What Frank Zappa, Tex Avery and Monty Python have in common What Frank Zappa, Tex Avery and Monty Python have in common

What Frank Zappa, Tex Avery and Monty Python have in common

Last week’s post about Frank Zappa, Tex Avery and the place of executives generated a lot of feedback, including this email from Bruno Afonso in France:

Recently, you posted a great video with Frank Zappa, about how the old-school executives were way more hands-off than now. It reminded me of something I had seen in a BBC programm called “Comedy Connections” about the creation of the Monty Python. It was more or less the same thing. When they made their first TV series, the BBC executives just told them “Well, you’ve got an order for thirteen episodes, go and make them, you’re on the air in September” and that was it! I found the clip on YouTube where the Montys explain it. They say it in the first minute. I, for one, think it’s quite interesting that all of these geniuses (Tex Avery, Frank Zappa, Monty Python) made their best work when left alone.

For the sake of posterity, here are the comments from the castmembers. John Cleese said:

“I was incredibly impressed with the risks they’d take. We went in to see Michael Mills and we explained extremely inadequately what we had in mind. There were huge gaps absolutely everywhere and at the end of a thoroughly unsatisfactory meeting, from Michael’s point of view, he said just go away and make thirteen.”

And from Eric Idle:

“Well, the BBC was a much more laid back place. It was a bit more like a retirement from the RAF filled with people who were having offices and going off smoking their pipes and having beer. So they were very laid back about it. They said, “Well look, here we are, we’ve got thirteen of them, you’re on the air in September and see you then,” and they sort of left. They didn’t really care. It was fabulous. It was the golden age of executives. There weren’t any.”

Personally, I find the contemporary balance of power between executives and artists very curious. Why do non-creative people exercise so much control over artists in the creation of animated projects? Does it make the finished product any better? Is there a precedent showing that quality work was previously created in this manner? The answer to that latter question is clear at least; if one looks back at the history of how classic works of animation (and other media) have been produced, in every instance it was different from the way animation is produced nowadays. How much of that is the fault of the artists themselves? If somebody accepts the input of a creatively inferior person and gives equal weight to that person’s opinions, doesn’t that eventually legitimize that person? In other words, could it be that industry artists have weakened their own standing throughout the years by consistently collaborating with creatively inferior people?