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FIRST-PERSON | Nicole Holofcener Recalls Making “Walking and Talking” 15 Years Ago

FIRST-PERSON | Nicole Holofcener Recalls Making "Walking and Talking" 15 Years Ago

I wrote the first draft for “Walking and Talking” pretty quickly. Later, while my producer, Ted Hope, was trying to raise the money for it, he kept giving me notes to improve it. He said, “While it’s not being made, why not keep making it better?” I just kept writing it and it rewriting it.  Years went by.  Everyone passed on it.  

At one point,  Miramax was going to make it with a different cast. Then we had another set of financing, and that fell through as well.  Studios and independent companies would say it’s too “soft,” which I imagine means “the room is just too girlie.” I thought that was bullshit, but at the same time I didn’t fight what they said was “soft “about it–that there was no big hook and that it was about women. (It’s funny, because it has the same hook as “Bridesmaids”: Single girl’s best friend gets married and her life falls apart.) 

Editor’s note: The following First-Person column was written by Nicole Holofcener in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of her first feature, “Walking and Talking.” indieWIRE will host a screening of the film in New York at the 92YTribeca on Wednesday. For tickets and more information, click here.

Ted and I were at Empire Diner on 11th Avenue in NY  when I said I wanted to give up. The whole process was too demoralizing, too hopeless. Ted said, “We’re so close,” and it turned out that we were close. He ended up pulling the financing together from three different foreign distributors, so I credit Ted for not letting me throw in the towel.  We shot it six years after that first draft.  I was pretty sick of the story and worried it wouldn’t feel fresh to me. Thankfully, I was completely wrong. Once I began working with the actors I was completely thrilled and inspired. 

When I wrote the movie I was single and related to the Catherine Keener character.  But by the time we shot it I was married, so I kind of became the Anne Heche character. I think it inevitably helped the film that I got to be in both character’s shoes. 

I had seen Catherine Keener in “Johnny Suede” at the Sundance Film Festival when I short film there, and just fell in love with her as an actress. I saw her at my gym and got someone to introduce her to me at my gym on the stair master. The casting director got my script to her agent and we had lunch at a restaurant that lasted for hours.  Catherine committed to the script right then, and stuck with me through all its incarnations. Obviously, I loved working with her (she’s been in all my movies).

We had a 25-day shoot in 1995.  There were compromises everywhere, but I was I really happy with a million dollars. Having made short films, I was used to working really quickly. It was stressful but also a lot of fun.

I remember an early test screening that was a pretty sad affair. I chopped up the beginning. I couldn’t really figure out how to start the film. I still dislike the beginning with the little girls as young versions of the main characters. I really felt like the last thing you want to do in a “chic flick” is start a movie with two little girls. There are lots of things in the movie that bug me, or I wish I could do over. Some things completely embarrass me. But I figure it’s sort of like remembering a guy you dated when you were young and stupid. That’s where you were at that point, and you’ve got to embrace it. 

The movie’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival was a very crazy night.  We had just finished it and it was literally still wet from the lab. We had it with us on the plane for a screening that night but the plane had to turn around because a bird hit the windshield. So we were grounded, and then there was a bad storm. We chartered a private plane in the storm–which I now consider insane–and arrived with the print in our hands. Sundance had told the audience that “I Shot Andy Warhol” was going to be screening instead, but then we just made it. 

I took so many valium to survive this little plane ride without having a panic attack, so I was kind of stoned. The screening went really well (the valium?) and the  producers negotiated with Harvey Weinstein all night.  We sold the film to Miramax.

Unfortunately, Miramax opened the film at the same time the company was releasing “Emma.” Let’s just put it this way: There was not a lot of focus on “Walking and Talking.” We didn’t even have a premiere or a party. I was invited to the “Emma” premiere. I think that was my consolation prize.

When the movie opened theatrically in New York,  I remember going to the 72nd Street newsstand because it got the paper at like 1 o’clock in the morning. My husband and I went there while it was pouring rain; it was a very clichéd scene. We tore it open and Janet Maslin had given it a positive review. We shrieked. I was so relieved, and elated. 

A lot of people who say they love the movie are in their twenties. They were barely born when I made it, so I know they’re discovering it later through word of mouth. That’s really cool; I love that.

When it was time to come up with another story, I guess I waited for inspiration. That’s why it takes me a while to make a film. I don’t want to just come up with something for the sake of it.   I began writing “Lovely & Amazing” and hoped it would be easier to get it financed (it was, but not by much).  I’ve been very fortunate: All of my movies have been well received. I know that I will make a flop/bomb at some point and of course I worry about that.  When I look back at “Walking and Talking,” I feel affection for my beginnings as a director. I still kind of can’t believe that I get to make these personal movies, and hope I can keep doing it.  

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