Chapter 23: Self-Help For Nudnik
Dear Pepe, Ed and all the old brothers and sisters of Local 841,
My wife Zdenka and I are still feeling sad that we didn't make it to see you all at Montreal, as had been our firm plan, right up to the last minute. We were in the worst kind of a time-bind exactly then on a pilot film project that just couldn't wait for our return. We had also just missed Annecy, for the first time, because of the frantic earlier stages of the same film; a bad year for our contacts with old friends.
Now, these are the answers to the many asked and unasked questions that I get. Not propaganda, just the facts as they have applied to me. You can draw your own conclusions.
As to my present status: Basically the same, but for me an important difference is that I have finally felt ready to try to continue this on my own and I have now ended my exclusive deal with Rembrandt. I will still do several projects for Bill Snyder, especially this year, but I am now free to take on some other work. I know that this whole deal does not tickle you from the Union standpoint. My only answer to that unasked question is, that what I have produced here, and what I expect to do here in the future, are films that simply would not get made at all in the States. As you know, I braved the TV commercial business in New York for as long, and as well as anybody, but it was killing me. I want to do entertainment programming, but I couldn't fight it out successfully in the giant corporations. You all know what happened to my "Renaissance" at Terrytoons. As long as I thought I had to fight to the death in N.Y., I guess I would have continued. I didn't "escape" here. I wasn't running away from anything, but an escape hatch did open up, completely unexpectedly, the day, in 1959, when Bill Snyder walked into my office. He offered to finance two of my pet projects, including MUNRO, if I would agree to go to Czechoslovakia to direct them. Man, I thought he was crazy, kidding, and very possibly dangerous. But in the following weeks of agonizing agency dementia, just the usual thing, concerning commercials we had in work, plus an unbelievably binding contract offered to me by Ralph Cohn, (still living at that time), of Screen Gems, in which it was clear that they had in mind playing me off against Bill and Joe, (who were just getting started at that time), just in case they should get "too big for their britches", (if what they now have is "success" God bless 'em).... I decided, what the hell, it could be an adventure.
It won't be easy to answer all of your questions as crisply and concisely as you might like. After all, eight years is a long time and there are so many aspects to my experience here that I may tend to ramble. Feel free to edit out anything that doesn't interest you.
I think I will answer question "four" first, because that will put all the other answers in their proper perspective:
"What is your exact role in Czechoslovakian animation?"
I have no role in Czechoslovak animation, and in many ways I am sorry about that. For the past eight years, I have been working, under an exclusive contract with Rembrandt Films, New York, and all of my income has derived from films I have done for Rembrandt, paid to me in dollars deposited in my New York bank account. I have in no way been working for the Czechs, but am here rather as a customer, directing films to the order of my New York client. I don't say this with pompous superiority, or imply that I enjoy separating myself from my Czech friends and co-workers, but I-will take this opportunity to lay it on the line as explicitly as I can, because this is the one question I have been asked a hundred times, and quite often it is varied with drooling overtones that something dark is afoot. So here then is the full answer. I take your question as simple, honest I direct and calling for an answer in the same spirit which I have given above. But for those who would like answers to a few related questions they don't quite know how to put politely, here they are:
1. I have not defected. 2. 1 am an American citizen with a very good up-to-date U.S passport. 3. I file a U.S. income tax return each year. I have always paid my U.S. taxes on time even though I don't agree with everything they're spent for. 4. I am a guest in this country, a repre sentative of an American firm, and I don't meddle in the internal affairs here. I am certainly not a communist, and nobody here expects me to be one. I've been here a long time, and I feel sure that I am well liked and trusted. I have never violated that trust. Of course, I have a few friends in the American embassy, in a very informal way. I'm not 100% sure that they trust me, but I have never violated their trust either. I have never done anything here to bring discredit on the U.S.A. After all, whether I like it or not, I real ize that every American abroad does in fact represent his country, even if he doesn't agree with many of its current policies. 5. As a practical matter I have established residence here, but this has no bearing on my nationality or anything else. It only means that instead of a tourist visa, I have been granted a resi dence visa, which must only be renewed on an annual basis, I'm allowed to keep a dollar bank account here, for my local living needs, and I can leave and re-enter the country completely freely, at will, as often as I like with no bother of get ting a new visa for each trip. It saves me a lot of trouble. 6. In all of my years here, I have never been, (to my knowledge), followed, bugged or bothered. I'm not saying it might not have happened, especially at first, but if it did I haven't been aware of it. I can tell you for certain that I have never been approached, called in for questioning, visited, or bothered in any way. I have been completely left alone and free to do my work, establish a household, develop friendships and contacts as I please, photograph freely, sell my photographs to local and foreign magazines..., travel where and when I choose anywhere within the country, just as simply as you might jump into your car and drive to Atlantic City... and, as I said, exit and enter the country just as freely.