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Amy Heckerling
Filmmaker Amy Heckerling
Heckerling in May 2017
Born (1954-05-07) May 7, 1954 (age 70)
  • Director
  • producer
  • writer
Years active 1977–present
David Brandt
(m. 1981; div. 1983)
Neal Israel
(m. 1984; div. 1990)
Children 1

Amy Heckerling (born May 7, 1954) is an American writer, producer, and director. Heckerling started out her career after graduating from New York University. Her career started from independent films to directing major studio films.

Heckerling began her career after graduating from NYU and entering the American Film Institute, making small student films. She struggled to breakout into big films and was snubbed by Hollywood during her early career, up until the release of her breakout film Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). She has also directed the films Johnny Dangerously (1984), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), Look Who’s Talking (1989), Clueless (1995), Loser (2000), I Could Never be Your Woman (2007) and Vamps (2012). She was also a producer on A Night at the Roxbury (1998) and executive producer on Molly (1999).

Many of Heckerling’s films were adapted as television series. Fast Times at Ridgemont High evolved into the series Fast Times (1986), while Clueless (1995) became a television series that ran from 1996 to 1999.

Heckerling is a recipient of AFI's Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal celebrating her creative talents and artistic achievements.

Early life and education

Heckerling was born on May 7, 1954 in The Bronx, New York City, to a bookkeeper mother and an accountant father. She had a Jewish upbringing. Both of her parents worked full-time, so she frequently moved back and forth from her home in the Bronx, where Heckerling claims she was a latchkey kid sitting at home all day watching television, to her grandmother's home in Brooklyn which she enjoyed much better. Here, she frequented Coney Island and stayed up watching films all night with her grandmother. At this time Heckerling loved television, where she watched numerous cartoons and old black and white movies. Her favorites were gangster movies, musicals and comedies. She had a particular fondness for James Cagney.

After her father passed his CPA exam, the family became more financially stable and moved to Queens, where Heckerling felt more out of place than ever. She did not get along with other kids in her school there, nor did she want to continue to be classmates with them through high school, so she enrolled at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. On her first day of school there, Heckerling realized that she wanted to be a film director. During their first assignment, writing about what they wanted to do in life, Heckerling wrote that she wanted to be a writer or artist for Mad. She noticed that a boy next to her, that she claimed copied from her papers later on, wrote that he wanted to be a film director.

She graduated from high school in 1970, focused on directing and studying film at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Her father made just slightly over the cut-off for financial aid for the school, so Heckerling had to take out a large loan to cover her expenses. She claims this caused considerable stress in her life, and she was unable to pay them off until the end of her twenties. When Heckerling was in high school and focused on directing, her father was opposed to the idea, wishing that she had chosen a more practical aspiration. Despite this, he gave her Parker Tyler's book Classics of the Foreign Film: A Pictorial Legacy. Heckerling pored over the book, marking off films that she had seen until she had eventually watched most of them. She claims that by the time she got to NYU, because of this book, she had seen almost all of the films that they had to watch in her classes. Though Heckerling considered her time at NYU to be a great time where she learned a lot and made great connections, such as Martin Brest and noted screenwriter and satirist Terry Southern who was one of her professors, she later reflects on her time at the school as sloppy and unprofessional, claiming that she used very low-quality equipment and had a lot of technical problems.

During her time at NYU, Heckerling was making mostly musicals.


After graduating from NYU, Heckerling decided that she wanted to follow her friend Martin Brest to the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles where she felt there would be more opportunities to break into the business. Heckerling experienced severe culture shock upon moving to LA from NYC, especially because NYC's public transportation had made it unnecessary for her to learn to drive. When she did eventually learn, she adjusted to LA life and started working. Her first studio job was lip-syncing dailies for a television show, where she started making connections in the business.

..... Heckerling continued to work on the film after she graduated from AFI with her MFA, using the editing studios at night to finish the project after work. .....

When asked about film's ability to grant a form of immortality, Heckerling describes the experience during the accident: "There was the whole thing-the yellow light and all that stuff-and what went through my mind right then was, 'Well, at least I got the film to the lab.' So it's not going to save you from anything, obviously, but something about it pulls you forward." Eventually, she finished the film and held a screening that gained a very positive response, causing Heckerling to call it one of the best days of her life. Her next step was to use the film to get a job. Thom Mount, president of Universal Pictures, showed a lot of interest in Heckerling but because she was not backed by an agent they could not hire her. After months of struggling to find an agent, Mount called Heckerling up on the phone and asked her to make a film.

Feature films


Heckerling's first feature was Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), based on the non-fiction account of a year in the life of California high school students as observed by undercover Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe. When Heckerling first signed on to do a feature for Universal, she read a lot of scripts, but it was Crowe's script for Fast Times at Ridgemont High that stood out to her. Although she loved the script, she felt that it bore the marks of excessive studio interference, so she read the novel, determined which parts were strongest, and sat down with Crowe to rework the script. The film helped launch the careers of numerous stars including Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. In addition, it marks early appearances by several actors who later became stars, including Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards. Most notable, however, is the appearance of Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, who was launched into stardom by his performance. Heckerling describes casting Penn, whom she first met while he was sitting on the floor outside of the casting office, as a feeling of being overwhelmed by his intensity, even though all he had done was look up at her. She knew that this was her Spicoli, even though they had seen other people who had read better for the role. Ally Sheedy read for the role of Leigh's character Stacy Hamilton, but Heckerling decided that she wanted someone that seemed younger and more fragile (though Jennifer Jason Leigh was born more than four months earlier than Ally Sheedy).

Heckerling was discriminating about the film's soundtrack. Originally, the film was supposed to have music in it by bands like the Eagles. "I guess a lot of people like that stuff, but being young as I was at the time, I really wanted a new edgy eighties music soundtrack. I wanted Fear, Oingo Boingo, The Go-Gos, Talking Heads, and the Dead Kennedys. I was one of those obnoxious teenagers that thought that the music I liked was great and everything else sucked. Getting that Oingo Boingo song in the film was a big fight. But I had to make some compromises and put in some songs that I didn't like at all."

The studio was unsure of how to market the film, and Heckerling guesses that they did not think that anyone would want to watch it. The studio decided to just open it in a few hundred or so theaters on the west coast without any advertisement. Once the film opened, it was a huge success so the studio quickly opened it at theaters around the country. It became an instant hit right out of the gate, eventually going on to become a pop culture touchstone. The film earned $27,092,880 at the box office in the USA. It also spawned a short-lived series on CBS called Fast Times, with Heckerling writing, directing and producing.

After doing Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Heckerling was bombarded with similar but lesser scripts. ..... Eventually she found her next film. Johnny Dangerously (1984), with Michael Keaton, Joe Piscopo, Danny DeVito, Dom DeLuise, and Peter Boyle, was an Airplane!-style spoof of gangster movies, but it failed to catch fire at the box office upon its initial release. Heckerling attributes the film's failure to the public's lack of familiarity with the gangster movies that the film was poking fun at. "It was pure satire of something nobody remembers. I think that was the main problem, because all the actors and writers did great jobs. But we were definitely satirizing something ... I mean, unless you watch 1930s movies on TV at night, people don't remember. Somebody told me that during a screening they were sitting next to Brian De Palma, who had just done Scarface, and he was in hysterics. If you studied those movies, you know what we were doing." In subsequent years, however, it has garnered a substantial cult audience.

The following year, she directed National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985) with Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo, a sequel to the popular National Lampoon's Vacation. With it, Heckerling scored her second solid hit, earning $74,964,621 at the box office. The film, like many of Heckerling's films, received poor reviews from critics but proved to be very popular with audiences. Heckerling, despite being well educated and loving the work of such intellectual writers as Franz Kafka, admits that she loves "silly things," which has proven to make her commercially successful in the comedy genre.

In 1989, Heckerling had her biggest success with Look Who's Talking, starring John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and a baby voiced by Bruce Willis. Heckerling got the idea for the film while she was pregnant with her daughter and developed it into a feature. Heckerling says that she loves to write comedies, such as Look Who's Talking, because she notes that when a film is made, everyone working on it puts more than a year of their lives into making it, so she wants that year to be happy and fun. Heckerling, who loves Travolta, was ecstatic to work with him, though many people consider the film's release to be during the end of a low point in Travolta's career. The film has been Heckerling's highest-grossing film to date, earning $296,999,813. After the film's release, Heckerling was able to cross off the second of two goals that she had set for herself in college, the first being to make a studio feature, which she did with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and the second being: "I wanted to have hits the way boys had hits, not like a 'girl hit' that made 50 million, but a boy hit that made 100s of million."


Two Look Who's Talking sequels would follow—1990's Look Who's Talking Too—also directed by Heckerling and co-written with her then-husband Neal Israel. The film added another baby to the storyline and was a moderate success. Heckerling then produced, but did not direct, the third and final sequel, Look Who's Talking Now—a flop. The films also spawned a brief television show called Baby Talk that was largely written by Heckerling.

In 1995, she wrote and directed Clueless, reworking and updating Jane Austen's Emma as a 1990s teen comedy about wealthy teenagers living in Beverly Hills. Heckerling originally thought of Clueless as a television show because she loved to write the character of Cher who she described as a "happy, optimistic, California girl", and wanted to explore all of her adventures, but after she pitched it to her agent she was told that it would make a great feature. To research for the script, Heckerling sat in on classes at Beverly Hills High School where she observed how teenagers acted, though she admits that most of it was made up. She notes that teenagers at the high school did not dress in high fashion every day as the characters do in the film and that in reality the students there dressed just as frumpily as everyone else. She did, however draw on many of her observations, especially the tendency of teenage girls to groom themselves constantly. "You would think that within, you know, the few minutes that they've been in class, that their makeup wouldn't be needing so much repair and yet they're constantly painting and sculpting and ... doing to themselves." As with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it quickly caught on with teenagers and went on to become a significant pop culture reference point. The film went on to gross $56,631,572 and helped launch the careers of most of the cast, including Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer, and Stacey Dash. It was spun off into a moderately successful TV series, with Heckerling penning the pilot, as well as directing several episodes from the first season. Heckerling describes the show as basically the same as the film, only cleaner, and says that she still loves the characters.


Heckerling directed and produced Loser (2000), a romantic college comedy with Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari. The film was not a critical or commercial success. After a break, Heckerling's romantic comedy I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007), starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd, never opened in theaters; rather, it received a direct-to-video release domestically, despite fairly good notices. Production of the film was troubled by financial issues, including the rights to distribution being sold off without Heckerling's knowledge, making it difficult for her to sell the film to a studio. At the time, Heckerling was also taking care of both of her parents who were very ill (her father was in the hospital and her mother had cancer). Though Heckerling dislikes the baggage that the film carries and is upset about it not being released theatrically, she says that the experience was significant for her because she loved working with Rudd and Pfeiffer in England. Heckerling also directed an episode of the NBC version of The Office.

In 2011, Heckerling directed the horror-comedy film Vamps with Sigourney Weaver, Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter, about two vampires living in New York City as best friends and roommates. The film was released to theatres on November 2, 2012, followed by a DVD release on November 13.

On July 4, 2016, Gilbert Gottfried posted an in-depth 81-minute interview with Heckerling on his podcast.

In July 2017, a musical version of Clueless helmed by Tony nominee Kristin Hanggi received a developmental lab in New York City. A previous workshop starring Taylor Louderman (Kinky Boots) and Dave Thomas Brown (Heathers) took place in 2016. Heckerling wrote the libretto for the musical. The musical opened Off-Broadway on November 20, 2018 with Dove Cameron in the lead role.

Filmmaking style

Amy Heckerling's films have been characterized as having a proto-feminist perspective. One of the biggest focuses of Heckerling's directorial style is her anti-hierarchal and boundary-blurring aesthetic. Amy Heckerling continues to push gender norms within her films, and she consistently works against the sexist Hollywood status quo. Heckerling focuses on the female life at pivotal turning points. With films such as Clueless (1995) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Heckerling has focused on women finishing high school and going into what would be their adult lives. Her characters are constantly going against the norms that women are pushed into within society. Heckerling has a tendency to prioritize the female friendships within her films, along with a larger discussion of gender positioning within teenagers' lifestyles.

Personal life

Heckerling dated friend and fellow film director Martin Brest briefly when she first moved to Los Angeles. Though they later broke up, they remained good friends. Heckerling's first marriage was to David Brandt, from 1981 to 1983. In 1984, Heckerling married director Neal Israel, but divorced in 1990.

The couple's daughter, Mollie Israel, was born in 1985. Mollie was led to believe Israel was her biological father until 2004, when it was revealed to her that in fact Harold Ramis was her biological father. Heckerling has included Mollie in some of her films in bit parts, including Look Who's Talking and Loser, though Heckerling claims that her daughter never wanted to be a "girly girl" and distanced herself from much of her work, never adding any input to the lives of characters such as those in Clueless. Despite this, the two get along very well and Mollie frequently introduces her mother to new music, such as OK Go, and films. Today Mollie sings in the band The Lost Patrol.

Heckerling lives in both Los Angeles and New York and continues to make films.

Heckerling is not especially fond of the sycophantic nature present in the film industry.

Awards and nominations

In 1995, Heckerling won the National Society of Film Critics Best Screenplay award and was nominated for the Writers Guild of America award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for her screenplay, Clueless. In 1998, she received the Franklin J. Schaffner Medal from the American Film Institute. In 1999, she received the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through endurance and excellence, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.


Film work

Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
1977 Getting It Over With Yes Yes No Short film – AFI thesis film
1982 Fast Times at Ridgemont High Yes No No
1984 Johnny Dangerously Yes No No
1985 National Lampoon's European Vacation Yes No No
1989 Look Who's Talking Yes Yes No
1990 Look Who's Talking Too Yes Yes No
1993 Look Who's Talking Now No No Yes
1995 Clueless Yes Yes Yes
1998 A Night at the Roxbury No No Yes
1999 Molly No No Executive
2000 Loser Yes Yes Yes
2007 I Could Never Be Your Woman Yes Yes No
2012 Vamps Yes Yes No

Television work

Year Title Director Writer Producer Creator Notes
1986 Fast Times Yes Yes Yes No 3 episodes
1988 Life on the Flipside No No Yes No TV movie
1991–92 Baby Talk No Yes No Yes 35 episodes
1996–99 Clueless Yes Yes Executive Yes 4 episodes
2005 The Office Yes No No No Episode: "..."
2012 Gossip Girl Yes No No No Episodes: "Father and the Bride" and "Monstrous Ball"
2013–14 The Carrie Diaries Yes No No No 3 episodes
2014 Suburgatory Yes No No No Episode: "Victor Ha"
2014 Rake Yes No No No Episode: "Three Strikes"
2015–17 Red Oaks Yes No No No 6 episodes
2019 Weird City Yes No No No 2 episodes
2020 Royalties Yes No No No 10 episodes

Television roles

Year Title Role Notes
1995 Eek! The Cat Nel Erving (voice, Klutter! segment) Episode: "Bonfire of the Vanna Tea"
2020 Royalties Cindy McMann, uncredited Episode: "Kick Your Shoes Off"

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Amy Heckerling para niños

  • List of New York University people
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