The copyist

Jacob Bernstein on stars, a song, Nora Ephron and Everything Is Copy.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Marian Masone with Everything Is Copy director Jacob Bernstein and editor Bob Eisenhardt
Marian Masone with Everything Is Copy director Jacob Bernstein and editor Bob Eisenhardt Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Everything Is Copy has Lena Dunham, Reese Witherspoon, Meg Ryan and Gaby Hoffmann reading excerpts from Nora Ephron's essays and articles for Esquire straight to the camera of the great cinematographer, Bradford Young, who shot David Lowery's lyrical Ain't Them Bodies Saints and J.C. Chandor's icy A Most Violent Year and Ava DuVernay's heated Selma. Ephron's illustrious circle of friends, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Gay Talese, Rita Wilson, David Remnick, Bob Balaban, Amy Pascal, Barry Diller, Liz Smith and many more have more than something to say about the woman we hear say: "When I was a kid, I wanted to be the President's daughter."

A little later, she wanted to be First Lady, "a cute Eleanor Roosevelt". This interview clip, chosen by Jacob Bernstein to start the documentary, executive produced by Graydon Carter, leads straight to an explanation of the title. Nora's mother, Bernstein's grandmother, told little Nora that "everything is copy." Ephron's childhood after age 5 in the "Spanish house in Beverly Hills," comes alive with her talking about her screenwriter parents, Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, who wrote movies such as Daddy Longlegs, Desk Set and Carousel.

Gay Talese on Nora Ephron:
Gay Talese on Nora Ephron: "Wicked and funny as long as it wasn't about you."

Barry Diller remembers being fired from the High School newspaper by Nora when they were 14 and Gay Talese calls his friend's tongue "wicked and funny, as long as it wasn't about you." Meryl Streep remembers the making of the very autobiographical breakup movie Heartburn with Jack Nicholson: "It's about the person being hit by the bus - it's not about the bus."

Rita Wilson talks about Nora as a mentor and Steven Spielberg confides, "I wanted her to like me," and that making her laugh was his big secret goal. Is our concept of love "completely shaped by movies," as Ephron stated in an interview, accompanied by clips from An Affair To Remember? Bernstein ends his tribute with a poignant song - Love Is The Sweetest Thing and I asked him about that decision at Lincoln Center.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Can you talk about the choice of the song at the end? It's very haunting. Is there a special meaning, aside from the title?

Jacob Bernstein: Actually, the truth about that song - it's a beautiful song. It was suggested by Graydon Carter. It felt to us like a song that had been in one of her movies. Certainly, Love is the Sweetest Thing, it's the message. But the music was not the thing that was first on my mind and certainly not there. And then Graydon played it for us and it just fit. But there's no deeper story than that, besides that maybe the filmmaker wasn't as aware of the other elements of his film as he should have been.

The New York Film Festival hosted the World Premiere of Everything Is Copy with selection committee member Marian Masone moderating the discussion at the Walter Reade Theater.

Jacob Bernstein with Bob Eisenhardt:
Jacob Bernstein with Bob Eisenhardt: "Near the end she was working on a project with Reese Witherspoon."

Jacob Bernstein: When she [Nora Ephron] was in the hospital, I said, I'm going to take some notes on this and how do you feel about that? She said, "I feel fine about that. What I actually am concerned about is that this is a private experience, not just for me but for people around us." She didn't talk explicitly about the eventuality of what that meant, but I think she was saying something about survivors. That was certainly one of the things that made doing the film tricky because my family is still there… When Graydon had asked me to do a pitch for him, I said "Everything Is Copy". The title was mapped out and I knew that it would be about the various stages of her life and who she was as a writer publicly and what she was drawing on.

On the origins of the project Everything Is Copy:

JB: I had done a piece on Lisa Immordino Vreeland who made the Diana Vreeland movie about her mother-in-law. In the end I said, "what are you doing next?" And she said: "I'm doing this thing on Peggy Guggenheim but I also was kind of thinking of two things." "Well, what's the other thing?" And she said "Well, it's Nora Ephron." And I said:" Oh, there's actually somebody in front of you." And that was actually the first moment that I said out loud what I was thinking of doing.

How Silkwood got off the ground with Mike Nichols:

JB: What actually happened with Silkwood, I believe, is that it was inspired, obviously by a true story. There'd been a great magazine article in Rolling Stone. Meryl, I think, was the person who saw it. And Meryl called Mike Nichols and he thought, let me call Nora because she was the journalist that he knew the best. She'd profiled him on the set of Catch 22 and so it went organically from there.

On the difference Meg Ryan made:

Meryl Streep on Nora Ephron's film Heartburn:
Meryl Streep on Nora Ephron's film Heartburn: "It's about the person being hit by the bus - it's not about the bus." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JB: Meg has a kind of plucky, smart, funny thing. Meg was actually not the first choice on When Harry Met Sally. What initially happened was that Rob Reiner was involved with Elizabeth McGovern, who many of you now probably watch on Downton Abbey. They were engaged. And then they were not engaged anymore. And then she was not in the movie. And so Meg was cast and my mom always said - and I apologize to Elizabeth McGovern - but she always had a joke that we probably wouldn't have had the life we had if Elisabeth had played Sally because she's just not that kind of comedic actress that Meg is.

On Reese Witherspoon becoming a reader:

JB: There were other people that she loved, too. Near the end she was working on a project with Reese Witherspoon. That's why I really badly wanted Reese to do one of the readings [in Everything Is Copy]. Reese has a certain thing that is very Nora Ephron.

Jacob calls out his editor, three-time Emmy Award winner and Oscar nominee Bob Eisenhardt to the stage:

Bob Eisenhardt: The biggest turning point in the interviews was… Jacob had to be in the film and how to get him in the film properly…

Jacob Bernstein: … without it seeming like an act of narcissism.

Everything Is Copy is scheduled to air on HBO in March, 2016.

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