Richard Hatch

A year ago today, I was out running errands for Diminuendo, the film we were finally beginning to finish after losing our post-production funding, when I got a text. Sent by Jacleen, Richard Hatch’s close friend who had been helping settle his affairs and arrange his care and his life as it neared its end, the text simply said “Come soon, if you can.”

I rushed over to the West Valley house where Richard was in hospice. Richard’s son Paul was there, alongside several students from Richard’s acting class, which was one of the most important things in the world to him. I doubt Richard was aware of us. He drifted quietly in a deep sleep, and no one needed to say that the end was near.

We sat his vigil, and talked quietly. They told me that a few days earlier, the class had a small party, rolling Richard outside in his chair to enjoy the beautiful yard, the gorgeous view, his students, and a little tequila. It sounded lovely. Perfect. Exactly what he would have wanted.

Richard’s breath grew slow, then shallow. I held one of his hands for that last ten minutes as he slipped oh-so-quietly away. I whispered a goodbye into his ear, touched Paul’s shoulder, hugged Jacleen, and left.

And it was okay.

Yes, I had to sit in my car for fifteen minutes because the tears made it impossible to drive, but I was also smiling. This death… this was okay.

I first met Richard through Walter Koenig, when we were making Cowboys & Engines. During that shoot, we bonded over his endless desire to explore the inner workings of every human he ever met (Richard would spend hours in freewheeling philosophical discussion with ANYONE), his fascination with my fucked up psyche and worldview, and my perverse desire to turn that around and shine the spotlight on HIS inner workings. During long bouts of verbal fencing and trying to avoid probing questions about ourselves, we formed a real friendship.

Over the years, lunches, dinners, bowling, and even a film happened together, but mostly, I think about the talking. I miss the talking; Richard’s boundless passion and infectious enthusiasm tempered my bleak cynicism and intractable bitterness.

We knew Richard was sick during filming of Diminuendo, but we all — Richard included — thought it was a stomach issue. There were days he just couldn’t eat, or would duck around a corner to throw up in a bush right after a take. He refused to not work, though, and because we were friends, I respected that. In his shoes, I would have done the same thing, and expected the same respect. “Don’t try to tell me when I can’t work,” he said. “I’LL tell you when I can’t work.”

Shortly after Christmas, he did. We had a few days of re-shoots scheduled for the end of January. Richard asked me to stop by for a visit, which turned out to be three hours of talking. Partially about his pancreatic cancer (which, by this point, we all suspected), and partly about his plans, but also just to talk. Like we always had.

Richard knew he couldn’t do the re-shoots. He saw the end coming. All he wanted was to not die in pain, not die in the hospital, and not die alone.

We also talked about the fact that he wasn’t telling people. Like refusing not to work, this, too, felt familiar. Richard was proud and strong, and he wanted people to know him as he chose to be known. He didn’t want pity or extraneous concern. He didn’t want what was left of his life to become one long conversation about chemotherapy.

So I kept my mouth shut. I told Sarah, who Richard loved, and when (with his Jewish Illness radar working full-tilt) Walter Koenig called me out of the blue to ask “What’s wrong with Richard,” I told him as well. I couldn’t lie to Walter.

I visited Richard one more time in January. He was thin, tired, but himself. We barely talked about the cancer, except to discuss his plan to hold a party for all of his friends to see everyone last time and say goodbye; to let them say goodbye. I thought that was a fantastic idea.

None of us knew how quickly the cancer was going to move. The next time I saw Richard, he was in the hospital. Walter wanted me to drive him over to visit, and I asked Richard if he would allow Walter to come. He said no, and I honored his decision. I visited once more in the hospital, and then he was out, and then he was gone.

And because he wasn’t in the hospital, he wasn’t in pain, and he wasn’t alone… it was okay.

In the weeks that followed, I talked to a lot of Richard’s closest friends, people who had known him YEARS longer than I, who had no idea he was even sick. Or had no idea how sick. Some first found out he was ill when they read that he had died, on Twitter.

I realized then how privileged I had been for Richard to allow me into his passing. I honestly think, if he hadn’t had to tell me, he might not have, but it didn’t matter; it was gift. I’d like to think it went both ways.

I did what I could to share that gift with Richard’s closer friends, telling them this story, explaining why Richard hadn’t wanted anyone to know, explaining that by the time he understood how few hours were left, the time to let them in had passed. As best I could, I tried to help them understand what I had been privy to; that Richard is gone, and he wouldn’t want this maudlin melodrama. He would want you to understand that it’s really, honestly… okay.

Richard Hatch was one of the finest men I have ever know. Beyond incredibly talented he was also gracious, kind, warm, charming, effusive, thoughtful… and he was my friend.

So say we all.

Francois Truffaut famously said that whenever you make a film, there are actually three films: The film you plan to make, the film you think you’re making, and the film you discover you’ve made. I’m one week into the second film, and I’m ecstatic.

Sure, we had some issues. The first day on any set is always something of a clusterfuck. It takes time for a crew to gel. Usually we spend the first two days stumbling over each other, getting in the way, arguing and figuring out who is worth fucking.

I apologize. That’s an inside joke.

Once we got our gears all synchro-meshed like a three-speed Pontiac, everything moved pretty smoothly. That’s not to say we had no issues. We did, in fact, fire an entire department, and have replaced them (much to the film’s benefit), but this shit happens. I like to joke that it isn’t a day on an indie film if there isn’t at least one existential threat. Things like this are why I haven’t had a day off from Diminuendo since mid-July, and why I haven’t slept more than six hours in weeks.

And I don’t care. I love it. I love this job. I pace and I bark and I joke and I smile and I tease and cajole and push on set, and I love every minute of it. I also think I’m pretty good at it. Not only have we made our day every day this week, we’ve captured some absolutely amazing moments. Instead of forcing the film to fit my vision, the film has been telling me how it wants to be shot, and I have been listening. It works.

On Thursday, Richard Hatch made room full of grown men cry when he showed me layers to a scene that I didn’t even know existed. This is when what we do feels like sorcery.

The week ahead is a tough one. Three of our days ahead are huge, with a lot of extras and really complex scenes. And I’m nothing but excited.

Here are some great shots from week one:
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