Firing The Most Successful Woman Director In The History of Film

July 12, 2011

The other day, a good friend asked me if I regretted any of my actions during my 35 years in the film business. Not the films made or not made. Things I had done that I personally regretted.

My first response was “How long have we got for this conversation?”

And then the following story from Bringing Back The Old Hollywood came to mind:

“Hiring and Firing The Most Successful Woman Director In The History of Film:

Early on in my tenure with Ray, we hired a wonderful young woman named Nancy Meyers to become our story editor.

Nancy was brilliant, utterly fearless, and most impressively, was completely unintimidated by Ray who could be quite a bully, not to mention an unapologetic chauvinist.

Nancy’s boyfriend at the time, and later husband and writing partner, was Charles Shyer, who had co-written Smokey and The Bandit for us.

Ray had been developing scripts out of skiing stories forever, but never got one made. As was the ritual for everyone who got my job, and for everyone who got Nancy’s job, he insisted that we try to get a skiing script to work.

I committed to myself that I would be the one executive that Ray had ever hired who would actually accomplish the skiing story mission. Little did I know how cursed the whole project was and would continue to be.

We quickly developed a great script called Freestyle with a wonderful writer named Ron Koslow who had written the hit film Lifeguard.

Unfortunately, Ray had also told Nancy to find a writer and she was also working on the skiing project with a completely different writer.

One company, two writers working on the same project, unbeknownst to each other. Not exactly kosher or honest, and also a violation of  several WGA (Writers Guild of America) regulations.

When I realized what was going on, I went to Ray who admitted that he had given Nancy and me the same assignment. (How Nancy and I hadn’t even mentioned that to each other will always remain a complete mystery to us both.) I told Ray that we would be in huge trouble if the WGA found out. He told me to shut up, mind my own business, and specifically ordered me not to tell Nancy.

I wish that I could say here that I immediately went to tell Nancy and the writer with whom she was working. But, I didn’t. Things were going too well with my career and Ray so I rationalized to myself that I should just shut up and do what my boss had told me to do.

As fate would have it, Nancy ran into Ron Koslow one day in our office and found out what was going on. Immediately, she came to me and said she had to confront Ray. I begged her not to but she insisted.

Sure enough, she quite accurately told Ray that we were way out of line in doing what we were doing and that the writers both needed to be told and one had to cease and desist.

As soon as Nancy left Ray’s office, he called me in and told me to fire her immediately and have her get out of the office that day. I argued with him, but to no avail.

Again, I could have refused to do Ray’s bidding but I didn’t.

I went to Nancy’s office and fired her.

In so doing, I abandoned Nancy, failed my own integrity, and betrayed the legacy of my father.

Fortunately for me, Nancy never held what happened against me and she and Chuck remained friends of mine.

In researching this book, I asked Nancy to confirm the details of that sorry moment, and she kindly reminded me that she thought that I felt as bad for firing her as she felt getting fired. She also tried to get me off the hook even now by saying that maybe her writer was working on something other than Freestyle.

Whatever the details were, I was complicit in the whole mess, which remains one of my most embarrassing and disgraceful moments.

All I can say now is that I learned a very important and painful lesson that day and was given another chance to redeem myself in a similar situation years later with Ron Bass and Dino deLaurentiis. More on that in Chapter Twelve.

Nancy and Chuck went on to write such huge hits as Private Benjamin, Baby Boom, and Father of The Bride.

After Nancy and Chuck divorced, she went on to write and direct such smash hits as The Holiday, What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, and It’s Complicated.

Nancy is now the most successful woman film director in the history of the film business, and deservedly so.

And I fired her.

As I have said before in these pages, a genius I’m not.”

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Asha Hawkesworth July 12, 2011 at 11:25 am

Maybe regrets are just excellent lessons that we will never forget–so we don’t repeat them. Heeding the lesson may not make you a genius, but it certainly makes you smarter. :)

Reply

Stephen Simon July 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm

With those guidelines, I am smarter than Einstein!

Reply

Michelle O'Neil July 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I admire how candid you are about your mistake and how you gained wisdom from it. All of us fall, no one is mistake-proof.

Reply

Danny Cameron July 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

But if you never fired her, maybe she wouldn’t have done what she did?

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: