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by Mark Lukenbill
May 14, 2013 9:35 AM
3 Comments
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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

"Frances Ha" IFC

Did you have a Sophie in your life that she's based on? Was she based on a specific close friend of yours?

No. I have a group of five other women that I'm really close with. It's more of an amalgamation. And then Noah has a best friend. That's a lot of his stuff too, it's just hidden in a girl.

That's really interesting because I feel like friendship weirdly has kind of gender defining characteristics.

Right, well I don't think boys really sleep in the same bed. I think Frances is also… We named her Frances, which is kind of an androgynous name. There's an element of androgyny to her and it's a very sexless movie. We didn't experience her as a woman or a man, we experienced her as a person more than gendered. And I mean the story isn't gendered that way either. It's gendered insofar that it's two women but it's not gendered in terms of that that's a woman's story, I'd say.

What is your collaboration with Noah like once you get on set, both of "Frances" and the new film you made together? Are you involved in the directorial process at all or at that point is it, on set, Noah's the director and removed from your personal relationship and working relationship?

Yeah, he's the director. I mean, on this film, because I'm in every shot I was there for all of it and, you know, he would show me the frame and say, "do you like this? Do you think it's right?" But he's definitely the director. But I don't need to exert my control once I'm acting. I mean the script was totally written by the time we were shooting so I felt like my part of that job was done. We weren't really writing at all while we were doing it. So I was… I don't want to say "just acting." I was acting. And he was directing. So much of directing happens in the moment of when people are acting and you're directing a scene, but it also happens before: looking at costumes, looking at locations, looking at other actors, casting it. And all of that stuff I was very involved in. But he always had the final say.

Was the visual style, like the Truffaut references and all that, did that come from him? Was there a moment when something clicked and you guys thought, "this should look like a New Wave movie?"

I think a lot of that was more in the moment than anything else. I think it was more that those movies live inside of him very actively. There's a shot where me and Benji and Lev (Michael Zegen and Adam Driver) are walking into the apartment after a night and I think he realized while he was doing it, he was like, this looks like "Band of Outsiders." And then he's like, let's make it that shot. Let's have that happen. We didn't talk in advance and say let's have it look like X, Y, or Z Truffaut movie and we didn't know that the music was going to be what it was. So it became more referential to those movies as it went on. It was more things like we had written in the script early on that she would wear this leather bomber jacket that was kind of uncool and a little too big, and then we looked at like twenty jackets. Those million little decisions that come earlier in the filmmaking process. But once we were on set I never had the experience of saying, "I think she should be this way." I try to turn off the judgmental part of my brain when I'm acting so I rely on him to tell me what's good. I mean I usually know instinctively when something's not working, but I don't try to see myself outside of myself. That's why I couldn't -- I don't know, maybe I will eventually, but I don't think I could ever direct myself because it's too… For me, acting is immersive and directing is literally removed. So it seems like  I wouldn't be able to do both. Obviously there are people who can.

"Frances Ha." IFC

You just directed a feature though, right? One that I'm assuming you don't act in.

Yeah.

Was there any takeaway from working in this quasi-directorial sense on the two films you made with Noah? Did you take anything from his process? Did he give you, like, pointers?

Yeah. Ha, pointers. With all filmmakers that I've worked with who I think are good, I think they all are really relentless. Everything is subordinate to the movie. It's not panicked, it's not angry, they're just going to do it until it's exactly right. And they have this real sense of I will only make this movie once, and if I only get to make this once, I don't care who's angry if we're here too long or if we're over budget, and that's why you have all these stories of people going over budget or whatever because I think to be a filmmaker you have to cultivate a selfishness surrounding the film that you're making. It has to be the number one… not even the number one, it has to be the only thing. It's an obsessive profession, I think.

It's such a strange blend of personality traits that goes into being a good director because you have to be solitary enough to write the thing and edit it but you have to be social enough to get people to do what you need, and you have to empathetic enough to deal with actors and what they need, but you also have to be Asperger's-y enough to get it done. It's a strange mix. There are plenty of people who love film and want to be directors, but it's such an odd person who actually has all of those qualities. And even within that, I've worked with directors who are very different but they all seem to have that monomaniacal ability to click in and have that be the only thing. Like they could stand for eight hours in one position and they wouldn't even notice it.

Is the way you made "Frances" and Noah's newest movie the way that you prefer to work? Is the film you directed kind of on the same scale, a similar kind of film? The same secrecy around it?

Oh… [laughs] I'm not going to talk about that! So yes, it's secret.


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.