“Game of Thrones broke a huge Emmys record at Sunday night’s ceremonies. With David Nutter’s win for best director of a drama series, the HBO show snagged its tenth Emmy this year, the most any series has ever won in a single year.”
Eliana Dockterman, Time, September 20, 2015
(Game of Thrones would finish the night with 11 Emmys)
“What am I doing up here?”
(How Nutter began his acceptance speech)
It was the perfect ending. Perfect and poetic. I’m not talking about a movie or a TV show, but about yesterday—and about a life. And what made it really special is no one wrote the ending, it just happened in that mystical way where things align together perfectly. It was an ending that filmmaker/film teacher Ralph Clemente would have appreciated if he hadn’t died earlier this year, but one that happened because he lived.
When David Nutter was a 20-year-old music major he had a big dream—to be the next Barry Manilow. Nutter’s musical dreams died before he graduated from the University of Miami. But he also found a new dream in 1980 when he took an 8mm filmmaking class with Prof. George Capewell.
Then Nutter found a filmmaking mentor with Clemente, who Capewell had hired as filmmaker in residence at Miami. After graduating from Miami, Nutter launched his career when he directed the 1985 feature Cease Fire (starring Don Johnson), which Clemente worked on as an associate producer.
Fast forward 20 years to last night when Nutter accepted a Primetime Emmy for directing the Game of Thrones episode, Mother’s Mercy. A remarkable accomplishment because we are in what has been called the modern golden age of television. At the end of his acceptance speech Nutter said, “Thank you to Ralph Clemente, the man who taught me the most.” One little sentence made for the perfect ending.
Earlier in the day there was a tribute at Valencia College in Orlando for Ralph Clemente, where Clemente started the film program in the late ’80s. He would help students work on 47 feature films through a film program that he helped designed. Valencia College President Sandy Shugart spoke at the tribute about how Ralph taught him about vision, saying Clemente was like a gardener who could taste the fruit before he planted the seeds.
And Ralph Clemente planted a lot of seeds. Inspired a lot of people. At the tribute they played a video of Nutter talking about how Clemente was not only his teacher and mentor but also a father figure. He also said that he changed is life because he ended up marrying the au pair that Ralph and his wife Emily had when they were raising their sons in Miami. Nutter said that he regretted not being at the tribute, but if he won an Emmy he’d be sure to mention Ralph—and that’s exactly how it went down. Fruit from seeds planted 35 years ago.
Several people at the tribute mentioned affectionately how Clemente was a schmoozer. He was a positive people person who got people on board with his vision. I wish I had a quote of his I could drop in here to show how that helps in the filmmaking process, but since I’ve been running Robert Rodriguez related posts all month I’ll hand it off to him to talk about the salesmanship side that is often needed with the creative and technical side of filmmaking:
“If you go to an actor and say, ‘hey, I’m a filmmaker and I’m making a low budget movie and I kind of need a marquee to kinda help sell it. I can’t pay you very much. And it’s probably going to be a lot of work, but do you want to be in it?’ you’re only thinking about yourself , and they’ll be like, ‘No, get the hell out of here.’ Because all you’re taking about is what you do and how you do it, which is I make low budget movies. Yeah, so what, that means ya got no money. Instead I always start with why. I go to [the actor] and say, ‘I love what you do. I’ve always been a big fan—I believe in creative freedom. I don’t work with the studios, I work independently. I’m the boss, it’s just me and my crew. It’s very creative, ask any of your actor friends. They’ll say go have that experience, you’re going to feel so invigorated. I shoot very quickly and you’ll be out [quickly]. Robert De Niro in Machete was out in four days. While you’ll be on your next movie for six months, you’ll be on my movie for four days, and it’s going to be the most fun you’ve ever had. And your performance is going to be really freeing, that’s why I do it. How do I do it? I work very independently. I have very few people on my crew and we do multiple jobs. We do it with less money so we have more freedom. Do you want to come make this movie?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yes.’ Because it’s all about what they can do. What they can bring to it. How it’s going to fulfill them.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Tim Ferriss interview
Clemente wasn’t in it just for himself. He knew he could only do the kinds of things he wanted to do by helping people do the things they wanted to do. Win-win. I was part of the Miami film program during the Clemente era and know that he poured himself into students. So yesterday wasn’t the end of his legacy. There will be students of his that will take what they learned from him and pass it on to others they work with in that circle of life kind of way.
Link to donate to the Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship at Valencia College.
P.S. Back when I had a production company in Iowa I worked with Josh McCabe while he was still in college and tried to pass on what I knew to him in the few years we worked together. (I wrote about him in the 2011 post How to Get Started Working in Production.) Today Josh works in production in Denver, Colorado and just this weekend got married. Congrats to he and his wife Ashely. He never met Ralph Clemente, but I hope I passed on a few things to him I learned working with Clemente that helped make him the creative producer/shooter/editor he is today.