This continues our series called The Splurge, where we take a look at how entrepreneurs have spent their money on indulgences – purchases that may be interesting, fun, satisfying or enjoyable, but not necessary!
Adventure film buff and software developer Ryan van Barneveld counts Indiana Jones as one of his all-time movie heroes. So it was with some reverence and more than a bit of awe that he donned the hat worn by Harrison Ford in the 1984 film Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, and stole a quick glance at himself in the mirror.
Mr. van Barneveld had purchased the hat for $9,600 a few days earlier at a November, 2009, auction in Los Angeles. It stayed on his head for only a few minutes – just long enough to show it off to his wife and father-in-law, and to confirm in his mind that he had actually purchased a treasure.
“I put it on. My father-in-law put it on. It was exciting but it wasn’t as exciting as simply acquiring it to begin with,” recalls Mr. van Barneveld, 29, the co-founder and director of Oakville, Ont.-based Fusenet Inc.
The hat is part of Mr. van Barneveld’s growing collection of props from Hollywood movies – a splurge that has so far cost $75,000.
As well as the hat, it includes the machine gun used by Keanu Reeves in The Matrix; Jean-Luc Picard’s phaser from Star Trek: First Contact; and the chest piece used to power Robert Downey Jr.’s suit in his role as Tony Stark in Iron Man; and his most recent purchases – a plasma rifle from Terminator 2; and a Book of the Dead key to the fictional lost Egyptian city of Hamunaptra. from the film The Mummy, bought together in May, 2011, for a total of $9,000.
He also owns 35 mm prints of original versions of three Star Wars films, a storyboard from the first Star Wars film and a collection of movie posters from some of his favourite flicks.
And in tribute to what he describes as a love of innovation, he recently purchased four of the specially cast Robbins Medallions made for the astronauts that were aboard the Apollo moon missions.
“Owning a piece of iconic movie history makes me feel connected to the films that I loved growing up,” Mr. van Barneveld says of his collection of film props and memorabilia. “And to be able to hold something like Indiana Jones’s hat in my hands and even wear it just adds to that connection.”
Mr. van Barneveld fell in love with sci-fi and adventure movies after watching Star Wars for the first time as a young teenager – an experience he describes as a “transformative moment.” He vowed he would some day work in the film business.
He got his first job in the industry at age 15, working at the snack bar at drive-in theatre in Oakville, Ont., and revelling at the chance to watch films days before they were available to the public.
As a high school student, he edited an Internet newsletter devoted to his favourite filmmaker, James Cameron, and, when he graduated, he enrolled in a three-year film and television production program at Toronto’s Humber College.
He says he hoped to some day create computer special effects for big-budget films, but after about 18 months working on television shows, he realized that the “reality of working in film is far less glamorous than the dream.”
In 2004, Mr. van Barneveld, who had also pursued computer programming as a hobby, took a job in Web design for Oakville, Ont.-based audio book developer, Simply Audio Books. He met his current business partner, Sanjay Singhal, and, in 2007, they co-founded Fusenet., which developed one of Mr. van Barneveld’s hobby projects, an online video search tool, into a business with 40 employees, 90,000 subscribers and revenues of $20-million a year.
Fusenet purchased Simply Audio Books in 2009 and also provides a mail-out audio book service similar to the Netflix movie service. Last month, it launched an online audio book streaming service.
Although he originally held the post of chief executive officer, Mr. van Barneveld recently downsized his responsibilities and currently focuses on product development.
It was also in 2009 that Mr. van Barneveld purchased his first movie prop from movie prop and movie memorabilia outlet The Prop Store of London for $6,000 – the submachine gun used by Keanu Reeve’s Neo character in the intricately choreographed elevator shootout sequence in The Matrix. Like the other weapons in his collection, the gun is made of foam and resin and does not fire.
He found the Indiana Jones hat a few weeks later as part of the November, 2009, auction of Michael Jackson’s belongings. He says that although the hat, valued at between $15,000 and $25,000, never belonged to Mr. Jackson, the auction included a few items sold by private movie memorabilia collectors. Because most movie buffs overlooked the sale, Mr. van Barneveld had only a handful of competitors and the hat was his “in five minutes” at far below its estimated value.
He purchased the Apollo medallions from two owners in 2010 for a total of $21,000. The medallions were specially cast as souvenirs for the astronauts on board each Apollo moon mission, their families and NASA employees. Although they have never been used as movie props, Mr. van Barneveld says he wanted them because of the innovation and sense of adventure they represent.
“I feel like I’m holding a piece of treasure. Rather than it being dug up from the ocean, it has come from space,” he says.
He adds that he has also chosen film props from the films that have inspired him with their innovation and creativity.
“It’s really those objects that are visions of the future that appeal to me,” he says. “They’re neat because they spark the imagination.”
He says he hopes to some day purchase a prop from one of the Star Wars films, a goal that has so far eluded him because of the high price of the items. For example, a light sabre recently sold for $100,000.
“My business is doing well but it hasn’t reached that point yet,” he says. “You have to draw the line somewhere.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
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