The Nora Ephron-directed romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle turns 25 today. For Gary Foster, who first read the cross-country romantic comedy as a Jeff Arch spec script and fought for three years to keep its vision intact in the usual creative collisions of star-driven studio films, here provides an illuminating look at how a good spec evolved into a terrific movie.
On a hot Saturday afternoon in 1990, I sat down on a small couch in our baby daughter Kayla’s room to read a script entitled Sleepless in Seattle. Dave Warden, an agent representing a new writer named Jeff Arch, had submitted it to my company. I give most submissions 25 pages, and if I’m not in by that point, I put it down and pick up the next. That afternoon, I never noticed the 25-page mark. I zoomed right past it, drawn into this story about a widower, who wanted a loving partner in his and his son’s life, and a woman, who thought she had found her perfect match only to discover another destiny. One lived in Seattle, the other in Lancaster, PA. Although the lead characters don’t meet until the end of the movie, Jeff Arch had found a way to keep me engaged, wanting the same ending they wanted and in suspense until the final page! When I read “fade to black,” I was choked up. The script nailed it: “it was like magic.”
Looking back 25 years, I realize that the journey with Sleepless was an education on development and packaging movies. It was a time when Hollywood executives didn’t determine the path of a script’s development. They expected producers to do their job, have a point of view, and push for the right talent to get involved. It was my production, and I was expected to run it. At the time, that was the art of producing. I had a clear vision on what I thought the movie should be, and along the way I had to learn to stand my ground, and not allow my ideas to be compromised, while others floated their interpretations of what the movie should be. I am a good collaborator, but I learned while making Sleepless in Seattle that being a nice guy and at times trying to please, even when your instinct tells you it’s the wrong idea, is not helpful. Debate is good. The only thing I possess which is mine and mine alone, are my creative instincts, and if I don’t trust them, then I am not worthy of being called a producer.
I wish I could say it was as easy as snapping my fingers to get the movie made after that moment, but it’s not so simple in Hollywood as it seems on screen. The story of how the movie got made and became a classic has its own dramatic twists and turns. I was a 29-year old producer thrust into the big leagues of Hollywood. I had made four films prior to Sleepless (Short Circuit 1&2, Loverboy, Side Out), but none of them involved the level of power brokering, talent management, and strategic maneuvering that Sleepless in Seattle required of me. I was going to face situations that were new and much more complex to anything that I had experienced in my career to that point.
On the Monday after I had read the script, I submitted it to Richard Fischoff, an executive at TriStar Pictures. Richard is an affable guy who’s a true movie lover. All the films I had made to date were for TriStar Pictures, and there was a camaraderie there. We all loved the winged horse that flew out of the clouds as our icon. I was grateful to be a team player there, but even after four films, I felt like I was still cutting my teeth. I knew I could handle a bigger bite of Hollywood if I was given the chance. So, I was constantly looking for that special project that would catapult my career to a new level.
When I sent the Sleepless script to Richard, I said: “Don’t give this script to your staff for coverage. You need to read it yourself. It’s special.” A week later Richard called to say that the coverage on Sleepless was not very good and that they were going to pass. I was upset, and I let him know it. He had to read it himself, staff readers wouldn’t see that this was not like other movies, but it worked. In fact, I knew that what worked about it was that it was not like other movies, not a formula. I pleaded with Richard to actually read it. I must have been convincing because he agreed to do so, and he called me a few days later, agreeing emphatically. A week later, TriStar optioned it for me and we were in business.
TriStar at the time was run by Mike Medavoy, a legendary studio head. With his red hair and cigar, he looked the part of a fiery Hollywood power player. Mike had led Orion Pictures prior to joining TriStar and he was responsible for iconic films such as Platoon, Amadeus, Hannah and Her Sisters, Dances With Wolves and Silence of the Lambs, just to name a few. Mike was personally close to Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid (who were married then) and he knew they were looking to make a film together. He thought Sleepless could be the one. After reading it, Meg and Dennis both agreed to attach themselves to the project and we began looking for a director. For a while, it all seemed to be happening very fast, which for a producer is good news. Then, it started to crawl. Directors interested in a meeting on the project were not compelling enough. Why? Even I had to admit that the script was good, but it was missing something. It wasn’t good enough. I realized it lacked a level of sophistication and complexity that a sentimental story needs to elevate it past treacle. I had been seduced by the heart of it and neglected to see that a movie cannot live on emotion alone. I was disappointed that it wasn’t coming together, but I committed myself to get it done right, not just get it done.
Richard Fischoff and I agreed that we needed to bring in a fresh set of eyes to work on the draft. I hated making the call to Jeff Arch, who had become a friend, to let him know our plan to change writers. He was already talking about moving his whole family to Santa Barbara to start his new career as a screenwriter. As much as I loved his script and the heart of the story, I told him, it needed to be sharpened a bit. I have always felt a direct, honest and supportive conversation is best at those times. He was disappointed but appreciated the talk, and I promised him that no matter what, it would always be his.
I wanted Nora Ephron for the rewrite. When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite films in the romantic comedy genre. It had the edge and wit that Sleepless needed. I was feeling that this bright optimistic story needed a cynical layer to justify the organic sweetness that was infused in its DNA. Unfortunately, she was not available, so I began to meet with other writers.
I hoped that Oscar winner David Ward (The Sting) would have what we needed. He’s a towering guy, square-jawed and hair nearly short enough to qualify as crew-cut. He sat down and said: “Gary, you have a major problem with the script. No man of strength that I know would pick up the phone on New Year’s Eve — or at any other time — and call into a radio show to start sharing his emotional problems on the air. He’s a pussy!” He pitched the idea that Sam’s young son, concerned about his dad’s emotional state, calls the show and is coerced by the radio host to put his dad on the phone. It’s a high jack. After meeting with 10 or so other top writers, David’s notes made the most sense so we hired him.
TriStar Pictures was ramping up production on the film Hook, a mega-budget of a production that Medavoy was teeing up to be a huge hit. Nick Castle, who had directed The Last Starfighter and Tap was attached to direct. His screenplay had attracted Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and Julia Roberts to star, and they wanted Steven Spielberg to direct. TriStar and CAA (who represented most of the talent) were in a difficult position. Nick had developed a terrific script and had attracted top talent, but the project was moving beyond him. A power play ensued, and Nick was removed from his project. As a way of softening the blow, Medavoy and his team gave him Sleepless in Seattle to read.
Nick comes from a Hollywood family. His father was a top choreographer for many musicals for film and TV. Nick himself acted as a child and famously played “Mike Myers” the masked villain in John Carpenter’s Halloween. His directing career included The Boy Who Could Fly. I was happy to meet with him. Nick had good ideas about how to improve the story telling and a good grasp of the emotional heart of the story.
David Ward turned in his draft. Shifting Jonah to a more active plot engine was very successful, but the story overall still felt too soft. Where was Nora Ephron?
Just before the Christmas holidays in 1992, my friend Joanne Wiles, who was working for Nora Ephron’s agent Jim Wiatt at ICM, called me to say that she had heard on a call with Jim and Nora that Nora was looking to make some money and do a rewrite. This was my chance. I told Joanne to send Sleepless to Nora.
Returning to work after the holidays, I immediately began thinking about how I was going to move the project forward. It had been one and half years of development at this point. It’s not unusual for a project to take a few years, and I always have a 10 or more scripts that I’m working on at any one time. But Sleepless was special and it was my priority. Meg had moved on, but Dennis Quaid still wanted to be a part of it. Kim Basinger’s agent was aggressively trying to attach her to the film. I needed to keep the studio engaged, so this interest kept the conversation going.
A few days later the phone rang and my assistant yelled: “Nora Ephron is on the phone for you.” My heart raced. I picked up. “Hello,” I said. “Gary, it’s Nora Ephron. I have read your script and I can fix it in two weeks. And when I’m done you will be able to cast Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, because that’s what this movie deserves.” All I could say in reply was: “Yes please!”
Nick Castle, Richard Fischoff and I flew out to New York to meet Nora. When I first set eyes on her, she was in a beige Armani suit. She had black hair, beautiful jewelry and an overall polished air that can only be described as sophisticated. She was well aware of how she was coming off and if you paid close attention, you could see she was somewhat bemused by herself. Unlike other women I had met at her level of achievement, Nora didn’t take herself too seriously and treasured her sense of humor above everything else, except a good meal. I learned right away that I had better be on my toes and not say anything stupid, otherwise I’d get a terrifying look from her. No words, the look was withering enough. I still love imitating the way Nora spoke. It was deliberate but incomplete, with a tinge of mock-arrogance. She knew she was giving you gems.
For example, she was discussing a moment with Annie, Meg Ryan’s character in the film, and her best friend Becky, ultimately played by Rosie O’Donnell. Nora described how she envisioned the dialogue between them when Annie is obsessing over this man she heard on the radio from Seattle “she should say something like…well, I don’t know…
In Annie’s voice: ‘…and he lives on a boat!’
In Becky’s voice: “I hate boats”
In Annie’s voice: “I know!‘ ”
She would stop talking, wave her hands as if to say: Do I have to give you more?
She had this sardonic New York attitude which I had always longed for in Sleepless. That was the prism through which she wrote, the tonal layer our screenplay desperately needed. Nora was riveting to watch, but when I took my eyes off Nora to check how Nick was reacting, I could see that he wasn’t connecting. Nick and Nora came from different worlds. She was a slightly cynical New Yorker who was looking to put a little edge in the fairy tale by undercutting its sweet core. Nick was an optimistic Angelino who embraced the sweetness and wanted to reinforce that emotion. I flew back to L.A. believing that the script was in the right hands. The rest would sort itself out.
A few weeks before Nora delivered the script, Mike Medavoy changed his production team. He elevated Stacey Snider and Marc Platt as new co-presidents of TriStar Pictures. Stacey is enormously appealing. She is super sharp and knows how to use her empathy and intuition to her advantage. She works harder than anyone else, is fiercely loyal, and knows how to inspire people to see things her way. Co-president of TriStar was her biggest opportunity yet.
Marc Platt had worked for Mike Medavoy at Orion. He was a strategic thinker and a consummate politician with a more traditional power player style. He positioned himself as the heavy in the partnership and knew how to maneuver. He was incredibly charming with talent and could be brusque with agents and others behind the scenes. Together, they made an effective team.
In this turnover my executive, Richard Fischoff, was let go, so anyone who had history with the journey of Sleepless was gone. Richard had always been the project’s unrelenting advocate inside the studio, therefore his departure was concerning. He had told me that other execs had tried to kill it at various points, so be careful. I hoped that this changeover would pave the way for Marc and Stacey to claim it as their own. They were two weeks into their jobs and I knew that Sleepless would give them early success if they bought in. I embraced them as my partners, and never looked back.
Two weeks later, a messenger delivered Nora’s draft to me. It seems sort of quaint now to talk about messengering scripts, but there was no email then so messengers crisscrossed Hollywood daily. I immediately made a copy and messengered it to Nick. Then I lay down on my office couch and began to read. An hour or so later I knew that Sleepless in Seattle had finally come of age.
Nick called me toward the end of the day to say he had read the draft and “was very disappointed.” I was not surprised, remembering how he had reacted in the meeting with her, but I didn’t hide the fact that I disagreed. I told him I loved it and explained my reasoning. He was sure he was right and I was wrong and insisted that the studio read right away so we could have a meeting to discuss it.
The next day arrived we gathered at TriStar to hear Nick’s point of view. The studio team had phoned me earlier in the day to say that they shared my enthusiasm for the draft. I had decided to warn Nick of this prior to the meeting because I felt obliged to let him know what he was going up against. Nick argued like Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men — very animated, passionate, and articulate about what he didn’t like. The acerbic underpinning that Nora had added bothered him. He thought it had become too New Yorkie and bitter. He wanted a much softer and more sentimental movie. It had lost its heart, he thought.
There was not a lot of debate when he finished. The silence was more telling than any discussion could have been. Marc thanked him for his honesty and promised to give it a good think. I knew it was over for Nick. Five minutes later I was summoned back to Marc’s office and he said: “I’m calling Nick’s agent to let him know that we’re removing him from the project.” It was another devastating moment for Nick, and I felt badly for him, but ultimately my loyalty was to the movie. I knew that the movie Nora had written was the version I had always envisioned Sleepless in Seattle being. We’ve all heard the phrase “creative differences.” This was exactly that.
For a while Sleepless lived at the studio in the shadow of other projects, which were working their way towards being made. Sleepless was supposed to be a nice, quality film down slate, but it needed a reason to be taken seriously.
In those days, when a film was coming together, the producer did the work of advocating and pushing for talent to get involved. When talent wanted to do a film, the level of intensity about the deal or the marketing and distribution plan was not the first order of business. Unlike today when super agents and studio presidents lead the charge in packaging movies, and the marketing budgets and number of screens are a factor in the decision-making process, in 1992, the role of the producer was to be out front, recruiting on the foundation of the creative vision. It was my production and I was expected to have all the answers. Jim Wiatt (Nora’s agent) and I would talk regularly. Richard Lovett who repped Tom and Steve Dontanville who represented Meg didn’t hesitate to call me with big or little issues. I was on the phones as point person for all things Sleepless in Seattle.
Script done, we went back to assembling the team to make this new version of Sleepless. Legendary producer Ray Stark had an option on Julia Roberts from the film he produced, Steel Magnolias. TriStar wanted to give him our script in the hopes he’d be willing to let us use his option on Sleepless. Julia was a huge star and I thought that even though she was a bit younger than I imagined Annie, she could do the part. Again, my intuition hesitated and I decided to speak with Nora before I committed. I wanted to talk it out. Nora thought Julia could do it but explained why Meg Ryan would be her top choice. Meg had a certain girl next door appeal. Meg also had a sly comic edge, intelligence and complexity that would benefit the journey of the character and support the new tone of our screenplay. I agreed, but we both decided that it would be impossible to stop what was in motion. Having a Julia Roberts movie wasn’t such a bad thing.
Part of the arrangement with the option was that Ray Stark would become my partner, but only if Julia starred in the film. Ray was a big-time producer who owned lots of Sony stock. His company was acquired in 1974 by Columbia Pictures, and Sony now owned Columbia/Tristar. Needless to say, he had a lot of clout, but I wasn’t about to lose my grip on my movie, so I made sure my position was clear.
My father, David Foster, had been a successful producer since the late 1960s. Being a former publicist, he had a big personality, a reputation of being relentlessly passionate and was well liked within the community. Even though I was determined to find my own way forward, I spoke with him about the situation that was unfolding. He told me that Ray was very strong and that I needed to demonstrate early on that he couldn’t bowl me over. He’d kill me with kindness. Ray, like my father, was trained to charge forward and not worry about people in the way. But he always said the right things to maintain good relationships.
I told Marc Platt, “Fine, if we get Julia in the movie, Ray comes on board as my co-producer. I accept that. But, if Julia doesn’t do the movie, Ray can’t stick with Sleepless.” I knew it would be difficult to remove Ray from the movie once he was on so I had to make it crystal clear: that was the deal. Marc and Ray agreed. When Ray and I first spoke he was gracious and said he would follow my lead. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I now knew he was lying.
Julia read the script and declared her interest. Suddenly Ray was calling the agents for the top directors of the day Garry Marshall, Ron Howard, among others, to come on the project. I was pissed. He was doing everything my dad warned me about. He was trying to make it his own. I didn’t believe the film needed to be over-packaged with high-priced talent. There were plenty of movies made for the wrong reasons. Attaching big names (actors or directors) was no guarantee of success. I still believe that today. Creatively, even though it was a story about romance and fate, it could not live as a pure Hollywood fairy tale. It needed a director that understood the difference and would not be afraid of letting those edgier moments shine through. Remembering my dad’s advice, I shared my displeasure with Ray. He apologized, but I knew it wouldn’t stop him. It was in his DNA to be aggressive, something that I realized was an essential part of the job.
As the pressure built and the debates about directors become more intense, Julia suddenly changed her mind. She was out. Everyone was upset, but I was secretly OK with it. I got my movie back.
I reminded Marc of the deal with Ray Stark: No Julia, no Ray. Marc said: “you tell him.” We sat together in Marc’s office and I thanked Ray for all his help, but a deal was a deal. He looked stunned and turned to Marc who shrugged: “That was the deal, Ray.” Ray stood up in disbelief and walked out of the room. I’m sure that wasn’t the end of it for Marc (I was grateful that he supported me against a powerful mogul). Now, I felt free to put the movie together my way and I had won a round against Ray Stark. I felt my teeth sharpening.
As a producer, you sometimes have to take a breath and think honestly about your project. You must disengage from the madness of the business and remember why you fell in love with it in the first place. What did the movie I wanted to make look like? I needed to be laser focused on that image, protect it, and make it happen. The movie I had in mind was about love, but about something else too, some force against love and the ultimate triumph of love in spite of the odds against it. Remember the joke in the movie:
Co-worker: It’s easier to be killed by a terrorist more than it is to find a husband over the age of 40.
Annie: That’s not true.
Becky: But it feels true.
It was beginning to feel true that a movie almost 24 months in the making was either going to happen now, or not at all.
About that time, Nora invited me to a screening of a film she directed, her directorial debut entitled This Is My Life. Nora was best known as a writer, but she was just beginning to test whether there was room for a female director with her sensibility. The film is about a single mom trying to become a stand-up comedian while at the same time raising two young daughters in New York City. Some reviewers criticized it for being too small, more – TV movie than feature film. That didn’t bother me. What impressed me was that the characters were beautifully developed and complex, at a time when most female roles were simplified and took a back seat to male roles. It completely worked emotionally. Julie Kavner played the mom and gave an extraordinary performance. But the authentic portrayals given by the young actresses Samantha Mathis and Gabby Hoffman were a revelation. Nora’s direction and ability to get layered and real performances from really young girls showed me a directing skill that directly connected to Sleepless’ needs. I had two young daughters at home at the time and I knew first-hand how complex kids could be. I knew our film would rise or fall on the casting and performance of the character of Jonah.
I called Nora to congratulate her. I should have been a little more circumspect, but I couldn’t help it and jumped right in with: “We’ve never had this conversation but, would you be interested in directing Sleepless?” There was a long pause, and then all she said was: “yes.” On the other end, I took a mental note to pause longer in the future and talk less. She completely drew me in.
It was the right decision. She had brilliantly elevated the script and having gotten to know her I was confident that she was ready, had the relationships and skill to attract actors to work with her, and she was highly motivated to take the next step in her career. I knew I had found my partner for this film. The next step was to convince the studio.
I told Marc and Stacey that this is what I wanted. Nora had already spoken with Meg. We both loved Tom Hanks for the part. His career was on a rise again. He was coming off of a highly successful performance in A League of Their Own. Tom’s agent, Richard Lovett, had read Sleepless when Julia was involved and was supportive. He was willing to arrange a meeting between Tom and Nora to discuss it. I had the answers the studio needed to hear. But, they needed Mike Medavoy’s blessing.
In 1992, Meg Ryan was on a mission to change her image as “America’s Sweetheart.” She worked with Oliver Stone on The Doors and had just finished Prelude To A Kiss. She was a bankable star, especially in a romantic comedy. She had great respect for Nora and while Sleepless would potentially reinforce the image she was trying to change, she recognized the uniqueness of the piece.
Tom Hanks was coming off an iconic performance in A League of Their Own. While he had had hits like Splash and Big, he was looking to change his image from an affable comic leading man to a more traditional one. I look back on it now and realize why Tom’s career as an actor and a producer flourished. He knew he had the skill to be an Oscar-winning actor. He understood how movies were put together and was willing to challenge in order to get his point of view across. It mattered to him that his character in Sleepless was original, honest and complex. He fought hard to make sure it didn’t revert to cliché or become over sentimentalized. In fact, there was a brief moment where he threatened to leave the film over this and he Nora spent two days hashing it all out. His next film after Sleepless was Philadelphia. A game-changing performance that won him his first Oscar.
Nora met with Meg who re-read the script and said she’d do it. Meg still hoped that Dennis would co-star with her, but Nora with sensitivity explained why she thought Tom Hanks was the right choice for the role of Sam. Meg understood and reaffirmed her commitment.
Nora and Tom Hanks met at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Nora had grown up in the Beverly Hills flats and she was in her native habitat. They sat at the pool and discussed the part over lunch. Nora reported back to me that while she thought it was a good meeting (Tom was reciting lines and play-acting with her), but she wasn’t sure they connected. He was holding something back but she didn’t know what. When I spoke with Richard, he said we were close, but it wasn’t a sure thing. Tom had concerns about connecting with Nora. He wondered if she was too aloof and arrogant. Nora was not the exuberant cheerleader like Penny Marshall (Big and A League of Their Own) that Tom had worked with. She wasn’t aloof but wry, she wasn’t arrogant but she was confident, layered, a little protective of herself. I told Richard, she knew her stuff and if Tom gave her a chance, he’d see that she was in total command and the protective façade would come down. Her humor would show through. I really believed that once they got to know each other, they’d become fast friends. I was right about that!
There is always a window of opportunity to get a movie made. It doesn’t stay open for too long. Sleepless in Seattle was peaking, it was now or never.
I called Mike Medavoy and asked for a meeting with him, Marc, and Stacey. We gathered in his plush conference room with pictures of all the famous directors and actors he had worked with lining the walls. Brando, Streisand, Lumet, Milos Forman, Oliver Stone, Goldie, Clint, Dustin, and walls full of others. He lit a cigar, looked right at me, and said, “You called this meeting, what do you want?” “Mike,” I said, “what’s wrong with this movie: Sleepless in Seattle starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks to be directed by Nora Ephron?” He asked, “Are they all committed?” “Yes,” I quickly replied, this was no time for hesitation or dramatic pauses. He looked around the room and asked how the others felt. Marc and Stacey were supportive. Mike said he needed to think about it and would get back to me. Even though he had green light power, he wanted to speak with Sony Pictures chairman Peter Guber.
A couple days went by. Not a word. What the fuck was going on? Had I miscalculated how appealing this package was? It should have been an easy yes. Nora and I spoke a few times a day as we were both on pins and needles. It was stressful. I couldn’t take it, but there was nothing for me to do. Finally, I got a call from Mike’s office: Mike had called Jim Wyatt, Nora’s agent, and asked her to fly out for a meeting.
The next day we sat in Mike’s conference room surrounded by the same pictures and the same smell of cigar smoke. Mike loved a good cigar and seemed to always have one in his hand. I’m sure Nora was disgusted but she never flinched. He gave the floor to Nora to present her case. She spoke about her vision for the film, and how she wanted it feel timeless. The conversation explored other cast ideas, the look, and tone she wanted. The more Nora spoke, the more they listened, and she took control of the room. Nora shared with Mike some of the visual motifs she was thinking about to help with the cross-country issue. It’s the first time I heard about pull down maps and how most kids today didn’t know geography. She had this idea that when a character would open a door in Seattle, the next cut would be someone coming out of a door in Baltimore. She wanted a visual approach to connections. She knew that to keep the main characters apart for most of the movie it would take carefully planned film craft and she was already thinking about ways to make it work.
She shared parts of her discussions with Tom and Meg, which Mike appreciated. She talked about expanding the role of Jessica, Jonah’s girlfriend, and wanted to ask Gabby Hoffman. She and her sister Delia had some great ideas on how to make the kids more modern and less generic.
When she finished her pitch, Mike told us to go have lunch and come back at 3 PM. I thought it went perfectly, but they were good at not showing their hand. Nora picked the restaurant. We went to the Sony Pictures commissary where she could have a cobb salad. We both felt that whatever happened, at least we would get a good lunch out of it.
When we reassembled, Mike started talking about his love of French films, especially Claude Lelouche’s And Now My Love. It was important to him that Seattle come through as a character in the film. He suggested Sven Nyquist as the right cameraman to photograph the film. Nora liked that idea as he had worked with her friend Woody Allen on two films. Mike referenced rain on car windows and a certain “emotional feel” the movie had to have. It all made sense and complimented Nora’s vision. Finally, he pushed his chair back and said: “OK, go make your movie.”
After shaking hands with Mike, Marc, and Stacey, Nora and I left the conference room and silently walked down the long hallway to my office. Once inside the safe environs, we screamed and hugged. We had done it! Sleepless in Seattle would star Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and would be directed by Nora Ephron.
Twenty-five years later I look back at the whole journey and marvel at what we accomplished. Nora and I remained trusted partners throughout. We faced some challenging moments, and we had our complications, but we were committed to our shared vision. I made sure Jeff Arch was involved and brought him to Seattle during filming. Nora and I never forgot who birthed Sleepless in Seattle. At the end of the day, Nora, David Ward and Jeff received credit for writing the film. Tom, Meg, Rosie O’Donnell, Bill Pullman, Rita Wilson, Ross Malinger and the rest of the fantastic cast and crew were totally on board and we all strived to make it even better. I fought hard to get Marc Shaiman to do the score, and boy, did he deliver. The soundtrack had a whole life of its own.
I graduated to become a full-fledged producer because I butted heads with the power players of the time, stood my ground and protected Sleepless from others who were trying to serve their own interests. And nobody banished me to the sidelines. Today, I look back on the battles and smile with pride as I had the courage of conviction to fight hard for the best version of the film and I won more than I lost. One misstep and who knows what we would have had.
On Saturday morning June 26th 1993, my doorbell rang. A huge bouquet of flowers was handed to me. When I opened the card it said: “Congratulations, you made it happen. Sincerely, Ray Stark.” That was class.
Nora and I remained good friends long past that film. Years later, we were having dinner at Elio’s in New York, she turned to me and said: “We did do something special.” I smiled and said, “You changed my life.” Not one for being overly sentimental, Nora moved on to discussing the issue of the day, but we both knew what we had done for each other.