There are many women contributing in the industry and one of the first to come into Canada’s film industry to thrive was the amazing Betty Quee who has had quite a lot of experience working in 2nd unit directing and stunt coordination to working and operating Thomas FX, one of the greatest prop and setup designing companies in Vancouver and pretty much anywhere on Earth. The company has had so many customers fly in from South Korea, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, and so many other countries it’s incredible. So when I got a super cool opportunity to talk to Betty and let her tell her story, I called her up and from there I spoke to her and her current husband John where they took me on a historical trip of their company.
HNMAG: So I understand you are the president of Thomas FX, one of the greatest special effects brands in the film industry. How did you become a part of the company?
Betty: I married John Thomas who started the company back in 1968 and got involved after marrying him in 1979. I ended up being a co-owner with him.
HNMAG: And I understand you took it over?
Betty: Yeah, John passed away in 1994, and I spent 8 years running the company on my own. In 2001, I met my current CEO, partner and husband. We’re running the business together now.
HNMAG: You’ve also gotten recognition as first female stunt performer and stunt coordinator among other things. Where did you learn the skills to pull off and coordinate stunts?
Betty: John Thomas used to do stunts and he was an amazing trainer for me. I also trained with a number of other training partners. It goes back 40 years for goodness sake, so there was a lot of training involved. I actually became the first female full-time stunt performer making a living. There were other female stunt-women out there who did specialty work like horse-work. My specialty became stunt-driving and then I doubled for a lot of kids. But before that, guys used to double for women, so I was the first official female stunt performer. When coordinating came along John Scott was a real supporter and said “Hey, Betty. You could coordinate stunts with your eyes closed. If these guys can do it, YOU can do it.” so that was another first and it was pretty exciting when I started coordinating because I’ve doubled for a lot of kids. I was short and petite, but I also specialized in stunt-driving so I took a lot of driver training in the school of high-performance racing in Monterey, California and then Bob Bonderan’s school of driving. I did the specialty trained stuff. I became really good at it so coordinating so naturally came to me, especially the car sequences.
HNMAG: Coordinating stunts is a big responsibility. What did you do to ensure the safety of the performers and the set?
Betty: Well, every gag is different. You plan out all of the safety aspects of it. For example, if you’re doing water work you have to make sure you have the right water safety people with you. If you’re doing driving, you have to make sure you have all the safety protocols in place. Do it safely but make it look spectacular.
HNMAG: And what were your prime responsibilities as a 2nd unit director?
Betty: That was a very big job and I was fortunate enough to work with John Woo on To Catch A Thief. I was his stunt coordinator and 2nd unit director. One year John Woo and his company went to make a series in Toronto and he asked me to come with him and be 2nd unit director on it. That was just an incredible thing to do and it was very exciting doing 2nd unit directing.
HNMAG: In your work directing and coordinating stunts, what would you say is the biggest accomplishment you ever made?
Betty: I worked with some really spectacular people, like Alex Baldwin, Anthony Hopkins, Mel Gibson, and Robin Williams. Being stunt coordinator on Jumanji was just one of the greatest things. Working with Joe Johnson the director, it was just a great group of people to work with. Robin Williams was astonishing, such a great, great man. I was stunt coordinator on that but how can I say it was the best when I was on The Edge with Anthony Tompkins and Alex Baldwin? Those guys were similarly spectacular people. Robert Deniro, Leonardo DiCaprio, I worked with these people and they’re REAL people just like you and I. But safety is always the biggest factor when you’re in stunts and when you’re a 2nd unit director. They’re very different jobs but nevertheless, fantastic.
HNMAG: As a woman entrepreneur, what tactics do you keep in mind when managing a business?
Betty: As entrepreneurs, my husband John and I are always ahead of the curve. We’re always being the first to do something, with walking the sightline and saying “Oh my gosh, so nobody’s done that before” and “What are we going to do to get around this?” just like the COVID situation. We’re pioneers and groundbreakers in so many things. I don’t do directing or stunts anymore, but I think we run the business the same way because John is very much like that. We’re always innovating and we’re always on the edge with products and moving on with our tiny little company. We ship to 81 countries now and we’re a global business. Very small but global. We’ve got a big reputation, Thomas FX is a brand name out there.
HNMAG: How has recognition for your work helped move you even further?
Betty: It’s not outside recognition, it’s knowing that my peers recognize some things that I have done and what my company has done. We’ve won so many awards and I won Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998. With John, we have won so many awards together for business of the year. We recently got the Innovation award from the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. It’s that kind of recognition that it’s not something you would often brag about, it keeps us going. Making a difference is what brings us more further.
Around this point, Betty’s partner-in-crime John took over and gave some interesting insight into the company.
HNMAG: What kind of products and services does Thomas FX sell and provide?
John: I guess we’re most well-known for our artificial snow and volcanic ash. We have 7 patents with our names on it. The snow you would’ve seen in the Hateful Eights or The Revenant, we supplied most of that. Ash would be in Avengers: Infinity War, and a mummy sarcophagus in Pacific Rim. We have stuff in Pompeii and Star Trek: Into The Darkness. We’re constantly shipping products all over the world because they’re hard to find and because people on set know they can rely on the quality. It’s consistently high quality on set and biodegradable products, and we have a manufacturing plant here in Vancouver.
HNMAG: What would one of your newest items you have recently added to your supplies?
John: Our latest innovation would be our barbed wire. There are 3 different types of artificial barbed wire that we have come up with. Depending on how close to the actor, where the set dec are people are dressing it gets more or less realistic. If the actor’s interacting with it, it’s not real barbed wire but it looks like real barbed wire. That’s proven to be a big hit. Our biodegradable non-staining blood is a blood powder. It’s used by every division in the U.S. military.
HNMAG: And what about existing products? What has been purchased or used recently?
John: We’ve just shipped a bunch of snow and ash products to Thailand. This was a customer of ours from Australia and he used snow products from us for X-Men: Wolverine and so he’s filming that on Thailand. He turned to us again and we shipped the products off, they should be arriving tomorrow. There’s a special effects coordinator in Ireland who referred us to a Spanish effects coordinator on his show and he ordered from us. It’s that kind of global interaction.
HNMAG: So the products go all over the world? Sounds like quite some extravagant work you got going on.
John: The products are superior, innovative, one of a kind, but most importantly Thomas FX is nominal service. ANYWHERE in the world, WHERE you need it, ON TIME. On Budget, and it’s that global expertise that sets us apart. That’s how we help people with movies, we take some stress off their shoulders by supplying them with high-quality products. That’s BIG for a little Vancouver company.
I knew Betty also came up with breakaway glass in Canada and asked her about it next.
HNMAG: How did you come up with the design that could be used in films?
Betty: We actually got the equipment from MGM studios and when they were closing down their special effects department, and we bought some of their stuff. We brought it all home and it was in 1979 actually. That’s when I started making breakaway glass and that was a first actually. It had never been made in Canada before, and well, how did I learn? It took a little while, but by golly I learned. I talked to a couple effects people in Los Angeles and they helped, but I learned to make glass.
John: We have the longest range available and the innovation we brought to that was cash-and-carry breakaway glass. You can walk into our showroom and see we have thousands of breakaway glass in display cases then walk out with what you need. That’s never been done in Canada before.
HNMAG: And what do you do to make your business different from rival businesses?
John: Our constant quest for innovation and helping people make great movies. We’re part of the OLD pioneering group and we continue that spirit and there aren’t that many people left who do that. I have also outsourced a lot of the functions. We have people working with us in Los Angeles, South Carolina, India, and Toronto as well as Vancouver. We have software that’s marketing 24 hours a day around the world, and everybody else who’s working for the company is working for themselves and helping us to make a difference.
[pullquote]”My previous career was in software, a CEO in a public software development company. I had retired when I met Betty, but when I came to Thomas FX where I think 44 people were working there, and I started integrating software. I have integrated 33 different software platforms so I’ve made up most of the business functions.” – John[/pullquote]
Betty: Take a look at our website, we have been all over the world. That’s our calling card.
HNMAG: What are plans for Thomas FX in the future? Do you plan to expand on making more products and supplies?
John: That’s a constant. We are always looking for new ways to make a difference. We have new contributions that will help businesses reopen safely. We’ve got a major push on now to expand our global dealer network, we’ll be pushing more aggressively into Europe this year. If we help enough people to get what they want, my theory is that eventually we’ll get what we want too.
HNMAG: What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
John: It’s not about the money, and that sounds strange coming from an entrepreneur. Identify a need, and fill it with excellence. Also there is a LOT of competition in Vancouver especially, people are stabbing each other in the back over nickels and dimes. Trying to undercut each other, trying to sell for less money than their competitor. WE don’t sell products for money, we sell for SERVICE. Service is priceless when you need the service.
The Quee’s have proven to have taken this company so far and with no signs of stopping. Before we know it, it just might be in lots more countries. Thomas FX not only knows how to make great products and provide excellent service, but it also shows promise for our industry and many more film industries all around. Who knows what they’ll come up with next?
Check out the official website to see what they may come up with next.