An old friend passed a while ago. I’m sad about that and full of regret that we went separate ways long ago and never reconnected.
Dave Hardon wasn’t famous outside the film industry but, in British Columbia, he truly was one of its most significant builders. He was a film lab manager in Toronto until 1975 and had a reputation for excellence, something no Vancouver film lab manager could match. I spent a couple of decades in the business and still believe that my largest contribution was bringing Dave to Vancouver.
When he arrived to consider the job offer, it was our company, not Dave, that needed scrutiny. I had done extensive due diligence and was confident he was the best candidate. But, our operation was an ugly bride. We needed a skilled technician from a different environment because the company had suffered repeated operational difficulties and deficits of leadership. Our reputation reflected those facts.
My strategy to sign Dave included a long dinner at Hy’s at the Sands, followed by an hour or two or three at Gary Taylor’s show lounge. The pitch resumed next day, a sunny one, on a cabin cruiser in English Bay. In total, I thought it was an irresistible showcase of Vancouver. Sure, we also had to promise him the supports needed to succeed and convince him that a move was worthwhile. Dave later confessed that he didn’t need the entire sell job since he was keen to relocate and take up the west coast challenge.
A few years later, Alpha Cine was one of the most respected motion picture film laboratories anywhere. International producers, and their insurance companies, were not at all reluctant to have high budget film work done in British Columbia. We had a steady stream of famous filmmakers through our doors and I cannot recall one director or cinematographer who was less than fully satisfied. Many went out of their way to laud the service that Dave and his team provided.
Of course, BC always had glorious scenery but it didn’t have a significant film industry until surfeits of technical and human resources were in place. Dave was tireless in helping make that happen. I knew times when he slept in the lab because one day ended as the next one began. His focus was always on getting work done and getting it done well. He didn’t care much about maximizing profits on any one job, he knew long term results would be there if work was done properly and all needs of customers were anticipated and satisfied.
Dave did not only give attention to the big names of movie making, he wanted everyone to succeed. Young Philip Borsos became a sort of company project. Phil was an enthusiastic filmmaker with almost no track record and little money. We employed him and helped him along, beginning with short films Cooperage, Spartree and Nails, until he put together The Grey Fox, a fine Canadian feature that made 60-something Richard Farnsworth a star. Sadly, on his way to greater success, Philip Borsos suffered illness and died, aged 41.
Another person Dave treated with professional generosity was the founder of Adbusters Media Foundation. Kalle Lasn had been a documentary producer but was transitioning into a role as social agitator. Two years ago, Linda Solomon called him the “flawed genius” behind Occupy Wall Street. Adbusters was always short of money and looking for assistance on whatever film work they began. Dave obliged but, as the business guy, I was never pleased. I asked Dave if he thought anti-commerce people should be expecting deals from businesses they wished to overthrow. Dave yawned and said he didn’t make judgments about content, he simply helped filmmakers.
Dave and I occasionally disagreed about tactics but he always set the course that mattered to him. Mostly, he was right and he was incredibly loyal to associates. Control of our company fell into the hands of a person whose primary wisdom was that any company could fire a large proportion of its workforce and maintain capacity by forcing overtime on remaining staff. We believed the strategy was inappropriate for a highly profitable company that depended upon specialized skills that could not be replaced readily. The struggle was constant; managers had to convince the owner to not destroy his own company.
Eventually, our owner got opportunity to cash out and he made a deal with a faceless operation out of Los Angeles. Dave and I headed down the road with a few others and established a new motion picture film laboratory. Associated with Vancouver’s finest video post production people, we created Gastown Film Labs, a well designed film processing and printing facility that succeeded immediately.
Not too long after opening, Dave’s birthday was approaching. For an honouring treat, I arranged with a person in Los Angeles to phone Dave and ask him, as a favour, to meet with a young woman who was “moving” to Vancouver and very anxious to become involved in the Canadian film industry. Of course, Dave said sure, happy to do it. A prim and proper lady arrived but she was a cast member in the plot. The idea was that she would do anything – yes, anything – if Dave would help her gain a place in the movie biz. His reluctance to commit resulted in more aggressive pleadings. Those may have involved offers of certain favours because her clothing started coming off. The poor man, not by nature a shy guy, was left wordless, not knowing how he could extract himself from the situation. After a few moments of high tension, we rescued him and offered an indecent birthday cake and a cold beer.
I had my own embarrassment about then, although one that was accidental. The film lab had a comfortable screening room for production dailies, complete with popcorn wagon and drinks cooler. There was a weekend I invited my 12 y.o. son’s hockey team (this was before DVDs) to see the movie Slap Shot projected onto a big screen. The boys enjoyed the soda pop and popcorn but they really loved the risque situations and dirty language. Having only seen bowdlerized TV versions of the movie, I was astonished by the unexpurgated content and not a little fearful of the reactions of hockey parents whose darlings had been exposed to gambling, nudity, obscenity, violence, male striptease and other offences. I survived by pleading ignorance.
I used to joke about life’s stages. First, your friends start to get married. Next, your friends begin to have children. A few years after, they’re getting divorced and remarried. Later, their children are having children. Then, the friends begin to depart.
It’s inevitable, but sad. Even more sad when we fail to keep connections to those individuals who really mattered.
People, reach out and touch the ones who have been and are important to you. Soon, connection will be impossible.