The Hollywood Post Production Community lost a good friend this week. Bob Semmer the COO of Fotokem passed away after a long battle with cancer. I first met Bob nearly 10 years ago when I was the Vice President of Operations at the BBC. I had come out to LA to do an inventory of our West Coast library and also meet some of our key vendors. Although I don’t remember our meeting in too much detail, I do recall liking him. He was honest with me out of the gate and seemed to ooze integrity. When I took my job at Netflix and relocated to LA, Bob was one of the first people to reach out to me and welcome me. He invited me to lunch or dinner, but when I explained I had young children and a crazy work schedule...he offered breakfast instead. We had our first breakfast at Culina in the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills as it was the closest place to my office. He was pleasant, candid and jovial. We talked about the industry, the challenges and how we might work more closely together. He was always advocating for Fotokem, but never in a sales way, more like a father telling you how great their children are at sports or school. He believed in his people and wanted more than anything to see them successful. As we talked that day, it became clear neither of us were the kind of people that “breakfasted” at Culina. We joked that our next one would be at Denny’s…and it was. Like me, Bob was an early bird and over the years we had many breakfasts together. When I was going through my divorce and had too much free time and isolation on my hands...I always seemed to get a well timed email asking for an early morning check-in that was all too welcomed. He’d come with a neatly written list of questions for which he wanted more clarity or context, taking good notes on the answers given while we enjoyed our greasy spoon morning feast. Our shorthand for breakfast grew to the point that he’d simply text “Breakfast, usual spot next Tuesday, usual time?” I’d simply reply “yes” and we’d know exactly when and where to meet for our business check-ins. Many times, I’d meet him in the early morning hours as Burbank was just creeping to life and he’d already been to the office and worked a few hours. He seemed tireless, and Uber dedicated to his career and Fotokem. I truly admired this in him. Even though he held a C-Level job at a big post house, he still put the effort in and still performed as if he was working toward his “big-break.”
If I needed something, Bob gladly obliged. Making an appearance at an internal event or giving a tour to computer engineers so they understood the “behind- the-scenes” movie making process. No ask was too big or too small and all were accommodated. It wasn’t always wine and roses, when Fotokem had challenges, I needed to handle this on behalf of my company. But Bob was always attentive, we’d discuss his perspective and agree on next steps. Sometimes he’d sway my thinking and other times he’d own the problem, but it was always a partnership and we tried to work things out in a mutually respectful manner. Over the years, I grew to trust Bob and by extension his company, this is something that business schools call “brand trust”, it takes years to establish and minutes to lose...Bob understood this and never risked his reputation or the loss of that trust.
I remember hearing the news that Bob had become ill and being invited to his house to see him. When he told me he’d been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, my heart sank. I remember sitting on his patio in the back yard in disbelief. We talked a bit about it and then slipped back into our normal routine of work discussion...it was just more comfortable to talk shop and it was the zone in which Bob was most comfortable. Over the months I’d see him as much as his health and spirits allowed. I was always glad to spend time with him, but I was watching my friend and colleague get sicker and sicker...always landing on a deeper bottom. Many times when I thought “Surely he can’t get any weaker, he’d be back in the hospital with another complication. But Bob kept fighting and even going to work when possible. He was a true warrior and endured well beyond most. Bob fought hard for nearly 10 months to beat the “Big C”, but even with the experimental treatments and determination….the battle ended and Bob could finally rest.
People who know me well, know I like I quality things; I’d rather have one nice Rolex than a bunch of mediocre watches, if I’m going to have a pair of shoes...it will be some Alden's, and an annual dinner at Morton's is better than a month of Outback steaks. Things that are made with quality last longer, you can depend on them when you need them…you can trust them. Quality lasts. This focus on quality is the reason I liked Bob so much, he was high quality! Honest, candid, thoughtful, diligent and hardworking…wrapped up in someone with a thoughtful heart and keen mind. He was high quality all the way and his being gone is tough to stomach. I remember about a year ago, we were having one of our breakfast meetings and I looked over at him and said “Bob, are we becoming friends?” He sort of smiled a warm smile and said “Mr. Fetner, I think we are” and so it was. I’m going to miss you my friend, as will many in the industry and community here in LA. I wish you lots of peace!
Written by Chris Fetner