Robert Keats – My Mentor – Gone But Never Forgotten

On Thursday afternoon, I received an email saying that my screenwriting professor, friend, and mentor, Robert Keats was in hospice care. He had just gone through his final excruciating round of treatment for pancreatic cancer. He had very little time left. Keats (as I called him) died the next morning. The initial email – sent by his friend – stated that he was too weak to speak on the phone and even write emails or texts; that if there was anything I wanted to say to him to just type it out and they would read it to him. Time stopped and I wrote. 

It’s impossible to say in just a few sentences (especially rushed) how much he meant to me. I first met Keats in 2009 when I started my graduate program at AAU in San Francisco. In all, I took 5 classes with him. During that time, he especially guided me through drafting and completing my two feature scripts that I had been working on for years already prior to arriving at AAU. His guidance not only helped me complete them, but both ended up winning the Miami International Film Festival Screenwriting Contest and place a top 15% finalist spot at The Nicholls Fellowship respectively.

Over the years after I graduated from AAU in 2011, Keats and I kept in touch. He was a very hard man to get a hold of. He kept the strangest hours. He would text or email me in the middle of the night at times saying he was working or writing.

A few years later, he would tell me about an expanded writing program he was starting at AAU and that he would use a picture of me on the website as the “face” of the program. (Photography credit by Megan Koop.) I was beyond honored. You can see the website here.

When he first told me about his cancer, he was very nonchalant, almost apathetic about it. I’m not sure if it was that he was in denial of it (the first psychological stage of dying) or just immediately accepted it. (the final stage.)

After what was literally years of phone tag and texts, I was finally able to make arrangements to go visit him in his home before I left Los Angeles. He was already bald from the treatment, and aside from appearing a little thinner than usual, he looked really good. He was in great spirits and we talked for hours. When I left, he said to me, “Go be a genius.”

This was something that he would say to me regularly. At first I found it somewhat laughable. But he kept saying it. I realized he would text it to me to quite often. Upon hearing the news, I scrambled to find whatever screenshots or photos I saved from our conversations and visit. Below are the last two texts he ever sent me.

I am an English teacher now with the hopes of creating my own film/screenwriting program. When I heard of Keats’ worsening condition a few days ago, I wrote that if I ever am able to create a screenwriting program, I will name it in his honor.

So thank you, Robert Keats. Thank you for your guidance, your passion, and your dedication to me and to all your students. You have taken the final bow. You performance was spectacular. I’ll see you at the after-party.

Fade Out.

Keats’ response to my tattoo.

The last text Keats sent me.

Keats tells me to go win an Oscar.

 

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