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.
Bless you, Mrs. Margaret Cline, wherever you are for being an encouraging, brilliant English teacher from Dunedin High School in Dunedin, Florida. A grammar stickler, Mrs. Cline took me in after I was tossed from another English class for arguing with the teacher who insisted that y’all was a valid second-person plural pronoun. Egad.
While sorting through a file cabinet of old essays, I came upon this one from her class written umpteen years ago. Wanted to share it with the world as a testament to Mrs. Clline’s kindness and generous spirit.
This essay later served as the basis for a performance that put me in the winner’s circle of my high school talent show.
When Mrs. Cline reads poetry in class, she challenges us to close our eyes and imagine seeing life from a different perspective. Her voice had a lulling rhythm to it and the next thing I knew I was standing in a forest.
I tried to walk, couldn’t and looked down to see what my feet were stuck in and I saw roots and bark. No kidding. I was a tree. Okay, so I’ve found that different perspective my teacher talked about. About the time it got boring a little dog wandered over to me. And hey, no, stop that, ewwww. Do I look like I need watering you little fleabag? How disgusting. I didn’t feel right until the next rain. Guess that’s what the saying means about feeling right as rain. Looking around I was as tall as the five-year-old oak in the back yard. Oak is cool, much better than being a whiner like Willow. Weep, weep, weep. She’s a one-tree pity party day and night.
One day two kids climbed up in my arms and the boy told a joke.
He said in a squeaky voice, “knock, knock.”
The girl said, “Who’s there?”
So the boy said, “Ida.”
Then the boy blurted out, “Ida like to kiss you” and then he got her in a lip lock.
She slapped him off the branch and called him Booger. Well, Booger didn’t seem to mind the slap so much because he stayed to help her down and off they went.
For seasons after that the other trees called me Love Nest, then one autumn Booger came back talking to himself. His voice was deeper and he had hair on his face, but it was him. He walked right up to me and cut a heart and initials on my side. A tattoo at my age? My mother would kill me, but then I looked around and realized I was pretty much on my own. That was terribly sad. The crows aggravated my depression when a huge flock of them landed on me and held a screech-off contest and dropped you know what on me. Hey, put your fertilizer on the ground, I said, but I guess I don’t speak bird because they kept at it all day.
Near dusk that little dog approached me. Yeah, like my day couldn’t get worse with the noise and the feathers and the bird poop, but the dog did the strangest thing, charging and leaping up my side and sliding down with his nails. He did it three times before he got some real traction on my mossy side and oooooooh that felt so good when he dug into that moss. Suddenly, he got really barking mad. Would you believe the whole flock thrashed out of my upper branches like the dog was going to get them? What birdbrains and what a good little doggie. Yeah, okay, take a victory pee, you earned it. Whatever.
Booger returned with Slap to show her my tattoo. Guess Slap liked it because she kissed him which led to cuddling which was followed by Booger gathering bright red and pumpkin orange leaves for Slap. She held them up to the sun and smiled. The colors were awesome, so I looked around to see which oak dropped them. I looked up into a rainbow of gold, red and orange that outnumbered the greens and browns, discovering these colors were mine. It was a short-lived glory because they fell off leaving me bare-bark naked.
Eventually, of course, everyone else was bare too which made it less embarrassing, everyone, that is, except a Fir tree to the north. There he was still fully green after first snowfall. He bragged about his stamina, completely ignoring the fact that he shed all year. Yeah, buddy, like that layer of needles just happened to blow in and land under you. Willow told me I was being cruel then she wept about it. Sure, I felt bad about it, but later that winter when the guys with the chain saw came and cut him down I felt truly horrible. After that nightmarish sound stopped and Fir fell to the ground, I told him I was sorry I needled him. He laughed. Willow forgave me.
By spring I was almost as tall as the other trees and sprouted more leaves with each shower. Summer brought back Booger and Slap wheeling a small cart with a tiny screamer in it. Looked just like a one-tooth version of Booger. Seeing little Booger made me sad. I whispered that I wanted to know where I came from. The elm nudged me with a limb and told me to look to the north. There beyond the Fir stump was a mammoth oak tree, broad and sturdy like you could pick up the earth using it as a handle. The elm explained that the giant oak was the granddaddy of all the oaks in this forest and that I came from him or one of the other oaks that had came from him. We were all related.
That knowledge changed my view of life. Even squirrels don’t bother me since I calculated that they planted more of my acorns than they ate. Real joy came when we trees noticed little bristly sticks poking up through the ground around Fir’s stump. The forest filled with joyful leaf-clapping laughter.
I felt a tugging on my shoulder and wondered if Booger was putting up a rope swing for his little screamer. It was Mrs. Cline’s hand.
“Have you been paying attention to the poem?”
It never pays to lie to a woman who looks over her glasses at you. The truth blurted out. “No, but I have been thinking about seeing things from the perspective of a tree.”
“A tree?” Her eyebrows rose and she gave me that look she gives to poor excuses. She said, “You can use that inspiration for tomorrow’s writing assignment.”
So I did. Ta da.
And I earned an A.
Bless you, Mrs. Cline. Great teachers like you are heros, unsung, underpaid heros. May God richly reward you for your generous, loving kindness. You helped me survive high school.