Deep, Deep Sigh: Telecine Founder James Fine Has Passed Away At 67
November 24, 2021 by Dave Haynes
The digital signage industry lost a great person earlier this month – James Fine, the founder and president of Telecine Multimedia in Montreal. He went in for surgery recently, and did not recover from it. He was 67.
James was one of the truly nice, giving and smart people in the industry, quietly and steadily building up and running a very successful digital solutions company that punched well above its weight – a boutique agency with whale accounts like Bloomberg. Bottom line success and an impressive client list were important, but Fine put a big emphasis on the people side of the business. Telecine employees weren’t staff. They were family.
I could see that culture and spirit when I was periodically in the Montreal offices for meetings, and out afterwards socializing with them. It was evident to anyone who watched the reliably-nutty Telecine holiday videos that were scripted, performed, shot and produced by James and his colleagues. They had fun. They enjoyed each other. Telecine was more than a job and a paycheck.
Staff turnover was low, because people tend to stick around companies when the culture is right and operations guided by people who are trusted, respected and loved.
That sort of culture doesn’t just happen. It has to be grown and nurtured. Fine had that rare, multi-faceted quality of being very sharp in business matters, but equally good or better on the people side. He was also artistic, which tracks to his business roots as a photographer. He had a finance degree, but out of university in the late 70s and early 80s he started a business shooting weddings and events. Still photos were gradually supplemented by wedding videos, and Fine evolved the business into multimedia production – getting client requests for commercial videos, and eventually, for help putting together early-days versions of digital signage.
Telecine started using Scala’s content creation and management software – going all the way back to the days when Scala was managed and driven on Commodore Amiga computers. Decades later, Telecine remains a Scala reseller, but also now works with other software options. Telecine has built up a healthy, loyal client base. The best-known and celebrated work has been done over many years with Bloomberg. If you have ever been to the financial news and data giant’s very cool, employee-centric offices in midtown New York, you will have seen a lot of digital signage site design and content executed by Fine and his team.
His partner Chantal Bilodeau had her own very successful career, and between the two of them, they were able in recent years to slow down and start to ease their way out of the company and into semi-retirement. Pre-COVID, they were taking lengthy sabbaticals to go sailing in the South Pacific – with James calling in periodically by satellite phone from the boat. It was its own kind of succession plan, with Fine handing off more and more responsibility to the team back in Montreal.
James undoubtedly could have sold Telecine to interested suitors, but never did. Instead, he grew and solidified it organically through the years, and more recently evolved Telecine into a company that’s now employee-run and managed. His people – his Telecine family – are now the masters of their own business destiny.
What those staffers and Telecine customers will miss is a brilliant, quick mind and a fundamentally fun, silly soul, who enjoyed people and life in his beloved hometown. For people who enjoy culture, and food and the buzz of a big city, few places rival Montreal.
Fine was also a gadget-head, tinkering with technology and pushing new ideas. When the team pitched a project that involved digitizing a full building, instead of doing elevation images or video mock-ups, they did an architectural scale model of the building. Little pico projectors embedded inside model better showed what the finished job would look like, which helped prove the concept.
It was effective from what I saw, but I also got the clear impression James just thought it was fun and interesting to pull off.
When I moved out to Nova Scotia, the first house-warming gift that turned up was from James – a set of Philips smart lights. He had some, and thought I’d enjoy fiddling with the lights, as well.
We were business friends, and growing into personal friends – as much as that was possible when constrained a lot by distance and, lately, by a pandemic. I struggle to think how someone could not like the guy, and that radiated out to the people around him. I will miss James tremendously, as will countless others who knew him a lot more than myself.
A big hug to Chantal, and to the Telecine team. They’re shattered, but smiling through the tears as they recall the countless funny and inspiring stories about James. They’re also realizing, as the shock subsides and practical matters come up, just how much groundwork James quietly did to protect and ensure the future of his company, his work family, and his extended family.
Cancer took him, but a disease can’t take away the memories. A fund has been set up to support cancer research efforts at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital. At some point, colleagues, family and friends will gather and raise a glass to their much-loved Mr. Fine.