In the '80s, filmmaker Amy Heckerling was one of only a handful of American female directors (alongside Penny Marshall, Martha Coolidge, and Penelope Spheeris) known for consistently producing A-budget box office draws. Born in the Bronx, NYC, on May 7, 1954, Heckerling graduated, sequentially, from Manhattan's High School of Art and Design, NYU's prestigious Tisch School of Film, and the AFI - where she received her Master's in filmmaking.
Heckerling served her apprenticeship with five years' worth of short subjects, and graduated to a feature-length effort with the sleeper hit Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Adapted from the book of the same title by Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe, the picture recounts Crowe's experiences impersonating a student at a southern California high school. The innuendo-laden film divided critics, but permanently carved a niche for "teen" films in American cinema (and probably paved the way for John Hughes); it also became a box-office smash and established several young stars, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Nicolas Cage and Eric Stolz, and most of all Sean Penn, who dazzled everyone with his evocation of stoner surfer Jeff Spicoli. The picture briefly typed Heckerling as a "youth market" director.