Amy Jarecki Biography & Facts
Amy Heckerling (born May 7, 1954) is an American film director. An alumna of both New York University and the American Film Institute, she directed the commercially successful films Fast Times at Ridgemont High, National Lampoon's European Vacation, Look Who's Talking, and Clueless.
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 in The Bronx, New York City, to a bookkeeper mother and an 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 numerous 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.
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.
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.
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 Pictoral 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. "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."
After graduating from NYU, Heckerling decided that she wanted to follow her friend Martin Brest to the American Film Institute 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 she had never learned to drive before but was still used to navigating the city, free to go wherever she wanted due to NYC's public transportation. When she did eventually learn to drive, 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.
During her second year at AFI, Heckerling made her first short film, Getting it Over With, about a girl that wants to lose her virginity before she turns twenty and the adventures she has before midnight of her twentieth birthday. 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. As soon as she finished the edit and sent it away to be processed, she was in a car collision with a drunk driver who hit the side of her car, landing her in the hospital with a collapsed lung, bruised kidney, and mild amnesia, causing her to be fired from her editing job because she could not remember where certain footage was.In an interview with Michael Singer, 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 be.... Discover the Amy Jarecki popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Amy Jarecki books.