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
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, [...]


I am not admitting anything.  All I will say is that any of these things could happen to you and might have happened to me. 1. Make the film that you want to make for your audience.  If your audience laughs, cries or is moved in some way and enjoys their movie-going experience, then you [...]

50 Film Festivals Worth The Entry Fee 2014: Savannah Film Festival

It’s finally here: MovieMaker‘s annual list of the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2014 edition! We’ll be releasing the list in five alphabetical installments, a new one every Wednesday, for the next month – so keep checking back to see if your favorite festivals made it in. Or read the full article in [...]

Beware of Images

In the spirit of our upcoming Spring issue’s Activism in Film theme, this week’s crowdfunder pick is the socially-conscious Beware of Images, a feature-length, fully animated documentary that warns audiences to digest media with caution. While public education strives to develop English language literacy among its students, serious attention to media literacy is neglected in [...]

Obvious Child

At first glance, Gillian Robespierre’s feature-length independent comedy might seem like another “first-world-problem”/bourgeois New York City drama about the general malaise hitting affluent members of the young artistic community. However, when we delve more deeply into the first official trailer for Obvious Child, the genuine heart and sense of humor that emanates from lead actress Jenny [...]

Living Things directed by Eric Shapiro

Eric Shapiro is the writer and director of Living Things: A Vegan & Meat Debate. A prolific horror writer, Shapiro translates his experience crafting scares into a tense drama about the politics of food, with Rhoda Jordan as a liberal yogini and Ben Siegel as her more conservative father-in-law. In this interview with MovieMaker Magazine, [...]

Rick Castaneda 11 Tips For Filming in a Small Town - Featured

It’s often said that creating a boot-strapped, no-budget independent film is a lot like raising a child – it takes a village. But why stop there? If you’re as lucky as we were when we shot Cement Suitcase, you might be able to enlist the muscle of quite a few villages. We shot in seven [...]


This week’s edition of New Filmmakers LA is filled to the brim with juicy moviemaking wisdom. Featuring interviews with directors Solvan Naim, Carol Rhyu, Sam Cooke, David Aslan, Charlie Anderson, Noah Mucci, and Collin Blair. 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 [...]

Willem Defoe in Bad Country

Writer Jonathan Hirschbein worked for years on the film Bad Country with the late director, Chris Brinker, who passed away only days before filming completed. The two met when Jonathan was freshly out of college at the ripe age of twenty-two, with little career prospects besides the odd job here or there. Chris quickly took [...]