'Nanny' follows in 'Prada,' 'Bridget' footsteps
EmptyNice "Nanny:" Chick lit, which translated beautifully to the screen in hit films like "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Bridget Jones's Diary" does it again in "The Nanny Diaries."
This time around with "Nanny," opening wide Friday via The Weinstein Co. and MGM, the setting is New York's affluent Upper East Side rather than the world of fashion design or London's singletons scene. Once again, the notion of a bright, charming, attractive and talented young woman trying hard to get her life on the right track despite impossibly difficult obstacles works very nicely.
Read The Hollywood Reporter's review of "The Nanny Diaries."
Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini ("American Splendor"), the PG-13 rated "Nanny" is produced by Richard N. Gladstein. Based on the 2002 best-selling satirical novel of the same name by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, "Nanny" is executive produced by Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Kelly Carmichael and Dany Wolf. Starring are Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Paul Giamatti, Nicholas Reese Art, Donna Murphy, Alicia Keys and Chris Evans.
In "Nanny" Johansson plays Annie, whose brand new college degree in anthropology qualifies her to do very little in the real world. Pushed by her mom, a hardworking single parent nurse, she's applying for a job on Wall Street but is less than excited about the prospect of working there. Uncertain of what she really wants out of life, she winds up going to work as a nanny for Mrs. X, a spoiled socialite (a delicious performance by Linney, by the way, that could bring her supporting actress Globe and Oscar noms), her philandering deal maker husband Mr. X (Giamatti) and their precocious child Grayer (Art).
After watching and enjoying Johansson get way more than she bargained for in "Nanny," I was glad to have an opportunity to ask producer Richard N. Gladstein about how the film traveled from the page to the screen. Gladstein, a two-time best picture Oscar nominee for producing "Finding Neverland" and "The Cider House Rules," is president and founder of the production company FilmColony, Ltd. His background over the years includes serving as production head for Miramax Films from 1993-95 and supervising the making of such films as Robert Altman's "Pret-a-Porter," Wayne Wang's "Smoke," David O. Russell's "Flirting With Disaster" and Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk Till Dawn."
"I read the book in galley form in 2001 or 2002 before it was out in publication," Gladstein told me. "I submitted it to a few places to consider acquiring (the rights) to do the adaptation. There was somewhat of a bidding war amongst a few studios to acquire the rights to the book. I don't think anyone anticipated that it would be the best-seller that it became (or) figured it would achieve the popularity it achieved. But we all felt that it would do well and we felt that it was even more promising as an adaptation to a film.
"When the book came out in 2002 it really did quite well and one of the things that seemed to click with the book is that even though it's billed as fiction with the characters called 'Mrs. X' and 'Mr. X' and she being called 'Nanny' (with) the authors of the book having done some publicity saying they were nannies in the past there became a bit of a thing, particularly in the New York Times, about who in fact were Mr. X and Mrs. X and are they real people or are they not? At the end of the day, that speculation continues and that's one of the things that helped propel its popularity."
Thus began, Gladstein explained, what turned into "a very long process over several years of working with several different writers on several different drafts of the screenplay. We took various approaches and then I came to hire Shari and Bob as writers based upon a script that they had written called 'Romanoff' and also based on the screenplay of 'American Splendor' (which) hadn't come out yet. I hired them as writers to do a page one rewrite basically.
"Their approach was one that while (showing) allegiance to the book in terms of who these characters were, took a little bit of a different angle on it, which is really one of the only substantial things that we changed from the book. In the book (the nanny) comes from New York City and is very familiar with that Upper East Side world that she enters as a nanny. In the movie, she comes from New Jersey so the affluence of the Upper East Side of Manhattan might as well be across the country for her. It's a world that she, heretofore, has never visited. So she is culturally thrown into different seas. That was one change that we made."
Another change in the film, he continued, "is not so much a change as an underscoring of something that was in the book already. We talked a lot about the movie 'The Graduate' and a lot about how Dustin Hoffman's character in that film just graduates from college, is a little bit lost and into sort of a summer of figuring out who he is. And that's what we wanted to do with the film, as well. (The character of the nanny) has all of this potential (having) just graduated from college, feels the pressure of what to do in her life and decides to duck for a little while. Something we added that's not necessarily in the book is that she has studied anthropology and has a great interest in anthropology and thus approaches this world like an anthropologist would dissect this unique and rare culture."
How hard was it to turn the book into a film? "In terms of story and plot, it was not a difficult movie to adapt," Gladstein replied. "In terms of what is the tone of the movie, it was. We decided to tell a story (in which) this girl doesn't know of this world and approaches it in an anthropological way. That's something that the (screen) writers brought to it."
As things turned out, the husband-wife writing team Berman and Pulcini also wound up directing the picture. "We just hired them as writers at first. We did not hire them as writer-directors," he explained. "After we saw 'American Splendor' (for which they were Oscar nominated in 2004 and won the Writers Guild of America's best adapted screenplay award) and after going through the process with them as writers we then asked them if they wanted to direct it. When we first asked them they were like, 'Wow. We better reread it and look it as directors now because we were just looking at it as writers. We weren't thinking of how to exactly shoot this.' And then they said that they would like to direct it and we moved on from there."
After Berman and Pulcini became the film's directors did they make changes in the screenplay? "No," Gladstein said lightly, "they liked the screenwriters quite a lot and they stuck with them. The directors didn't have that many changes to the writers' script."
The project's timing at Miramax was far from ideal: "We almost got the film going just as the Weinsteins were making their transition out of Miramax and forming The Weinstein Co., but the timing didn't really work at that point. I had set up the project at Miramax and when the Weinsteins were transitioning to The Weinstein Co. the project sort of collapsed, so to speak. They took the rights with them from Miramax to The Weinstein Co. and it became one of the first productions that they were behind getting made. We set about (to do) some more work on the script and casting, etc. But once The Weinstein Co. was up and running it was really pretty quick that Harvey called and said, 'I'd like to make this movie' and we got Scarlett and then we were off and running."
Asked if it was easy to get Johansson on board, Gladstein answered, "Yes, very easy, in fact. She was very responsive to the script very quickly. She just really liked the notion of playing this character and she really was (a fan) of Shari and Bob. So that came together really very easily."
Laura Linney, he added, is perfect casting as Mrs. X "and why I think she's so perfect for it is that she is a chameleon. She is lost in her roles, but I never saw her play a character like this. I had no question that she would deliver it as well as she delivers all her roles. That she's this affluent, very in- command, done up, in-charge woman is not necessarily the usual roles that she gets. She is so beautiful and so captivating and so diligent an actor that we knew it would be a pleasure to see her create that character. She seems so natural in it once you see her do it."
The X's to-die-for Manhattan apartment was, Gladstein noted, "built on a soundstage in the Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. The production designer, Mark Ricker ('The Hoax'), is terrific. We shot the entire the film, every frame of the movie, in New York. That only becomes possible with the new tax laws in New York State and New York City. Heretofore, that would easily have been a Toronto-in-New York (shoot). You would have probably built that set somewhere else. But with this new incentive that the city and the state give you (it was possible to shoot entirely in New York). They give you a 15% (rebate) on the labor that you spend (shooting in New York City).
"I grew up in New York -- not on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but in the Bronx and then in Westchester -- and so I went by that world, let's say, and you're not (really) creating New York City somewhere else. You can rebuild an interior somewhere else, but you're not (able to duplicate the City). A fair amount of this movie had to be shot on location in New York no matter what. We didn't have to build the apartment there. But you're not shooting in a park in Toronto and pretending that's Central Park -- at least, I'm not. It's so crucial to the story that our characters meet in Central Park and go to all these locations that when people see the movie they will recognize. You don't pick a tower in Belgium and pretend it's the Eiffel Tower. We wanted the authenticity and we were really glad to have it."
Looking back at shooting, Gladstein observed that, the biggest challenge they faced "was that we didn't have a huge budget and we had so many locations. We wanted all these locations as part of the movie. New York is a character of the movie. To not have a variety of locations would be crazy. We wanted the Alicia Keys character (the Nanny's best friend) to live downtown and we wanted to go downtown. We shot on Avenue B and 2nd Street or something because that's where she would live.
"We wanted to have (scenes that were shot) uptown and we wanted to have downtown. We wanted a variety so we moved around a great deal. That wasn't easy, but we wanted Central Park, we wanted Columbia University, we wanted Fifth Avenue -- and we got it. We often had several locations in a given day. Anyone who's been to Manhattan doesn't really want to travel through Manhattan in the middle of the day, but we often found ourselves traveling through Manhattan in the middle of the day. But so be it."
The film's budget, he added, "was a very modest budget (in the) mid-20s." That's really a great price to be able to come in for these days, particularly with a film that has a major star and is shot entirely in New York. And looking at the movie you'd never guess that it was made on such a shoestring.
Another of the production's challenges, he said, "was that there was an element of 'Mary Poppins' and fantasy that's in the movie (with Johansson drifting through the sky as she holds onto a magical red umbrella like the one shown on the novel's front cover). And stringing Scarlett Johansson up and floating her through the air in Manhattan tends to attract a lot of attention and that was very difficult. When people are walking by and you look up and Scarlett Johansson is hanging from a rig in the sky, people become a bit curious. There were quite a lot of people taking pictures and that was a bit of a pain. But that's the price you pay for having a popular actress and one worth paying, to some extent."
Coming back to the film's roots as a book, Gladstein pointed out, "I sort of feel that when you're working from a recent and popular book that you owe the audience that is fond of that book a certain allegiance to the book. And it was a pleasure to retain that allegiance. It wasn't a struggle. That can be a burden when you might want to some things like I did with 'The Cider House Rules' or 'Finding Neverland.' You can take certain liberties when the book or the play or the life story is not so recent, but when the story is so recent and the book achieved the level of popularity that it did, you want to give the audience a really big dose of that book. The authors of the book, Emma and Nicky, are very fond of the movie. They came out to the set and it was all a really nice thing."
Looking ahead, Gladstein told me, "I have two other films coming out -- one on Nov. 16 called 'Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium' through Fox Walden with Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman and Jason Bateman, a family film (directed by Zach Helm); and then in the early part of next year I also have a movie coming out called 'Killshot.' That's an Elmore Leonard book that's directed by John Madden (an Oscar, Golden Globe and Directors Guild of America nominee in 1999 for 'Shakespeare in Love'). That's a Weinstein Co.-MGM movie (executive produced by Quentin Tarantino and starring Diane Lane, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Johnny Knoxville)."
Filmmaker flashbacks: From Oct. 12, 1989's column: "The ground shook Tuesday in Culver City, but not because of an earthquake. That rumbling resulted from the collapse of Qintex's deal to acquire MGM/UA Communications.
"Attorneys for MGM/UA and Qintex will be running up huge fees for many months to come as the two companies go after each other in the courts. Regardless of who was at fault for the failed merger, it seems to me that Hollywood can breathe a sigh of relief that this deal didn't go through.
"A Qintex-owned MGM/UA would, I think, have differed significantly in several key ways from what we anticipate the new, Sony-owned Columbia to be like. To begin with, industry observers expect Sony to adopt a hands-off management style in terms of how creative decisions are made at Columbia and Tri-Star after it takes over. Secondly, Sony has already lined up five New York branches of Japanese banks to put together the funds it needs to buy Columbia and there doesn't seem to be any doubt that Sony will have the money it needs to operate the company.
"In the case of Qintex, money appears to have been a problem, and a weak studio seems to have been likely. Before it even owned MGM/UA, Qintex somehow got to take a hands-on approach to making creative decisions ... One of the first things Qintex did was to put into turnaround the sequel to United Artists' horror genre hit 'Child's Play,' which is about a killer doll named Chucky. This wasn't, according to Qintex, the kind of picture it wanted to make.
"Insiders were astounded because 'Child's Play' could have easily become a franchise for Qintex just as 'Friday the 13th' has been a franchise for Paramount. The 'Child's Play' sequel was very quickly taken out of turnaround by Universal, which is very hot these days and knows a good opportunity when it sees one.
"With its concern for its image and the type of product it would make, Qintex missed the point that the name of the game for the major studios is to make commercial movies. Smaller, specialized companies can afford the luxury of focusing on making prestige product that appeals to a more narrow segment of the moviegoing public, but the majors must attract broad audiences. For Qintex to start out by discarding a sequel to a hit film because it wasn't something Qintex executives personally liked was ludicrous...
"All told, the signs going in were that under Qintex MGM/UA was unlikely to reclaim its former place in the Hollywood sun. Hopefully, it will fare better in other hands soon."
Update: "Child's Play 2," which reportedly cost $13 million to make, opened Nov. 9, 1990 via Universal to $10.7 million at 1,996 theaters ($5,370 per theater) and went on to gross $28.5 million domestically.
Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com.