There are few screenwriters who are considered “names” in Hollywood – there’s Academy Award winner William Goldman, Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black and the Coen brothers perhaps. But Nancy Meyers is just about the only female screenwriter to join the club and she has done so with a string of successful movies such as Baby Boom, What Women Want, and Something’s Gotta Give. Meyers was a Guest of Honor at the 2008 Screenwriting Expo and spoke about her career and the writing process. She started her career in the industry working as a script reader to legendary movie producer Ray Stark, the man behind such films as Goodbye Girl. had an auspicious start with her first screenplay Private Benjamin which was a runaway hit grossing $170 million at the box office. It’s hard to believe now but the screenplay for the movie was widely rejected by studio executives – even with Goldie Hawn already attached to the project. Says Meyers, “At the time, the film was radical – it had a female lead in a comedy and the subject matter was difficult. It was about a woman going against conventions.”
One studio executive even went so far as to call up Hawn and warn her not to do the movie or her career would be over. But says Meyers pragmatically, “It’s always been hard to get movies made.” One novice writer asked her how she handled the rejection. “I thought they were stupid,” comes her reply which drew a big laugh from the audience.
She advises writers to write about subjects that are close to their hearts. “Write what you know. Not everybody has your experience.” Meyers is an advocate of the smart romantic comedy. She confesses that she doesn’t much care for modern romantic comedies which she says feel “calculated”. Finally, Meyers tells a funny story about working on Something’s Gotta Give with actor Jack Nicholson, who she describes as an “acting genius”. She said that they were shooting in Paris, France, when there was a strike. The production mistakenly thought that because they were with an American company, they would be unaffected. They could not have been more wrong. Just as they were about to film the famous scene with Jack Nicholson on the bridge, hundreds of people swarmed the set, climbing scaffolding and shaking equipment. The crew had no choice but to shut down production. Nicholson took matters into his own hands and talked to the French film board turning on all his charm – but all that happened was that they all went to a bar to have a drink and just had to wait the strike out.