Denise Di Novi is not exactly a stranger to the film industry. For over thirty years now she’s been one of the most successful women producers - one of the most successful producers, period - in the field. The very first feature she ever produced was the classic black comedy Heathers, and she followed that up with Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, smash hits all. Most recently she hit big with that *other* Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone film, Crazy, Stupid, Love. But not long ago, she began to realize a strong pull that is so commonplace in Hollywood, it’s become a punch line.
What she really wanted to do was direct.
But unlike most producers and actors who have vainglorious dreams of sitting in the director’s chair, but never see them through. Di Novi actually followed through. Her debut feature as a director, Unforgettable, stars Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl, and is in theaters now. “It came out of a lunch that I was having with a female studio executive,” she remembers, “and she was dealing with her husband’s crazy first wife. And she said, ‘You know, everybody always thinks the second wife is the bad guy, the villain. But there are a lot of really evil first wives that make our lives miserable.’ And I thought, ‘That’s a movie.”” She developed a script and hired a director, but when that original director bowed out, the studio suggested she direct it herself. And she did.
It wasn’t as common a transition as you might think. “It’s very unusual that career producers have directed,” she explains. “Irwin Winkler did it. Someone told me that there’s never been a woman do it, but I don’t know if that’s true. But it is unusual. You know I’ve had a long, successful career as a producer, and I could have just rested on my laurels. But I took this big risk. It’s good to go out on a limb every now and then.”
Once she was on set, she soon discovered that the job entailed a lot more than she had ever realized as a producer. “I thought, ‘I’ve made over 50 movies and TV shows,’” she says, “’so I kind of know what it is to direct.’ But when I started shooting, I began to understand directors a whole lot better. Some of the things that irritated me about directors all these years, I heard myself saying the same things. It’s kind of like when you think you know what it’s going to be like to be a parent because you’re an aunt or uncle and you spend a lot of time with your nieces and nephews. And then you have your own kids, and you realize, ‘I had no effing clue.’”
Di Novi has no plans to abandon her producing - her next film The Sky is Everywhere has already been announced - but if the results in Unforgettable are any indication, don’t be surprised to see her back in the director’s chair soon.
Hear the entire interview above, and see Unforgettable in theaters now.
Photos by Gordon Hight