RTF Master Class

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What is the Master Class? It's an actual class for credit, it's the RTF department's key visiting guest program, it's a radio show, and it's also an ad hoc career counseling service all rolled into one. Let's say Spike Jonze comes for a visit. A group of registered students review Spike's career, painstakingly select clips, and help prepare questions for John Pierson's conversation with him while also promoting the event to the wider RTF and UT community. Then a smaller unit of audio students records the two-hour class and edits a fast-moving 30-minute radio version for broadcast and podcast on Austin's splendid NPR affiliate KUT-FM. But even better, the wide range of guests from the film and television industries often wind up giving invaluable career advice in Studio 4D or after class in our semi-traditional barbeque hoedown.

John Pierson took over the Master Class in 2006, and has used his quarter century of professional experience in the film business to help secure the ten guests in the line-up each Spring semester. The list is long and includes Spike Lee, David Simon, Harvey Weinstein, Steve Buscemi, South Park's Matt Stone, Kevin Smith, Mark Cuban, Elizabeth Avellan, Mike Judge, Gus Van Sant, Lisa Cholodenko, Justin Lin, Frederick Wiseman, and Morgan Spurlock. On occasion we've moved to the bigger Student Activity Center for some extra special Master Class guests who were huge favorites in the university-wide community including Scrubs lead Zach Braff and the one and only Johnny Depp.

But it's not all marquee names and star power. Some times the best learning experience comes from excellent craftspeople who work behind the scenes. We've had illuminating visits from Michel Gondry's DP, David Lynch's editor, Quentin Tarantino's agent, Christopher Guest's producer, Little Children's screenwriter, Slumdog Millionaire's trailer maker, and the creator of Veronica Mars.

Please sample the audio links available on this page. As the regular opening to the show declares, in partnership with Austin Film Society we meet up once a week with special guests from the world of film to hear their stories of struggle and success and to get the inside scoop on their next projects. Audience members also get their licks in during a weekly Q&A when they ask Steve Buscemi if he was ever in 'Adult films,' probe David Simon on why he made Omar gay, and challenge Kevin Smith to choose between Darth Vader and Magneto in an iconic death match.

Spring 2012 brought another stellar group of guests to Master Class. Directors David Gordon Green, Lisa Cholodenko, and Justin Lin all spoke about their humble beginnings, festival trials, and Hollywood successes. Guest host Harry Knowles sat down with effects pioneer Tom Smith of George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic. Writer Peter Hedges expounded on his journey as a novelist, screenwriter, and director. And indie idol Richard Linklater returned to discuss his favorite movie moments with our own Charles Ramírez Berg. Other guests focused us on Austin: rising star Zach Anner spoke about how his experience at UT helped shape his new travel show, Paul Stekler talked about the dots that connect his PhD, his award-winning documentaries, and his directorship of the RTF department, and Terry Lickona recounted his time with Austin's best known cultural export: Austin City Limits. We wrapped up the season by beaming in the always animated Tom Rothman, founder of Fox Searchlight and former head of Fox Filmed Entertainment. You can catch some of these sessions in upcoming shows on KUT 90.5.


02/06 - Zach Anner (OWN's Rollin' With Zach)
02/20 - Terry Lickona (Austin City Limits, Grammy Awards)
02/27 - Richard Linklater's Guided Tour Through 17 Delectable Moments in Movie History
03/05 - Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow, Fast Five)
03/12 - Spring/SXSW break
03/19 - Paul Stekler (George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire, Last Man Standing)
03/26 - David Gordon Green (George Washington; Pineapple Express; Halftime in America)
04/09 - Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right, High Art)
04/16 - Tom Smith (Industrial Light & Magic)
04/23 - Peter Hedges (Gilbert Grape, Pieces of April, About A Boy)
04/30 - Tom Rothman (Co-Chair & CEO, Fox Filmed Entertainment) 

From 2006–2012, John Pierson’s Master Class brought in renowned guests from the film and television industry to visit with RTF students, the University community, and select members of the Austin Film Society.

Note: In Fall 2015, RTF offered the Entertainment Industry Careers and Contexts master class speaker series, Media Industry Conversations (MIC).

Listen to Master Class

The Master Class sessions are recorded by the Master Class audio team, which then goes on to produce and edit radio-friendly 30-minute versions for a monthly broadcast on KUT-FM.

  • Lisa Cholodenko
    Writer/director of The Kids Are All Right, Laurel Canyon, High Art

  • David Gordon Green
    Director of Pineapple Express, George Washington, Prince Avalanche

  • Peter Hedges
    Writer of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, writer/director The Odd Life of Timothy Green

  • Justin Lin
    Director of Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6

  • Elizabeth Avellan
    Producer of Sin City, Spy Kids, Desperado

  • Michael Barker
    Co-President and Founder of Sony Pictures Classics

  • Timur Bekmambetov
    Director of Wanted, Night Watch, Day Watch

  • Charles Burnett
    Director of Killer of Sheep, To Sleep With Anger

  • Steve Buscemi
    Actor of Reservoir Dogs, Fargo, Big Daddy and Con Air

  • Mark Cuban
    Entrepreneur, producer of Good Night, and Good Luck, The Road

  • Joe Dante
    Director of Gremlins, The 'Burbs

  • Jay Duplass
    Co-Director of Cyrus, Baghead, and The Puffy Chair

  • Spike Jonze
    Director of Where the Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation

  • Mike Judge
    Director, Office Space; creator Beavis and Buttheadand King of the Hill

  • Tim League
    Founder of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema & Co-Founder of Fantastic Fest

  • Spike Lee
    Award-winning Director of Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X

  • Art Linson
    Producer of Fight Club, Heat, Into the Wild, The Untouchables, and many others

  • Janet Pierson
    Producer of the SXSW Film Festival

  • David Simon
    Emmy-winning writer of The Wire, Generation Kill, and Treme

  • Chris Smith
    Director and producer of American Movie, The Yes Men

  • Kevin Smith
    Writer, director, producer, actor of Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Cop Out

  • Morgan Spurlock
    Writer, director, producer of Super Size Me, 30 Days

  • Matt Stone
    Co-creator of South Park; writer of Team America: World Police

  • Gus Van Sant
    Director of Milk, Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho

  • Harvey Weinstein
    Co-chairman of The Weinstein Company, and co-founder of Miramax Films

  • Lauren Zalaznick
    President of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks