Art & Culture

San Benito HS grad makes it as music video producer

John Hardin, a 1989 San Benito High School graduate, is a producer of prominent music videos and commercials.

While San Benito residents have to cross the county line to get to the nearest Carl’s Jr. Restaurant, Hollister has a unique connection to the fast food joint with the racy commercials that feature models and celebrities. For at least the last seven years, most of the company’s commercials, including a recent one feature model Kate Upton, have been produced by a 1989 San Benito High School graduate.

John Hardin has worked in the film, commercial and music video arena for more than 20 years, most recently as a freelance producer.

As a producer, Hardin works behind the scenes on setting up the logistics of the commercials and music videos on which he works. He hires crew members who direct, shoot and edit the footage. He manages the production to make sure the final product is delivered on time and within budget. He also scouts out locations for shoots. The creative part of the process is usually handled by the director in the case of videos or an ad agency for commercials. 

“I love to produce, so I produce whatever is out there,” he said. “It’s my job to execute the vision rather than come up with it.”

Many of the pieces Hardin has shepherded to completion are well known. They include Miley Cyrus’ music video “Party in the USA,” Josh Groban’s “Documentary,” Kid Rock’s, “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and many more.

He also produced the musician Rihanna’s “Umbrella” video that won a 2007 MTV Video of the Year Award.

For commercials, Hardin said the creative team may work for months before he gets involved. Once he assembles a team, he said it can be two to three weeks from pre- to post-production to produce a 30-second piece.

Some of Hardin’s commercials have also been prominent. He produced a well-known Budweiser spot that premiered at the 2014 Super Bowl, “A Hero’s Welcome.”

“We got nominated for an Emmy for that one,” Hardin said. “But we lost out to Apple. It was such a great, rewarding experience.”

Hardin said he knew he wanted to work in the movie industry in middle school and he spent his high school years working at the Grenada Theatre in downtown Hollister. Several other San Benito High School graduates from that era — it was referred to as Hollister High back then — are also making a living in the film or theater business, he noted, including Akira Boch, Kinan and Anahuac Valdez, Fran Hernandez. Seth Millwood and Kirk Ward.

“We all knew what we wanted to do and luckily we are doing it still,” he said. “We come from a small town, but we chased our dream and to make it happen has been a really special thing.”

After graduating from high school, Hardin attended Gavilan College and then the University of California, Santa Barbara. He got his first job as an intern on a movie through a bit of a lark. He had attended a movie screening and saw Quentin Tarantino, who was about to start production on “From Dusk Till Dawn,” his 1996 vampire film. Hardin sent a note to Tarantino through his agent.

“A week-and-a-half later, I was hired – for free – to intern for a month-and-a-half,” Hardin said.

Midway through production, he was hired on and he worked with Tarantino’s production company for eight-and-a-half years.

“It’s a combination of lucky breaks and hard work,” he said, of his path from intern to producer. “Without the initial door opening, it would be hard to continue. But there’s a lot of opportunity here (in the film industry.) A lot goes into how much you are willing to apply yourself.”

During his stint as an intern, he was working a full shift on the movie production during the day, then he would head to his paying job at a record store at night.

“I had one day off a week for about two months, but at the same time I was learning everything I needed to know being on that movie set,” he said. “I made friendships and partnerships I still work with today.”

His work has taken him to many different locations – Phoenix, Miami, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Egypt, Canada and South Africa, among other locales.

As a producer of commercials and music videos, he has worked with the likes of Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Kate Upton and Kim Kardashian, among others. But he said there is only one time when he really felt star struck – when he worked with the Irish rock band U2.

“You grow up seeing those people on TV all the time,” he said, “Especially with U2, growing up in the ’80s, there wasn’t a bigger band. Today there still might not be a bigger band. To have them come and sit down at a table with you is weird – awesome, but weird.”

Hardin and his crew worked with U2 on their music video for “City of Blinding Lights,” a song from their “How to Dismantle an Atomic Band” album. Hardin said the band wanted to do a performance video, so he and the directors met up with the band on a concert stop in Vancouver.

“The best experience is with pros like that,” Hardin said, “People who don’t have anything to prove who are most secure in what they already have.”

Hardin said a feature film may be in his future, but for now he has his hands full with producing the smaller-scale projects.

“There isn’t really a time to punch the clock,” he said. “If you’re working that day, no one gets off at 5 p.m. – you get off at 11 p.m. …but then you also have downtime between projects.”

To see a list of commercial and music video credits for John Hardin or to watch some of his prominent works, visit

Melissa Anderson

Melissa (Flores) Anderson is the former city editor of the Weekend Pinnacle and Hollister Free Lance, where she covered education, county government and more. She currently works for the College of Applied Sciences and Arts at San Jose State University, where she manages the College blog, newsletter and website updates. She has a master's in print journalism from the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.