If you fly long enough, you will experience a problem in flight. Maybe you’ll hit a bird. Maybe your wings will ice up. Maybe you’ll get distracted in your pre-landing check and forget to lower the gear. Fuel lines get vapor lock. Gunk clogs the fuel injector. A bug or moisture fills the static port. Stuff happens.
Each kind of problem makes itself known if you know how to watch for the clues—and take them seriously.
My husband, Maury L. Fisher, MD, and I were flying a Cessna 210 from Bartow, Florida to Asheville, North Carolina on Friday, August 31 when the engine revealed a clue. Though we both have our licenses, I had fallen out of currency and was relegated to the copilot’s seat. Handsome was PIC. At 10,000’ the engine analyzer started acting wonky. That’s my technical term for when the cylinder head temperature reading disappeared on cylinder one.
In the past, a cylinder reading disappeared because a sensor probe came loose and backed out. This time, Handsome mentioned it and stated that since we were cruising at 184 knots, we couldn’t have lost the cylinder’s power. All other gauges of power and temperature and fuel flow remained steady and within the normal range on our 200-hour IO-550-L Continental engine.
So, we agreed to watch the gauges, continue the flight, and have it checked when we returned home. The Jacksonville air traffic controller cleared us to climb to 12,000 to get above clouds.
At 11,000’ the engine shook hard, and the happy engine hum turned into a galloping sound. Instead of showing six green columns, our engine analyzer showed three. We were over the Okefenokee Swamp, 684 square miles of alligator and snake-infested wetland that spreads across the Florida-Georgia border. The name Okefenokee is a Native-American word meaning trembling earth. I wanted to land on solid ground, like a runway or a road.
The autopilot struggled to maintain altitude. We lost horsepower. Handsome notified the Jacksonville controller that the engine was running rough. (The engine sounded like a horse trying to kick its way out.) He asked for the nearest airport. The controller offered Lake City at twenty-eight miles behind us or another airport thirty miles ahead. Handsome asked for Lake City’s identifier.
I took a quick inventory of emergency supplies. We had no water, a few snacks, two 9mm handguns, and a handheld radio. My wicked memory flashed to May 1996 when ValueJet Flight 592 crashed in the swamp near Miami with 110 people on board. It sank, and parts of it were finally located a month later. Handsome’s seaplane rating gave me some comfort.
My hand shook as I entered KLCQ into the autopilot as our new destination. I was about to press ENTER to activate the new destination when Handsome reached over and started the process over. He was in his zone, focused on what to do, so he hadn’t noticed the new reading. His hand wasn’t shaking.
The controller recited the heading to Lake City and the number of degrees to turn left on course. My body temperature rose while I calculated the rate of descent needed to reach Lake City if the last three cylinders stopped firing. We were descending 200 feet per minute on half power. Without power, we’d be forced to land in a roadless section of trembling earth.
The engine seemed to be holding together. It wasn’t spewing oil or smoke. Handsome maintained a calm demeanor. Decades of working in the emergency room and in surgery had taught him to school his emotions. He also has 1500 more flying hours than his copilot.
I sent up a quick prayer and remembered that I’d once landed safely after a cylinder blew. I was grateful this was not a solo flight, or my turn to fly.
I imagine I would have done exactly as he did during the engine problem, but in truth, I’d have sweat-soaked the upholstery in the process like a nuclear hot flash.
The controller spoke in calming tones as he gave the tower frequency for Lake City Airport and the weather conditions there. He named the runways and reported that Lake City cleared us for any runway. Then he asked, “How many souls on board and how much fuel?”
There’s something about hearing an air traffic controller ask the question that ratchets up the stress factor. By the time the words are spoken you already know there’s a problem. But still.
Handsome answered him while I took a calming breath. At 3000’ we broke out from the clouds and saw the airport. Ten miles to go. Handsome said he wouldn’t drop the gear until he had the airport made. By ‘made’ he meant glide in with a dead engine.
On short final, he dropped the gear and pulled back the power. The engine’s syncopated rhythm sounded more pronounced. We landed and taxied to the end of runway 010, past the Lake City Fire Department’s tank-like yellow crash truck. We sputtered down the taxiway and passed a red firetruck to the parking area. The linemen directed us to a spot isolated from other aircraft.
There’s a moment in the movie Armageddon after men jump a rover over a canyon on an asteroid and crash land. Actor Michael Clarke Duncan, covered in sweat in the back seat, says, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” That. That’s how I felt.
We climbed out. The firemen, three police officers, two linemen, Handsome and I breathed a collective sigh. Bo, Byron, and Larry in the tower probably sighed, too. Thanks, guys!
Airport Lineman Crew Leader Ed Bunnell said, “Welcome to Lake City.” He secured chocks under the nose wheel. “What can we do for you?”
I wanted a hug. Handsome asked for a mechanic. While they arranged for a mechanic, I planned an emergency kit for future flights. We often fly over the Appalachian Mountains. It’s embarrassing how complacent we had become about these routine flights. Next time, we’ll bring bottled water, flashlights, granola bars, maybe a flare gun, a reflective blanket, a first-aid kit, a sweat towel, and a 45-caliber handgun. The Okefenokee has gators, and snakes, and black bears. Oh, my.
This article was first published in General Aviation News, January 10, 2019.
In 2003 Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base celebrated a milestone–40 years of continuous seaplane instruction. Brown’s Seaplane Base has trained more people to fly seaplanes than any other flight school in the world. How far does this school’s influence reach? Well, as Brown’s Seaplane Base entered 2003, its historic 40th year of business, its reach extended from Winter Haven, Florida into low-earth orbit. It seems that one of instructor Jim Torphy’s students, Commander Kenneth D. Bowersox, wanted to keep in touch during his 4-month stint in the International Space Station.
About 500 students a year train at Brown’s Seaplane Base. Lawyers, Blackbird pilots, commercial airline pilots, plumbers, and celebrities alike have trained here. To name a few, singers Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet, TV journalist Hugh Downs, and French astronauts Jean-Loup Cretien, Michel Tognini and Jean-Pierre Hainere, have earned their seaplane rating at Brown’s.
Jack Brown established the seaplane base 40 years ago and flew an estimated 24,000 hours in his beloved seaplanes. Jack died in 1975. He was ferrying a Seabee to North Carolina when he experienced a fatal loss of elevator control. Jack’s sons, Jon and Chuck, continue the family business. Unlike many seaplane flight schools, Brown’s has two examiners on staff. Chuck has 3500 hours SES and 3500 hours MES. Jon has over 9400 hours SES and 6250 hours MES. Representing the third generation of Browns on the base are Travis Gaines and Emily Brown. Travis has his private pilot’s license and does fabric work on the J-3 Cubs. Emily has recently begun her flight training.
The light brown FBO at Brown’s rises on stilts from Lake Jessie. Beside it on solid ground sits a huge hangar that serves as a maintenance garage when it isn’t being used to host a cookout or birthday party. The FBO is like a home in many ways with a front and back porch and a large screened-in porch with a kitchen. I was a student there in 1996 and remember meeting pilots from Alaska on their way to the Caribbean. They had landed on nearby Lake Arietta to refuel a Twin Otter. Jon brought a fuel truck to them. Like water birds migrating, they knew this place as a safe haven to rest and refuel with their kind.
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
Of course, it helps Brown’s popularity to be strategically situated in central Florida with over 100 freshwater lakes in a 5-mile radius. Practically in the geographic center of Florida, it serves as a hub of year-round seaplane training with the busiest season running from January to May. Pilots who plan to get their seaplane rating during the April EAA Sun ‘N Fun Fly-In sign up in November to reserve a training spot. In good weather, students can witness shuttle launches and clearly see the second-stage separation of the booster rockets.
Brown’s attracts top-notch instructors like John M. Rennie, an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) with over 4500 hours SES and 1200 hours MES, who wrote Step Up To Floats: Airplane Single Engine Seaplane Training Manual. Instructor Ron Trostle was furloughed from United Airlines after three years and chose to return to teach at Brown’s. Trostle has 1550 hours SES and 271 hours MES. Instructor Alex Borrego, a retired Eastern Airlines pilot, has over 14,000 hours flying with 818 hours in J-3 Cubs. Rounding out the pool of instructors are: Eyal Breiter, Jim Hershberger, James Wagner, and brothers Cason and Clay Chatham.
SEAWINGS SAFETY PROGRAM
In October 2000, the Orlando FSDO gave Brown’s an award for promoting the Seawings program in the United States. Obie S. Young, Safety Program Manager with the Orlando FSDO, said, “I know that every year Jon is somewhere around 50 percent of the Seawings issued compared to the rest of the country.” Young earned his seaplane rating from Jack Brown. He described the base as a family business conducted with southern hospitality. “It’s like walking back into history.”
Instructor Rennie flies a Hawker 800XP jet and a Citation Bravo jet for Darden Restaurants, yet he still teaches at Brown’s. Rennie said, “People say, ‘don’t go back’ because it’s never the same. But the thing about the seaplane base is it’s always the same. And it’s got the same stories and the same people and it’s wonderful. And the character of it is just the whole thing, it’s nice and laid back and it’s seat-of-the-pants flying again.” He refers to the instructors at Brown’s as a sort of fraternity. “Everybody is gung-ho and really enjoys what they’re doing and it’s not just a job.” His passion for seaplanes continues in his work on a new book to be called Step Up To Boats about flying boats.
Instructor Ron Trostle also mentioned the lifelong friendships of colleagues who have trained at Brown’s. Trostle said that they help each other find commercial jobs and at some time, they all migrate back to Brown’s, even if just to visit.
Students train for their Single-Engine Seaplane rating using three 85-horsepower J-3 Cubs on Aqua 1500 floats and for their Multi-engine Seaplane rating in a Nomad/Piper Aztec Pa-23-250 on Edo 4930 floats. Amphibious aircraft can land at Winter Haven’s Gilbert Field (GIF, 123.05) and back-taxi on runway 11 to Brown’s or land on Lake Jessie. For the landlubbers, Brown’s rents out a Cessna 150 and a fixed-gear Cessna 182.
Out on the water, students learn how to feel the crucial difference between the Center of Gravity and the Center of Buoyancy. They become familiar with a J-3 Cub floatplane from its sardonically named ‘armstrong’ hand-propped starter to the water rudders. They discover they can fly without an autopilot, GPS, storm scope, radio and even flaps. The training methods honed over 40 years at Brown’s have been condensed into an intensive short course. Weather permitting; a student can get the rating in a weekend.
The instructors produce amazing results in an efficient, professional, relaxed atmosphere. At the end of the day, pilots gather in the screened porch for coffee, camaraderie, and storytelling. Usually one can find a student and instructor reviewing the day’s splash-and-go practice, step-taxi procedures and safety tips.
RISKS AND REWARDS
Recent student Vinnie Pipitone is a commercial pilot and flight instructor from New Jersey. He said that flying a seaplane was as thrilling as “renting an exotic sports car to drive around.” The toughest part of the training was changing his thinking process. “A seaplane is not as responsive as a land plane. No brakes. You start the prop and you’re moving. You have to plan around moving objects in an environment with changing conditions.”
Instructor Rennie contrasted the secured landing environment for land planes against that of seaplanes. “On a lake, every landing you make you personally approve the landing strip. So you’ve got to be aware of where the wires are, where the trees are, how long the lake is, and not only that, it’s a very un-sterile environment. . . . you can have a 14-year-old driving a high-performance boat on the lake and he could pull right out in front of you.”
Rennie also lamented, “With a seaplane as long as you have boats and seaplanes together sooner or later a boat is going to make contact with a seaplane. And unfortunately, it’s a seaplane accident even if the seaplane had its engine turned off and a boat ran into it.”
In 40 years of training, there have been a few rare accidents. Jon and a student on a check ride had an emergency landing in Lake Arietta in Auburndale in 1979 when a strut broke loose. Their accident contributed to the Piper Service Bulletins No. 910A and No. 528D and the Airworthiness Directive 93-10-06 on rolled instead of cut fork bolts on Piper Struts. Performing thousands of hours of training naturally involves some risk. Like driving a car, Jon said, “Just backing down your driveway, if you do it thirty-thousand times at some point you may hit the mailbox.” In fact, one of his daughter’s dates did knock down his mailbox. Point taken.
Instructor Rennie said, “I’d say only about 13 to 15 percent of the people who get their seaplane ratings actually go and use them. It’s mainly a cocktail license, so to speak, that gives the pilot bragging rights . . . or it’s just to do something they’ve always wanted to do, but they’re not going to go out and buy a seaplane and actually fly seaplanes.”
Rennie said that a seaplane rating benefits pilots whether or not they ever fly another seaplane because in an engine failure, “if they had seaplane experience they can look at a lake and tell exactly where the wind is coming from, how strong it is, and so they pick a filed with a lot more information ahead of them.”
The reputation of Brown’s Seaplane Base led a special request from the Flying Physicians group. At their request, Jon and his instructors brought their entire operation to Lake-of-the-Ozarks for two weeks in 1992. Instructor Trostle remembered the effort of ferrying the planes from Florida to Arkansas. He had flown one of the J-3 Cubs while Jon flew the twin Comanche. “We got there before Jon,” Trostle said smiling. “We had the advantage of flying under the weather that he had to go around.”
The influence of Brown’s Seaplane Base reaches around the world. It is common to find students there from Japan, Sweden, France, Britain, and South America. Foreign students have been 40 percent of their business. Because the new required background checks for foreign students began in July 2002—after Brown’s busy season—the seaplane base has not yet felt the economic impact of the 9-11 terrorist attacks as other flight schools have.
“You mention seaplanes in Europe and it’s automatic that Brown’s enters the conversation,” said Irish pilot Margaret Jackson. “I came to Brown’s to get my seaplane rating and I liked it so much I sold everything in Europe and came to Florida.” Since Jackson’s 1997 move to Florida, she has flown 420 hours SES, bought a Cessna 180 on floats and bought the Lake Ida Beach Resort in Winter Haven. She loves the freedom of seaplanes as the last vestige of real bush flying.
Look for the yellow J-3 Cub yellow polo shirts with the “Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base’ logo. They tend to bob up in crowds at aviation gatherings like the Greenville Annual International Fly-In on Moosehead Lake in Maine. Brown’s Seaplane Base also appears in the credits of movies: “Brenda Starr”, “Nothing By Chance” and “Dark Tower.”
If you plan to go for flight training at Brown’s, go for that first fresh pot of coffee of the day on the screened porch. And even though the Japanese students consider the back porch the prime location for photographing alligators, the back porch gets scalding hot in the summer.
Despite their communications with astronauts in orbit, Brown’s Seaplane Base treats pilots to a bygone era of basic stick and rudder flying laced with Southern hospitality. Since this is the closest most pilots will ever get to the thrill of being a bush pilot, why not get a seaplane rating? We aren’t getting any younger.
Oh, and if you see Jon, ask him about posing for the September page of a 2002-2003 calendar. But that’s another story.
This article appeared in WaterFlying magazine in 2003. WaterFlying magazine covers topics of interest for the world-wide Seaplane Pilots Association. The seaplane base is still going strong. Jon Brown’s daughter Alison married Ben Shipps who teaches there. In 2019, Jon retired and Ben took over ownership and operation of the base.
My husband, a physician, and pilot joined the Flying Physicians organization and so we flew to their annual meeting in New Orleans in 1998. When the editor of the Flying Physician magazine heard that I was a pilot he asked me to write about why so many wives refuse or resist flying with their husbands no matter how much their husbands want to share the cockpit. This article is my explanation of that phenomenon. John had problems convincing his wife, Martha, that she could enjoy flying. Before her first flying lesson, Martha tried to climb back out of the plane. John and the instructor acted immediately and decisively. As John tells it, “We had a wrestling match and shoved her back in.” “She went along with grim determination until her first solo cross country,” John explained. While John and the instructor paced on the ramp, Martha dodged storms and wound up coming back after dark. She marveled at the sunset from this new perspective and fell in love with flying. Today, John and Martha King own and operate King Schools of San Diego, California, where they teach flight training. They have become a poster couple of general aviation. Because only 6 percent of pilots are women, most couples in general aviation don’t share a pilot-to-pilot relationship in the cockpit. The majority of women fly as passengers. The complaint “I can’t get my wife to fly with me” demonstrates a trend in general aviation that can be changed. We will explore a few of the factors working for and against flying couples.
Other than access to airplanes, the FUN FACTOR is a key element in attracting women into aviation. Jackie Cochran, the first woman to break the sound barrier, got her pilot’s license on a dare from her husband. Aerobatic champion Betty Skelton Frankman’s parents brought her to the FBO for their flying lessons. Patty Wagstaff’s father used to take her for rides in his plane, but she really got involved with aviation after her husband taught her a few aerobatic maneuvers. The first woman to earn a pilot’s license, Harriet Quimby, entered aviation for the fun of it with her pal Matilde Moissant, whose husband offered flying lessons in New Orleans. (Yes, the Moissant after whom the airport is named.) In their eagerness to get women to enjoy flying, some men have unintentionally driven women away from it. Veteran flight instructors cite one serious, common tactical error men make — let’s call it the
SEE HOW SAFE FLYING IS FACTOR
Using this tactic, a fellow convinces his wife or girlfriend to go for a ride so he can show off his new skills. In trying to make the ride fun, he demonstrates emergency procedures, slow flight, stalls, spins, rolls, steep turns and such. He means well, the poor dear, but this stuff scares the lunch out of most people. Granted, a few women love this kind of thing. The rest will display symptoms such as icy silence, fainting, screaming, threats and clawing at the windows. But who can blame them? Who would ever fly twice on ABC Airlines if one of their pilots demonstrated a stall during flight? Experienced professional pilots know that passengers enjoy and expect uneventful flights. Leave the thrill rides to theme parks.
I’M GOING TO HAVE FUN WITH OR WITHOUT YOU FACTOR
Another common unsuccessful tactic men employ is to simply leave the woman behind and go fly. The I’M GOING TO HAVE FUN WITH OR WITHOUT YOU FACTOR has one major flaw. It invites, begs and dares the one left behind to reciprocate in kind. This tactic also makes the airplane an object of scorn and jealousy. Bullying, threats, nagging, harassing and frightening women won’t achieve positive long-term results. Of course, it’s more time-consuming to find out why she doesn’t want to fly and respectfully address that concern, but asking a man to do this would be like expecting him to ask for directions. A woman may stay away from flying because of fear, motion sickness, apathy, or pursuit of other goals. Perhaps the “Mrs.” doesn’t eagerly accept a four-hour flight because she has a three-hour bladder. Is she adventurous enough to wear a Depends ® undergarment? Fun is a matter of perspective.
HASSLE:FUN RATIO FACTOR
The HASSLE:FUN RATIO FACTOR often works against women more than it does for men. For a woman with young children, taking flying lessons poses a series of unique obstacles. Is a sitter available during the day? How much time is there to fly between the start and end of daycare or school? Can she juggle carpool duties to allow time for a cross-country flight? Who will help with the children’s homework while she studies for the written exam? Even if she thrives on flying, she will not continue if the hassle:fun ratio leans heavily toward hassle.
THE GUY DRIVES THE HARLEY FACTOR
Women who obtain their pilot’s license often face another obstacle that John King describes as “the biggest single failure of men — failing to relinquish power to women in the cockpit. They’ll try it a few times and the men absolutely, flat-out, totally, fail to relinquish any authority or power to the woman and, after all, she may as well be in the back seat because there’s nothing in it for her. That is as universal as the fact that the man always rides up front on a Harley. What happens is that even when the woman is flying she’s nothing more than a voice-activated autopilot and that is absolutely no fun.” Let’s call this THE GUY DRIVES THE HARLEY FACTOR. It is no coincidence the Harley-Davidson brand motorcycle is called a ‘hog’. Couples who fly together find the greatest peace in the cockpit when they behave as the professionals do. The ground rules include acknowledging that the person in the left seat is genuinely the pilot in command (PIC). In an emergency only one person can fly the plane, so the ‘who’s driving’ issue must be settled before takeoff. Imagine what auto insurance rates would be if cars had dual controls. Settling the command issue means more than just saying the words; it means trusting the PIC. For example, pilots Larry and Martha Walker of Winter Haven, Florida, have flown together for years, yet when Martha was recently PIC she remarked that the right brake didn’t work. As they taxied down the ramp, Larry insisted the brakes had just been fixed. Martha asked him to taxi back to the hangar. Larry ended up steering the plane off the taxiway into the grass, where he graciously apologized. It all goes back to the question — Would a man treat another man this way? Which brings us to the
I’M ONLY TRYING TO HELP FACTOR
Even men with zero flight training have been known to offer advice from the right seat. How many men have ‘helped’ women fly by adjusting controls from the right seat? This can be wonderfully handy with the consent and knowledge of the PIC; without consent, however, the mysterious change of power, radio frequencies and such can be hazardous. If a man wouldn’t touch the controls when another man is in command, then he shouldn’t do so when a woman is in command. After all, cockpit fights are such poor form. They destroy morale among the passengers. John King recommends professional cockpit resource management. “The co-pilot on a commercial airliner doesn’t fiddle with the throttle or adjust the gear without a command from the captain, they just don’t do that. Period. Ever. And you don’t make wild comments, as the co-pilot, in giving your opinion about this or that. All you can do is present facts. So you can say ‘sink is one thousand’ — that’s okay — ‘you’re too low and darn it you’re descending too fast’ is not correct because it’s an opinion.” Dennis and Janeen Kochan, of Winter Haven, Florida, flew for separate carriers and are flight instructors. Janeen, a guest speaker at Lakeland’s Sun ‘N Fun Fly-In, observed that “the tone in the cockpit, when couples are flying together, reflects their total relationship.” She’s met men who nag their wives and girlfriends of pilots whose interest in aviation stopped on their wedding day. Change of altitude does not change the relationship. Let’s call this the
FLYING PIG FACTOR
If the relationship stinks on the ground, it will stink in the air, too. For some couples, the happiest arrangement may be for the man to fly left seat. A woman who doesn’t want to fly the plane might enjoy reading the checklist aloud, setting the transponder, learning how to operate the radios and writing down instructions from controllers during flight. For couples to develop a sound working relationship in the cockpit, they must communicate clearly and honestly to establish their own ground rules. Because men hold 94 percent of the airmen certificates, men predominantly influence the future of general aviation by inviting women to fly.
This is me with my favorite plane.
Here are a few suggestions for making flights more enjoyable for women. Allow a woman time to enjoy flying. Not everyone feels love at first sight. Some require courtship. Go the extra mile to make each flight a wonderful experience. This can mean waiting for good weather before taking up a skittish passenger. Start with brief flights and work up to long flights. Discover where she wants to go. Treat each other with the same courtesy you would use with royalty. Communicate clearly and respectfully. Never perform aerial stunts (slow flight, loops, rolls, spins, stalls) without the prior knowledge and eager consent of the passenger. The pilot in command is an earned title. Respect it. And finally, be prepared to share PIC duties if she becomes as enthralled with flying as you are. It can happen.
In 1995, I discovered a director in Hollywood had come from the Tampa Bay area. This celebrity profile preceded his fame directing movies and earning Oscar and Emmy Awards. Here is the article that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times).
Dunedin – Anyone who saw David Nutter perform at Dunedin High School (class of ’78) won’t be surprised to learn his work caught the attention of Golden Globe and Emmy awards judges this year. The surprise is that he’s not creating music for films and television shows, but directing them.
Nutter’s work as one of the producers and directors of the Fox Television show “The X-Files“ helped the show win a Golden Globe Award for “Best Television Series” this year. The show also gathered six Emmy nominations in categories including cinematography, editing, and writing.
Ronald Shaw, the theater department director at Dunedin High, directed Nutter in Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1976, in the one-act play Picnic on the Battlefield in 1977 and in other high school productions. Shaw is surprised by Nutter’s decision to direct, but not by his success.
“David was always a performer,” Shaw said recently. “But he had a knack for influencing people and he was a natural salesman, so he could have hooked up doing anything from selling cars to being the head of a corporation.”
Nutter’s move toward cinema happened after seeing the movie Reds while attending the University of Miami on a music scholarship. He went into the theater a musician but came out inspired to focus on film.
“It wasn’t maybe the greatest film in the world, but for me, at that time I felt I had found something that I could explore about myself, about feelings, about what I felt I could do,” Nutter said recently. “I watched and said, “That’s something I want to strive for with respect to being able to touch people that way.”
Nutter’s most loyal fan is his mother, Mary Nutter of Clearwater, who put up $100,000 for her son’s student film. She raised Nutter and his brother, Robert, after her husband died in a car accident when Nutter was 1 year old. Mrs. Nutter said her son’s friendships and compassion have helped him succeed in life.
“He picks good friends,” she said. “But he always felt sorry for the underdog. I know when he was in college, I’d say, ‘David, what are you doing this for? You need to work on your own stuff.’ And he’d say, ‘Mother, he needs the help.’ I really always felt that David knew what he was doing.”
Nutter credits film teachers George Capewell and Ralph Clemente with getting him involved in filmmaking. During his senior year at Miami, Nutter landed his first feature film to direct. Called Cease Fire, it was released in 1985 and starred an out-of-work actor named Don Johnson. While editing Cease Fire with Ralph Clemente in Clemente’s garage, Nutter met Birgit, an Austrian working as an au pair for Clemente’s two sons. Nutter and Birgit married in May 1987. Five years later they had a daughter, Zoe Kay.
Cease Fire helped David get noticed by other producers. He moved to Los Angeles, where he sought more projects. One day on the golf course he met Patrick Casper, creator of “21 Jump Street” on Fox Television.
“Eighteen holes later,” Nutter said, “I had an opportunity to direct an episode of ’21 Jump Street’ in its first season.
He went on to direct 21 episodes of the Fox Television series “The Adventures of Superboy.”
At the same time, writers Glen Morgan and James Wong also worked on episodes for various series at Fox Television. Nutter eventually collaborated with them on a Disney/Stephen Cannell production titled “100 Lives of Blackjack Savage,” an ill-fated venture that bombed.
“It was an awful premise,” Nutter said laughing. “We went for it and it was just awful. The series lasted just a short time and they canceled it after, I think, six or seven episodes. They believed in me, fortunately, and then we hooked up again on ‘The Commish’ series and then we hooked up again on X-Files.”
The combined talents of Morgan, Wong, and Nutter have won critical acclaim and devoted audiences for “The X-Files.”
Nutter said he draws inspiration from many directors, but in particular, he admires Sidney Lumet’s pragmatism and ability to pull remarkable performances out of actors. “I think I feel that way,” he said. “That filmmaking is a responsibility, not only creatively but also financially in that it’s a business. You can’t forget that.”
Nutter recently directed the two-hour pilot for the series “Space: Above and Beyond,” which is budgeted for 12 episodes this season at $1.5 million an episode. The two-hour pilot was filmed in Australia; subsequent episodes are expected to be produced in Los Angeles.
Nutter, 35, said he’s eager to move on to bigger and better things. “Fortunately, I’m in a position where I’m reading lots of feature scripts and so forth,” he said. “I don’t just want to do something to do something. I’ve been spoiled by Glen Morgan, Jim Wong, by ‘The X-Files’ experience. I feel that I want to do something of worth and value and it’s just a question of finding that. So that’s what my next goal is, to find that next great script and say, ‘This is really what I want to do.”
In 2002, David flew back to attend and sing at the funeral of his high school chorus teacher, Ray Markett in Dunedin, Florida. Later that year he won his first Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie of Dramatic Special for Band of Brothers, an HBO miniseries. The Award was shared with other directors of the series, including Tom Hanks, and producer Stephen Spielberg.
In 2015, David won yet another Emmy for directing episodes of Game of Thrones, an HBO series.
Editors categorize articles by type, so it helps to know these types by name so you speak the same language as the editor. The types are: Hard News, First Person Article, Opinion Piece, Informational or Service Piece, How-To Article, Personality Profile, and Think Piece. Since most Hard News articles are assigned to full-time staff, we will skip this type of article. Let’s examine the characteristics and differences of the remaining types of articles for freelancers to use to break into the market.
FIRST PERSON ARTICLE
First person articles come from personal experience and are traditionally written in first person. They can be sold as feature articles or as essays, depending on their length and newsworthiness. Characteristics of a first person article with high market value:
setting-specific sensory details (taste, touch, smell, sight, sound), history
characters are vivid, newsworthy, memorable, interesting, odd
dialogue clearly reveals the unique character of the author
details a turning point-realization, discovery, or change in one’s life
voice is fresh, audacious, trustworthy, accurate, funny, or full of attitude
states its purpose in first line or paragraph to hook the reader. Example: I had to teach my child to rebel and to question authority for his own safety.
Sources of first person articles and essays:
What unusual, unique experience or perspective can you offer? How did this event affect you? What recently triggered this memory? How can you relate your experience to others?
Do I have a skill or talent that isn’t common or do I lack a skill everyone else seems to have? Examples: a male nanny, a woman pilot. The art of doing something well sets the skilled above the rest and this essay will explore the tell-tale signs that separate the novice from the expert. Or it could go the Dave Barry route, as a humorist who commentated on the Olympics, and show a klutz attempting something far out of his league.
Why does everyone (speak Spanish, wear a size 5, whatever) but me? If only I had known then what I know now…. Compare the before and after of an experience, training, or change.
Take a topic or event in the news and present the unpopular or neglected point of view. Example: Why does the media accept male bashing as funny but would scream like monkeys if the same joke were aimed at women? What makes you mad? What makes you laugh? What do you value? Dig deep to explore your answer. The reasons for your particular opinion need to be anchored and detailed from your personal experience. Are you an expert on this topic? Get to the WHY factor of your opinion on the topic.
Trends, behaviors, fashions. Go non-politically correct in the politically correct world. Go against type. See from a new perspective. Example: What happened when I took my daughter to a hockey game when neither of us understood the sport. What details capture the subject? What is the first impression? The second?
My all-time favorite first-person article is Rick Reilly’s “On a Wing and a Prayer” that appeared in Sports Illustrated. In it he describes his thrill ride in an F-14 Tomcat. I double dare you not to laugh as this civilian, non-pilot describes his ride. Take a few minutes to read this masterpiece by clicking on his name above.
To get ideas for essay and first person articles, try this exercise: write as quickly as possible at least 5 things you do well, 5 things you have strong opinions on and 5 memories from childhood. Pick something from this list and write. Now.
The following example sources buy First Person Articles from new writers:
The Christian Science Monitor seeks “upbeat, personal essays from 300 to 900 words” and pays $75-$160 on publication. Aim for humor and heartfelt personal stories. See their guidelines: http://www.csmonitor.com/aboutus/guidelines and read online archives for their tone and subject matter.
Underwired is a website that seeks women’s personal essays of 800-1200 words. See their monthly themes so your submission suits the theme. They pay $100 per essay. See their guidelines: http://uwmag.com.
An Opinion Piece or opinion essay is less personal than the First Person Article, but the piece still needs a tight focus. Writing about an entire industry will not set your writing apart from the bulk of writing on the topic. Find your niche, your sub-category. Narrow your focus by asking the journalistic questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How? To that, I add one more question that my editor in college always asked—“Who cares?” If the topic is interesting only to you, don’t expect editors to mail you a contract. Look at your essay or article from the reader’s point of view.
The main question in the reader’s mind is—why are you qualified to render an opinion? We all have opinions, but why should anyone read yours? If you’re an expert on this topic, be sure to state it up front for the reader. Let’s say you want to write an opinion piece on weight problems in America. Are you a dietitian? A physician? An athletic coach? A chronic dieter who has tried all the fad diets? Give your opinion the weight it deserves by showing your credentials.
If you plan to write often on a particular topic, and build a readership, consider syndication.
Essayists can become syndicated and sell their work in multiple newspapers. Whether you write etiquette advice like Miss Manners, humor like Dave Barry, or political analysis like Charles Krauthammer, syndication means you write one essay per week and collect checks from multiple sources. The key is to find your true topic and voice and spread the word. Though Pulitzer-Prize winning humorist Dave Barry was employed by the Miami Herald, his essays were published simultaneously in newspapers around the country because the papers did not have competing readership. Perhaps in time, blogs will replace syndication, but many writers continue to profit from syndication in print media. It takes time to build a readership or following, but syndication multiplies the income you receive from every piece you write.
Among the highest paying markets for individual essays and opinion pieces are:
Contests. There are a few online directories of contests. Here is one: Poets & Writers
The Smithsonian’s last page. (Quirky contemporary culture.) You have to read back issues to understand what they buy.
INFORMATION OR SERVICE PIECE
An informational or service piece builds the reader’s knowledge on a specific subject. Always interview an expert or two to get a broader view of the subject. Consumer Reports magazine, for example, is all about comparing different brands of a product so the buyer can understand which features are available and how to price each feature. Which features are gimmicks? Which ones make the product valuable in the short run, in the long run?
Consider writing for industry specific publications or publications devoted to a specific organization, club or group. Many of these smaller publications yearn for writers. They might not pay as well as the national magazines, but they can help you build readership and clips. Clips are basically examples of your published work. Start a file of them.
Characteristics of an Information or Service Piece:
Tend to be fact-driven and educational.
Present quotes from experts. If controversial, present experts from opposing views.
Inform readers about things that will affect their lives. This series is Informational—“10 Things You Need to Know About Writing for Magazines”.
Show a fact or trend.
Dispel rumors and misunderstandings.
Revisit history with a then/now comparison.
Have catchy titles like: Myths about ___. Secrets of ___. An Insider’s View of ___. Six Ways to___.
Always relate statistics or any enormous number with an image or put the number in human terms. For example, how can a writer make a number like a billion memorable or describe it in simple, human terms? A billion minutes ago, Jesus was alive.
Pick up a copy of Reader’s Digest and just read the titles of the articles. Just so you know, Reader’s Digest pays well, but they buy all rights. This makes reprints impossible and can strangle your ability to write similar articles on the same topic.
Lest the gentle reader believe that these types of articles are cut and dried and must forever remain separate entities, please note that the types can be, well, combined, mixed, or crossbred. I published a humor essay “Rocket Mom: Dreaming of the Right Stuff” that presented a comparison between the Space Shuttle and the average SUV in terms of mileage, features, speed and such. The structure of the essay mimicked a service piece, but the tone was purely first person. Here’s the link: https://jonimfisher.com/Rocket-mom/.
HOW TO ARTICLE
How To Articles present a step-by-step explanation of a process, like wiring a home theatre. An entire series of books is built around the concept of explaining processes and topics to industry outsiders–Electronics For Dummies, SEO For Dummies, etc. Again, if you are an expert or quote an expert, show the reader your credentials.
Assume the reader does not speak the special language of the trade or industry.
Assume the reader is inexperienced and reads at the high-school level. Even if you write for an adult, educated readership, your readers will come from a variety of backgrounds, and some may read English as a second language. Also, keep in mind that people read comfortably four grades below their last year of formal education.
Break your subject into its main points, explaining what each is and how it is accomplished.
Note any points of common misunderstanding and mistakes to avoid.
Use a breezy, straightforward, conversational tone.
Make special terminology clear and memorable. My husband is a surgeon and a pilot, but if he decided to take up sailing, he wouldn’t know his aft from his halyard.
Use anecdotes to illustrate points. Some How-To articles organize the steps with acronyms.
Include charts, graphs, or artwork to illustrate your points.
Narrow the focus of your article and give it an inviting title. Example titles: 7 Ways to improve your skin, 30 Minutes a Day to Ward Off A Heart Attack, or You Can Learn Magic Tricks at Home.
The How To approach can be hysterical when applied to a complex subject. Have you read the book 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter? You could also write a How-Not-To article.
A personality profile should balance facts with an interview of subject to show this person’s character and personality and explore public image versus up-close impressions. To be accurate, it also requires interviewing friends, colleagues, family—those who know the person best. What has this person done to merit attention? Is this a future Nobel Laureate? Unsung hero? Political candidate? Sports figure? Nail down why readers would find this person interesting or notable.
Be careful about choosing an anti-hero, a criminal will be likely to use publicity for revenge or to attempt to sway public opinion against the facts.
Celebrities get jaded and tend to avoid journalists who want to interview them unless they have a new project on the horizon. They will want to deflect attention from themselves and promote their project. They will also tend to avoid unknown interviewers/writers. Say, for example, you want to do a profile on an actor. Rather than focusing on his life in film and television, how about focusing on why he became the spokesman for a charity or why he took up flying as a hobby? People are more open to discussing what they love than who they are.
Investigative in tone, the think piece often shows the downside of a popular trend or hobby or sport. It might also explore the ‘why’ factor of a topic in the news. Political analysis, scientific inquiry, a think piece digs deeper than most feature articles. Interviews with experts or being an expert are a must to establish credibility to write a think piece. For example: a physician’s view of medical malpractice insurance and how it affects patient care.
After you publish in smaller magazines and newspapers, you can list these ‘clips’ in queries to bigger, better paying magazines. Keep copies of the magazines in which your work appears. You may need to photocopy the pages and the cover to submit along with queries. You might later want to use the covers or the pages as graphics on your website as samples of your work. If you rework an article for another magazine, the editor might ask for a copy of the original to see what percentage of the article is new material. More on reprints later.
So how do you discover who buys writing? Become familiar with the marketplace for selling your stories. Start with the magazines you read. Why do you like these? For a complete list of magazines and the types of articles they buy, consult The Writer’s Market. It comes out each year in print and online for less than $40. Your local library might have a copy. This book also has a vast list of annual contests.