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After journalist-turned-filmmaker Nora Ephron died from leukemia, a disease she kept hidden from even her closest friends, in 2012, her son Jacob Bernstein, a New York Times features writer, wanted to find a way to tell his mother’s story.
“I didn’t think I was going to write a book about her that was better than any of the books she had written about herself. And a documentary would allow her to be the star of it,” Bernstein, who ended up writing and directing the HBO documentary Everything is Copy, told The Hollywood Reporter of his decision to make a film ahead of the movie’s red-carpet premiere in New York on Monday night.
The title comes from something Ephron’s mother would tell her whenever something bad, frustrating or even interesting would happen in her life — Ephron could write about it; it was her way of controlling the story. Bernstein marvels at his mother’s wit and ability to tell the story truthfully — even when it was ugly, as it sometimes was when she wrote so candidly about the breakup of her marriage to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein in her novel Heartburn, which became a movie starring Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep.
“One of the things that was incredibly surprising is the number of people that she got away with whacking!” the younger Bernstein said. “There was a really long line … It’s much harder to be a person who’s kind of a trouble-stirrer and to have it end well, but she really kind of called it like she saw it.”
Carl Bernstein, who was also on hand for Monday night’s Museum of Modern Art event, can laugh about some of those moments now. “We had a lot of funny times together,” he said. “Nora was funny. We could be funny together and then sometimes we weren’t so funny together — some of which she’s written about!”
The documentary chronicles Ephron’s life — from growing up as the oldest of four sisters with screenwriter parents in L.A. to jumping from mail girl to reporter at the New York Post to breaking barriers as a female filmmaker with movies like When Harry Met Sally… , Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Julie & Julia and others.
“If you look at people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham, there’s some Nora Ephron in there,” the younger Bernstein says of Ephron’s role as a trailblazer. “But they are their own creations and creations of their own time, and they’re originals too. We didn’t want to claim credit for other people’s success and brilliance. Certainly, I think she broke a lot of glass ceilings and did it without making some of the compromises that I think other people sometimes have to make. She managed to do it without focus grouping her identity within an inch of a target demo.”
In the doc, friends and collaborators like Dunham, Rita Wilson and Gaby Hoffmann, read excerpts of Ephron’s essays. And others — like Streep, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan — speak about their affection for the writer.
However, there was one person it was difficult for Everything is Copy‘s writer-director to convince to appear in the film: his father.
“He had to kick me pretty hard in the ass!” Carl Bernstein jokes of how his son was able to get him involved, then adds that he’s incredibly proud of his son. “It’s a wonderful picture of Nora. You see how good a reporter Jacob is and what a wonderful filmmaker he is. And you see both the tenderness toward his mom and the willingness to step back a little bit as she was capable of doing sometimes.”
Everything is Copy premieres on HBO on March 21.
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