Everything is Copy
Everything is Copy is a documentary written and directed by first-time director Jacob Bernstein. Now you may not know who Bernstein is, but I bet you’ve heard of his parents. His father is Carl Bernstein, one of the infamous journalists who brought down President Nixon in the Watergate Scandal. And his mother - well his mother was the late, great Nora Ephron. Being a huge Ephron fan, that excited me to my core.
Nora Ephron was one of the most famous American writers and directors of her time. Her name is often recognized because it accompanies films like Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail, just to name a few.
This documentary is about her life and is told from several different points of view. Nora narrates Everything is Copy through essays she has read out loud and interviews she has done over the years. The rest is told through interviews with her famous friends and family. It is a film of gratitude from a son to his mother and he tells a story that not even Nora could tell.
She is described as a woman that people want to make laugh. Steven Spielberg says “I only made Nora laugh a handful of times but every time it was like winning an Oscar”. When people made Nora laugh, it made their day.
It’s astonishing to hear that Tom Hanks and theater director George Wolfe said that Nora never thought of herself as a genius. She considered herself more lucky than anything else. That admission was astounding to Hanks and Wolfe because it seemed that she was so confident in her own hilarity, wit and writing. Sometimes people are unaware of their talent and I admire her for that humility.
Nora explained in one of her essays, “We all grew up with this thing that my mother said to us over and over and over and over again, which was everything is copy. You know, you'd come home with some thing that you thought was the tragedy of your life - someone hadn't asked you to dance or the hem had fallen out of your dress or whatever you thought was the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being. And my mother would say everything is copy. I now believe that what my mother meant is this - 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.”
From that advice, Nora wrote and spoke candidly about her upbringing, her husband cheating on her and the weird idiosyncrasies of another husband. But in the final chapter of her life, when she was dying of leukemia, she didn’t use it as material. She didn’t tell her dear friends that she was dying and it left them dumbfounded and frankly quite upset with her.
Meryl Streep describes the news as “an ambush”. No one had time to prepare for her death and they felt betrayed that she didn’t confide in them. But as all of her friends were talking in the film about it, you could see the moment when they understand why she didn’t tell people.
She had shared every single moment in her life with the public. She wrote about everything and everything was material to her, except her impending death because that was a story she could not control or put a spin on. She couldn’t control the narrative and therefore she avoided it.
The one question that lingered with me after watching this film was if I believed that everything is copy? I understand that some things are so sacred that you should only live through them once. But when I write about something personal that is poignant or beautiful or heartbreaking, it has always helped me grow as a writer and I feel healed for having written it down.
Therefore yes, to me, everything is copy. All's fair in love and writing.