Dear Cinephiles,

“Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out… and, then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while,” says Sam in “Sleepless in Seattle.” I immediately sat up when I heard those words while I found myself recently watching this 27 year-old film I hadn’t seen since it’s release. Full disclosure, the misanthrope in me has been reluctant to fully embrace this movie. Since my soul – like everyone else’s – has taken a beating lately, I decided a week of movies with romance in them would be good. I’m happy to report that “Sleepless in Seattle” is good medicine – and I found Sam’s journey from grief to resolving to move forward stirring. The pandemic has made this film particularly evocative.

The movie follows Sam who has recently lost his wife and is now a single father to eight-year old Jonah. Concerned about his dad’s melancholia, Jonah calls in to a talk-radio show and forces his Sam to open up to the on-air psychologist. The host – after finding out that Sam doesn’t sleep and stares out at the skies at night – baptizes him “Sleepless in Seattle.” Annie Reed is listening in on the call. She’s a reporter in Baltimore and has, recently gotten engaged to Walter – a perfectly good man, but she is not in love with him. A lot of listeners are touched by Sam’s story – and so is Annie – who starts a crusade to get to meet Sam in person. This aspect is what makes this tale unique in the pantheon of romantic comedies. It is all built around the what will be. Our protagonists will not meet during the course of the film. It is assembled on the future possibility of love – and our necessary investment as human beings to the nature of hope. “Mommy got sick, and it happened just like that. There was nothing anybody could do. It isn’t fair. There’s no reason, but if we start asking why we’ll go crazy,” says Sam at the very top.

The notion of star-crossed lovers destined to be together and their gravitational pull is the foundation for the script. From the get go, we know they will get to meet each other – but the comedic aspect of the narrative is all the obstacles and circumstances that director Nora Ephron and her co-writers David S. Ward and Jeff Arch string along to keep them apart. “Destiny takes the hand,” says Annie’s mom. “Destiny is something we’ve invented because we can’t stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.” The main stem of the script focuses on Sam and Jonah – father and son leaning on each other to muddle through their pain.

This was Ephron’s second time at directing, and this time she works with one of the greatest cinematographers of all time – Sven Nykvist – who collaborated with Igmar Bergman and garnered two Academy Awards for “Cries and Whispers” (1973) and “Fanny and Alexander” (1983). His simple and realistic lighting was able to create a feel and atmosphere. The work in “Sleepless in Seattle” is a joy to behold. He creates two separate worlds – one in Seattle and one in Baltimore – each representing our protagonists who are miles apart but complement each other. Sam’s world is bathed is cool colors and Annie’s warmer. There are two moments that are kismet. Sam and Annie – both staring at the night sky but on different coasts. Later she travels to Seattle to try and meet Sam – but she simply finds herself admiring the father and son playing on the beach together. The visuals are stunning. Sam and Jonah are bathed in warmth. Annie is all in blues.

The film pays homage to the 1957 classic “An Affair to Remember” starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, in which its last minutes are so powerfully romantic one finds oneself fighting back tears. Both films, share a common denouement at the Empire State Building. “Sleepless in Seattle” has genuinely funny moments as well as very touching ones. Besides Nykvist’s cinematography, it uses a well-known group of American standards to create a romantic mood – including Louis Armstrong singing “A Kiss to Build a Dream on” and beguiling Nat King Cole and “Stardust.”

It’s a credit to both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan that they’re able to create one of the most romantic pairings while only sharing one scene together. They’re surrounded with an impressive supporting cast that includes Rosie O’Donnell, Bill Pullman and Rita Wilson.

Annie: “They knew it. Time, distance, nothing could separate them. Because they knew. It was right. It was real.”


Sleepless in Seattle
Available to stream on Netflix, Fubo, SHOWTIME and DIRECTV. Available to rent on Vudu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Redbox, FandangoNOW, Apple TV, DIRECTV and AMC Theatres on Demand.

Screenplay by Nora Ephron, David S. Ward and Jeff Arch. Story by Jeff Arch
Directed by Nora Ephron
Starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Bill Pullman, Ross Malinger, Gaby Hoffmann and Rob Reiner
105 minutes

Writing “Sleepless in Seattle”
“Sleepless” changed Arch’s career. He had struggled for several years to sell scripts without any success. He was working as a high school English teacher, as well as owning a tae kwon do school in a small Virginia town when the birth of his son in 1989 convinced him to try again. “I made a declaration that I’m gonna write three movies in one year and ‘Sleepless’ was the second one.” Arch was represented by a small agent who sent the script to Foster. “I was in my early thirties,” said Foster. ”I read everything. I’d get 25 pages in and if it was no good. I threw it down. But I remember with ‘Sleepless,’ it was a weekend afternoon. I had at least one or two little babies and they were sleeping. I sat on a little couch and I read this script and was crying at the end. You know I’m a hopeless romantic.” He got Tri-Star interested; Arch’s script was acquired with Ryan and her then-husband Dennis Quaid was attached. “We did a little bit of work with Jeff Arch,” said Foster.

Arch’s original had humor but was more “wistful,” said the screenwriter. “It had emotions. It had the relationship with the boy and the father. It had all the beats.” And it had “An Affair to Remember.” He recalled he was in college in 1975 watching the movie with his girlfriend, ‘I was just about to turn to her and say ‘This is the biggest piece of expletive. I can’t believe what I’m suffering through.’ Before I opened my mouth, I saw her crying like crazy. I held my tongue. Though it was a hokey treatment, the thing about missed opportunity and all that stuff, it’s very, very real and very painful. “ Still, said Arch, his script “wasn’t funny enough. I learned a lot about the difference between humor and comedy.” David S. Ward, who earned an Oscar for “The Sting,” was brought on for a rewrite and made a major change to the original. In Arch’s version, Sam feels sorry for himself and calls into the radio show and talks about his late wife and what love means to him. But Ward changed it to Jonah calling into the radio show and thereby forcing his father to pour his heart out while Annie — and seemingly every single woman in the U.S. — hears driving in her car in Baltimore. “That was a big step forward for the script,” said Foster. But he felt something was missing. He loved Ephron’s script for 1989’s “When Harry Meets Sally,” so he sent the script to her in New York. It wasn’t long before she called Foster back and told him “’This is Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. This movie is about the difference between men and women. I’m going to get you this script in two weeks.’ I was like I love this confidence. I said ‘Nora, would you be interested in directing this.’ And she said, ‘yes.’ A woman of very little, but powerful words.” (

The Making of “Sleepless in Seattle”
“It’s very rare that you have a romantic comedy couple who is matched as beautifully as Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks were then, though they’re barely in their scenes [together],” said Delia Ephron. Her sister, she said, created a wonderful community on the set. “Everybody was really happy,” Ephron said. “Fun was really a big part of her life. Also, on that movie, there were a lot of people who stayed with us over the years. Nora promoted them.” And it was Nora’s decision to hire Ingmar Bergman’s master cinematographer Sven Nyquist. “Sven loved to work,” Delia Ephron said. “He was born on a movie set and never left. He had a light in him. On another movie of ours, I used to sit with him on night shoots and he would tell me why he lit it one way or another. I just treasure those memories.” Wilson recalled that Nora Ephron was “very adamant that everyone sticks to the script. She knew what they had written and knew that it worked. She wanted to actors to stay within the boundaries of the script.” Still, Wilson noted, “she could come up to you and always kind of did [your direction] in a little whisper. She never really said hey, do this little thing over in front of the crew. We were always very intimate. She’d come over and say little things to me like ‘What if you used the napkin as a blanket on her leg’?’ And when she got everything in the scene where Suzy talks about the ending of “An Affair to Remember,” Ephron allowed Hanks and Victor Garber, who plays Suzy’s husband, to improvise that their special film was the macho 1967 WWII epic, “The Dirty Dozen.’’ “They were making fun of the fact she was crying over this romantic movie and they were crying over the ‘Dirty Dozen!,’” quipped Wilson. Ephron wanted “Sleepless” to be an enduring movie. “When she was making it, she was like ‘it has to be a classic,’” recalled Wilson. (

The Music of “Sleepless in Seattle”
“It has to be something that when you see it 25 years from now, you’ll still think the clothes look like you’re not quite sure what period it is.’ And she wanted the music to be reminiscent of a classic movie.” Shaiman noted that he and Ephron shared a “love for the American Songbook. We tried to find interesting performers,” said Shaiman. “We certainly heard ‘Over the Rainbow’ a lot, but we never heard Ray Charles sing it very much. Nick Meyers, who was the music editor, was a very much a part of the team. We were all pitching ideas.” But occasionally his own score was excised from the film. “I had a few heartbreaking moments scoring the movie,” he said. “I’d written a scene for Tom Hanks’ memory of his wife that actually started the movie — on the hillside at the funeral. It was a beautiful thing. Nora loved it. But when she put the movie together, she just had to make that phone call to me saying ‘Marc, I think we should put ‘Stardust’ there. I was both heartbroken as the film composer, but other part of me, as the music supervisor/arranger was like ‘Well, yeah, ‘Stardust’ there’s nothing like that.”’ He has “wonderful” memories of Ephron visiting the recording studio. “When she didn’t love something, you sure did know it. But when she loved something — I have this very distinct memory of her waltzing around my studio in L.A. in happiness of just whatever the piece of music was.”

At one point, studio music executives wanted contemporary songs on the soundtrack. During the walk from the studio to an executive bungalow for a meeting, Ephron quietly turned to Shaiman and said, “’Please help me.’ I fell on the sword that day. I kept having to say, ‘I don’t think that’s really right for the movie.’’’ Shaiman used the actual soundtrack recording of “An Affair to Remember” at the end of “Sleepless” when Annie and Sam finally meet. They painstakingly transcribed the orchestration of Hugh Friedhofer’s Oscar-nominated score. “We re-recorded it and tried our hardest to create that sound of that recording. But no matter how hard we tried, there was something about the way orchestras {played] back then. We couldn’t really capture it.” So, they went into the vaults in 20th Century Fox to get the original audio tracks. But the vintage soundtracks had to be baked to get rid of the moisture, which made it difficult to play, rewind or wind the tracks. “They put it up on the reel to reel and we captured the recording,” said Shaman. “As soon as we finished the transfer, it crumbled.” (

About Director and Co-Writer Nora Ephron
“Nora Ephron was born on May 19, 1941, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the eldest of four sisters, all of whom became writers. That was no surprise; writing was the family business. Her father, Henry, and her mother, the former Phoebe Wolkind, were Hollywood screenwriters who wrote, among other films, “Carousel,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Captain Newman, M.D.” When Ms. Ephron was 4, her parents moved from New York to Beverly Hills, where she grew up, graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1958. At Wellesley, she began writing for the school newspaper, and in the summer of 1961 she was a summer intern in the Kennedy White House…After graduation from college in 1962, she moved to New York, a city she always adored, intent on becoming a journalist. Her first job was as a mail girl at Newsweek. (There were no mail boys, she later pointed out.) Soon she was contributing to a parody of The New York Post put out during the 1962 newspaper strike. Her piece of it earned her a tryout at The Post, where the publisher, Dorothy Schiff, remarked: “If they can parody The Post, they can write for it. Hire them.” Ms. Ephron stayed at The Post for five years, covering stories like the Beatles, the Star of India robbery at the American Museum of Natural History, and a pair of hooded seals at the Coney Island aquarium that refused to mate. “The Post was a terrible newspaper in the era I worked there,” she wrote, but added that the experience taught her to write short and to write around a subject, since the kinds of people she was assigned to cover were never going to give her much interview time. In the late 1960s Ms. Ephron turned to magazine journalism, at Esquire and New York mostly. She quickly made a name for herself by writing frank, funny personal essays — about the smallness of her breasts, for example — and tart, sharply observed profiles of people like Ayn Rand, Helen Gurley Brown and the composer and best-selling poet Rod McKuen. Some of these articles were controversial…But all her articles were characterized by humor and honesty, written in a clear, direct, understated style marked by an impeccable sense of when to deploy the punchline. (Many of her articles were assembled in the collections “Wallflower at the Orgy,” “Crazy Salad” and “Scribble Scribble.”) Ms. Ephron made as much fun of herself as of anyone else. She was labeled a practitioner of the New Journalism, with its embrace of novelistic devices in the name of reaching a deeper truth, but she always denied the connection. “I am not a new journalist, whatever that is,” she once wrote. “I just sit here at the typewriter and bang away at the old forms.”

Ms. Ephron got into the movie business more or less by accident after her marriage to Mr. Bernstein in 1976. He and Bob Woodward, his partner in the Watergate investigation, were unhappy with William Goldman’s script for the movie version of their book “All the President’s Men,” so Mr. Bernstein and Ms. Ephron took a stab at rewriting it. Their version was ultimately not used, but it was a useful learning experience, she later said, and it brought her to the attention of people in Hollywood. Her first screenplay, written with her friend Alice Arlen, was for “Silkwood,” a 1983 film based on the life of Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances while investigating abuses at a plutonium plant where she had worked. Ms. Arlen was in film school then, and Ms. Ephron had scant experience writing for anything other than the page. But Mike Nichols, who directed the movie (which starred Ms. Streep and Kurt Russell), said that the script made an immediate impression on him. He and Ms. Ephron had become friends when she visited him on the set of “Catch-22.” “I think that was the beginning of her openly falling in love with the movies,” Mr. Nichols said…Ms. Ephron followed “Silkwood” three years later with a screenplay adaptation of her own novel “Heartburn,” which was also directed by Mr. Nichols. But it was her script for “When Harry Met Sally…,” which became a hit Rob Reiner movie in 1989 starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, that established Ms. Ephron’s gift for romantic comedy and for delayed but happy endings that reconcile couples who are clearly meant for each other but don’t know it…Her 1998 hit, “You’ve Got Mail,” for example, which she both wrote (with her sister Delia) and directed, is partly a remake of the old Ernst Lubitsch film ‘The Shop Around the Corner.” Ms. Ephron began directing because she knew from her parents’ example how powerless screenwriters are (at the end of their careers both became alcoholics) and because, as she said in her Wellesley address, Hollywood had never been very interested in making movies by or about women. She once wrote, “One of the best things about directing movies, as opposed to merely writing them, is that there’s no confusion about who’s to blame: you are.”

… Her first effort at directing, “This Is My Life” (1992), with a screenplay by Ms. Ephron and her sister Delia, based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer about a single mother trying to become a standup comedian, was a dud. But Ms. Ephron redeemed herself in 1993 with “Sleepless in Seattle” (she shared the screenwriting credits), which brought Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together so winningly that they were cast again in “You’ve Got Mail.” Among the other movies Ms. Ephron wrote and directed were “Lucky Numbers” (2000), “Bewitched” (2005) and, her last, “Julie & Julia” (2009), in which Ms. Streep played Julia Child…Ms. Ephron earned three Oscar nominations for best screenplay, for “Silkwood,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally….” But in all her moviemaking years she never gave up writing in other forms. Two essay collections, “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Reflections on Being a Woman” (2006) and “I Remember Nothing” (2010), were both best sellers. With her sister Delia she wrote a play, “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” about women and their wardrobes (once calling it “ ‘The Vagina Monologues’ without the vaginas”) and by herself she wrote “Imaginary Friends,” a play, produced in 2002, about the literary and personal quarrel between Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy. She also became an enthusiastic blogger for The Huffington Post… Several years ago, Ms. Ephron learned that she had myelodysplastic syndrome, a pre-leukemic condition, but she kept the illness a secret from all but a few intimates and continued to lead a busy, sociable life…In addition to her son Jacob Bernstein, a journalist who writes frequently for the Styles section of The Times, Ms. Ephron is survived by Mr. Pileggi; another son, Max Bernstein, a rock musician; and her sisters Delia Ephron; Amy Ephron, who is also a screenwriter; and Hallie Ephron, a journalist and novelist.” (