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Director Alan Parker on His Days as a ‘Melody’ Scribe

Alan Parker, director of such movies as “Midnight Express,” “Fame” and “Evita,” is being honored with a British Film Institute retrospective through Oct. 25 in London. Parker was a 26-year-old ad copywriter when he was first mentioned in Variety — in 1970, as screenwriter for “Melody.”

What are your memories of “Melody”? 

I hadn’t really thought about writing a screenplay at the time. I hadn’t started directing, except for a few commercials in the basement of the agency where I worked. I was quite happy in advertising and had some success as a copywriter, so to get a film made of my script was as much a surprise as a thrill.

How did the idea come to you? 

David Puttnam and Charles Saatchi (colleagues at the CDP ad agency) took me to lunch in Soho (Central London). They leaned across (the table), conspiratorially, and said, “Alan, we’re thinking of going into film, and today we are going to discover you.” I said, “Why are you discovering me? Why can’t I discover you?” The plan was for me to write a script, and Charles to write a script, and Puttnam would attempt to sell them. I had never written anything longer than 30 seconds at the time, and so it was a shock when it got financed. Puttnam had obtained the rights to seven Bee Gees songs from Robert Stigwood. This was 1969, and pre-“Saturday Night Fever”/falsetto Bee Gees — and so I wrote the script around the songs. There is a lyric in the song “The First of May” that went, “When we were small, and Christmas trees were tall, we used to love while others used to play,” and I framed the story around that thought, mixed in with memories of my own childhood growing up in North London, mixed with a few memories from Puttnam. The film was mostly financed by Edgar Bronfman. Apparently his 16-year-old son, Edgar Bronfman Jr., read the script and recommended that his father make the movie. Edgar Jr. was also a production runner on the film.

Was the film a success?

It wasn’t a big hit except, curiously, in Japan. I still get letters from fans of the film in Tokyo and Osaka. Creatively, it got us all started. Up to this point, I had no intentions of a film career, but on “Melody,” I directed a small second-unit sequence, which was used, so probably I was bitten by the film bug then. Creatively, it has had an impact on other directors, as I have had many overtures, over the years, to remake it. Wes Anderson acknowledged that his film “Moonrise Kingdom” was inspired by “Melody.”

Parker was a 24-year-old ad copywriter when he was first mentioned in Variety — in 1970, as screenwriter for “Melody.”
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