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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

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Footnotes-Harry Kavin

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Before the age of poly-resins and cardboard doors, an army of skilled construction artisans built sets from the ground up. Whether production required one window or an entire house, everything was hewn (in the mill), by a large workforce of dedicated, proud professionals—unsung craftsmen without whose work, no production could proceed.Harry Kavin is one such man, and in his day in Tinseltown, quality was job one. A cabinet maker (by his father’s training since age 16), the Sudbury, Ontario, Canadian native came to Hollywood in 1966 with his wife, two children and a trailer, in search of a better future. With an accent that still reminds one of provincial Canada, Kavin is animated as he tells of his start in the business almost 50 years ago.”A good man, who later wound up a big-time construction coordinator, [Al Lotta] told me about the way Local 44 worked, to get hired,” Kavin began. “Well, the guy at the union sent me over to Paramount Studios. It was for a show called Bonanza, okay? And fact is, of the 10 carpenters hired on the Ponderosa that day, I was the only man kept on.”After cutting wood for other shows like Get Smart and The FBI, it wasn’t long before Kavin caught the attention of the best coordinators in town and began building on features like McKenna’s Gold (1969) and There Was a Crooked Man (1970).When asked about construction challenges, Kavin recalled the John Wayne western, Chisum. Tasked with building a full-scale floating barge (that would actually “work” in the picture), he not only accomplished the creation of a historically accurate set piece, but also engineered and manufactured a functional, heavy-hauling vessel used to move teams of horses, crew and the equipment necessary to make the film. “Every department used the boat,” he recalled with a smile. “If I’d have charged a quarter a head, I’d be a rich man today.”As to the secret of his success, Kavin answers simply, “I took pride in all my work. On Back to the Future, he added, “Robert Zemeckis wanted fine detail combined with stunt-quality strength for the clock-and-tower set. Well, it worked great, ya’ know. I mean, any time you can please a DP [Dean Cundley, ASC], and a production coordinator [Ernie Depew], as well as the director, then you’ve done alright, okay?”Kavin had a way of doing it right, no matter what the era. Whether building Huggy’s hangout for the TV show Starsky and Hutch, the slave shacks in Roots, or recreating the Algonquin Hotel for the George Cukor feature Rich and Famous, this fine carpenter put his heart into his work.When asked, Kavin offered the following tip for the next generation of carpenters: “I loved building everything from credenzas to canoes—no matter. There’s only one path to success in life or Hollywood. Don’t just show up for the job, take pride in your work.”

Written by Jim Udel

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