If writer Nora Ephron could be described with only three words, they would be “everything is copy.” Writers most likely know what this means, but for those outside of the bubble, Ephron explains the phrase perfectly:
“When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh. So you become the hero, rather than the victim, of the joke.”
“Everything Is Copy” is a documentary paying homage to the late Nora Ephron–the writer, filmmaker and journalist who brought freshness and charm to romantic comedies that hasn’t been seen since her passing in 2012. If you don’t believe me, watch “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”
Ephron’s body of work went beyond her films. In the early ’70s, she was a reporter for the New York Post and a columnist for Esquire. In her life she wrote eight books, most of them collections of essays.
For most writers, their work persona is the version the world knows. Ernest Hemingway was not the macho man of his books, but a man who yearned to be like his characters.
However, to Ephron, everything was copy. Her life experiences are what fueled her writing, her sense of self, and her perspective on love and relationships.
“Everything is Copy” is directed by Ephron’s son Jacob Bernstein (Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate story along with Bob Woodward, is Jacob’s father). He breaks with the objectivity of journalism to discover that his mother actually believed the mantra that she stole from her own mother.
As the documentary progresses, he discovers that the phrase “everything is copy” is not just witty advice from one writer to another. It was the key to her success.
In the documentary, former Sony Studios executive Amy Pascal described Ephron as being smart, insightful, witty, sexy and ambitious. The same can be said about Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally” or Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in “Julie and Julia.”
Yet when Ephron said everything is copy, she also meant the bad things that happen in life. Her novel “Heartburn” was based on her marriage and eventual divorce with Carl Bernstein after his affair with a mutual friend. The documentary describes the process of the divorce and the emotional effect it had on Ephron as Bernstein continued to threaten suing her for the book. But what it proved was that even during a time of emotional strain, Ephron put the experience into her work.
Terrible days are part of the human experience. Everyone has them, some more often than others, and they make it feel for a moment like the world is crumbling into the bottom of the space-time continuum.
If you’re a human being, bad things will happen. You’ll be late for trains, you won’t get into your dream school, somebody will say no.
Now for a personal reflection: Recently I was informed that I was not accepted into the school I wanted to attend since I was 13–my dream school. For three days straight, I moped, cried, yelled at the dog and ate Oreos. After three days, however, I watched this documentary and it reminded me that “everything is copy.”
Now I eat Oreos for fun instead.
“Everything is Copy” is currently streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now.