19th Mar2016

Everything is Copy: Nora Ephron’s Journey in Writing About Her Life

by Catherina Gioino


Heartburn. When Harry Met Sally… . Sleepless in Seattle. Julia & Julia.

None of these films would have been had Nora Ephron not wrote—or sometimes directed—them. Ephron wrote articles for the New York Post, essays for Esquire, scripts for television, and ended up writing several novels and film adaptations of those novels, all that were somehow based on her life. She had a confident and strong attitude that may have been perceived as snarky by some, but intelligent and witted by all. In the years nearing her death, she came to terms with what she had accomplished and did her best to let people know that she loved them, all the while trying to keep her illness a secret from them.

To honor her and her work, her son Jacob Bernstein made Everything is Copy, an HBO documentary that will premiere March 21. The documentary features a number of people prominent in Ephron’s work, from actors Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks to directors Rob Reiner and Steven Spielberg to her family and ex-family members, Delia Ephron and Carl Bernstein.

Four years after her tragic death due to her battle with leukemia, Ephron has become one of the leading names in romantic comedy films and novels. Her witty yet insightful writing has become adored by millions everywhere, and her son Jacob hopes even more will know about her life growing up and what obstacles she jumped over to be the cherished writer and director we know today.

“Everything is copy.” Everything and anything is inspiration; nothing is off-limits: the mentality that Ephron’s screenwriting parents had about Nora and her sister’s growing up and the same mentality that Ephron had about her life- to a certain extent. Her parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, wrote about her and her sisters’ relationships with each other in several screenplays, including the film Take Her, She’s Mine. After essentially coming to terms with her father’s shortcomings, Ephron saw her parents devolve down to alcoholism as she went on to be a mail girl at Newsweek and move away from her parents and family to pursue her own dreams of writing.

Using this “everything is copy” mentality, Ephron, after writing satires of the New York Post, getting hired there and moving on to write essays for Esquire, began to use her life as inspiration for novels and screenplays. She used everything, even her own divorce to Bernstein in 1980, as material, and often stayed very true to facts. She used her divorce as material for the Jack Nicholson/Meryl Streep film and novel of the same name, Heartburn. She wrote Meg Ryan’s character after herself and Billy Crystal’s character after Rob Reiner in When Harry Met Sally… . And yes, she really was as picky as Ryan was when it comes down to her food.

The documentary provides new insight on Ephron’s life that would have otherwise went unnoticed. We hear from her sisters about their mother’s lack of compassion towards them; how she may have had self-conscious issues; how she used everything in her life and wrote about it. Her essays, excerpts of which were read by Reese Witherspoon, Lena Dunham and more, were read right after her sister or fellow journalists would recall Ephron’s quirks and even open us up on her shortcomings. Her sister leads us in with how she felt insecure concerning her breast size, and then her essay in Esquire entitled “A Few Words About Breasts was read.

However, Bernstein decided to save the best story for his father, Carl. Carl discussed his marriage with Ephron, how they fell in love and quickly had Jacob. However, after Ephron’s sisters detailed his affair with a fellow journalist, Heartburn was read, describing Carl as someone who could have sex with a Venetian blind. Bernstein later went into detail surrounding their divorce, where Ephron fought vehemently to adapt Heartburn into a film, while Carl worried it might give his two sons a negative image of him—to which Bernstein agreed it did for a while.

This is truly a documentary everyone should watch just for the sake of screenwriting and coming up with ideas for films. Finding out about Ephron’s life and how some of our most beloved films came to be is just an extra benefit that many of us will love to know more about.


Comments are closed.