Thursday, July 11, 2013

David Hardon, R.I.P.

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. Inevitable, but sad. Even more sad when we fail to keep connections to individuals who really mattered.

People, reach out and touch the ones who have been and are important to you. Soon, connection will be impossible.


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17 comments:

  1. Nice post. 'The Grey Fox' is a classic in my book.

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  2. " I asked Dave if he realized these were radical anti-commerce people who should not be getting deals from businesses they wished to overthrow."

    I fear you are misinterpreting adbusters and the Occupy movement. They aren't (in my estimation) so much anti-commerce and business as they are simply asking for ethical behaviour and fair business practices instead of the current style of rogue piratical exploitative corporate criminality and false advertising.

    If the current trends of growing inequality and ignorance of environmental issues continue there will be dark days indeed of both mass migrations and revolution or perhaps extinction of our species which the planet certainly won't miss as a perhaps more worthy species takes over the top slot.

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    1. Those words were spoken many years ago when Occupy did not exist.

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    2. Norm, first of all, your short recollection of your friend paints a very full picture of Dave.

      I have many friends who I have lost touch with, yet they are still in my thoughts, and I know we could pick up were we left off.

      However, as life rolls along it is easy to be consumed by the overwhelming demands of everyday drudgery and assorted crisis. Many people I meet in passing are only just coping with immediate concerns.

      Is it just me, or are more people than ever being tested: emotionally, financially, and spiritually (in its broadest sense), and are just treading water in the sea of life?

      Secondly, Adbusters should have walked the talk. I am a firm believer in maintaining the purity of one's purpose, otherwise you are just like all those other guys.

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  3. You are the one that parenthetically included the Occupy movement in the discussion...........which indicated to me that Occupy and adbusters were being lumped together as a generally anti-commerce, anti-business conglomeration! I always assume you write with clarity, because you generally do so!

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  4. what a great read. Thanks Norm.
    off-the-radar

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  5. Thank you for the lovely tribute to Hardon. I didn't know he had passed away. The "glory" days at Alpha Cine were fun! The days when Hardon and Barber drinking too much......

    Hardon's mother was a lovely woman. Way ahead of her time. Just as Hardon was.

    Remembering Phil and his Nails, they were truly interesting times.

    Yes, remembering the days when Gastown Labs was being built certainly brings back memories.

    (I've been reading your column for a number of years and never realized you were that Norm)

    Dave may you rest in peace.

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    1. You sounds like someone who may have known the NFB crowd. But, wait a minute, people in the film business drinking too much? Could that be true?

      Harry Barber was a skilled and vital guy in the operation who was occasionally the subject of affectionate anecdotes. He should have his own chapter when history of the film business is written.

      My favourite Philip Borsos work was Cooperage, a story of the Sweeney barrel factory that once stood beside the Cambie Bridge.

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    2. My late Father worked at Sweeney Cooperage after we emigrated to Canada in 1957.
      GY shift 5 years straight. Once, he gave Mom and me a quick tour of the boiler room, a scary and dark and foreboding concrete-clad behemoth with a small railing on 3 sides to prevent an employee toppling into its bowels while unplugging the clanging conveyor that fed it.

      At the boiler's base, rats--really big rats--scurried to and fro, in and out the broken door that led to the dirty water 30 feet away. Dad always carried a long stick, adding that the feral cats couldn't quite keep up with the rat population. In another building, as Dad let us accompany him on his first round/security check, we were met with the magnificent aroma of newly-stacked wooden barrels. I loved the smell of new barrels.
      Many years later as clean-up started prior to Expo, I wondered how on earth anyone could have cleaned the black oily soot off the surrounding area. Dad even said barrels of used oil would bob up and down in the water, eventually breaking apart on the debris at the water's edge.

      Your mention of Sweeney Cooperage brought back a lot of memories...how a steady job for an immigrant provided a solid foundation for a hard-working man and his family.

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    3. I once talked to Phil Borsos about an old TV series I recalled from my youth; it was "Industry on Parade." Personally, I was fascinated by manufacturing processes and how things got made. In his shorts, Phil went beyond the processes and gave a sense of the men doing the work. That raised his films above the ordinary. That, and the knowledge that old handcrafted work was beginning to disappear.

      Phil told me that he was fascinated by many of the craftsmen at Sweeney. The work was difficult and repetitive but the tradespeople had great pride in what they did. My souvenirs from Philip's Cooperage were two small barrels made by Sweeney. Unfortunately, we no longer have them.

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  6. G. Barry StewartJuly 11, 2013 at 8:59 PM

    I didn't get the full impact of Dave's last name until e.a.f. used it on its own.

    I'm sure Dave got some ribbing about that... but less than he would have if his first name were, um, "Richard."

    He sounds like a guy who got a lot of fun out of life — and you've conveyed that very well, Norm.

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    1. I just watched "needful things" and his name caught my eye in the credits, so I don't think any first name would top that.

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    2. Needful Things was a film from a book by Stephen King, directed by Fraser Heston, son of Charlton. Fraser Heston spent a fair bit of time in Vancouver on various projects and there was mutual respect between Dave and him.

      I remember an opportunity to meet Charlton Heston at a wrap party in Vancouver. The wives were excited for days afterward. At this point, he was still an elegant man, genial to all. Not at all the person portrayed after his "cold dead hands" speech to the NRA in 2000.

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  7. Norm , that was an excellent piece and very timely as well.
    Ive just come back from holidays and met with several friends I havent seen in years.....
    I "dropped in " at the workplace on an old friend I hadnt seen in almost 15 years and he was flabbergasted. Took the day off work and he took me around to visit with people I havent even thought about in 3o years. It was fantastic.
    That experience prompted me to visit other old friends. One was experiencing( unbeknownst to me) the last dregs of chemotherapy and my visit reinvigorated her. She has come out of her depression and apparently the news is good.....
    Other friends and family are showing signs of Alzheimers and I took the time to meet and talk with them about past experiences( some of which I knew nothing about and were absolutely hilarious).

    Anywho, long story short. Your comments are bang on.

    Dont waste time. Call old friends, send them an email, visit them. They will appreciate the gesture and so will you.

    P.S. kootcoot.
    Geez, take a pill. You totally missed the point of Norms comment.....
    Climb down off the "soapbox" and smell the flowers.

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  8. Norm, you may remember my husband, Gary Brown, who worked at both Alpha and Gastown. Sadly, he died in 2011. He told me lots of stories about Dave, Harry and other characters, including the legendary drinking outings, but mostly he shared his admiration and respect for Dave's work ethic. I met Dave a few times, and am glad to have seen the wit and spark that lurked behind a somewhat curmudgeonly surface. Beth Brown (sorry about the anonymous bit, I don't know how to put my name in correctly!)

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    1. Certainly I remember Gary and am sorry to hear of your loss. In those days of film, we had quite a unique and talented staff. A few characters to be sure. I remember a time we sent an employee to a residential alcohol treatment program. He was too talented to lose but, without change, that was the likely outcome. Later, I learned he was leaving the program each afternoon to meet with fellow lab employees at a bar. He thought it was the best deal possible: spend the evening drinking and spend the days recovering from the drink.

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