In the Eighties, the agency man invariably arrives at the studio with completed model sheets and storyboard in his hand to ask: “Will you make this?”
“We have very little freedom to alter their characters, particularly if they have already appeared in the Press,” Keith commented, “and nine times out of ten they will have pre-recorded their sound tracks, leaving you no choice whatever.” “You end up being simply a very good hand”, added Vera, “Occasionally, we may be able to offer a suggestion or two but nothing like the freedom we once enjoyed. We still have fun – but it is very much someone else’s game.”
They are certain the old way works best. All of their 10 – 15 mins. sponsored films were made that way. The I.B.M. film was only slightly different. The sponsors had a scriptwriter and half an idea concerning their manual, which had been designed to promote computerised telephone exchanges for the larger businesses. I.B.M. had already made a live-action commercial; Biographic were asked to make a companion film showing staff members of purchasing companies the versatility of their new acquisition.
Biographic provided them with a carefully styled production suitable for international audiences, featuring offices, secretaries, etcetera. Little symbolic people had been used in the I.B.M. manual, but they needed international appeal, cutting across the barriers of language, creed and colour. Biographic’s solution to the problem was simplicity itself! The anonymous symbolic figures become green people, blue people, yellow people, red people, brown people -and it worked so well that I.B.M. dropped their live-action film and used the cartooned film to sell their product. This 16 minute commercial made in 1975, was an exception to the “take it or leave it” approach of the agencies, proving that some people were still asking them to do their own thing. The title of the film was “Sorry You’ve Been Kept Waiting”.
A great deal of the studio’s work has been destined for overseas showing, and they became accustomed to being asked not to upset peoples of differing nationalities, which quickly earned them a reputation for making films that were representative without being politically abrasive. One brief actually suggested a ratio of X number of female characters to Y number of males because they were anxious not to upset the sexes.
The strictures of applied ratios also dominated the brief they received when they won the chance to animate the titles of the last Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road” picture, “The Road to Hong Kong”. Bob and Bing’s names had to be equal in size, although they made jokes with them showing BOB HOPE and Bing Crosby then BING CROSBY and Bob Hope. Joan Collins name had to be 25% high, while Dorothy Lamour’s was only 15%. Dorothy Lamour only made a guest appearance in the film, whereas Joan Collins was its female star.
Reminiscing over the troubles they had when dubbing foreign language tracks, Keith said: “There was an occasion at Larkins when we made an Ex-Lax commercial with the pay-off line “Ex-Lax banishes constipation like magic”. After we finished the English version, it had to be translated and dubbed into Chinese. Not long after we despatched the prints, we became aware of an uproar in the Far East. It appeared that the pay-off line had changed subtly in literal translation and foreigh audiences heard the narrator say “Ex-Lax banishes constipation like ceremonial fireworks”. Cinema audiences were falling about in helpless laughter.” That actually happened! Furthermore, they were told everyone loved it so much, no-one wanted it to be changed.