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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

by writer/director Joseph Cedar

When I first sent out the screenplay for Norman, Norman Oppenheimer, the main character, was met with some resistance. Most people seemed to know this character, some even knew him intimately, but he triggered a complicated response. Very few of my readers felt he was a sympathetic enough protagonist for a film.

Here are a few Norman situations that will help you identify him:
Norman is the person who offers you a favor when you are too vulnerable to refuse it.
Norman is the person who pushes himself into your affairs, uninvited, and tends to make a complicated situation even more complicated.
Norman is the middleman you are forced to consult with because he has access to the person you need, but deeply resent when it turns out that he expects a commission for his services, even if those “services” end up backfiring.
Norman is a relentless name-dropper.
Norman is a pathological liar.
Norman is a mess.

And yet, I was obsessed with finding a way to see the world through Norman’s eyes. Somehow, despite his bad reputation, I felt close to this man and had a need to find a storyline that would capture his essence. The deeper I dove into this man’s tragic flaws, the greater my empathy was for him and my desire to share my observations about him with others. I wanted to convince anyone who would listen that Norman’s motivations are good, even when they don’t appear to be. And I wanted to create a dramatic scenario that would exhibit the brilliance of Norman’s technique. Like a nurturing teacher who recognizes signs of brilliance in a young, underprivileged student and later takes enormous pride in that student’s contributions to society, so did I feel a pride in Norman’s uncredited contribution to so many of the things we all enjoy every day. I believe that behind every worthy achievement, there is an anonymous Norman who helped connect the elements and put things together so that whatever it is that needs to happen, does. We very rarely thank Norman when things go right. We almost always blame him when things go wrong.

One of the beautiful aspects in making a film is that many times the hardships of getting a film made force the filmmakers to find a more fundamental understanding of why they are working so hard to get the story onto the screen in the first place. Just when I was about to give up on this story and its complicated hero, when it seemed that between this idea of painting a cinematic portrait of Norman and finding the financing it required, there were too many obstacles—a Norman or two presented themselves to me, offered their help, and with the right degree of selflessness, ambition, boldness and… brilliance—connected the right people to the right ideas at the right time, and made this seemingly impossible film, happen.

If I need capsulize what this film is about, it is a thank you note to Norman. A man we all know, but know so little about…