Will Write & Direct For Food

From the book

Over the years, moonlighting from my day job as a filmmaker, I’ve always scribbled cartoons — mostly about the insanity of making movies while trying to get a film made — a time when dealing with studio executives, agents, lawyers, actors and the rest, encourages one to consider negative thoughts and very often grievous bodily harm..

I started doing cartoons during my first job in advertising. I worked for a small, unfashionable advertising agency called ‘Maxwell Who’. The company was actually called ‘Maxwell Clarke’, but if you told anyone in advertising where you worked, back would come an incredulous, “Maxwell Who?” Hence ‘Maxwell Who’ became our name for the agency — it just saved time in conversation. I was a junior copywriter and my art director, and boss, was Gray Jolliffe, who went on to become a legit cartoonist (and a brilliant one at that — he even made a living out of it).

To solve the workload of ten ads a day, Gray would write a funny line, add a deft cartoon, and stuff the results into a brown ‘job bag’, which was whisked off to Nickeloid, the printing-block makers. When ‘busy’ escalated into  ‘bedlam’ and the studio manager disappeared after lunch, I would help out by contributing a half-funny line and pathetically imitate Gray’s drawings, as we fed this insatiable conveyor belt of job bags — like a couple of crazed chefs at Yo! Sushi.

‘Will Write and Direct for Food’ was the third collection of cartoons that I’ve had published. The first was a tiny volume called Hares in the Gate, which consisted of scratchy drawings mostly culled by the publishers from frames on David Puttnam’s lavatory walls.  When I was Chairman of the British Film Institute, I published a hundred or so line drawings, which were collected in a volume called Making Movies.

I make no claims to being the only filmmaker to be aggrieved at the sadism (and masochism) of the filmmaking process — in equal doses it is an uplifting and sluttish profession. I’m sure the anger in these cartoons is shared by anyone who ever worked on a film set, or dealt with a film studio. Mostly, of course, you pinch yourself how lucky you are to actually be involved in making films, but also, when things get rough, making a film can seem like 120 pages of sodomy.

I made most of these drawings because of being pissed off at the time, or frankly, to stuff it to some irksome roadblock person on the way to making my films — or mostly to rant at the ever-present hypocrisy, pretension and deceit. The cartoons take on various subjects and were drawn over a period of years, so some may appear a little faded — in memory at least. The oft-mentioned cartoon I did on Merchant Ivory movies remains to this day, even though Ismail Merchant has sadly passed on and the cartoon caption was perversely repeated in his obituaries. Some time ago, at an Oscar party in Los Angeles, Merchant cornered me, asking  for the original drawing, which I dutifully sent him. Word has it that he immediately burned it. I redrew it anyway, even though he only had a Xerox.

A few film critics mentioned here have also passed on, but I’ve included these drawings because they were in pretty bad taste in the first place.

It’s always been a curiosity to see my vomited scribbles framed on some studio executive’s wall — the very executives they were aimed at. Not that they stay up on their walls very long, of course. Studio personnel are an itinerant bunch: they come and go and I’ve made fourteen films with fourteen different studio heads. They get the job and then “re-model” their offices that once belonged to the likes of Louis B. Meyer, Sam Cohn, Darryl Zanuck, Lew Wasserman and “Waldo Klumpf”. Usually executives don’t stay long in their job and fade away fast.  In an unpredictable business, three things are guaranteed to go missing when a film is scarcely a year old: the chemical image on your negative, the studio executives you started out making the film with, and your profit participation.

Spiritually and morally, if not fiscally, the major studios of course belong to the filmmakers just as much as they do to the peripatetic employees or the moguls at News Corp, Sony, Comcast, GE, AOL, Viacom, Kirk Kerkorian or whoever this year’s billionaire owner might be. These transient carpet-baggers of our industry come from God knows where and vanish to God knows where. Only the filmmakers survive. Untold wealth is generated by the movies and its digital offspring and ironically, the same handful of people representing the studios, reap the rewards whilst continuing to plead poverty. In this regard, nothing has changed in the movie business in a hundred years — give or take many billions of stolen dollars and the occasional decapitated animal nestling among the satin sheets.

The cartoons assembled here are my chopped off horse’s head.

Introduction to Will Write and Direct for Food

All cartoons © Alan Parker