So soft spoken was Hillman Curtis, who died yesterday after battling cancer for three years, that I was always put at ease in his presence. His soothingly rhythmic voice – with its subtle California lilt – went counter to his enviable ambition to be a serious filmmaker. The movie business is not known for its soft spoken practitioners, but Hillman pursued his passion his way, which was just as enviable as his ambition.
I did not know him as well as I would have liked. But the man I did know I liked very much.
When we got together, I’d routinely guide the conversation to talking about his uncle, Chris Hillman, the bass player and a singer for the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, among others. I was a big fan, and Hillman was my six-degrees of separation. But more important, we’d talk about films and filmmaking – something I always wanted to do and he was doing with so much joy. Hillman even did a film called Artist Series: Four Illustrators, which was more-or-less about me.
Hillman, I’m so grateful.
The last time I saw him was eight or nine months ago, in my office, filming me for a podcast touting a new graphic design textbook that included me. It was great to see him again. He had a tranquil impact on my being. His direction was also stress-free. For him, “action!” was not a command but a suggestion.
When I heard he was directing Stefan Sagmeister’s “The Happy Film,” I thought this is a good long-term project that will keep his cancer at bay. Cancer, after all, would not dare to interfere with the creative process. Sadly, that is not the way things really work.