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Remembering a Mentor: Thank You, Dr. Dave May 29, 2010

Posted by shannonmuir in Advice, Memoir, Mentorship.
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June 25th, 2003, started out seeming like just another average day for a graduate student off for the summer with no call from the temporary agency to fill her time. A few errands, and I was on my way to meet my significant other and sometimes collaborative partner Kevin Paul Shaw Broden up in Sherman Oaks after he had a meeting elsewhere in the Valley. His meeting ran long so I spent time wandering the shops at the Galleria at Ventura and Sepulveda Boulevards, in the same vicinity of Warner Bros. Animation. I grabbed a cold drink, sat outside, and sipped slowly waiting for him to arrive.

Kevin showed after a while, eagerly telling me about his day, and I asked him to let me check my PalmPilot one last time before we hit the road for a meeting of animation writers we would attend that evening. I didn’t really expect to find anything, but wanted to be sure not to miss anything. Kevin kept talking, I can’t remember about what anymore, as I got to the listing of new mail. One of the messages started out to the effect of: “Fwd: Passing of…” and came from someone at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. EWU is where I studied to get my Bachelors of Arts in Radio-TV and English, and Cheney the place I consider my hometown.

Instantly I abruptly asked Kevin to shut up as the message took forever to download completely. Who would have passed away that they would go to the trouble to locate ten-year-old alumni who are out of the area? As the message finished loading, I read something that made me crumble to the core.

Dr. David Terwische, or Dr. Dave as we all called him, my screenwriting professor at Eastern Washington University, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 59 on June 24th, 2003 from lung cancer he never knew he had until it was far too late.

I wrote an article in December 2002 for Digital Media FX, as a tribute to my one-time opportunity to sit down with animation writer Hilary J. Bader, in which I recommended people grab every opportunity they could to learn from others. Writing this, I want to grab a bullhorn and stand on the tallest rooftop and scream it until my lungs are hoarse and keep on going and going and going.

My studies at Eastern began in Fall of 1989, when I came as a half-time student concurrently enrolled for my senior year at Cheney High School. I knew that I wanted to write scripts for animation, and began taking introductory Radio-TV classes for high school credit to learn more about the business. I wouldn’t meet Dr. Dave until that summer after graduation, when I heard that he taught a summer drama workshop where four original half-hour (live-action) scripts were produced over an eight week period. There were no prerequisites, and working on creative content was what I longed to do, so I registered. So there I was, only 17 — I turned 18 on July 10th, in the middle of the program — watching creativity unfold firsthand.

I wish I could remember how it came up during Summerstock (as the workshop was informally known) that I wanted to write. Never having had me in a class, not knowing the strengths and limitations of my abilities, Dr. Dave gave me that chance. The result, Give and Take, was written in three weeks and in all honesty is a dreadful script. I know the class hated working on it; in fact, the directors wanted to turn this meant-to-be-dramatic-script into a full-out comedy to try and make it somewhat redeemable, it was so bad. In fact, I later came to learn that the master copy was bulk-erased, but I don’t think Dr. Dave ever found out it happened. Probably for the best to be honest, as airing it over community cable was not the best representation of what our department could do. I’m forever grateful Dr. Dave stood up and made the students producing it as it was written, because I learned a lot about what didn’t work from paper to screen and became very aware of my weaknesses. The Give and Take debacle was probably one of the more positive experiences of my educational career, and the lessons I learned about plot, character, theme, and execution apply to animation and live-action equally.

The best part is despite the results of producing Give and Take, Dr. Dave didn’t give up on me, for which I never could thank him enough. I would go on to do a directed study with him in television scriptwriting that produced two more half-hour scripts, From the Fatal Heart and Shattered; From the Fatal Heart would be produced the following summer drama workshop with a much better outcome, and both scripts went on to receive Honorable Mentions from the National Broadcasting Society-Alpha Epsilon Rho student production awards. Dr. Dave would also guide me in a directed study to develop my first (again live-action) dramatic series, and I would also work with him in the first screenwriting seminar taught in the department, in which I wrote my first full-length screenplay as an ambitious blend of intercut live-action and animation that I hope someday I can get into a workable form that isn’t a budget breaker. Back then it was known as Come to Life, but nowadays is better known as Inspiration’s Hand, which made it to the second round of judging in the Austin Film Festival in 1997.

Another growth area for me came in working behind the camera, where I not only co-directed someone else’s script in the second year of the summer drama workshop, but also ended up having to work in a Story Editor capacity when the writer burned out on rewrites. Changing someone’s story as little as possible while trying to get it down to length is a delicate balance, and I know what all is at stake now when I get to doing that professionally.

After all those classes, plus a third year in the drama workshop in a diminished capacity via directed study (you could only register for the class twice), and working as a writer and video editor on Deception Pass, the Radio-TV department’s first attempt at a mini-soap opera that gave me an idea about the grind of a weekly dramatic show, my emphasis switched mainly to the English department for poetry and fiction, but I never turned away from my scriptwriting roots. I know that all of Dr. Dave’s efforts exposing me to so many areas helped me survive and thrive when I moved to Los Angeles, by teaching me to be flexible and be prepared and step up to do what is needed. I came to Eastern Washington University just wanting to be an animation writer; with Dr. Dave’s guidance, I left with a mindset that made me open-minded enough and capable enough to step up to the plate when the Production Assistant position at Jumanji: The Animated Series presented itself, taking me down paths in animation I never dreamed existed.

June 20th, 2003, marked my seventh consecutive year in Los Angeles and counting. I know I couldn’t have made it so long without all of Dr. Dave’s help back then to mold me into the character I needed to be. We saw each other at least once a year, whether he was here meeting alumni, or when I went home to visit my parents in Cheney, I made sure to always find time for him. Now, I have to figure out how to continue on without him, and even more so, how I can turn around and spread the gift he gave me to all those who need it. The columns I’ve written the past several years, the speaking I’ve gotten to do so far, it just feels like the tip of the iceberg now. I will continue to do my utmost in the arena I love most to further help aspiring animation writers and other non-artist positions. It’s the least I can do.

Thank you, Dr. Dave, for everything you did for myself and other students over the years. You will be missed.

Originally published: July 6, 2003

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