I was very sad to find out yesterday that my dear friend and mentor David Hannay passed away. He had been sick with cancer for a long while so it wasn’t unexpected, but still a blow.
I first met Hannay (he was always known by his last name) in 1995. I was in my early twenties and just coming out of one of the most turbulent and complicated times of my life. Only a year earlier I had been on top of the world – directing my first long-form film, pregnant with my first baby, and feeling invincible as only a twenty-something can. By mid-95 I’d been through the ringer. The film had become mired in legal issues and never released, I’d lost the baby in a horrible miscarriage, and I was recovering slowly from my own bout of a very serious cancer that had left me personally and professionally decimated. My budding career was in ruins and I was struggling to find my way in the world. Invincibility was a thing of the past.
Through channels that I no longer remember, I found out that in my local neighbourhood there was a film producer who had a reputation for giving young people a chance. His name was David Hannay and he was a total film legend – producer, entrepreneur, someone with serious clout. So, in desperation, I looked up the number of his company and rang him. He seemed very gruff on the phone (this was just his way), but still intrigued enough to agree to a coffee. We met in a café and I spilled the beans about the journey I’d been on. I was still quite sick, and very scared of this huge bearded man, but he gave me an hour of his time. At the end he asked me to meet him again and bring any scripts for projects that I was interested in producing. I couldn’t believe there was going to be a next time, but I did as he requested.
What followed was two years of him mentoring me through the process of building my production company. He was always there, always available, always tolerant of my youth and fears but never allowing me to indulge in bullshit. He taught me how to find a good story, how to shape characters, how to manage a crew, how to navigate the Film Finance Corporation feature film budget, and how to be a producer. He took me under his wing as effortlessly as a giant hairy bird would take a little tiny sparrow.
Our professional relationship finished when I miraculously got pregnant again and chose motherhood over pursuing my own film career, at least temporarily. He was incredibly gracious about my decision and very supportive. He also gently reminded me that babies were only a small part of a life, and that I could navigate both motherhood and work if I put my mind to it. He was right, and it was another lesson I was very grateful for.
Even though we parted ways professionally, every time I saw him after that he greeted me with open arms. He asked after my kids, rejoiced in my successes, hugged me after my divorce, rejoiced when I fell in love again, and seemed to take great pride in the woman I became.
Over the years I have met lots of people, other film and television industry professionals, who have been mentored by Hannay. We are a wonderful club, all his protégés, all of us helped and fortified by this incredibly generous, smart and funny man.
He didn’t just teach me how to produce – he taught me how important it is to be mentored, no matter where you are in your career. I continue to be helped by my current mentors who are far too private for me to name. Hannay also showed me the value of being a mentor, which is something I have taken into my own professional life. I’m happy to say that I am now mentoring lots of people, helping them to find their way as I was helped twenty years ago, and his lessons are being passed on in so many different ways.
When you are building a creative business, whether it’s just you sitting alone at your kitchen table or a team of people trying to realise a shared dream, please never underestimate the power of a mentor. Find someone who is far enough along in the same game as you to not be threatened by your possible success, and generous enough to pass a hand back down the ladder and say “climb up here with me” – or even better, “let’s climb up together”.
I last saw Hannay a few months ago. He was frail, and not quite the bear he used to be, but he was still full of life and laughter and still had that twinkly look in his eye, a combination of Santa Claus and Scary Biker. He asked after me and my family, he was interested in everything I was doing, and he once again made me feel like a sunflower basking in his very bright light.
That light has gone out now and I am very sad about that. I hope he knew what an impact he had on my life, and the lives of so many others.
Please go out today and think about who you might help. Find someone to mentor. There is bound to be someone a little behind you, someone you could listen to and guide and advise. You could be the bright light in someone else’s life, and by sharing your wisdom make changes in your own journey as well.
Vale David Hannay. You will be missed.