Friday, April 2, 2010

David Mills - Yesterday Continued

I did say yesterday that I would post the piece that I wrote on David Mills. I was asked yesterday to read what I wrote if there is a memorial for him here in Los Angeles. But, I'm a writer, and a little too tall for podiums.

So, here it is.

I know that everyone will talk about what a great writer David Mills was. And indeed he was.

But, I remember him as someone who took the time to meet with a stranger, me, in the process of striving to be a TV and Film writer.

It was a number of years ago. I invited him to meet me at Itana Bahia's restaurant in West Hollywood. It was our first meeting.

In those days, I always offered to pay dinner, coffee, or lunch for the honor of meeting with anyone in the industry who agreed. They were the experts. They were giving me their valuable time. It wasn't a fair exchange because I got more out of it than they did. But, I was always taught not to try to get something for nothing.

David agreed to meet me. At first I thought it was because I had also left journalism for entertainment. But, in the course of the dinner, I realized that he was simply a giving person. He didn't need a reason to meet with me. My asking for his help was reason enough.

About a year later, when I was passing through Maryland, he offered to take me to the set of The Corner, a TV series that he had co-created. On the way, we stopped at a coffee shop. One of the writers of Homicide, the one who wrote the great subway train episode, was there. I tried to stand off to the side in case they wanted to have a private chat. But David pulled me into the conversation and introduced me as "a writer friend of mine".

We then went to the set. I had visited film and TV sets before. But, generally I was told to stand quietly in a corner. Even when I visited the set of a series for which I had written a freelance episode, I was told to blend into the background, and mind you, not stand too close to the director's chair.

Visiting The Corner was a different experience. David introduced me to director Charles Dutton and other key members of the producing staff. David explained what was happening in the scene, and talked with me about the script. And when others came to ask him questions, he kept me within the circle of conversation.

In this world, contacts matter. And David made sure everyone there knew I was a writer in a manner that made them think I mattered. For David, it wasn't just because I was a good writer than I mattered. It was because I was a person, a human being.

David believed that the heartfelt goals of every human being mattered. He could not help everyone with their goals. But, as one writer to another, one ex-journalist to another, he could help with mine.

Over the years, even though we did not see each other for long stretches, we kept in touch. I clearly remember one call I made. When he returned it, he said that he could not talk long because his mother had just died. But, just the fact that he returned the call at all in the midst of his grief says so much about his humanity.

And during the heights of success when he could have insulated himself in, let's face it, what is predominantly an all white male showrunner business, David's hands and heart were continually stretched out to other blacks.

Because David was light-skinned, most people thought he was white or Italian upon first meeting him. But, even while pitching to people who would clearly treat him differently knowing he was black, he would casually drop in a comment indentifying himself as black man.

Although he eventually created a blog called "Undercover Brother", in partial response to jealous peers who made negative comments behind his back, David always identified as being black. He was far from being the kind of "black writer" hire to write downtown characters. We know from his credits and his work as a journalist how versatile and extraordinarily brilliant he was as a writer and then producer. But, he was a "black writer" in the sense that being a writer and being black were of equal importance.

The last time we spoke, he was in New Orleans on his new pilot "Treme." We didn't talk long. I got off the phone quickly because I know the working days of a tv producer stretch long into the night. We just planned to talk when the pilot was finished. Who knew.

David's success in Hollywood was on a level beyond that of most any writers or producers in Hollywood. That in and of itself is enough to celebrate his memory and mourn his loss, especially at such a young age.

But, I will always remember him for the heart and courage he displayed in regularly being there for people of color on much lower levels. As K'naan calls it. "People like me."

David took the time to do things that maybe he didn't need to, but believed someone ought to do.

A successful man with an unchanging sense of ethics. Not many of those in Hollywood.

I hope your heart rests in peace, David, just as I hope you know that I will always carry within me... a piece of yours.


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