We begin this note knowing we will “fail to communicate” the heavy heart we carry today with the news that Frank Pierson, the man who wrote the legendary line for COOL HAND LUKE, has passed away at the age of 87.
The great irony that it was he who etched the line into the pantheon of pop culture is that nobody could communicate like Frank.
With words imbued with wit and wisdom. With glances that had you stand a little straighter. With smiles that gave you the confidence to realize your dreams.
Frank served on the AFI Board of Trustees since 2005, providing invaluable oversight to the AFI Conservatory, where he also served as our Artistic Director. But perhaps Frank’s greatest gift to AFI was his role as leader of the Conservatory’s Narrative Workshop. Week in and week out – for decades – Frank moderated these sessions where teams of filmmakers present their work to their fellow Fellows. As you know, his only rule was that the filmmakers could not speak. They were to listen. And learn. Frank led these gatherings with an iron fist and an open heart – challenging and inspiring a new generation to make movies – and always, to reach for more.
When he retired from teaching two years ago, and we searched for a replacement, Frank requested we look for someone who would, first and foremost, make the class about the Fellows. Frank was always about the Fellows.
Someone once asked him what made a great filmmaker. His reply, “Two failed marriages and a short stint in jail.” His point – he would go on to explain – is that to tell a worthy tale one has to have lived.
And he will continue to live at AFI – where an army of artists has been sent off into the world – hellbent on standing true to their beliefs – and to their stories.
Something they learned from the very best. Something they learned from Frank Pierson.
Our community will come together to remember Frank in the weeks to come, but we hope you will take a moment today to remember Pacino’s chant in DOG DAY AFTERNOON – “Attica! Attica!” – and know that Frank’s legacy will continue to echo across time.
Bob Gazzale, President and CEO
Robert Mandel, Dean, AFI Conservatory