A leading figure in digital feature production in the late 1990s and early 21st century, Gary Winick was the guiding force behind such critical hits as "Personal Velocity" (2002), "Pieces of April" (2003) and "Starting Out in the Evening" (2007), while directing such popular crowd pleasers as "13 Going on 30" (2004) and "Letters to Juliet" (2010). He built his reputation on micro-budget films like "Sweet Nothing" (2005) and "The Tic Code" (1999), which performed admirably on the festival circuit. The launch of his all-digital company InDigEnt yielded the aforementioned films, as well as Oscar nominations and awards from the Sundance Film Festival, among others. The ebullient hit "13 Going on 30" launched his career as a Hollywood director with a knack for female-friendly comedies; a string of successful titles, including "Charlotte's Web" (2006) and "Letters to Juliet" (2010), seemed to indicate that he would remain master of the mainstream and indie film worlds for some time. Unfortunately, Winick's life and career were cut tragically short in 2011, when the director-producer died of complications from brain cancer. Gary Winick was 49 years old.
Born in 1961, the New York native graduated from Tufts University in 1984 before earning Master of Fine Arts degrees from the University of Texas and the American Film Institute Conservatory. Winick entered the film business as a producer and occasional director on low-budget efforts like "Curfew" (1989) for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. His 1995 film, "Sweet Nothing," with Michael Imperioli and Mira Sorvino as a suburban couple in drug-related turmoil, attracted positive reviews from major critics. Its follow-up, "The Tic Code" (1999), won numerous festival awards for its sensitive portrayal of a family contending with a child that suffers from Tourette's Syndrome.
That same year, Winick founded InDigEnt, an all-digital production company that specialized in independent fare. The shingle quickly made a name for adventurous fare produced at a fraction of cost due to the digital format. Among its more celebrated efforts were "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee" (2001), Michael Rauch's screen adaptation of Eric Bogosian's one-man show of the same name; Rebecca Miller's "Personal Velocity: Three Portraits" (2002), "Pieces of April" (2003), Wim Wenders' "Land of Plenty" (2004) and Steve Buscemi's "Lonesome Jim" (2005). Winick netted two John Cassavetes Awards from the Independent Spirit Awards for "Personal Velocity" and the Oscar-nominated "Pieces of April." His own directorial effort for the company, 2002's "Tadpole," about a young man who falls for his stepmother (Sigourney Weaver), earned him the Directing Award from the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.
In 2004, Winick moved into the mainstream with "13 Going on 30," a lightweight but charming fantasy about a preteen whose wish to become more grown up comes true when she awakens to find herself a 30-year-old (Jennifer Garner). It was a substantial hit in theaters and on DVD, which led to Winick becoming something of a go-to for light, female-oriented comedies and fantasies. He followed this with an adaptation of "Charlotte's Web" (2006) that combined live action with CGI effects; the film also received generally positive reviews.
While growing in stature in the Hollywood community, Winick kept his hand in the indie world as a producer, adding several well-regarded films to his already sizable stable. The drama "Starting Out in the Evening" (2007) garnered numerous festival awards and nominations for its screenplay by Andrew Wagner as well as Frank Langella's lead performance, while "Sorry, Haters" (2005), "Puccini For Beginners" (2006) and "Flakes" (2007) received critical praise. Winick as director shifted gears once again, helming episodes of "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006-2010) and the pilot for the short-lived "Lipstick Jungle" (NBC, 2008-09).
His next feature directorial effort, "Bride Wars" (2009), received almost unanimously harsh reviews; the romantic comedy, about two friends (Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson) who become bitter enemies when they schedule their nuptials on the same day, was roundly panned for its low-wattage laughs and stereotypical portrayals. Battered but unbowed, Winick returned to the director's chair for another romance, "Letters to Juliet" (2010), with Amanda Seyfried as a young bride-to-be who attempts to reunite Vanessa Redgrave with the boy she lost some five decades before. Behind the scenes, however, Winick had been engaged in a battle far more daunting than any struggle for critical or box office success. After being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009, Winick ultimately succumbed to the disease on Feb. 27, 2011 in New York City, just one month shy of his 50th birthday.