Sunday, August 29, 2010

DAVID MILLS - Writer, Producer, Friend, and one of the best people I will ever know...



Tonight the Emmys forgot to honor the memory of my friend David Mills so I thought I would share my thoughts about him here. He died on March 30th of a brain aneurysm and I have missed him every day since - for so many reasons.

He was an incredibly talented writer both in print journalism and for television. He won two Emmys and wrote for some of the best television series ever aired on the tube (NYPD Blue, ER, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Corner, Kingpin, The Wire, Treme). He was also a huge fan of television and it was so much fun to talk to him about shows that we grew up watching - he remembered Gigantor! He was an amazing repository of television history.

I met Dave at Spelling where he had a deal after he'd sold the pilot for Kingpin to NBC. The network wanted it to be a primetime Sopranos and it could have been except that they screwed the pooch when it came to airing it. I was working with Mark Frost at the time and David was a huge fan of his writing on Hill Street and asked me if I would set up a lunch. We became friends, connecting through our shared love of music, specifically all things P-Funk. I ended up working with him because one afternoon I was oversharing with his assistant about breast augmentation (mine), and he rounded the corner to find my boob in her hand. He turned bright red, but the next day asked me to help him out with a scene that took place in the plastic surgeon's (portrayed wonderfully by Brian Ben Ben) office in Kingpin.

He asked me to come with him to NBC to work on Kingpin as a researcher, and took me into the writer's room where he mined my life along with everyone else's - and those drug dealers I dated in the 80s, while still bad choices (but never boring), finally proved to be good for something other than trouble.

David loved writing from real life stories. He loved the way people talked and was an astute observer of the subtleties and nuances of how people communicate with each other, the words they choose and the way they put them together. After he died, when I was helping his family pack up his house here in Los Angeles, I found notebooks filled with scenes he'd overheard out in the world which he'd written down; a mother talking to her kids in the airport, a couple having a fight, etc. He was fascinated by people and the things they do and say. He appreciated the duality of light and dark, saint and sinner, the conventional and perverted aspects that co-exist in an individual life.

I went with David to Warner Bros. on his three year overall deal and while we were there I got to know this very private man very well. I learned his quirks and witnessed so many acts of kindness and generosity that no one really knows about. David was one of those rare individuals who would step up to help others, people whom he'd never met who would ask him to speak to a class of aspiring writers, or to read something they'd written, or for words of advice. In my experience this is not a business where those who've achieved the level of success that Dave did are accessible to people, much less willing to actually help them. Not only that, he was generous in his appreciation of the talents of others and made sure to tell them, to acknowledge them and to thank them. That said, he never pulled a punch or blew sunshine up your butt. If he didn't like what you did he wouldn't tell you otherwise, though he wouldn't talk trash about it behind your back. He was the kind of guy who'd say it to your face.

He was my biggest fan and read everything I ever wrote here. He encouraged me to write my first script. Then he read it... and made me do a page one re-write because he said it could be better. He was right. After we left Warner Bros. we continued to be good friends and he would trek out to points far and wide with me on food adventures. We continued to share music finds - he made me mixed CDs that I loved because he had excellent and eclectic taste in music and every one of them is like going on a journey or listening to a story. He tolerated my fussing at him about taking up smoking in his late 40s and not exercising enough and generally nagging him to take better care of himself. He pushed me and encouraged me constantly to write and to write and to write.

He was a great writer, but it was not always easy and effortless for him (is it easy for anyone?). It was so important to him that every scene move the story forward and that it be real. One of the things that I loved about his writing was that he would never settle for anything less than excellence. He was never lazy about his writing. He would go underground when he was writing, holing up, working through the night, walking and thinking, eating crap food and ultimately coming up with gold. When I watched Treme I could hear Dave's voice in certain scenes and in the episodes he wrote and it is so damn sad that I can't tell him how much I love it.

I miss being able to tell him about the bizarre things I see, the conversations I eavesdrop on, the great song I just heard - old or new. I miss being able to ask him what he thinks about everything relating to politics, culture, race. I would love to know what he thinks about Glenn Beck. I miss eating and drinking with him. I miss reading his blog - Undercover Blackman - which was almost as good as having a conversation with him. It made me think, it made me laugh, and sometimes it intimidated me because the back and forth in the comments got so heated. Dave would never back down from a duel of ideas and opinions.

After he died I read all the articles about him recounting his amazing career and talent. Some referred to him as shy or introverted or quiet which are not words that I associate with Dave. He was smart - the smartest guy I know. He was honest and operated with a level of integrity that is rare in this life and even rarer in this town. He was funny and had an awesomely sharp sense of humor. He was a lot of fun and loved to play - he had the whole Kingpin office playing Password and drinking Margaritas every Friday at the end of the day. Some of my best memories of Dave are of sitting on the floor(me, not him) in his office playing CDs and sharing our favorite music and telling the stories about where those songs landed in our lives. I know that this is the gift of our years of close proximity in that bungalow at WB, and the blessing of our connection, because he was a very private person when it came to his personal life.

To me the word that most accurately describes David is passionate. That passion made him great. I saw his passion in everything he did and for everyone and everything he loved. It wasn't overt and out loud, it was from a deep place inside him. He was a rare and unique soul.

In the late 80s/early 90s David published a zine called UNCUT FUNK. In issue No. 3 he wrote the quote below in his Letter from the Publisher. When I read it I can feel his excitement and passion for what he was doing, and it's like he's still here talking to me, to all of us who got to know him, even to those who didn't. At this point in time you could insert the name of any project he worked on in place of UNCUT FUNK because this was the place he was coming from when he wrote:

"Thanks so much for getting your hands on this. And let me tell you, this is what I had in mind for UNCUT FUNK from the start, and I just know it's gonna knock y'all out! Forgive my immodesty, but at this moment I'm pumped to the limits of my soul, full of the glory of being able to transfer an idea from my head to yours. Let UNCUT FUNK seep into you, each word a sperm searching for something to fuse with so you can go forth and give birth to something positive. Then do me a favor back and put something on paper yourself and spread it around. It's definitely about that printed word!..."

I take solace in the fact that when he died he was in a very good place in his life. He was writing with one of his best friends - David Simon, living in New Orleans, a city that he loved like home, surrounded by great music, fabulous food and good people, doing something that he loved and when he went it was quick. He didn't suffer.

But I miss my friend so much. Every day.

5 comments:

Elyce said...

Beautiful, Susie. Simply beautiful.

Mon-sewer Paul Regret said...

Thank you.

Nell said...

Thank you for writing this. David didn't wear his passion on his sleeve; it was deep in his soul.

When I heard that new Ceelo Green song last week, one of my first thoughts was of David. I think he would have dug it.

A Quirky Chick said...

Thanks for reading this y'all. Nell, I know what you mean about hearing a song - Dave had a great ear.

ClizBiz said...

Dang. I'm not sure which made me cry harder - your post or the video tribute. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend but evidently, it sounds like a loss for everyone.

Also, I have a feeling David would have loved (and blushed) at this tribute post. You're a fantastic writer, my friend.