Writer/Director Amy Heckerling offers sound, no-nonsense advice for West Michigan filmmakers

Amy Heckerling with Geoff Haney (WKTV’s cool PR & Promotions guy)

By Victoria Mullen



If you enjoy watching films like Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Look Who’s Talking (among other Amy Heckerling films), you would have been in seventh heaven last Friday and Saturday.


Heckerling was in Grand Rapids September 8 and 9 to screen Clueless and share her thoughts and perspective on film-making — and making it in an annoyingly male-dominated industry — at the Visiting Film Artists Series (VFAS), presented by West Michigan Film Video Alliance (WMFVA) at Celebration!Cinema North. On Friday viewers watched Clueless, the 1996 film written and directed by Heckerling. Saturday featured a luncheon and intimate Q&A with Heckerling.


Not surprisingly, guests had many, many questions on how to break into the biz. Heckerling was gracious, engaging and no-nonsense with her answers.


In a nutshell, here’s what helps get you in:

  1. Are you rich?
  2. Do you know somebody in the biz?
  3. Are you related to anybody in the biz?

It really is who you know. And sometimes you have to suck up an ‘attaboy sandwich,’ Heckerling’s term for biting your tongue and being gracious about a studio producer’s really stupid idea.


But the overarching theme in Heckerling’s presentation was that of perseverance and believing in yourself and your talent. Keep working. Hard. Follow your dreams. Things like that.

Tips for successful filmmaking and getting a big cheese to consider your idea:

  • Think about what’s in your heart that you want to say.
  • Be willing to plan what you want to do, but be flexible enough to change that plan.
  • Follow your dreams but you need to have smart dreams. Be smart and figure out the game.
  • Research people and try to maneuver your way in. Look for chinks in the barrier.
  • These days it’s easier to put together a reel but it’s hard to get someone to watch it; you still need to know someone in the industry.
  • It’s non-stop work. You must want it more, be pushier and work harder than the next guy.
  • Find out what studios are looking for and what’s in your heart you want to do.
  • Fight and stand up for your stuff; every now and then you get to do something you really want to do.
  • Sometimes you have to do something you don’t like on your way to getting where you want to be.

(And don’t forget that ‘attaboy sandwich.’)


Heckerling has been recognized for her talent and contribution to the industry with several awards: National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay; Writer’s Guild of America Best Screenplay Written Directly for Screen; Women in Film Crystal Awards; and the American Film Institute Franklin J. Schaffner Award.