This was originally posted in October 2012 as Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 4):
The funny thing about Garry Marshall’s book Wake Me When It’s Funny is it’s not really that funny of a book. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It has its humorous moments, but it’s more part of his story and experiences of working for decades in TV and movies, and part of it is just rock solid practical advice. In fact, today’s directing insight from Marshall is not only something I never heard taught in film school—but I’ve never heard anyone else ever mention it in regards to filmmaking:
“I saw Michelle Pfeiffer at the catering truck ordering a bagel on Frankie and Johnny. When she discovered they were all out of bagels, she started to cry. I was ready to run to the nearest deli to buy her a dozen bagels, but she said it wasn’t that important. It turned out she was having her period and everything made her cry. I didn’t try to cheer her up but made it a positive thing because she had several crying scenes in the movie. After lunch, we sat down with the production schedule and, with Michelle’s approval, plotted the crying scenes around her menstrual cycle. This made these scenes easier for everyone, especially Michelle. Yes, I’m a filmmaker and I chart menstrual cycles. Later I saw Michelle walking around the set with a sign she had pinned on the back of her bathrobe that read BEWARE PMS.
“I originally learned the importance of women’s cycles from Debbie Reynolds on How Sweet It Is! We were sitting in our big production meeting with Debbie and ten others talking about a swimming sequence. Suddenly, Debbie secretly passed me a note that said, ‘Garry, ask me when my period is.’ Now, I was a first-time producer who knew nothing and I wanted to impress the others, but didn’t know what to make of this note. Was she coming on to me in the height of the meeting? I looked at Debbie and she gave me an encouraging nod. ‘Errrr…Debbie,’ I said, ‘when is your period?’ She smiled and said, ‘Oh, what a bright producer Garry is. That’s such a smart question to ask. You all should know my menstrual cycle so you can schedule the swimming sequences around my period.'”
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
Now some other film director may have given that advice, but I don’t recall reading Ford, Capra, Hitchcock, Kazan, Coppola, Spielberg, Soderbergh—or even the female directors like Nora Ephron or Kathryn Bigelow—mentioning anything about menstrual cycles in terms of directing. Doesn’t mean no one else has, but regardless, it’s good practical advice. While things were less politically correct when the book was first published 20-years-ago, the fact that book was co-written by Garry’s daughter, and the two main sources are Michelle Pfeiffer and Debbie Reynolds, I hope show this isn’t some sexist and misogynistic thought.
P.S. Debbie Reynolds, most famous for her role in Singing in the Rain, is now 83 and still singing and acting and has a website—debbiereynolds.com. In 2013 she published Unsinkable: A Memoir (The definitive memoir, a story of heartbreak, hope, and survival). She’s also the real life mother of the fictional Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).