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Stacey Snider: Watching Jonathan Demme Make ‘Philadelphia’ Changed My Career

Variety logo Variety 5/2/2017 Stacey Snider
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Jonathan Demme’s original plan was to shoot “Philadelphia” in Nyack. As a native of the Main Line (the suburbs of Philly) and as a young executive at TriStar Pictures, I implored Jonathan to check out the city before he made a final decision.

I had been a waitress at a local sandwich shop in Philly during high school and college, so I reached out to my former boss there to arrange for Jonathan to meet one of our regular customers: Mayor Ed Rendell.

The mayor and the future head of the Philadelphia Film Commission welcomed Demme to the City of Brotherly Love, and within weeks Demme shot the opening sequence, which would eventually be scored with the haunting Oscar-winning Springsteen song, “The Streets of Philadelphia.”

If you look carefully, you’ll notice signature Demme shots throughout: everyday people representing every color, ethnicity and walk of life.

Demme focused his camera on the people we would otherwise ignore — and his big beating heart and endless generosity made us feel their plight and care about their well-being.

Watching Jonathan make “Philadelphia” marked the moment when my career shifted from a vocation to a passion.

Jonathan was also generous with the people he worked with.

“Watching Jonathan make ‘Philadelphia’ marked the moment when my career shifted from a vocation to a passion.”
Stacey Snider

Years after “Philadelphia,” I would experience his kindness in the most excruciating and unexpected way.

I was scheduled to visit Jonathan in Nyack when I was overcome with a tidal wave of morning sickness that I couldn’t “power through.” I hadn’t yet told anyone that I was pregnant with my second daughter, Natalie, and I certainly wasn’t planning on sharing this news first with Demme.

But there was no way around it. It was too late to cancel, and every excuse I came up with sounded far-fetched and implausible. So I just told him the truth: “J.D., I’m pregnant. I’m nauseous. And I don’t know if or when I’ll ever feel better.”

Jonathan responded typically. He was thrilled! He told me that he and his wife, Joanne (and kids, Ramona, Brooklyn and Jos), would be honored to share my early pregnancy symptoms with me!

I drove up in the dead of winter with all of the windows open to let in the fresh air, and once I arrived, Jonathan pretended that it was entirely normal to have a story meeting with a prone studio executive with cold compresses on her head.

I’ll miss Jonathan’s big heart. I’ll miss his huge smile that made you smile too. But I’ll remember him through his movies and the idiosyncratic and mesmerizing characters and stories that he directed that serve to shed a big, bright light on what it means to be human.

Stacey Snider is chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox.

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