Shana Feste’s Nanny Diaries

Like many (if not most) moviemakers before her, Shana Feste—writer-director of The Greatest and the forthcoming Country Strong—relied heavily on diligent networking to launch her career. The big difference in Feste’s case is that she went about the business of making contacts while minding babies. Babies, that is, with parents in the right places.

A 34-year-old Los Angeles native, Feste earned a master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of Texas, then opted to pursue advanced studies at the American Film Institute. To pay her way, she says, “I went to work as a nanny for people who were in the entertainment business, so that I could get any information I could, even while I was watching their kids. I love children, so it was an easy gig.

“But it’s really funny—in L.A., they tend to specialize. There are nanny agencies that just serve actors, there are nanny agencies that serve people in the music industry and there are agencies that serve writers and directors. It’s very strange. And you work your way up. First, you might work for a C-level actor and then you work for a B-level actor. When you get to the top of your game, you’re working for A-list actors and movie producers and people like that.

“It’s a very bizarre chain. By the time I got to AFI, I was working for Courtney Love; that’s who I worked my way up to. When I graduated from AFI, I took a job with Richard Lovett, who was president of CAA. So for two years—after I had two master’s degrees and had started writing—I was changing bottles of salad dressing that had expired in his closet. The worst assistant job you could imagine.”

It was only after Feste quit for another job—yes, another nanny gig—that she asked Lovett to help her shop around her script for The Greatest, a sensitively observed, emotionally potent drama about a family coping with the devastating loss of a beloved son in an auto mishap. “I was really naive while I was writing that,” she says, “because I thought it was a commercial project. Because I love family-driven dramas, I thought all the world loves family-driven dramas.”

As it turned out, Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon—two fortuitously bankable stars—loved the script.

With Carey Mulligan (fresh off her Oscar-nominated performance in An Education) and Johnny Simmons rounding out the cast, The Greatest premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. “But the night before I left for Sundance,” Feste laughs, “I was working as a nanny. And the day I came back from Sundance, I was working as a nanny.”

Feste was employed by Tobey Maguire—caring for his daughter, Ruby—while writing Country Strong. “Ruby was sitting in my lap while I wrote the story,” recalls Feste.

Feste says she “never tried to blur the lines with her employment,” and showed Maguire her work-in-progress only at his request. He liked what he read and agreed to co-produce the project as a filmed-in-Nashville musical drama starring Gwyneth Paltrow as a fading country music artist and real-life country superstar Tim McGraw as her manager-husband.

With Country Strong set for a December 22nd release, and a third film in the pre-production stages, Feste has begun to think seriously about her long-term employment prospects.

“There are days when I don’t think there could be a harder job than filmmaking,” she says. “But I love it. Every time I’m kind of beat down to the worst degree, there’s something in the back of my mind that pops up as an idea. Then I start obsessing over that idea, to the point where I’m driving to the store and I have to pull over so I can start writing lines of dialogue. Then I take those scraps of paper and type them into a scene. Then I start thinking about another scene. Then I find myself thinking, ‘Shit. I’m working on another movie.’

“So if the stories keep coming along like this, I hope I can keep doing this for the rest of my life.”

If she can’t, well, she has other talents to fall back on. MM

Share the MovieMaker love!

Comments are closed.

Latest Stories
Copy of Copy of Blue Ruin Poster

Blue Ruin‘s director-writer-DP, Jeremy Saulnier, shares one of MovieMaker‘s greatest “How They Did It” stories of all time, lying, begging and impoverishing himself on the way to Cannes glory with his sleek bullet of a revenge thriller. This article appears in full in our Spring issue, on stands now. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part Two. [...]

Copy of Copy of Sergey Maidukov_01_HR

In our Spring issue, we asked Academy-Award winning director Oliver Stone if film can make a difference in vanquishing the darkness and rot that has pervaded through humanity’s ages. Stone, whose provocative Showtime documentary series The Untold History of the United States recently spawned an education project, is a veteran in the trenches of political [...]

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee - SFF 2013 Spectacular Now Screening - Featured

Feast your eyes on MovieMaker‘s complete list of the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2014. Despite original plan to publish the list in installments (we had already begun here and here), we’ve decided we couldn’t keep the news to ourselves any longer. We’re happy to present our much-deliberated, comprehensive list, featured in [...]

Cold in July Featured

Jim Mickle’s new Cold in July trailer guarantees grit, guns, blood, and tears. Not necessarily in that order. Jim Mickle’s first two films Stake Land and Mulberry St were entertaining, if not very sophisticated, forays into modern horror. His 2013 follow-up We Are What We Are showed that Mickle is developing into a refined storyteller, capable [...]


You can take a moviemaker out of New York, but… When my first son Ben was born in Los Angeles 19 years ago, I cut the umbilical cord, held him in my arms, and said, “Ben, I just want you to know one thing—you may have been born in L.A., but we’re from New York!” [...]


This week, New Filmmakers LA brings you the inside scoop on the moviemaking, featuring interviews with directors Dustin Shroff, John McCracken, Danny Finn, Juan Uribe and John Bevilacqua. NewFilmmakers LA (NFMLA) is a non-profit organization designed to showcase the innovative works by emerging filmmakers from around the world, providing the Los Angeles community of entertainment [...]


Seven years ago, MovieMaker interviewed British director Edgar Wright about the second part of his Blood and Cornetto trilogy: the devilishly sharp cop-movie parody Hot Fuzz. Today Wright turns 40, and to celebrate his singular cinematic style we’re revisiting this typically droll conversation between the director, his longtime collaborator Simon Pegg, and writer David Fear. [...]


Jump Outs is an urban gameshow, produced and distributed by DailyMotion as a part of their new digital programming. Production assistant David Quan walks us through the set of the unscripted shoot, involving eight ENG cameras and a dozen GoPros. It’s quiet on top of the Hill. The four of us sit in silence, but [...]

Made In LA - Social Action Documentary

In our Spring 2014 Activism in Film issue (available to the public next Tuesday, April 22!), we asked the question: Can your movie change the world? In our cover story, Beth Portello, co-founder of Cinema Libre Studio, interviewed representatives from all the different groups that make social change possible: grant organizations, engagement strategists, producers, distributors, [...]