Norah Ephron was not only a distinguished director known for her romantic comedy movies but she was also considered one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood.

Ephron’s prolific skill as a writer greatly contributed to the successes of her films Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and You’ve Got Mail (1998).

Ephron was awarded a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay for When Harry Met Sally and received 3 Academy Award nominations for her writing.

With the success of Sleepless in Seattle, Ephron was perceived by many as Hollywood’s leading female director around the mid-90s, She would become known as the queen of the rom-com, reinventing the genre and making films that audiences continue to adore today.

In this article, we will be sharing our 25 favorite quotes from the pioneering filmmaker and master screenwriter.


Norah Ephron Filmmaking Quotes

Most directors, I discovered, need to be convinced that the screenplay they’re going to direct has something to do with them. And this is a tricky thing if you write screenplays where women have parts that are equal to or greater than the male part. And I thought, ‘Why am I out there looking for directors?’ — because you look at a list of directors, it’s all boys. It certainly was when I started as a screenwriter. So I thought, ‘I’m just gonna become a director and that’ll make it easier.’

I grew up in the movie business and I knew I had to get out of Los Angeles, knew it was the most horrible place for women. And most of the writers, my mother was a screenwriter, wrote with their husbands. So you had to be married in some weird way to even be a writer. I mean, it was such a bizarre idea that you needed a husband to write.

[Hollywood] is a very male business, and it has in vast portions of it — the whole action movie part of it might as well be the United States Army in 1943 in that the ethics of it are, you know, boot camp and action movies and guns and explosions and all the rest of it, and that – so that means that about 50 percent of the business is not only pretty much closed off to women, but women don’t even wanna be in it!

My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be comic stories the next.

Most of us live our lives devoid of cinematic moments.

Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.

I’m very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it.

I just want to go on making movies, and some of them will be completely meaningless, except, of course, to me.

One of the best things about directing movies, as opposed to merely writing them, is that there’s no confusion about who’s to blame: You are.

Nora Ephron Bewitched
Nora Ephron directs Michael Caine and Nicole Kidman n the set of Bewitched (2005)

Nora Ephron Quotes on Writing

The hardest thing about writing is writing.

Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person.

Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.

Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.

When I buy a new book, I always read the last page first, that way in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.

I don’t care who you are. When you sit down to write the first page of your screenplay, in your head, you’re also writing your Oscar acceptance speech.

All I do when I write scripts is think about food: ‘Have I worked long enough to justify a walk to the kitchen?’

Writers are cannibals. They really are. They are predators, and if you are friends with them, and if you say anything funny at dinner, or if anything good happens to you, you are in big trouble.

Recommended Reading: Writing the Screenplay Quotes

The Writing Process and the Screenplay

I go through periods where I work a great deal at all hours of the day whenever I am around a typewriter, and then I go through spells where I don’t do anything. I just sort of have lunch – all day. I never have been able to stick to a schedule. I work when there is something due or when I am really excited about a piece.

I’ve had friends who occasionally call and say, ‘I’m blocked!’ And I’ve said, ‘Well, how are you going to pay the rent?’ To me it was so obvious, you just had to work through it.

In the old days, I would just type the piece over and over in the hopes that it would somehow push me into the next sentence. But you don’t do that anymore with computers. I think one thing that you do is just make notes. You have to sit in a period called ‘not-writing’ and write pages and pages of anything that crosses your mind. Or you can read things that will help you…

The point is you do something, whether or not it’s the actual writing.

You better make them care about what you think. It had better be quirky or perverse or thoughtful enough so that you hit some chord in them. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. I mean we’ve all read pieces where we thought, “oh, who gives a damn”.

I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are.

Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.

I’m really not interested in women as victims. Look at me, I get the last laugh ‘cause I get to be funny about it.

The moment you stop work on a script seems to be determined not by whether you think the draft is good but simply by whether shooting is about to begin: if it is, you get to call your script a final draft; and if it’s not, you can always write another revision. This might seem to be a hateful way to live, but the odd thing is that it’s somehow comforting; as long as you’re revising, the project isn’t dead.

As a young journalist, I thought that stories were simply what happened. As a screenwriter, I realized that we create stories by imposing narrative on the events that happen around us.

Every scene has to be good. You work and work and work. You torture yourself rewriting the script.

Structure is the key to narrative.

These are the crucial questions any storyteller must answer: Where does it begin? Where does the beginning start to end and the middle begin? Where does the middle start to end and the end begin?…

Each of those things is entirely up to the writer. They are the hardest decisions for any writer to make about any story, whether fiction or nonfiction.

If you make the right decision about structure, many other things become absolutely clear. On some level, the rest is easy.


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