Mark Andrews: how Alan Parker changed advertising

There will be many tributes rightly paid to Alan Parker who died last week. His importance to CDP, to advertising in general and, of course, to the film industry cannot be overestimated.

The effect he has had on all our careers at CDP and ever since, has been immeasurable.

We last saw him when he was giving an ‘on-stage’ to the London Film Festival with his colleague and long-term cinematographer Mike Seresin who is one of the finest directors of photography in the world.

It was very entertaining and witty but held a deeper message. Alan had become disillusioned with the way films were being commissioned and filmed. From a man whose films had won Oscars and delivered such a range of critically acclaimed work this was quite something to hear being said in public.

The clue to his realisation was there right from the very start of his career. His work was so original that he couldn’t bear to do the same thing over and again. Time after time, his work for CDP on many and varied accounts had been completely original. And very different in almost all respects from what had gone before (Alan Parker showreel below.)

Building on his talents as a copywriter and starting his film career on 16mm test shoots in CDP’s basement, Alan was probably the first example of the now well-worn path of making commercials and then going on to Hollywood. This was virtually unheard of in the early 70s. At that time, the ad-industry was looked down on by ‘real’ directors. Most spots were filmed by ex-TV directors or feature directors ‘slumming it’ to earn a few quid in the rather loosely managed ‘ad-biz’ of those days. There was no British ‘film industry’ and nobody would finance the sort of work a director like Alan really wanted to do.

Alan and a small group of British directing talent (the Scott brothers, Hugh Hudson and Adrian Lyne) all emerged onto the scene at about the same time. You could not have imagined a more diverse group as individuals, but they all shared one vital asset, which as it turned out, was central to their enormous success. Their originality.

One of the most extraordinary things about Alan’s work was that he didn’t really have a ‘look’.

For too long, directors in advertising had been selected for what they had already done before – “get me a ‘car’ or ‘hair’ director” was regularly heard coming from creative director’s offices up and down the land – not wanting to risk an account by using a new talent. This led to the dead-end of many a career.

Alan completely transcended this.

When he joined CDP in 1967, they hadn’t done much TV work. They were known predominantly as a print agency. Alan certainly changed that.

He quickly worked out that his ‘methodology’ of directing anything should be based on his absolute focus on the script and the actors. Another factor which played well for his developing career was establishing an almost ‘repertory company’ team from the outset: Alan Marshall (CDP head of TV and ex-film editor) and Mike Seresin (director of photography) were the first. They were like the original Miles Davis Quartet, or Orson Welles Mercury Theatre group.

While the composition of the team varied over the years and the projects, his essential creative approach continued like a name through seaside rock. Look at any examples of his commercial work and features and they are all very different. And they do not obviously come across as being of either a ‘genre’ or an ‘oeuvre’.

In fact, I think Alan Parker’s work is not a ‘genre’ at all. It is simply Alan Parker himself. And for all of us in the TV department, Alan Parker was CDP.

Mark Andrews, CDP 1980-90.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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