My old friend and writing partner, Dan Todd, died suddenly late last week. If you knew Dan, you probably loved him. You can, in the words of his niece, help memorialize him by giving his son something he would have loved to have given him himself by donating to the Dan Todd Memorial Fund for Ray Mullin. Ray will be attending college in the fall, and this is his college fund. http://dantoddmemorialfund.wordpress.com/
If you didn't know Dan, I would consider it a personal favor if you would donate even a few bucks to the fund.
Dan and I met and became friends in journalism school, and then we wrote two screenplays together. He was from a showbiz family—his grandfather was the famous movie producer Mike Todd, and his father was a TV producer in Ireland, where Dan grew up. He had spent some time in L.A. trying to break in to the business.
Shortly after we graduated from J school in 1989, Dan got a gig making the "Making of" video for the comedy "Spirit of '76." On the night of his first day on the job, he called me up on the night copy desk at the San Francisco Examiner and said, "Dude, we're writing a movie." He said he'd gotten the shooting script of "Spirit of '76," thought it was complete shit, and that if someone could sell that dog we could get rich writing screenplays. I wasn't really doing anything else, so even though I had no particular interest in screenwriting, I went along. My goal out of the whole thing was to meet Winona Ryder.
Dan and I grew close over the next three or four years as we worked through various drafts of two comedy scripts. He was a big guy with a big personality, bordering on manic at times, slipping into various perfectly rendered Irish and English accents to get his points or jokes across. He could be a lot of fun. He could also drive me crazy. He was hard to be around if you weren't in the mood for balls to the wall.
And of course we bickered and fought as part of the writing process, though I don't remember us staying mad once we worked through the dispute on the page, each of us taking turns typing into the WordPerfect script template I'd cobbled together on my PC clone.
The first script was a pretty good idea, I think, but it was tricky, a dark comedy, and we didn't have the chops for it. So we tried again, this time going for simplicity: We were going to write an uncomplicated laff-fest. We did better. We finished it and sent it off to some agents or readers or whoever you send such things to. Dan was the showbiz guy so he took care of that stuff. It never went anywhere, but writing those two scripts was an education in writing for me. I learned a lot about economy of language, pacing, understanding how people speak, things that have served me well in my writing ever since.
A lot of what I learned, I learned from Dan. He taught me about how movies and screenplays work, the vocabulary of the form. He also taught me that most valuable of writer's lessons: Keep your butt in the chair. He was the taskmaster of our team, putting on a Cockney accent to prod me into another hour: "Kam on, son!"
And he taught me a great word. "You know the word peripatetic?" he asked one day. I said I didn't. "That's the word that describes me." It did. Going out with Dan meant never getting comfortable. After a 20-minute search for a parking space and a 15-minute fight to get a beer, you'd just be savoring that first sip when Dan would be ready to go. He'd say the two words he must have said more than any other two, including "and" and "the": "Let's bolt."
He told me that when his family would go out to dinner when he was a kid, everybody'd just be starting to eat and he'd already be out in the parking lot, bouncing around outside the window. "Come on, Dad. Let's go!" I used to ask him what he thought he'd find at the next bar that wasn't at this one. "I don't know," he'd say. "I just wanna go."
And so, he's gone. Yeah, not what he meant. We drifted out of touch after a while, went a decade or so without contact. Dan found me in 2009, asking me to read a treatment he'd written about his grandfather's life and tell him what I thought of it. We emailed back and forth a few times over the next few months, tossing around the idea of reviving the second script we'd written, maybe as a series of web-based shorts. We both thought it might work but we were both too busy to work on it, and we never talked again.
He still speaks to me, though, in a way. His voice pops into my head when one of the things I learned from him, or learned with him, comes into play as I write. Like all of us do, he'll keep speaking through the people whose lives he touched.
So this is goodbye. I'll say it how he used to: All the Mae West, my son!