A writer/director whose light, urbane sensibility launched him to the forefront of the American independent filmmaking movement of the '90s, Whit Stillman was born in New York City in 1952. The son of a member of John F. Kennedy's Presidential administration and an impoverished debutante, he was raised in the upstate New York area of Cornwall, and later attended Harvard University, where he wrote humor pieces for the college daily. Upon graduating in 1973, Stillman relocated to Manhattan and began working as a journalist. While in Spain in 1980 for his wedding, he met a group of film producers and attempted to convince them that he could sell their movies to Spanish-language cable television stations in the U.S. The producers ultimately agreed, and Stillman spent the next several years as an international sales agent for Spanish filmmakers including Fernando Trueba and Fernando Colomo. He also occasionally appeared in motion pictures, including Trueba's 1982 work Sal Gorda and Colomo's 1984 effort La Linea del Cielo.
Upon returning to the U.S. in 1984, Stillman began working at an illustration agency. Over the course of the next four years, he spent much of his free time agonizing over the screenplay of Metropolitan, his debut film as a director. To finance the film, Stillman sold his Manhattan apartment for 50,000 dollars, securing the other 175,000 dollars necessary to complete the project from friends and relatives. A droll comedy of manners set in the crumbling New York debutante society of the late '80s, Metropolitan quickly established its creator as a unique voice in American cinema, a wry social ironist with a low-key comic style shunning easy comparison. Released in 1990, the film was a hit on the independent circuit, and its screenplay even netted Stillman an Academy Award nomination. Four years in the making, the follow-up, Barcelona, cemented the filmmaker's reputation. A clearly autobiographical tale about American cousins living in Spain at the height of anti-NATO sentiment, it starred Taylor Nichols and Christopher Eigeman, actors first glimpsed in Metropolitan. Eigeman was also visible in Stillman's next effort, 1998's The Last Days of Disco. Taking place somewhere between Metropolitan and Barcelona, it was both a celebration and elegy of the dwindling disco craze of the late '70s and early '80s.