker, Pierson was ahead cultural mainstream and used his resources to open up the cultural conversation to marginalized voices.
The series provides an extraordinary opportunity to look behind-the-scenes at the rise of the mid-80’s to 90’s independent film world that gave birth to both visionaries and tyrants and that changed the world of cinema as we know it. From the explosive growth of the Sundance Film Festival, to the birth and eventual corporate absorption of the mini-major’s (October Films, Miramax, etc.) the film will provide a first hand account of how money, ego and power both catapulted filmmakers to fame and fortune, while also exploring the damage left in their wake.
Like The Defiant Ones, the series will include interviews with the people who made these films, sold these films, fought over these films, believed in them and bought them, to tell the stories of how these iconic films came to life and found their audience. We intend to broaden beyond the slate of films that John Pierson brought to sale, getting his perspective (as well as others) on this extraordinary era in independent film.
These were some of the first voices to break through the mainstream – a mainstream which is much more diverse today because of these filmmakers, creatives, advocates and the fight to get their voices heard.
The series will shine a light on the social and political context of the particular moment. What was the political and national dialogue on and experience of Black America in 1986 when She’s Gotta Have It was released and lit a cultural fire? That same year, what was the national dialogue surrounding women and reproductive rights? What about sexual harassment? This is the year the Supreme Court finally decided women could seek legal damages for harassment in the workplace. Think on that. And what is the context of unfettered capitalism and the legacy of Reagonomics that shattered and abandoned middle America and to which Michael Moore gave voice to in Roger and Me?
John Pierson was both witness and architect of one of the most tumultuous and exciting eras in film history. It was an era of pirates and dreamers, and the fertile origin story in the careers of some of todays most beloved filmmakers and story tellers.
Many of these directors are artists who are relevant to this day, helping redefine mainstream Hollywood. Last year Spike Lee won his first Academy Award for writing the screenplay for BlackKklansman. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood’s received multiple Oscar nominations. Michael Moore is a brand unto himself. These are filmmakers who continue to tell stories happening outside of the mainstream, that push boundaries and open up possibilities for new voices, new stories, and the opportunity to see yourself on the screen.
And as Hollywood attempts to grapple today, more than ever, with a long history of race and gender bias, what better time to tell Pierson’s story — a story of diversifying and expanding the cinematic experience to open it to new voices.
(Feature Documentary, Work in Progress)
In the deserts of the American west paleontologists compete against time, erosion, and lack of funding in search of new dinosaur specimens, but they’re not alone in this race against time. Commercial collectors armed with more funds dig at an accelerated speed to uncover fossils, selling them to the highest bidder and out of the reach of the paleontologists who can unlock their true value: the secrets of earth’s past.
Since an early 90’s auction netted over $8 million for a prolific T. Rex specimen, American museums have been unable to match the financial demands now set by commercially collected specimens. The sale sent a wave through American paleontology, resulting in fights for land rights, land access, the spread of fake information and exploitation of international fossils by cartels and the black market.
In order to tell this story we have gained an unprecedented amount of access to subjects on all sides of the film’s topic. From paleontologists to commercial collectors to government representatives and auction curators, our film is taking a holistic approach to understanding the complex relationships within paleontology.
(Feature Documentary, Work in Progress)
“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
— The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The photograph is of a young Marine, shot through the chest, laid unconscious across a board and being evacuated atop a tank. It was taken by Army photographer John Olson during the bloody battle of Hue, the centerpiece of the Tet Offensive and a turning point in the Vietnam War.
It is one of the most iconic photos in the history of war photography. It has come to represent survival, valor and an almost religious nobility in the face of overwhelming odds.
And it may all be a lie.
For a treatment of DOUBLE EXPOSURE, Click here.
(Teaser for Work In Progress Feature Film)
Troy Haupt is a 47-year old nurse anesthetist in the Outer Banks and he has a secret to share: He owns the only known recording of the Super Bowl I broadcast from 1967 where the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs. CBS and NBC, which both simultaneously televised the game, did not preserve any copies nor did the NFL. It is reported the networks taped over the game with soap operas.
The ancient quadraplex tapes of the first broadcast that launched the Super Bowl as an enormous spectacle that still attracts more that 100 million viewers annually, however, might never be seen by anyone. Despite Sports Illustrated ranking a recording of Super Bowl I as one of the top 25 “lost sports treasures of all time” and valuing it as $1 million, the NFL doesn’t want to buy the tapes and has warned Haupt not to sell or distribute it in any manner or the league will pursue legal action.
Hear the crazy story about how the tape came to be Haupt’s, the legal complications from expert opinions, and what is it going to take to finally have this piece of modern American history available for the public to see for the first time in over 50 years.
Producer/Directors: Tim Skousen and Jeremy Coon
Editor: Matt Prekop
(Historical Documentary Series)
When the crime scene was discovered inside Ed Gein’s secluded, rundown Wisconsin farmhouse of horrors, the veil was forever lifted on the human psyche and we were forced to accept that evil lives inside us all. But who was the Mad Butcher of Plainfield, and what drove him to find comfort in the flesh of others?
This multi-part documentary series is a historical, true-crime documentary thriller that tells a story of an America in transformation through the story of Ed Gein, perhaps the most notorious serial killer in history.
From his childhood through the disappearance of a store clerk, Bernice Worden, in Plainfield on November 16, 1957, through Gein’s death in a mental hospital in 1984, we trace the story of a changing America, and explore issues of immigration, religion, mental health, popular culture, the media and the death penalty.
What we discover is that things are not so different today than they were that day in 1957, when the police made their first of many horrific discoveries — Worden’s corpse, decapitated, her headless body hung upside down by means of ropes at her wrists and a crossbar at her ankles.
And the unfathomable moment was merely a taste of the horrors to be revealed within hours.