Who says training films have to be boring?
Since 1972, Video Arts Ltd. a London-based firm, has been producing a series of award-winning management training films that are reiminiscent of the British television comedy hit, "Monty Python's Flying Circus."
And no wonder. Many of the movies feature John Cleese, who brought his comedic writing and acting talents to many Monty Python productions.
Cleese, who is director of Video Arts, was in town yesterday along with representatives of Xicom Inc., the New York based American distributor for Video Arts, to introduce the company's unique -- and zany -- product to the Washington market.
At a gathering at the British Embassy, a group from business and government was treated to a screening of one of Video Arts most successful films, "Meetings, Bloody Meetings." It's called "a comedy training film," and most in attendance agreed it was funny and effective.
In the film, Cleese plays a bumbling corporate executive who is thwarted in his numerous attempts to hold a successful meeting with other managers. In a dream, he is brought before a magistrate accused, among other things, of "criminal misallocation of time." To the accompaniment of the audience's guffaws, the hero is then forced to relive all of his embarrassing moments.
The humor is pure Monty Python as Cleese struggles through each situation with a barely controlled mania. But the film has a point to make: Good, productive meetings are no accident, but the result of careful planning and organization.
The film was written by Cleese and Anthony Jay, chairman of Video Arts and a veteran television writer.
"Not a lot of knowledge about how to conduct meetings is written down." Jay said "The film was seized on by the British government. We sell hundreds of copies a year."
Video Arts has 32 training films in its catalogue, most of which are comedies featuring Cleese in various managerial guises. They deal with virtually every nuance of business and organization, from the proper way to conduct an interview to how to deal with "awkward" customers.
As a supplement to the films (which usually run about one-half hour in length) Video Arts provides the customer with booklets that go into greater detail on the particular subject of the film.
Among the stated purposes of the films is that "they all aim to change the attitudes, open the minds or remove the prejudices of the audience they have been produced for."
"The films exaggerate and caricature behavior," said Jay, "If you exaggerate, you clarify."
Cleese, who said he got involved with Video Arts "to keep me in my old age," said he hoped that "people would come out (of the films) and improve their performance by at least 5 percent."
Xicom has been working with Video Arts for the past three years, and has been distributing the films in New York, Atlanta and other cities. A company or government agency either can buy or rent the training films. They sell for between $260 and $550.