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“It’ll knock your hat in the creek”

“Film should be placed on the same pedestal as any of the other arts”

Those two quotes pretty much say it all when discussing the Liener Temerlin I know. A couple days ago, the ad man to end all ad men, the legitimate marketing genius, and true, genuine aficionado of the arts, passed away in Austin, Texas.

Liener Temerlin with Ann Margret and Ross Perot at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival (Photo by John Strange)

Liener Temerlin with Ann Margret and Ross Perot at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival (Photo by John Strange)

He was the kind of man who had achieved so much in his long life that as I put together the media alert touching on the news from the Dallas Film Society’s (and Dallas International Film Festival’s) viewpoint, that I literally could not include everything that was in his basic, official biography.

And I was beyond fortunate to not simply have met Liener, but to have also worked with him, as we launched the very first AFI Dallas International Film Festival eleven years ago.  I was asked to come to Dallas to handle the press and PR for the fledgling film festival following my first stint working on the PR team for AFI FEST in Los Angeles. I had never been to Dallas, so that was already a culture shock, arriving and immediately being welcomed by people that were frighteningly nice to me for no reason whatsoever. Michael Cain, the other co-founder of the new film festival knew me because I had worked on the PR for his film, TV JUNKIE, at AFI FEST, so he had already had a taste of how I approached my job. But Liener had not. So, I was summoned to go and meet Liener Temerlin at his office.

And that’s kind of what it was like: being summoned to meet with Liener.

When I got there, he sat me down in his office and was almost giddy in his excitement over what was ahead for us all. He planned to knock A LOT of hats in the creek with the excitement of the show we were going to put on with this film festival. I was sold immediately and I was incredibly humbled by how generous and welcoming he was. And I did not hide it very well at all, when Michael told me the next day that Liener said he had approved of me. That was validation as big as that “everything is bigger in Texas” reputation promised.

Afterward, whenever he stopped by the office, he made a point to pull me aside, to get the updates on the press front, almost conspiratorially, like no one else would really understand what he and I were trying to cook up for the media, for the press, for the film fans. Every single time I scored a significant press hit, I could not wait to tell Liener. And he actually enjoyed working with his edits on the press releases I drafted. Even when I didn’t agree with what he wanted me to do or to change, I actually enjoyed the process of discussing with him why and why not, etc. That, in itself, speaks volumes of the respect and esteem I had for Liener, because no one enjoys the editing process with press releases. But this was freakin’ Liener Temerlin! If you looked up “idea man” in the dictionary, that was his picture, right there. He was the guy that came up with the “100 Best Movies” idea that in many ways revitalized the American Film Institute. He made the organization viable in the eyes of the public once again – made it a topic of conversation in the flyover states, literally delivered an income stream that supported that organization and school. It was his idea. It was his genius touch.

Liener Temerlin with Dominique Peck and AFI's Jean Picker Firstenberg at the Opening Night of the first AFI Dallas Film Festival

Liener Temerlin with Dominique Peck and AFI’s Jean Picker Firstenberg at the Opening Night of the first AFI Dallas Film Festival (Photo by John Strange)

The AFI Dallas Film Festival grew out of a meeting he had with Michael Cain. Michael had the coolest kernel of an idea for a film festival and film school to grow out of the scrappy, but successful Deep Ellum Film Festival. But Liener saw something else. And what he saw was BIG. It was CONSEQUENTIAL. It would put film on that pedestal he talked about. The same pedestal where ballet or the opera or their like reside. Michael and Liener made a great team and Dallas and so many filmmakers and film fans have benefitted by what they created. That’s what an idea man can do – especially when he also possessed Liener’s rolodex.

Liener Temerlin and Michael Cain, the co-founders of the AFI Dallas International Film Festival on Opening Night (Photo by John Strange)

Liener Temerlin and Michael Cain, the co-founders of the AFI Dallas International Film Festival on Opening Night (Photo by John Strange)

I often talk about feeling I’m always learning, but this was that process on steroids, like getting free admission to one of those retreat seminars that people take mortgages out in order to afford because it will surely make them rich or finally find a mate or have their first happy moment. And he, at least seemed, like he was always happy to take my call.

That was also the other side of what was so damn cool about that time and that relationship. Liener was always encouraging, always generous with his time and thoughts. He was enjoying himself and he seemed to want everyone else to be enjoying themselves as well. That, in itself, was an important lesson. Don’t be cruel, don’t be an ass, don’t be short with people, etc. That isn’t how you become successful. That isn’t how you hold on to your success or grow it. That’s what ideas do. That’s what execution does. That’s what application and follow through do. And Liener communicated that to me through osmosis and demonstration.

So, I was lucky in this scenario. I took the right job at the right time and got a few moments to learn at the feet of a master.

John Wildman and Liener Temerlin on the red carpet at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival Premiere of THE WENDELL BAKER STORY in 2007

John Wildman and Liener Temerlin on the red carpet at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival Premiere of THE WENDELL BAKER STORY in 2007 (Photo by John Strange)