By Erin Free

Though best known as the director of such essential pop cultural cinematic artefacts as Grease and The Blue Lagoon (along with cult faves like Grandview USA, Big Top Pee-Wee, and Summer Lovers, stellar family flicks like White Fang and Flight Of The Navigator, and essential telemovies including The Boy In The Plastic Bubble, Dawn: Portrait Of A Teenage Runaway and The Gathering), 77-year-old Randal Keiser is also a secret sketcher. For many, many years now, the Philadelphia-born filmmaker has been quietly creating line drawings of his fellow directors at a wide variety of movie industry events, expertly and creatively capturing their very essence with just a single pen or pencil. Now, after decades of putting pen to paper, Kleiser has collected his drawings into an absorbing new book entitled Drawing Directors: Volume 1, which not only features the filmmaker’s illustrations, but also his observations – often deeply personal and entertainingly candid – on his often-famous subjects.

“I use a technique that I learned in art school,” the utterly charming Randal Kleiser tells FilmInk via Zoom just after a production meeting. “He told us not to take our pencil off the paper and not to take our eyes off the subject while we were drawing. He told us that by concentrating, we could get a realistic drawing. But sometimes it can turn out a little surreal, and not really representational. It can also take twenty drawings to get a good one…sometimes the ear ends up where the eye is supposed to be, or the nose ends up really big. Nobody ever poses for these drawings…I’m always doing them while the people are moving around. I have to do them quickly, and capture them before they move. That’s the secret. I’ve always sketched though. I started drawing like this when I was a kid in church…I wasn’t very interested in what was being said, so I would draw everyone around me, like the singers in the choir. They turned out fun, so I’ve continued doing it wherever I go. I like to sketch, and that’s how it came about. I don’t consider myself a great artist; I just like to capture certain elements of people. I try to capture their personality very quickly in just a few lines.”

Randal Kleiser’s Drawing Directors: Volume 1

The list of subjects in Drawing Directors: Volume 1 is huge, with the widely varied likes of Tim Burton, James Cameron, Jane Campion, John Carpenter, Martha Coolidge, Ang Lee, George Lucas, Paul Mazursky, Christopher Nolan, Robert Redford, John Schlesinger, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino, Penelope Spheeris, Betty Thomas, Ondi Timoner, Francois Truffaut, Agnes Varda, King Vidor, John Waters, Carl Weathers, Billy Wilder, Robert Wise, Robert Zemeckis, Chloe Zhao and many, many more.

Kleiser always keeps a pad and pen in his car, and always comes equipped when attending events where he knows there will be directors in attendance. As an enthusiastic member of The Director’s Guild Of America, one of Kleiser’s happiest hunting grounds is the annual Meet The Nominees event, where that year’s five Oscar nominated directors are interviewed on-stage by SAG mainstay and director-in-his-own-right Jeremy Kagan (The Chosen, Heroes, The Big Fix) in what can often become a three-hour session. “He’s a wonderful interviewer,” Kleiser says of Kagan, who is also a close friend. “It’s a packed house of directors watching this thing. I’ve done plenty of drawings there. I always sit right in the front row, and I get a lot of time to work on these guys. Many of my drawings from the book are from these Meet The Nominees events.”

Randal Kleiser with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta on the set of Grease

Do Kleiser’s subjects know they’re being sketched? “No, they don’t,” the director laughs. “I haven’t told anyone, and I haven’t heard from any of them yet. The only person that saw caught me and saw what I was doing was Steven Spielberg. He said, ‘Hey, that looks like me!’ So I asked him if I could put him on the cover! Nobody has reacted yet to the fact that I’ve been drawing, and I hope they realise that I’ve been doing it as a tribute, and not as an invasion of their privacy.”

 After amassing a huge pile of drawings over the years, Kleiser came up with the idea of collating them in a book, and then opted to include a personal recollection, commentary or anecdote on each of the directors included. A longtime Los Angeles resident and film industry veteran who has served on various Directors Guild committees, as well as being a key player in “Digital Day”, a forum where DGA members are presented with the latest cutting-edge filmmaking technology, and the creator of visual histories for many DGA members, Kleiser is well and truly right at the centre of America’s directing community, which has seen him spend a lot of time with some of the world’s most pre-eminent creators. “I’m a very active member of the DGA,” Kleiser explains. “I did four-hour sit-down interviews with people like Jerry Lewis, Stephen Frears, Carl Reiner and Tony Bill about their careers. They’re all up on the DGA website. They’re all there on video. So much of mainstream movie making is done out of LA, so in some ways it’s quite a small community, especially around Oscar time. Everyone is here at that time, and I get a lot of drawings then.”

Randal Kleiser with Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins on the set of The Blue Lagoon

The pages of commentary included alongside Kleiser’s sketches are truly fascinating, and include compelling insight into how unusual the daily lives of film directors can be. On the page next to Kleiser’s drawing of director David Fincher, for instance, he recalls how they were both included on a panel of industry players to devise possible terrorist scenarios could potentially befall the Oscars ceremony. Even if Kleiser is not personally connected to his subjects, his discussion of their work and career is always highly personal in tone. “I always tried to think of what these directors mean to me,” Kleiser explains. “Did I admire them because of their talent and their movies, or was it because of their personality, or their outside work, or things that we had done together, and our connection? With each drawing, I would just look at it and say, ‘What do I have to say about this person?’”

Having been drawing for so many years, the large collection of directors featured in Drawing Directors: Volume 1 is just one part of the story, as the title suggests. “I already have a hundred more drawings for the second volume,” Kleiser says happily. Does Kleiser only draw directors? Would he publish drawings of, say, the various actors he’s worked with over the years? “I stick to directors,” Kleiser replies. “If I started drawing and publishing actors, I’d never finish. There’s just one director to a film, but there are hundreds of actors. I’d be sketching forever, so I’ve limited myself to directors. When I’m travelling, I do occasionally draw interesting people that I might see, but it’s mostly just the directors.”

Randal Kleiser with Ethan Hawke and Jed on the set of White Fang.

Are there any living directors that Kleiser hasn’t captured yet that he would like to? “That’s a good question,” the filmmaker replies. “There are many who have died, of course, but many of them I’ve got. There are some big ones for the second volume…George Cukor, Orson Welles, John Huston…I was actually fired from directing Annie, and John Huston took over, so that’s kind of a weird story. I have a story about Otto Preminger thinking I was a gigolo. I’m trying to keep it entertaining too.”

With the illuminating, absorbing and wonderfully candid Drawing Directors: Volume 1, the gifted Randal Kleiser has certainly done exactly that, and we can’t wait for the follow-up…

Randal Kleiser’s Drawing Directors: Volume 1 is available now from Amazon. For more information, head to Randal Kleiser’s official website. Check in next week for more on Randal Kleiser, who discusses his formative days at USC, his involvement with digital filmmaking, and cult heroes John Milius and Mickey Rourke.