David Kelmachter passed away on August 21, 2012, a month shy of his 62nd birthday. He was ill for some time. I had not known how ill until it was too late.
Last night friends and family gathered at Café Del Rey in Marina del Rey, CA for a celebration of his life. I struggled to hold my grief in check. I wasn’t alone. But the overall feeling was one of joy and laughter. It was a fitting tribute to a man who touched so many so deeply in his time among us.
Many of those attending were from Toastmasters, an organization that David fell in love with and committed so much of his time to. One man who knew him for these last three years told me that he envied me since I had had the privilege to call David a friend for 20 years. That really got me. He was right – it was a privilege.
We met at Crane Jackson’s Theatre Rapport in Hollywood in 1992. I was part of the acting ensemble and he was one of the group’s directors. Simply put, we clicked. For an evening scene study we ambitiously once put on the entire Act 2 of the play Mass Appeal. Could have heard a pin drop in the audience. It was good work from both of us and that kind of thing feeds the creative fire.
One day I had this crazy dream. I wanted to make a movie. Not a short film, but a feature length dark drama set in a nightmare reality in which my hometown area in Pennsylvania would stand in for. I told my good friend David about my plans over lunch one day. He enthusiastically supported the idea. Would he help me? “Of course,” was the inevitable reply.
For two weeks in March of 1998 David was my constant supporter as co-producer and assistant director on my film Daybreak. I could write a book about the whole thing (in fact, I already have: Long Night’s Journey into Daybreak), but when I learned of my pal’s death one memory rolled front and center: David, the saw and the dog. Oh yes, and the newspaper reporter.
We were filming an important scene in a park in the small town of Danville. A newspaper reporter from the area was covering our shoot, chronicling “Hollywood Comes to Our Town” kind of thing.
Anyway, as we’re filming a neighbor adjacent to the park fires up a circular saw and begins cutting wood. It ruins the take. Frustration scrunches my face into a ball. David waves a hand signaling me to wait. He goes over to the neighbor and negotiates a half-hour moratorium. Filming resumes. Then a dog starts barking, ruining yet another take. The dog is in this same neighbor’s yard. Then the saw resumes. “For the love of God,” I mumble. David grins, his eyes twinkling with a solution: “I got it. Maybe we can get the guy to use the saw on the dog!” Out of the corner of my eye I see the reporter jotting in his notebook. I blanche. “What?” David says, his arms flying out from his sides, “It was a joke!”
The next day I read the newspaper article. It was a big two-page spread with photos and a blow-by-blow account of our three hours in the park. Just as I got to the end of the article it appeared: the saw and dog solution printed in full detail, including David’s line “It was a joke!” Director Kacey, they reported, was not amused.
Yes, I was. I just couldn’t show it.
I shared this story in the Café Del Rey and it was cathartic. I heard so many nice things about him. At Fox Sports he cut NFL highlights together and was “a great guy,” at the Academy Awards he “was a rock” to those working with him in the international feed control room. Also overheard: David loved everybody. He even loved those who gave him advice that he didn’t want or with whom he disagreed. David strived not only for what was possible but also for the extraordinary. He was a positive person who made you feel that you knew him for years, even when you just met him. He lifted people up. He cared what you had to say. He never hid what he didn’t know. And his sense of humor was a gift. In the words of one guest, “David was a professional wise-ass.”
As I said goodbye to the people in the room, one man who knew David even longer than me, looked me in the eyes and spoke softly: “Let David being your guiding force. What would he tell you to do?”
That’s easy. He’d tell me to do something extraordinary.
I’m just saying…