The Nora Ephron Doc Is Our New Life Coach

Photo: Henry Lamb/BEImages.
Update: This story was originally published September 21, 2015. Everything Is Copy premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO.
It’s been over three years since Nora Ephron passed away, and for her fans (count us among them), it’s impossible not to miss her wise and hilarious voice, which can be found in her essays (like those in her collection I Feel Bad About My Neck) and her movies (When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia).

Of course, you can reread or re-watch those classics to absorb Ephron’s brilliance, but you’ll also get a chance to learn more about her in March, when Everything Is Copy, a documentary about her life, premieres on HBO. (Ephron died in June 2012 from leukemia.)

The documentary, which screened at the New York Film Festival this past Friday, is directed by Ephron’s son, Jacob Bernstein. Bernstein, a writer for The New York Times, brings his reporting skills to the movie, interviewing Ephron's family and friends to get a better understanding of how his mother lived, investigating whether she adhered to her motto “everything is copy,” which she gleaned from her own mother. The documentary features readings of Ephron’s work by Lena Dunham and Meg Ryan, as well as behind-the-scenes stories from the set of When Harry Met Sally… Tune in for these moments, but stay for the portrait of a complicated woman. How did someone known for her biting columns come to be a filmmaker synonymous with Hollywood romance?

Everything Is Copy doesn’t overly glorify Ephron; it presents her flaws and her gifts equally. Still, she was a hell of a woman. So naturally, we came away from the movie with a list of lessons learned. Here are just some of them.

Everything is copy…
At the documentary's outset, the audience hears Ephron explaining her theory behind this mantra, which means, at its most basic level, that everything in life can be used as material. To Ephron, though, “everything is copy” is more specific. It’s the idea that “when you slip on the banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on the banana peel, it’s your laugh. So you become the hero, rather than the victim of the joke.” Ephron’s need for “control” is mentioned often, and to her, “everything is copy” was another expression of that control.

Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself…
Ephron’s first husband, Dan Greenburg, recalls how Ephron would simply approach celebrities cold, introduce herself, and invite them to dinner. We’re not saying this will always (or you know, ever) work, but it’s a good lesson in fearlessness. It helps if you have Ephron’s charisma and wit to be an entertaining host. And, of course, she started doing it in a simpler time, before the days of TMZ and the rise of predatory online culture, when famous people weren't quite so guarded.

It’s okay not to be nice all the time...
Ephron was not one to sugarcoat things. Barry Diller remembers that she fired him from their high school newspaper. Tom Hanks is among those who remember her firing a child actor who was supposed to play his son in Sleepless in Seattle. Meg Ryan recalls that Ephron's “allegiance to laughs” was stronger than her “allegiance to someone’s feelings.” Ephron's brutal honesty and at times judgmental persona, however, are not framed as faults.

Write it funny…
Ephron went through one of the worst breakups anyone could imagine. Her second husband, Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, cheated on her while she was pregnant. Though she was devastated, she translated that devastation into humor, writing her novel Heartburn. “In writing it funny, she won,” says Mike Nichols, who went on to direct the movie adaptation, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Which is not to say that was the end of the story. Ephron and Bernstein’s divorce was messy and drawn out, and even involved negotiation over what could and could not be included in Nichols' Heartburn.
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