‘Master’ful evening with Stone, Pierson

I had a great time at John Pierson’s master class down on the UT Campus this last week.

John, of course, is the indie film guru who is largely responsible for launching the careers of Spike Lee and Michael Moore and Kevin Smith (not to mention our own beloved Rick Linklater). These days he’s shifted to academia, in UT’s RTF department specifically. He teaches a “Master Class” where he invites in movie and TV types to speak to his students (recent guests include actor/filmmaker Steve Buscemi, The Wire’s David Simon and more).

You may also remember him from a hang in Chillville last year.

His book Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes should be required reading for every would-be filmmaker. You may also remember his television program Split Screen, which aired on IFC back in the late 90s.

Their conversation was a hoot. John really does a “master”ful job of engaging his guests in candid conversation (pardon the pun).

Stone was a total trip. You might have had the idea they he and partner Trey Parker intentionally push the envelope to get a rise out of the Comedy Central brass. In reality, they’re pretty much left to their own devices.

They still have to clear what is called “standards and practices.” But for the most part, there are no “notes” from executives. Considering that, as Pierson astutely pointed out, South Park pretty much built Comedy Central, I suppose that is a good thing.

I was also surprised that for such a mammoth enterprise, not to mention cash cow, that they can still be total slackers about how they go about it. According to Stone, they are usually putting together a week’s new show during the 7-10 days prior. In fact, they can add a joke or segment as late as Wednesday morning to air that night.

Also very interesting to me was his candor about having “The Simpsons” in his head. I can’t remember if he called it “the greatest show ever” (that could just be what I was thinking), but he acknowledged that on several occasions he and Trey will have a major lightbulb moment for South Park, only to realize it has already been done on the Simpsons.

The one edge he said they have (Pierson pointed it out, Matt concurred) was in being able to work on tight deadlines and insert topical material from the headlines before other shows (which they first learned with the Elian Gonzalez saga back in 2000).

Lastly, I was surprised that there is an entire archive of every South Park that can be viewed online, and that over 1,000,000 people view a new South Park episode online within the 24 hours it airs on CC. That’s a staggering figure if you think about it.

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