Everything Is Copy: Nora Ephron, Scripted and Unscripted

At the New York premiere at the Museum of Modern Art of Jacob Bernstein’s film Everything Is Copy—Nora Ephron: Scripted & Unscripted, the N.Y. Times writer-turned-filmmaker said that he knew he had to get to work immediately before someone else told his mother’s story

Everything Is Copy will premiere on HBO on March 21.

He didn’t think merely writing about her would be enough (“I didn’t think that I was going to do a better book about my mother than she wrote herself”) and though his background is in print, he said “that doing a documentary was remarkably similar to the pieces we do at the New York Times.

“I knew that we would try to reconstruct her death, that that would be a piece of this. Documentary films are a good bridge between narrative films and what we do as journalists.”

“Everything Is Copy” covers Ephron’s entire life, from growing up with two screenwriter parents in California to becoming a celebrated Esquire columnist in New York to her troubled marriage to famed journalist Carl Bernstein to becoming a Hollywood screenwriter and director. Along the way, we see Ephron use every piece of her life as fodder for her writing — the life philosophy her mother gave her that gives the film its title.

The film weaves together dramatic readings of her essays along with interviews with her sisters, close friends and the actors and directors she worked with, with Meg Ryan recalling Ephron’s quick, often cutting wit.
Director Rob Reiner recounting the origin of the famous faked orgasm scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” But the most prominent voice is Ephron’s own. “I somehow stumbled on to the fact that she had read her essays for the books on tape,” Bernstein said, “and it began to occur to me that you could somehow have her narrate her documentary that way.”

The most difficult interview to get for the film was the subject closest to him, as Jacob said it took him two years to convince his father to participate in the documentary. As covered in the film, Ephron ended their marriage when she discovered Carl had been unfaithful, and turned the fallout into the book “Heartburn,” which she later adapted for filmmaker Mike Nichols.

“I think it took a lot of psychological pressure and the realization that I might not come over for Thanksgiving,” Jacob said, to get his father to change his mind.

“My father is in a very happy marriage at this point; I don’t think he was thinking when my mother died that ‘now we get to go through this again.’ I think he had totally reasonable concerns about what this might end up being in this current era of fame,” Jacob said. “You think to yourself: There were all sorts of things it could have been and ways it could have wound up, where it just ends up being misguided and exhibitionist. And I think he was concerned about that, and understandably so.”

Beaming with pride at the premiere, Carl admitted his son “had to kick me pretty hard in the ass” to get him to participate, but eventually he came around and allowed himself to be interviewed in the film, in which he talks honestly about falling in love with Ephron and praises her quick wit and honest assessments about love and heartbreak. “Before I finally said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it,’ we had had many, many talks about the film, about Nora, about the marriage, about me.”