The writer, director and producer of The Parent Trap, Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated discusses her career and shares advice for new writers.
In an inspiring lecture, laden with advice for up-and-coming writers, Nancy Meyers discussed creating characters, producing and directing her own work and her concerns for the film landscape in Hollywood.
Listen to Nancy Meyers' Screenwriters' Lecture
Meyers started out as a story editor, where her talents were quickly recognised and she was encouraged to give writing a go. Her first film was Private Benjamin which she wrote with her then-husband Charles Shyer and friend Harvey Miller: “So I told the two of them the idea, Charles was an actual screenwriter, Harvey had actually been in the army and I was an actual woman so between the three of us we hammered out that script. It was the most fun writing ever.”
Even in the permissive filmmaking climate of the 1970s, Private Benjamin was something of a risk with its frank conversations between a female cast : “it was really hard to get the movie made…every single studio in Hollywood read it and passed on it…one studio called Goldie [Hawn] and said “if you make this movie it’s a career ender.”” Luckily Hawn wasn’t put off and the film went on to become one of the highest earning films of 1980 and garnered Meyers an Oscar nomination.
Write something that’s you… so that you are the best person to write it.
Meyers’ follow up was an updating of the classic Spencer Tracy film Father of the Bride, which she was invited to write by Steve Martin and crafted with him in mind: “It’s a gift because you know you’re writing for Steve Martin so you can be funny and you can be loose and you can do all these twists and turns in the scene.”
Her second adaptation, The Parent Trap, was based on a personal favourite: “I loved The Parent Trap, loved it, loved it, loved it. It’s a very girl empowering movie because the children, the daughters, the two girls make everything happen, they have totally control of the destiny of their family.”
Nancy Meyers on sticking close to original on remakes: "Don't try to outsmart something that works. Modernise it, don't change it." @BAFTA— Seth Imis (@LondonMovieLoon) September 26, 2015
Since then, Meyers has taken on the multiple tasks of writing, producing and directing on the majority of her films, motivated to take control to protect her screenplays: “The writing is really where it all happens. And then the directing I find is just executing the writing. That’s really why I became a director, honestly it really started out of just protecting the screenplay.” But her writing style hasn’t changed since getting behind the camera too. “I had been very hands on as a producer...I was always there in front of the monitor. So it wasn’t like my first time seeing my words come to life.”
If I’m at the point where I’m making a movie I’m confident about it or I’m not going to put myself out there…I have to also bring a whole lot of people in with me; I have to wrangle actors, I have to get the studio…I have to be the one that makes it happen. So confidence I think is critical.
Discussing casting, Meyers’ realised that casting against type is something of a trademark of hers: “In The Intern…Robert De Niro plays the nicest guy, he’s really a very centered, calm, patient, non-threatening person…Mel Gibson in What Woman Want, pretty macho guy, becomes a feminist…[in Something’s Gotta Give] Jack [Nicholson] falls in love with a woman his age, hello? I’d say this is my trademark now that I’m thinking on it!”
Meyers’ admitted that “like all humans I remember the bad [reviews]… I do care, I wish I didn’t care,” but was adamant she won’t let them affect the stories she writes: “People will say to me invariably at the end of every movie “well now if this one’s a success do you want to do…?” and I say no, this is what I want to do. These are the movies I want to write, these are the stories I want to tell. I don’t have a thriller in me.”
[It] sounds obvious and like your mother talking but, work really hard at it. I think a lot of young writers think ‘well they’re going to give me notes anyway so I’m not really gonna to fix this part’. Forget that, give yourself every possible note you can give yourself…really push yourself as hard as you can because they’re only going to read it once.
Meyers rounded off by discussing the current landscape in Hollywood and her concerns for new writers, including her daughter: “This is such a different time, because the last 35 years you could make movies about people…I worry will it happen for her because the movie business is not embracing the kind of work she wants to do.” And yet, Meyers mused, “maybe the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of human beings and human stories and comedies about adults...”
Over her 35-year career, Nancy Meyers has developed a reputation as a first-rate writer, director and producer of literate and sophisticated romantic comedies.
As a writer/producer, Meyers’ first film was the groundbreaking comedy Private Benjamin (1980), starring Goldie Hawn, which would earn both actor and writer an Oscar nomination. The film bucked conventional film wisdom at the time, which dictated that a female lead could not open a movie without a male star, and became a huge hit in the US and internationally. After the success of Private Benjamin, Meyers co-wrote and produced the critically acclaimed Irreconcilable Differences (1984), followed by Baby Boom (1987), starring Diane Keaton, and the box office hits Father of the Bride I and II (1991 and 1995), both of which starred Steve Martin and Keaton.
Following two decades of successful screenwriting and producing, Meyers made an auspicious debut as a director with the highly popular update of the Disney classic The Parent Trap (1998), starring Dennis Quaid and Lindsay Lohan, which Meyers also co-wrote. The multi-talented writer, director and producer also helmed the blockbuster romantic comedy What Women Want (2000), which enjoyed critical acclaim and international box office success. Meyers reunited with Keaton for the touching Something’s Gotta Give (2003), and again with Steve Martin in It’s Complicated (2009). Her most recent comedy, The Intern (2015), pairs Robert De Niro with Anne Hathaway, and is due for release in the UK in October this year.