As I get older, one aspect of life that I’m not dealing any better with, is saying goodbye to friends. It’s easier if they are just moving away because in my mind I hope and think I might see them again. If I’m saying goodbye because their run on earth has come to a close it’s doubly hard. I’m forced to confrontthe emptiness that person has left behind and I’m forced to confront my own finite mortality.
Tonight I think about the life of a client and friend as he rendered the last timeline of his life this afternoon.
I first met and worked with Todd Ivan Pankoff either in the Fall of 1984 or Spring of 1985, I can’t remember which. That started a 25 year on-and-off run of sharing work and reflecting on life’s experiences.
Todd took me to places I might never have visited, much less lit or shot. From the coal towns of Kentucky, to cows in a studio, to countless industrial locations, to Hindu Ashrams, to former mental hospitals, to yoga classes, to helicopter flights, and to nearly every prep school in Virginia. In fact there were so many prep school jobs that we started keeping track of the food quality. (Woodberry Forest was the best, Chatham Hall was the worst, Fork Union was worse than worst.)

I mean how many people have friends that have had to say “keep shooting Jon, you’re ok, you’re not on fire.”


Every day I worked with Todd I learned something new. Sometimes it was a different twist on telling a story. Frequently it was a lesson about life. There was always a new vocabulary word he was using that day. He told me things like never drink liquids while eating a meal, liquefy before you eat. Todd seemed to be on a constant diet of NPR programming long before the internet or satellite radio. And of course what crew person could forget Todd’s own invention… undertime.
Through life’s twists and turns Todd never gave up. He pioneered the production model of working by himself long before it was fashionable. He always pushed beyond personal or business set-backs. In fact he had finally found his soul mate, his life long love. Cancer invaded and tortured him just after asking for Mary’s hand in marriage. Cancer may have won but Todd fought a valiant fight.

For those of us who have made a life around telling stories in 30 seconds, Todd made a life out of recognizing the stories that should be told.
The last time I had a lengthy conversation with Todd I asked him what piece of advice he would give myself and the rest of the friends and crew he’d employed over the years.His answer came without hesitation, “if there is something you want to do…  you’d better do it…now…  quickly…  don’t put it off or wait… you don’t know how much time you’ve got left.”
Thanks Todd. For everything. I’ll try to take your advice to heart.