Andrew Frank, who on Monday was fired from ForestEthics for going public with accusations that someone in the PMO labeled the organization an “Enemy of the Government of Canada” and of the “people of Canada,” was an annoying classmate. Actually, he could be a complete pain in the ass. Unlike the rest of us Radio and Television Arts students at Ryerson University in Toronto, Andrew had no aspirations of being a writer, director or broadcaster. Unlike the rest of us, he wasn’t after fame and the media spotlight. Instead, having decided that news and entertainment media were having an unduly negative influence on society and culture, Andrew moved from a small British Columbian community to Canada’s largest city simply to understand those forces better. To become better equipped to operate in a media-dominated world.
But that wasn’t the most annoying thing about him. He was indisputably one of the best of us. Nothing you did or created ever looked remotely impressive next to Andrew’s projects. When Andrew decided to shoot a pseudo-demonic birth scene in a candle-lit church using a tracking shot, there was no going half-way. He somehow convinced a downtown Anglican church (even after they had seen the script) to let him move in, light the candles and build the track. When he decided that the perfect music to underscore this scene was a Led Zeppelin song, he didn’t settle for one of the widely-available rip-offs, nor did he do what many students would probably do and just use the song and hope he didn’t get caught. He went and secured the damned rights to the damned Let Zeppelin song. (All of this for a scene that, to my memory, was just a brief flash-back in an otherwise straightforward video.)
That wasn’t the most annoying thing about him either. If you were lucky enough to get to work on one of his projects, he’d run you ragged. While creating what we believe to be North America’s first TV pilot written and directed in American Sign Language by deaf (some identified as Deaf) actors and improvisers, we worked 18-hour-days, mostly outside, in the winter, for weeks. At 1 a.m. when you can no longer feel your hands, are running on 4 hours sleep, know you’re starting again at 6 a.m. and still have to strike the set and load the truck, it’s easy to decide that “that last take was good enough.” But Andrew always wanted to get one more shot. He knew it could be better. He knew what “right” looked like, and he wasn’t willing to compromise.
That was the most annoying thing about him. Andrew’s success, from what I could tell, was the result of two things: the exceptional amount of effort that he put in, and the high standards he refused to let go. Even while still at school, those values extended beyond school projects into activism. At the end of our program Andrew moved back to B.C. and became a full-time environmental campaigner, often working for free on initiatives he either created himself or strongly believed in.
Most of us don’t operate with such a strong unwillingness to compromise, especially when it comes to our own employment. In their response to Andrew’s open letter, ForestEthics doesn’t give any indication that the very serious accusations he makes aren’t accurate. In fact, by saying that Andrew was fired for “[violating] the confidence of the organization,” they suggest that what he revealed is accurate information the organization hoped to keep secret in the interest of not biting the hands that feed them. And as Andrew himself points out in a blog post this morning, denials coming from the PMO and Tides Canada (an organization that funds ForestEthics) aren’t as absolute as they could be either.
I haven’t yet spoken with Andrew about what happened. I don’t know anything more than what’s been publicly reported. What I do know from my years working closely with him is that Andrew is not motivated by fame, sets high standards for himself and those around him and strongly values honesty. I know that when he’s a pain in the ass, it’s usually because he’s doing what needs to be done when no one else will do it. And when he decides what’s right, he doesn’t settle for anything less.
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