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by Mark Lukenbill
May 14, 2013 9:35 AM
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Greta Gerwig on Her and Noah Baumbach's Personal Connection to 'Frances Ha,' Her Transition to Directing and What Makes a Good Director

Having starred in films by Whit Stillman, Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig has officially become something of indie film's collective muse. After first turning heads with her raw, naturalistic performances in the "mumblecore" movement that she had a hand in spawning, she made a seamless transition to larger budget films with Noah Baumbach's 2009 film "Greenberg," with an exceptional performance that catapulted her to something like fame. While she still might not be a household name, critics and film fans have been eagerly awaiting her newest, "Frances Ha," which she co-wrote with director Baumbach, since it was announced as premiering at Telluride last fall. Her personal relationship with Baumbach has gotten a significant amount of coverage as well.

Meanwhile, the two continue their prosperous working relationship with another film, also co-written and starring Gerwig alongside relative newcomer Lola Kirke (sister of "Girls" star Jemima Kirke), which they recently wrapped. Gerwig also has a solo directorial debut completed (she's credited as the co-director with frequent collaborator Joe Swanberg on 2008's mumblecore hallmark "Nights and Weekends"), though asking for information on either project, or on her relationship with Baumbach, mostly just warrants a sigh and a disapproving look from the expressive and honest actress.

READ MORE: 'Frances Ha' Breakout Mickey Sumner On Shooting Guerrilla Style for Noah Baumbach and Playing Patti Smith in Upcoming Film

We sat down with Gerwig to discuss the film (which opens Friday in select theaters), about how much of her and her co-writer's own life are in the film, and, having worked with many of them, what makes a great director.

"Frances Ha." IFC
I was talking to someone about the movie and the said, "yeah, it's more adorable and uplifting than his other movies, but it's an adorable story that takes place in a cynical person's world." So I guess the theoretical takeaway from that, or how it seems anyway, is that Noah is the one bringing in the gloomy stuff, and you're kind of balancing it out. Is that true at all?

Right. That's not how I experienced making it. There's no accounting for what people take away from it, or how they experience it, but I think your job is to not get too self-conscious about what may or may not be the essence of the collaboration. But I think we both seriously felt that Frances needed to be taken care of by the movie. And that wasn't my idea, it was… It was really his idea. He really had a sense that we needed to reward Frances for everything she's going through. And I agreed, I though it was right. This was just an example, but he had this idea from an Eric Rohmer movie that he really liked that we implemented in this, that we should give her an idea, or a thought about life, and then have it come true for her. So I guess the happiness is equal parts both of us. That was my experience in making it, but however people want to read it is fine.

I think it's more just based on his other films.

Only time will tell, I guess. It's so hard because Noah as a filmmaker has made a lot of movies now, but you're only ever talking about the most current one, but meanwhile he has another one he's making, and another. So we're viewing it in the stream of, he's going to keep making movies, but when you experience it as an audience you experience it as static somehow in a way that it's not. No judgement, I just think it's true.

I'm also distracted trying to figure out what Rohmer movie it was.

Oh, it's-- I always forget their names. It's the one where the women is in love with this guys and her life went wrong because she wasn't together with him and then you think, no, this couldn't possibly be true, this woman is just delusional. That was not the love of her life. And then they see each other at the end and that was the love of her life. She was right about it. They should've been together and her life would've been happier, and it is happier. It's like that thing you think is a little out there is actually true.

"Frances Ha" IFC
That brings up an interesting point about this movie too, where so much press has been given to comparing it to "Girls" and describing it as a generational portrait, but really, when I saw it, I thought of it as a love story. Like it's very much structured like a romance between friends with the tension of will they or won't they prevail and end up together in the end.

Yeah, absolutely.

I'm really curious about your collaboration with Noah, especially in the writing process, because it seems like a very personal story.

Yeah. We certainly didn't think about it as a generational story. A lot of it is just a story about these people and the movie that they deserve to get and the movie that their story holds. And he emailed me sometime after "Greenberg" was released and said, "I'd like to make a movie in this small, stripped down way with as few people as possible without compromising the quality of the movie at any juncture but making it as small as possible." And did I have any ideas and would I want to be in it, and maybe we could write a script together. And then I sent him this list of ideas I had; little collections of things, things I thought were funny, exchanges of dialogue and ideas for characters. And he got excited and thought there was a movie there. We just started writing scenes separately. We didn't a lot of writing in the same room. It was more emailing scenes back and forth. And we just generated a lot of material. Then it was all reading through the material and seeing what the story was. I think -- not to be pretentious, but I think Pinter says about writing that it's your job to look for clues. You write and you leave yourself clues for where it's supposed to go. So we looked for clues as to what the story was supposed to be. We didn't dictate that sort of friendship love story to the movie. That sort of revealed itself in what these characters were doing and what they were concerned with.

There's a lot of me in it, but there's also a lot of Noah in it. I think people assume, because I'm a twenty-something that it's me but a lot of it's Noah. He has personal stuff in there but it's more disguised… I always forget what's kind of real or not real and what comes from life because once you write it and fictionalize it it becomes something else and it stops living in the realm of actual history until someone you know sees it and says, "fucking bitch!"
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3 Comments

  • spassky | May 14, 2013 11:29 AMReply

    I feel like an asshole, but the main thing I took away from this is that Gerwig doesn't know that "Band of Outsiders" is Godard.

  • THOR | May 14, 2013 11:02 AMReply

    What debut? She's already directed a feature film, and it's one of the great American masterpieces of the past decade.

    By the way, the Rohmer movie she's talking about is A Tale of Winter. (It's a great movie.)

  • Mark | May 14, 2013 11:12 AM

    Sorry, "solo directorial debut" would've been more technically accurate. And yes! Nice Rohmer knowledge.