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Director Series-Nora Ephron-Bewitched

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Writer/director Nora Ephron makes magic on the big-screen remake of ’60s sitcom Bewitched, with a star-studded cast of Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine. It’s an update with a twist, with part of the tale taking place at The Culver Studios where a remake of the television show is in the works. Kidman plays real-life witch Isobel Bigelow attempting to live a normal life, who gets dragged into the role of Samantha after being spotted by fading actor Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) looking for a leading lady who can wiggle her nose like Elizabeth Montgomery.Ephron avoids littering her movie with visual effects (Kidman, apparently, really can wiggle her nose like that), focusing instead on traditional crafts to enrich the visual extravaganza. The director/writer, known for romantic comedies You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, which she co-wrote with her sister Delia Ephron, entrusts her crew to make movie magic that highlights their specific talents as well. “You hire people so they’ll be the best version of themselves, not want you want them to do,” says Ephron. “What you really want is for them to do whatever they do and trust the collaboration works.”Below the Line: What appealed to you about remaking the story of Bewitched?Nora Ephron: A number of things. One was that Nicole Kidman was interested in doing it, and the other thing was she had Elizabeth Montgomery’s nose and you could hang a plot on that alone. She was the reason that the film was put into development. She was on the project before I was.BTL: You share co-writing credits with your sister Delia, which you’ve done on many of your movies. What makes your collaboration work?Ephron: We’ve done most everything I’ve directed together, and we say it’s because we share half a brain and we have the same references. I spent my first 10 years in the movie business being a screenwriter, not directing. And I found that some of the directors I worked with were very open to my being around, not just for the writing but for the casting process as well. Mike Nichols always let me watch him cast, and Rob Reiner was unbelievably welcoming to me being on the set for When Harry Met Sally. When I started to direct, I wanted someone to be there all through the process who was thinking about the script, because once you start directing you’re think about a lot of other things. Our first collaboration [This is My Life] was a natural since it was about sisters.BTL: What was your vision for the film? Were you informed at all by the original television series?Ephron: One of the main things was I didn’t want it to be effects-heavy. I am very conscious of the current mode of special effects: Now that we can do anything with special effects it seems to me that movies have lost most of their magic and all of their mystery. It used to be when you saw a movie a second time you could figure out how they did it, when effects were far more primitive than they are now. Now you just know that they do it with computers and you don’t know what that means. One of the things I was trying to preserve from the original series was the sort of charm and understated quality of those effects.BTL: This is your fourth film with cinematographer John Lindley. What is it about his way of working that keeps you collaborating?Ephron: I love working with him, obviously. When you work with someone that often, you get to the point where you have a kind of shorthand that is very comfortable. The thing that is great about John is what he does is very subtle. I think he’s just wonderful at lighting and he’s very easy to work with, he has a wonderful crew and he makes women look great. He also really thinks about what the movie is about and how we can find ways to make that clear in the course of shooting.BTL: Some of the designs, particularly Isobel’s house, are gorgeous. Can you talk about your production designer Neil Spisak and his team’s contribution?Ephron: Neil did Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man before this, so all of us were in awe. This is one of those movies that looked easy and wasn’t. That house was not a particular challenge actually; you look at a lot of books about Swedish furniture and proceed from the concept of what Isobel wanted, which is a normal life. Then we tried to make things hypernormal, and especially pretty. It’s her fantasy of the place. The television sets I think was one of the hardest parts. They had to look like real sets, but not be as unattractive as sound stages are. That was one of the biggest challenges for Neil to make those scenes charming and have some depth, when they don’t have any depth most of the time. He used certain pieces of scenery in the set, like the staircase, which is such a basic part of a television set, and that became a prop in the dance that Will and Nicole do. It was a case of trying to find things that could be sculptural and architectural rather than merely scenery. Another of his touches was using the Bewitched logo with its asterisky dot over the “i”, which he made lights out of in the outdoor scene in Jack’s party. There are a huge number of echoes that he came up with of that. We all had fun with that scene. As did set decorator Karen O’Hara, who was brilliant.BTL: Costume designer Mary Zophres’ work was a highlight of the film. Her designs for Isobel, and of course for Endora (Shirley MacLaine), were fabulous. What were some of her ideas that shaped the film?Ephron: I think she’s brilliant, and I loved the work she’d done for the Coen brothers, especially Intolerable Cruelty in which Catherine Zeta Jones wears about the most gorgeous seven different dresses in a row you’ve ever laid eyes on. What’s great about Mary is that she’s comedic without pulling focus. She was able to do “normal” for Nicole. She wasn’t really designing a witch, she was designing a witch that wanted to be normal. So that’s how we had to dress her, but without making it look like she came from The Gap. She used those vintage sweaters with jeans, very classic things that looked almost timeless. We made the decision with Nicole that she shouldn’t wear black until she revealed she was a witch. She wore a version of what Elizabeth Montgomery used to wear on the Bewitched show with the black coat and green lining, with that great little top underneath it; and the little Samantha doll that comes in the gift package Mary made so it also dressed like that. Shirley wanted costumes that she could wave her arms around a lot and have lots going on, feathers and drapy things. We wanted her to be equally dramatic.BTL: You kept visual effects to a minimum: there wasn’t anything overly flashy, in fact there was almost a kitchy feel to them. What was the thinking behind that?Ephron: It’s a much shorter list than in most movies. Our visual effects supervisor was Carey Villegas from Sony Pictures Imageworks. He was excellent. He understood what I was going for. There was nothing we were trying to do that was like, “oh god, how are we going to do that?” The idea was to keep them simple and seamless and charming. The effects aren’t meant to be what the movie is about.BTL: Your editor Tia Nolan—what did she bring to the table?Ephron: Tia and I had worked together on You’ve Got Mail. She then worked on the short piece I did for the Oscars a couple of years ago about New York movies. She’s a fabulous cutter of comedies, and does that thing that I think is amazing where you don’t see the cuts, it’s almost feathered it’s so seamless. She’s also great with music. My music supervisor Nick Meyers, who’s done the music for every one of my films, is also wonderful with music. And George Fenton who did the score, who I’ve done four movies with, came in with a very good temp score that Nick had done and then di
d a wonderful score. That collaboration was terrific.BTL: Was it true some of your crew were extras in the film?Ephron: I always do that. You often plop your crew in and out of the movie on the day you need someone to do x and y. I think it’s a nice thing if you can use your crew. At one point Nicole’s makeup man played her makeup man on the show, and that of course was better because he knew what he was doing. That scene ended up being cut, unfortunately. [Kidman’s makeup artist Robert McCann died shortly after the film was completed—see obit elsewhere in this issue.] He did amazing work, and his work was especially wonderful on this film. [His death] was totally shocking to all of us. Robert was an artist. Everybody was crazy about him.

Written by Sam Molineaux

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