Andy Anderson, a filmmaker and longtime University of Texas at Arlington professor who helped develop the film and video program at UTA, died last week. He was 70.
Dallas Video Festival artistic director Bart Weiss, who had worked with Anderson at UT Arlington, broke the news in a March 17 Facebook post.
“He was a tough and inspiring teacher,” Weiss wrote in a tribute piece for The Dallas Morning News. “Most people that came through our program would say that his screenwriting class changed their lives for the better. And indeed many lives were changed by his teaching.”
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Asked to describe his teaching style once in a Star-Telegram Q&A, Anderson responded in part: “Everything from threatening to whining, sometimes both at the same time. I like to think that I’m open to what students want to say, but at the same time I hold them to very high standards.
“Some people see it as unnecessary discipline, but I see it as part of life.”
Weiss once did a short film profiling Anderson for KERA’s “Deep in the Arts” series on local artists. In the film, Anderson talks about his moviemaking style and his feature films.
In the Morning News piece, Weiss also wrote, “I don’t think there is any part of the film process that Andy did not master.” The characterizations of tough, inspiring and all-around filmmaker are reflected in many posts in an In Memory of Andy Anderson Facebook group that has been set up since his passing.
“I have worked on over 100 films all over the world with 60 of those as the action cinematographer,” Paul Hughen, who has done camera work on such films as “Mulholland Drive” and “The Bourne Legacy,” posted in the Facebook group. “My career is all because of one man who not only got me started but taught me how to use a light meter. Andy Anderson ... missed. You told me not to move to Hollywood. It’s the only time I didn’t listen.”
“Every Andy Story had a unique ending and many times they were hilarious,” writes Daniel DeLoach, a filmmaker and former Fort Worth resident whose films were frequently featured in local film festivals. “Whether it was a jaw-dropping personal tale or an intricate conclusion from one of his screenplays, they always wrapped up in such a genuine and satisfying way.
“Never once did it ever occur to me that one could do anything to improve them. Until now. Your last story … I don’t like the ending. It’s too abrupt. It needs a rewrite.”
According to an online bio, Anderson was born in Detroit and grew up in Miami. He attended Florida State University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art. He joined the Navy, but an injury during training quickly led him back to civilian life.
He returned to FSU to pursue a master’s degree in film and photography, did some writing for a small advertising agency and worked as an all-night disc jockey, according to the bio. His writing attracted the attention of a small commercial-film company that was looking for a director. That’s “commercial” as in “ads”: According to the bio, Anderson wrote, produced and directed commercials for Holiday Inn, Ford, Disney and many others.
In 1973, Anderson decided to do some of his own creative works, and taught briefly at a small college north of Miami. Three years later, he joined the art faculty at UT Arlington, releasing several short films during the next few years.
“I used to correct people who’d say ‘Texas filmmaker Andy Anderson’ and say, ‘No, I’m from Miami,’ ” Anderson told the Star-Telegram in 1998. “Now I say I’m a Texas filmmaker. I knew it happened when I got tired of seeing Texans portrayed on TV as drawling, drooling idiots.”
He released his first feature, “Interface,” in 1984 (according to the Internet Movie Database, the film features then-UTA student Lou Diamond Phillips in a small role as “Punk No. 1”) and then “Positive I.D.” in 1987. Both movies were low-budget but prescient: “Interface” is about a secret hacking society that has turned into a vigilante gang. It proved successful enough that Anderson left teaching to focus on filmmaking.
“Positive I.D.” is about a Fort Worth housewife who re-creates herself via identity theft after a brutal assault. The latter movie aired on such cable channels as Bravo and Independent Film Channel during the late ’90s.
Anderson did behind-the-scenes work on several other projects before returning to UT Arlington as writer-in-residence in 1991. The position allowed him to teach while still doing film projects.
His most unusual, “Drive By Shooting,” was released in 1994: It’s a documentary that consists of a narrator reading police reports off-camera while Anderson drives by Fort Worth locations where the crimes occurred, pointing his camera at them.
More than 600 crimes are listed in the two-hour film, roughly the rate they were occurring in real life at the time. The movie isn’t meant to be watched from start to finish — when it first played at the Dallas Video Festival, it was on a continuous loop, so that festival-goers could watch for a few minutes then come back later and find out about different crimes
Anderson’s academic background sometimes filtered into his films. “Interface” takes place on a college campus, and his 1998 dark comedy “Detention” is about a substitute teacher who decides that the best way to get through to some problem students is to kidnap them, cage them and hold “class” with some pretty severe punishments for misconduct.
From 1999 to 2005, Anderson, who also made more than a dozen short films, was chairman of UT Arlington’s art and art history department, according to a 2006 story in the Star-Telegram archives. Under his leadership, the department tripled in size, the faculty doubled and a fine arts annex was built, Anderson said at the time.
“Andy was a highly valued member of our UTA community and was instrumental, as chair of the Department of Art and Art History, in moving our programs forward at the turn of the 21st century, and he will be missed,” Robert Hower, current chair of the department, said in an emailed statement.
“Professor Anderson’s research record is exemplary and he was the driving force in the development of our undergraduate and graduate film programs. We will miss Andy’s brilliance, humor and mentorship,” Hower wrote.
The university also provided Anderson’s lengthy curriculum vitae, which lists scores of festivals and exhibitions that featured his work, and many newspaper and magazine articles that mention him or his work. But some of the most interesting entries are in the “other” section at the end: “Lap Record, Formula Ford, Texas World Speedway, Swift/Ford 1993” and “Recording artist, The Prowlers, The New London Symphony 1964-1967, 1969-1970 —opened on tour for the Byrds.”
“[The] films just scratch the surface of his work,” Weiss wrote in his tribute piece. “Andy was an artist who usually made and wrote narrative films, but he could also fix cars, cameras and pretty much anything else.
“He also did many things to help me, some of which I know and others that I just suspect.”