Amy Heckerling : biography
Amy Heckerling (born May 7, 1954) is an American film director. She is an alumna of both New York University and the American Film Institute. She is one of few female directors to have produced multiple box-office hits, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, European Vacation, Look Who’s Talking, and Clueless.
Amy Heckerling was born in The Bronx to a bookkeeper mother and a certified public accountant father. She had a Jewish upbringing and remembers that the apartment building where she spent her early childhood was full of Holocaust survivors. "Most of them had tattoos on their arms and for me there was a feeling that all of these people had a story to tell. These were interesting formative experiences." 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 tons of cartoons and old black and white movies. Her favorites were gangster movies, musicals, and comedies. She had a particular fondness for James Cagney.
"…when I saw Angels with Dirty Faces, Cagney was walking to the electric chair. Now I never understood what was going on in those movies, I just knew I loved them. I knew something bad was happening because of the music, so I started crying and crying. My mother told me that Cagney was going to the chair because he was a bad guy, and that he was going to die. I didn’t know what that was, so she explained dying to me. It seemed pretty horrible, but then my mother told me that he wasn’t really going to die because he was in a movie. Well, it just all seemed to click then! That was the way to beat it! I could see James Cagney die a million times, but he was always there. This year  I didn’t believe it really happened. I kept expecting Cagney to get up."Singer, Michael. A Cut Above. 1998. 81-85. Print.
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 Magazine, which she still reads to this day. 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.Jarecki, Nicholas. Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start. 2001. 142-156. Print.
“I was really annoyed because I thought that if an idiot like that guy could say he wanted to be a director, then so could I, and certainly I should be a director more than he should. It had never occurred to me that that was a job possibility. He put the thought in my head because until then I would never have thought of saying that I wanted to do that; it didn’t seem to be one of the jobs in the world that could be open to me.” At this time, Heckerling also joined the Museum of Modern Art, where she frequented screenings of old movies on weekends.
She graduated from high school in 1970, now focused on directing, and went on to study film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Donadoni, Serena. , Metro Times, July 26, 2000. Accessed February 10, 2008. 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, which she claims caused considerable stress in her life and she did not pay them off until the end of her twenties. When Heckerling was in high school and focused on directing, her father was opposed, wishing that she had chosen a more practical aspiration. Despite this, he gifted Heckerling Parker Tyler’s book Classics of the Foreign Film: A Pictoral Legacy. Heckerling poured through the book, marking off films that she had seen as she went, until she had watched almost all 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. "I was the only one doing them and they were weird. It was the mid-70s and it was a bizarre combination of long hair with bell bottoms, the tail end of the hippie movement at its schlumpiest. With this, I sort of infused a 1930s idiotic grace that didn’t go with the post-Watergate mentality that was prevalent at the time. They were weird films, but they got me into AFI."