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Screenwriting History #42 Frank Pierson

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”  - COOL HAND LUKE

For those of you who watch movies and study the craft of screenwriting you are probably aware of former Hollywood screenwriter Frank Pierson. Sadly he passed away in 2012. He was a writer (and producer) best known for his screenplays for DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) and COOL HAND LUKE (1967); as well as PRESUMED INNOCENT (1990).

By the mid-late 1960s Pierson was at the height of his craft. But how did he get there? Like so many writers today and during the 1950s he got his first break writing for television. He wrote eleven episodes for the TV series, “Have Gun, Will Travel,” then “Naked City,” “Route 66” and others. He then co-wrote an interesting screenplay in 1965, CAT BALLOUT, a revenge tale featuring a strong female central character seeking justice for her father’s murder. A year later he wrote COOL HAND LUKE (based on a novel by the same name written by Donn Pearce), but then afterwards  Pierson returned to TV writing ("Nichols" from 1970-1972). He also kept writing features as well including the Cold War thriller THE LOOKING GLASS WAR (1969) and THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971). In 1975 he wrote perhaps his finest screenplay, DOG DAY AFTERNOON (based on a true story).

Pierson was asked once in an interview: What was his favorite script? DOG DAY AFTERNOON, the interviewer proposed, and his response, “…no. It’s any number of the unproduced screenplays I’ve done because they unspool in my head, absolutely unspoiled by all the compromises you have to make in order to get a movie made.”

IF you get a chance, rent DOG DAY AFTERNOON and COOL HAND LUKE (read the screenplays as well). Here’s a teaser for both films:




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