Director Nancy Meyers on Hollywood Gender Equality: "My Optimism Is Starting to Wane"

Nancy Meyers - H 2016
Peggy Sirota /Warner Bros. Entertainment

The writer-director of 'The Intern' gets a Filmmaker of the Year award from some of the unsung heroes of Hollywood: "I'm not sure film editors realize how brilliant they are."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Making midpriced movies for grown-ups is a disappearing art in Hollywood, but Nancy Meyers, 66, keeps proving how profitable a business it can be. Her latest, The Intern, which cost all of $35 million to shoot, has thus far grossed $194 million worldwide. And it's hardly her only midbudget, adult-targeted hit (see also: What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated). THR spoke with the filmmaker — a week before she'll be given the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award from the American Cinema Editors, which will be holding its annual gala on Jan. 29 at the Beverly Hilton — and asked her about what it takes to build a career as a female director, how she sometimes casts her films even before she's finished writing the screenplay and why film editors are some of her favorite people.

There's been a bunch of very successful movies lately with women at the center — The Hunger Games, Trainwreck, The Intern. Do you think Hollywood will learn from those examples?

I'm not sure if this year's successes have had an impact yet. I guess we'll know in the next few years, right? The green light is hard to get for everyone, but for sure it's really hard for films with women at the center, or we'd be seeing more of them. I just hope people don't stop writing them. I hope the successes of 2015 will remind the studios — yet again — that films with women at the center can deliver a big audience. But I've been asked this question so many times over so many years, my optimism is starting to wane.

Anne Hathaway ?in Meyers’ latest film, 'The Intern,' in which ?De Niro co-stars as a 70-year-old who begins working as an intern for a fashion website. 

Do you think it would be easier now to build a directing career than it was when you started out?

Oh man, I wouldn't want to start out now. I can't imagine any filmmaker of my generation wishing that. So few films in this genre get made. The studios used to be very open to these kinds of films. I'm not sure some of my films would get made today. I get that the studios have their agenda, their bosses. But I think some lessons were learned this year. The audience is the real boss, and they turned out for a lot of movies with great parts for women.

You often cast against type — Robert De Niro plays a nice, mild guy in The Intern — but do you write with certain actors in mind?

Yes, at times. Putting a face with a character sometimes helps me when I'm writing. I may not ultimately get them, but they've still helped me along the way, especially when I write the men. I remember when we wrote Father of the Bride, we knew Steve Martin was going to be in it, and it pushed us into writing certain kinds of moments we may not have otherwise tried. But knowing Steve was going to play that character, we knew how well things would land. I wrote Something's Gotta Give for Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. I couldn't get them out of my mind, so if they had turned me down, that would have been just crushing. But then, other times, I've waited until the script was done to see who felt right.

Nicholson and Keaton, who earned an Oscar nom, in 2003’s 'Something’s Gotta Give.' 

What's your relationship like with your editors? You've worked with Stephen A. Rotter, Joe Hutshing, more recently Robert Leighton …

My favorite collaboration on a film is with my editor. It's the end of the marathon, and you get to have an intimate creative relationship that's all about making things better. Shooting a film can feel lonely at times, even though you are surrounded by all these hugely talented people. Everyone has their job to do, everyone's got a budget, a deadline. But once you're in the cutting room, you and the editor have the same objective 24/7.

As a filmmaker, what lessons have you learned from your editors?

So many! Their craft is magical. Two frames can change everything. When to use the close-up, when not to. I'm not sure editors realize how brilliant they are. They're not treated like stars in our industry, and they should be.

Meyers (far right) on the set with Martin and Meryl Streep in 2009’s 'It’s Complicated.' 

Does comedy require a particular type of editing?

Absolutely. The person cutting the film has to get the joke to cut it right. Finessing comedic moments is fun, seeing how far we can go. We always record the audience at previews and then play back their responses in the cutting room the next day. When we hear laughter, we beam.