Russ Hexter died in 1996 at the age of 27, and I still feel like giving him a call every day. He was the kind of best friend who dozens of other people called their best friend, too. Kind, generous, and so talented it was inspiring just to be around him. Yeah, it’s easy to put the dead on a pedestal, but Russ belongs there.
Just before his death he directed Dadetown, a mockumentary that helped define the genre. It screened at Sundance and blew audiences away. He was on a trajectory that was indisputable. He was Hollywood-bound. But knowing Russ, he would have kept his New York roots, even as the glitz of LA trained its eyes on him. He was just that way. He loved grit, and realism and he had a keen eye for what made it translate to film. He was scheduled to meet with Diane Keaton the day after he died to discuss directing her next film. I think they would have worked very well together. He was a huge fan and shared her sensibilities and sense of humor.
Recently, I was having one of those “how did I get here?” moments. They seem to happen more frequently as I grow older. I have a horrid memory as it is, so it’s always a bit of a dark comedy to be in my brain when I reminisce. Questions like, “did that really happen?” and “did I actually go to that party, or did I just hear about it happening?” plow through my head as I try to determine how much of life is what happens versus what I think maybe, kind, sorta, maybe not happened. One question I asked was “how did I end up writing a mystery series?” At first glance, it appears unlikely. I always liked action films, Star Wars, comic books. My life was supposed to be filled with super heroes and hidden identities. But when I dug deeper I remembered my love of Sherlock Holmes. I remembered my pile of Hardy Boys books. And I remembered Phillip Niles.
The Secret Files of Phillip Niles was a Russ Hexter student film. He asked me to play the lead for reasons I’ll never understand. I’m no actor, as you can see in the short film. But my love of mystery (and my old dream to be a detective like Sherlock) overcame my camera shyness. I’m glad I did. Watching the old movie (1988!) reminds me of the kind, efficient filmmaking Russ was known for. The shoot was as much a social scene as it was a set! We all had fun and I think it shows.
Sure, the film is rough. We were all just getting our hands on the equipment for the first time. It’s all voice-over and soundtrack. It was cut on an old Steenbeck. But you can see Russ’ love of story in every frame. And I hope you can see my love of being the sleuth hero. Thanks for the chance to go all Benedict Cumberbatch, Russ. I miss you!
I was friends with Russ and miss him tremendously still. I remember how sad I was when I heard he died months after it happened (nobody had told me, and I would have been honored to have gone to his funeral). He was an exemplary person – the talent and wealth were secondary to me. Until now, I’ve never met anyone who was that wonderful as a human being. I have such funny memories of Russ. He is still missed.
You should bring Shirley to Wattpad.com. I think you’d find an interested readerbase there.
Just an idea.
Thanks Heather! I put some chapters up a while back:
I plan on giving Wattpad some more attention after I launch the next Shirley book.
Do you like to use Wattpad? What do you like to read there? Are there any tips you can give me on how to present Shirley so she’ll do well with Wattpad readers?
I met Russ the summer before my senior year in London. We hung a bit when we got back, then I moved to LA and lost touch with him. Huge regrets I didn’t keep in touch and then I heard of his death and was very sad. I think of him often. I wish I could see Dadetown, I’ve only seen a clip. He was a great guy, I miss hanging with him and watching flicks.
Thanks for sharing the memories, Allan. Russ was a unique talent and a good friend. I gather Dadetown can hit the cable circuit once in awhile.