“It was a shock to me and everybody else and we’re dealing with this the best we can, with heavy hearts,” said Michael Acuna, about the shocking accident Monday night that took the life of James Pope, his Schumacher Camera partner and friend of more than 20 years.
Pope was tragically struck while trying to inflate a flat tire on his Jeep on westbound I-80 near Seneca, Illinois around 9:30 p.m. According to preliminary police report, Pope stepped backward, for an unknown reason, into the same westbound lane of traffic in which a semi-trailer was barreling down and struck Pope and devastated his countless industry friends and associates.
Pope, 52 and the father of an 11-year old son, Caleb, had co-owned the West Loop-based camera equipment company since 2006, when he and Acuna were offered to purchase it by Carole Schumacher, widow of director/DP Joe Schumacher, who started the company in 1991.
Carole Schumacher said it was time for a younger generation to take over, believing her two successors would bring “new life to the business.” And that they did, to the great benefit of the film community. “James was very committed to the business,” said Acuna, who functioned on the service management side while Pope handled business affairs. Both had been Schumacher staffers for about 10 years before they acquired the company.
“James had his pulse on Chicago production, doing his best to keep a positive attitude for the city, knowing we were ambassadors for Chicago production to the industry. He worked tirelessly, around the clock, to cater to our clients needs.
“Anyone in the industry knew they could call James anytime, night, day, weekends, and he would respond,” Acuna said. “James was a full-timer who went beyond the sense of the word.”
Lawrence Daufenbach of Daufenbach Camera, who likened the small local rental house community to a family, noted that “James always ran a tight ship at Schumacher. We saw him often over the years as he frequently sub-rented equipment from us. He loved to call and talk shop and his pursuits of running his business.
“We had much in common, often competing against larger LA rental houses that would come and go. I had a profound respect for him running a small business, as I could often relate to things he was up against.”
Tributes to Pope and his devotion to his clients have been pouring into social media. Pope’s longtime friend, cinematographer Christopher Rejano wrote: “Thank you, James, for always supporting me in my endeavors and coming out to every set that you had provided gear for. Thank you for being the first person to respond when I would beg for a free camera on social media. Thank you for taking so many curious minds into Schumacher Camera and then returning to the city a strong backbone of knowledgeable camera technicians. Your film family will miss you dearly, James. Thank you for all you’ve done.”
His friend producer Mo Wagdy of miniGorilla Productions commented that “James was one of those rare people who was never afraid to speak his mind. He found ways to run a successful small market business with intense competition and continual changes in technology. And he was a mentor to some of the most talented and hard working individuals I know.”
Fred Ciba and Pope went back more than two decades to when they both started in the film business as PAs, someone Ciba’s known the longest “and who will always will be remembered as one of the people that made the community here such a wonderful one.”
Everyone who commented had special words to say about Pope’s devotion to his son Caleb, Rejano calling him “an inspiration as a father.” Wagdy told of his admiration “for his dedication to Caleb.”
Lawrence Daufenbach noted that Pope did it all while being a passionate father. “His son Caleb has much to look up to what his father accomplished in his lifetime.”
Mary Ann Dezulskis, a friend of 20 years, called him “a great father … he talked about Caleb all the time and was so proud of him.” And Becky Werve recalled “how my dear friend James gave my son a bicycle when his was stolen. He was a staple of our community.”
Funeral arrangements are pending and will be announced in Reel Chicago as soon as they are announced.