A Filmmaker’s Journal

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A Tribute to My Mentor

How do you talk about a friend who died in the most abhorrent of ways? You talk about how they lived, about their kindness and wisdom.

I launched my filmmaking career with an internship at Davis Entertainment (Predator movies, Magnum PI, The Blacklist), overlooking 20th Century Fox Studios, a few floors below Ronald Reagan’s office, in the skyscraper Hans Gruber blew up in Die Hard.

The head of the division, where I’d signed on for nothing-per-hour and all the abuse I could eat, was a hot-tempered woman who passed out negative criticism like candy to trick-or-treaters. Surrounding her office was a cadre of anxiety-fueled junior producers who cursed like, well, not sailors because sailors actually use some non-curse words.

The moment I entered this Hollywood pressure cooker with my bizarre non-cursing demeanor, I got noticed by the Director of Development. Janet Burrows was a soft-spoken, relentlessly upbeat former actress who’d come to Hollywood with stars in her eyes, then discovered she liked making movies even more than she did acting in them. She told me, in so many words, “You’re the one-of-these-things-that’s-not-like-the-others,” and then admonished me to ignore the others and be my true self. She instantly became my mentor. And my friend.

Good screenplays have good bones. I’d studied writing, but knew little of screenplay structure. Janet taught me how to create a proper story arc, a strong narrative drive, crisp dialogue, and a conclusion with its DNA woven throughout the script. She gave me responsibility unheard of for an intern, trusting me to actually develop new movie projects.

Conversely, when she got engaged, it was me she came to for marriage advice. “Why?” I asked. “Are you serious?” She looked around at the cursing producer’s offices. “Do you think they know how to stay married?”

Four months after I began, I managed to secure the movie rights to a highly sought-after books series. I took it to Janet, and she said, “You’re fired.”

What?

Then she smiled and explained that, as an intern, I’d get nothing but a friendly “thank you” for bringing them the project. So, following her advice, I came back the next day as an official non-cursing movie producer, and she signed a deal with me.

When she moved to Warner Brothers as a V.P., she continued our development deal, and our friendship. A few years later, she got pregnant; I couldn’t have been happier for her and her husband Ed.

But four months after that, her assistant Kevin called with news that still echoes like a nightmare in my memory: an intruder, motive unknown, had broken into her house while she was alone, and murdered her and her unborn baby. Who would kill one of the most decent people on the planet? One Emmy-winning investigative journalist thinks it was because she was developing a film project about a high-level government cover-up. Janet was fearless and true to herself to the end.

It’s been nearly twenty years since she died, but I still think of her often. And when I do, I thank God for the friend and mentor who encouraged me to be

My true self.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Memoir, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to A Filmmaker’s Journal

  1. A difficult story to tell, but such a good person. Thanks for having the courage to tell it.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Wow, she sounds like an angel. I’m sure she and her child are smiling as they read this.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. DeniseBalog says:

    Mitch thank you for sharing your story. Your mentor wisdom and guidance sounds like it has last you a lifetime. I thank you for sharing her wise words to cherish for myself, “Be true to yourself”. May you find peace knowing her legacy continues to bless others today.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Well, I didn’t see that coming! I am so very sorry for your loss! Wow! It sounds like that beautiful soul stayed within your heart with a vengeance… In a positive, of course! Thank you for sharing this, Mitch!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Jup says:

    This is such a moving and personal story. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. smzang says:

    I’m betting that your friend Janet saw the wisdom and the goodness that even you were unaware of. This article is a mighty tribute to her.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Candice says:

    The link you provided gives us something shocking to think about. It’s hard to sort truth from fiction. I’ve become so jaded lately as to the truthfulness of the “news”. I often wonder whose agenda is behind the story.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. toutparmoi says:

    I soon forgot your opening, and was reading along happily. Thinking how lucky you were to have found a generous-spirited mentor who saw you as an asset, not a threat, when…
    What a sad, shocking story.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. grAnnie Roo says:

    Your marvelously crafted telling is a fitting legacy to clearly an exceptional person. You made me feel the loss. Well done, Sir. God bless her husband.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a really lovely post. A powerful antidote to anyone under pressure to compromise.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Yu/stan/kema says:

    Beautiful eulogy for a wonderful friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ann Coleman says:

    Losing a friend or loved one to violence is something that we never truly recover from, and I’m so sorry you had to go through that. She sounded like a wonderful, giving person, and you couldn’t have had a better mentor. My guess is that you are still honoring her memory by following her advice…..

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I think that she would be proud of you today.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. That’s a chilling story and so well told. Thank you for telling it. All my best to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Tina says:

    I want to say something but I’m terrified I’ll say the wrong thing. This one’s a tear jerker… I understand how wonderful it is to have a mentor–someone who sees the best in you and brings out the best in you too. It’s tragic that anyone can just come along take someone’s life. It’s sad for so many. I’m sorry for your lost. I know you said this happened nearly twenty years ago, but that loss is still there. God bless you for being you, and thank God for those who help us to be who we were born to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This story reminds me of Sharon Tate who was pregnant and killed by Charles Manson.

    Liked by 1 person

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