by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
Robin Williams created an incredible body of work before his passing in 2014. Many people — most of who were uninformed — prematurely jumped in to offer insights that explained the unfortunate circumstances around his death. Director Tylor Norwood has stepped forward to set the record straight about Williams and to reignite movie lovers’ passion for the beloved actor.
LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher sat down with Norwood to talk about his documentary, Robin’s Wish.
John Bucher: I wonder if we could begin with you telling me about your first encounter with the work of Robin Williams.
Tylor Norwood: Oh my God, I don’t even remember. The guy was so entwined with my life. I can’t even pretend to know when the first time I heard of him was. I definitely was just a kid… It was probably Hook for me. And then Mrs. Doubtfire and then Jumanji and then Good Will Hunting and What Dreams May Come somewhere in there. That was really formative for me. He was just in all of our lives. Some of his friends described it as if he was a family member. I mean, it feels like a weird thing to say, but it does feel like something you could make an argument for.
John Bucher: In watching the film, as this story is unfolding, you’re going on this journey of discovery as well. I wonder if you can talk about the process of discovery for you as the process unfolded.
Tylor Norwood: The mission of this film is to retell a story that was told right when Robin Williams passed. There was a lot of journalism, and a lot of it — almost all of it, actually — was just people guessing. Nobody knew what happened to him, including his wife, including Robin. He never got a diagnosis for Lewy Body Dementia that would end up being his end.
So, the idea that as a filmmaker, I had to come into this process and retell a story is never a good place to be. To undo a previous narrative is hard. Also, I can never forget that this is a journalistic endeavor. That was something that for me was really formative in terms of the way I approached the project.
John Bucher: For most of us, before we heard what happened to Robin Williams, we had never even heard of Lewy Body Dementia. Obviously you’re telling the story and you’re also having to educate the audience about some things that that we just are unaware of. How did you balance that educational piece with the honoring of Robin’s story?
Tylor Norwood: You have to be very careful how much time you spend there because people gloss over scientific information, including myself. So, the way I balanced it all was really with my own intuition. I just followed my gut towards what revealed itself to me – the story of a beautiful human being who should have had a diagnosis. There was no cure. It was always going to end in death. But if he could have had a diagnosis, it would have brought him a level of peace that I think would have changed this narrative dramatically. That was always kind of my north star.
John Bucher: You mentioned how much Robin Williams means to people and how much he meant to you. How do you think about the responsibility of carrying the story of someone so beloved? You’re also carrying his wife Susan’s story here. Do you try not to think about that? How do you handle that pressure?
Tylor Norwood: That’s an incredible question. In trying to bring this story into the world, there were so many things that needed to be balanced and the pressure of those things, in one way, it’s a call to action. In another way, it’s read as pressure. But the call to action is that you have the opportunity to play a role in taking some dirt off of Robin Williams’s legacy — dirt that was never supposed to be there. There’s an opportunity to do something positive towards the legacy of someone I deeply respect and honestly care for. And then there’s the concept that there’s 17 people in this film who’ve come forward for the first time. David Kelly and guys like Shawn Levy, the director of the Night at the Museum series. Those guys stepped forward and it’s also a responsibility to them.
John Bucher: What do you hope people walk away with after seeing this film?
Tylor Norwood: Oh, man, I think we’re starting to see it. Honestly, my deepest, greatest hope for someone who watches this movie is to understand what happened to Robin Williams and that if he would have gotten the diagnosis, that none of these crazy alternative stories would even exist. I hope as the credits are rolling, they turn this movie off and go turn on their favorite Robin Williams film and remember the beautiful guy that he was. And to remember that message that he believed in so strongly, which was to just try and help people be a little less afraid. The idea that he lived that and that we can all experience that through his work forever, I do hope that that’s the thing that people walk away with.
Robin’s Wish is available on demand and digital.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and the upcoming Secrets of Short Visual Storytelling. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to International Ambassadors. He teaches in the Joseph Campbell Writers Room at Studio School LA and at The LA Film Studies Center. John has also conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his blog, welcometothesideshow.org.