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Entries in Patrick Spence-Thomas (2)


March 4th Memories

March 4th is a date of special note for me.  It's special for two reasons.  The first is that it is the birthday of my first boss in this business and one of my favorite people, Patrick Spence-Thomas, who passed away a few years ago.  The second reason is because it marks the anniversary of when my previous studio space was broken into and cleaned out. I wrote a piece about both Patrick and the robbery last March 4th as one of my first posts when this site launched. Please feel free to read them to get the whole back story.

Patrick Spence-Thomas was a pioneer and giant in the audio post industry in Canada, and once again this year a bunch of Patrick’s colleagues, friends and family gathered at his favorite watering hole to celebrate his birthday and tell all our best Patrick stories.  The hard part about telling stories involving Patrick is that he was one of the best story-tellers I have ever met.  Every tale seems a little lacking simply because Patrick is not there to tell it.

Patrick was so devoted to telling stories that he left some behind for us.  Knowing he was not going to be with us forever he was gracious enough to record, with his son Richard, his renditions of a few of his favorite stories.  By far my favorite of these recordings is his reading of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child's Christmas in Wales”.  Since Patrick grew up in Wales, the poem was naturally particularly special to him, and his reading is both comedic and sentimental - everything the story merits.  You can hear his reading for yourself here.  It's now a tradition for me and my family to listen to it every Christmas Eve.  So Patrick is still very much with us. 

This year at Patrick's birthday party, I made sure to wear a t-shirt that he gave me many years ago. It has on it the penny-farthing logo from the late 60’s British television show “The Prisoner”.  If you have not seen this series you should go out of your way to check it out. It is a very bizarre spy/escape/sci-fi show. It is set in an island town/prison called “The Village” where the crazy architecture gives the island the look of being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It turns out that the show was not filmed in a London studio but in a real town in North Wales designed in the 20's and 30's for holidaying tourists. You can get an idea of what the town is like from this clip from the show:

I found out that Patrick had spent time in this town when he was a child, his family having fled there during WWII. In the 90's he made a pilgrimage back to his Welsh homeland, and brought back for me this souvenir of his visit. The shirt is pretty old and beat-up now, but I still keep it around to wear to the bar every year when we toast (and roast) Patrick's memory.

A great thing about gathering with Patrick's old friends is that, even in his ethereal state, he manages to teach me new things.  After we had all had some dinner and drinks, the owner of the bar brought out a round of Patrick's favorite dessert for us, on the house.  It was something I had never had before - crème brûlée... but - with with a shot of whiskey poured on top.  It was delicious.  I mean really, really good.  Please make an effort to try this concoction as soon as you can.  To me, this was another perfect example of how Patrick always found a way to bring an unexpected smile to people. Cheers, Patrick.


On a different note, March 4th, 2012 marks the third anniversary of the robbery of my studio space.  Happily, I don’t think about this event very often anymore.  It was stressful at the time, but things worked out pretty well in the long run.  I still hate being the first person to unlock the office door in the morning; it gives me a weird stress attack until I am through the door and see that everything is fine.  

Insurance covered all the gear that was stolen that day, but of course the data that was on my hard drives was gone for good.  I had my SFX library backed up in multiple places, so I didn't suffer there. That was a major life-saver.  If I had lost my library, it might have been a career-ending type of situation.  All my current and on-going projects were also backed up so they were fine too.  What did vanish along with the hard drives was my archives.  I had been operating with the knowledge that all my work for various animated series was getting backed up with the master sessions at the theaters where they had been mixed.  So when a series was put to bed, I retired the hard drive and shelved it in my edit suite.  With no other back-up.  Yes, this was stupid.  Bad planning and a lack of foresight for sure.  It's rare, but I do find every now and then that I need to get access to these sessions - only to remember that they're all gone.  Completely enraging. 

The upshot of this oversight is that I now have a much more reliable back-up routine.  But there are still times when I am not up-to-date with my back-ups, so apparently the lesson has not fully sunk in.  I've done a lot of research on various archiving schemes but I still don't feel like I've come up with a great solution for both local and off -site back-ups. If you're in the same boat as me, I recommend checking out Chase Jarvis, as they seem to have the whole process worked out really well, but my operation is not quite the well-oiled machine that they are.  I don’t have the infrastructure to go that far down the rabbit hole. I've been trying to follow the path laid out by Noise Jockey in this series of posts.  Another option is a Drobo, covered in a useful review on the Airborne Sound Blog.

Is anybody out there using an archive system that they find especially workable?  I find that my brain is the weak link in any approach I try. I need something with a lot of automation, so when my head is in the clouds I can trust that things are backing up anyway.


March 4th. The only date that is also a command!

Well March 4th has come and gone and thankfully it was a quiet one this year.  The date is an important one in my life for two reasons, one celebratory and one that is very much a negative.  I will tackle the positive on this post and follow up later with a part 2 on the negative.
March 4th is the 78th anniversary of the birth of Patrick Spence-Thomas.  Many of you may not know the name but most likely he has touched your life in at least a small way.  He ran the first independent post production sound house in Canada, and if you have seen any Canadian Movies, Documentaries or archival news footage from the 60's - 90's chances are very good Patrick had a heavy hand in their coming to fruition. Sadly he passed a few years ago, but every March 4th a bunch of us, both his family and friends, get together at his favourite pub and raise a few glasses in his memory and tell the stories that make Patrick so vibrant in our minds still.  A new limerick is written each year in his honour, and this years limerick touched on all his favourites, his homeland of Whales, his family and drinking.  It was a great night and as usual I was honoured to be a part of it.

I came to know Patrick right out of College and I immediately was in awe of the man.  I did my internship at his studio at the rip old age of 20, I was just getting my foot in the door of the industry and Patrick, on the precipice of turning 65, was making his final bows behind the mixing desk as he turned over control of the technical duties to his son (another great mentor and person) Richard.  On my first day Patrick took me out to lunch at the Vox, although this restaurant is no longer around in the 90's it was the meeting place for all the sound post pros and Patrick was king there.  Patrick walking into the Vox was like Norm walking into Cheers, he knew everyone in the place and they all loved him.  We took our spot at the bar and ordered and throughout our meal there was a steady stream of well wishers coming up to Patrick to shake his hand and catch up, and as Patrick was always a gentleman he was quick to introduce me to all his friends and colleges.  Without a single exception every person told me how lucky I was to learning at the foot of such a giant in the industry, as most of them had tales of how they had got their start the same way.  It really was a magical first day for me, a kid basically in way over his head, to be told by so many people that I was on the right path.   I ended up working at Patricks studio for 7 years and we shared more then a few more meals together and everyone was a memorable experience.
Patrick never mixed any blockbusters, never worked in the main room at Delux and never ran the table at any awards show, but this does not mean his influence is not far greater then those that did, so much so that the Canadian Society of Cinematographers honoured him with an award "for outstanding service contributing to the development of the motion picture industry in Canada" in 1998.  He loved working with people just starting out, he loved ushering them through the process and helping their dreams come to life.  He started more peoples rise to prominence then anyone else I have ever met.  He was never too busy to talk someone through a hard time and he was always there with a funny story in the darkest moment.  He was truly an amazing man.  
After his passing a memorial was held, fittingly for Patrick it was at a pub, and it was the greatest celebration I have ever witnessed.  Although a few tears were shed throughout the event it was squarely focused on celebrating the wonderful life Patrick lead.  His friends and family took the stage and performed the songs that Patrick loved, stories were told that had the audience laughing so hard tears of joy were flooding the dance floor.  One of Patrick's catch phrases was always loudly pronouncing "I am so blessed" whenever he was surrounded friends, but the truth is everyone who ever came in contact with him, we were the ones who were blessed. 


PS  I you ever see me and you are in need of a pick me up, get me to tell you the "Box of Shit" story involving Patrick and.... well....... a box of shit.  One of the best all time stories I was lucky enough to witness first hand.