He Powers the Wheeled Wonders Behind Hollywood's Hit Machine
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
David Haddad went from being the son of a Syrian gas station owner to working on more than 3,000 movies.
By Eugene S. Robinson
He doesn’t have any social media accounts. Or an email address. He doesn’t care for it and doesn’t need it. When people need to talk to David Haddad, they just call Chloe Burns in Pittsburgh.
Haddad himself? He’s in Los Angeles, we’re told. Then, maybe, New York City, Atlanta or Detroit. And, oh yeah, he’s scheduled until next year. But he “will think about it,” when we inquire about an interview.
Booked until 2019. You ever been that busy? Probably not, but you’ve never been David Haddad. Son of David Sr., a Syrian immigrant who, in Pleasant Hills, Pennsylvania, in 1954 had a modest vision: to open a mom-and-pop service station. The Amoco he opened would eventually house a car wash and a tow truck operation.
Much of moviemaking is about waiting, so if you have a place to wait that makes the waiting more pleasant? You might be golden.
None of which explains how David Haddad is sitting on top of Haddad’s Inc., a multistate corporation that’s worked with more than 3,000 film and TV productions around the world. Not under the klieg lights or on the silver, TV or computer screen, but in the so-simple-you’ll-feel-stupid-for-not-having-thought-of-it-first category: production equipment vending. To put a finer point on it, Haddad is responsible for cast, hair and makeup trailers — the unsexy parts of one of the sexiest businesses around.
“He’s very much still a kid from Pleasant Hills,” says his daughter Steph Haddad, who’s opted out of the family business for the business end of a camera. “This despite his soulless industry’s general shittiness.” She’s laughing as she says this, but in true freakonomics fashion you get a glimpse into a shadow realm that makes it possible for the Oscars, Emmys, BAFTAs, Golden Globes and the billion-dollar image projection machinery to … happen. The kind of stuff you’ll get an inkling of if you stay and watch the credits roll after any movie.
“Calling them trailers doesn’t even do them justice,” says Christopher Schoenemann, whose work on film sets has set him up for way too much trailer time. “I’d have rather spent time in David Carradine’s trailer than my own apartment.” Which is how you get remembered. Much of moviemaking is about waiting, so if you have a place to wait that makes the waiting more pleasant? You might be golden. Which is not where Haddad expected to be when he started helping out around the Amoco station as a kid.
As a 12-year-old, Haddad pumped fuel and painted the place. He learned to drive in a shop tow truck. Until he left for Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the station was where he cut his teeth. After graduation? Back to the family business.
Then, in the spring of 1982, change arrived — in the form of a guy from Los Angeles who wandered into the shop looking to rent a pickup truck. He was a transportation coordinator, and the truck was for Flashdance — a film shot in Pittsburgh — and he wanted to put a hitch on it so he could move some of the production trailers around. According to Steph Haddad, her father, “easygoing but stubborn,” said no, but the TC persisted and Haddad had an idea that led to him buying four trailers — one for hair and makeup and three for cast members — and getting hired for the Robin Williams’ hit Dead Poets Society.
“David doesn’t want to talk to you.” A surprise call from Tom of Team Haddad. No hostility, just a simple statement of fact tinged with what we’d like to imagine is regret. Chloe Burns, Haddad’s gate-keeping assistant, had tried to warn us. Haddad was “on the road,” she said, while running interference for a boss with fleet hubs in Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey and New York — all products, no doubt, of not jawing with journalists. Steph, meanwhile, had simply been trying to figure out “what time zone” her father was in.
According to Tom, Haddad is “just not very interested in press. Of any kind. In fact, if it’s not too much to ask, could you just not write about us at all?”
“There’s not much on the internet about my dad,” says an apologetic Steph. “Which is what he prefers.” And then: “But it’s my family’s story, and it’s a pretty cool story. All four of my dad’s grandparents came to the U.S. from Syria in the 1910s as kids. So there’s your immigration piece.” But there’s got to be more, considering that Haddad is heavy into an industry in which not all players will hesitate when it comes to cutting your throat and where the huge amounts of cash being thrown around might give even the least sane people cause to pause.
And when you figure it’s an industry with global revenue slated to hit $50 billion by 2020, making the U.S. the third-largest film market behind China and India, according to industry analysts, that’s a lot of trailers. For a very tough industry. How tough? Perry Mosdromos owned multiple pizza parlors in the San Francisco Bay Area before deciding to branch out into film set honey wagons, and food trucks. In the first few years of being in business, “I lost a few to fire,” Mosdromos says with a knowing nod. Competitive arson?
“Who knows?” Mosdromos replies. “I do know this: I’m out of the business now.”
A business that for Haddad is still headquartered in the building where it all began — now with 60 or so employees, aka “The Can-Do People,” or so goes the company motto. “You’re not going to like this too much,” Steph says, “but he and I are a lot alike, and neither of us spend much time doing what we don’t like.” Apparently a 34-year-long policy for Haddad. “A story that, in a way,” says Steph, “is a real picker-upper.”