The Noah Baumbach Fanclub was likely pretty disheartened this year. “While We’re Young” had casting rumors buzzing around it, but soon went quiet (to make matters worse, he states here that it likely won’t go for awhile) and his pilot for Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” was ultimately not picked up by HBO.
But then something funny happened. Buried in the schedule for Telluride and TIFF was “Frances Ha,” a brand-new feature from the “Greenberg” director, something shot on the sly with Greta Gerwig. Even better? The movie received mostly high marks and extremely positive praise. “Frances Ha” features Gerwig as the titular character, a 20-something Brooklynite with an unhealthy dependent relationship with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). But when the dynamic duo split after Sophie acquires the Tribeca apartment of her dreams, Frances finds herself unmoored in the Big Apple — her dance company apprenticeship seems to be leading nowhere, money is severely lacking, and she has little idea what direction to take in her life. We caught it in Colorado and remarked that it was “loose, limber and driven by a fierce energy,” and not to mention “leagues more rich and emotionally layered than the average arrested development dilemma that seems to characterize 20/30-something comedies of late,” an important note for those skeptic of the brief plot synopsis.
After a press screening this week at the New York Film Festival, Noah Baumbach and actors Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner took to the stage to talk more about their newest endeavor. We’ve compiled a greatest hits of the conversation, which you can check out below. “Frances Ha” has been picked up by IFC Films, but a release date has yet to be declared — New Yorkers, on the other hand, can check out its three festival dates right here.
Brand New Day
Aside from catching everyone off-guard with its under-the-radar production (more on that below), Baumbach’s new film is also a much tinier thing compared to his higher-budgeted outings with stars, and the filmmaker describes working this way as having another “first film. “It was about finding a way to approach a movie in a new way. I felt that if I was gonna do something differently, not with a studio, I wanted to reinvent how I made movies a little bit. In some ways it was less about the budget and more about the philosophy of shooting,” described the director.
He elaborated on his mindset, which he compares to a rather legendary musician. “It felt something like the record Paul McCartney made after The Beatles. It was done in his basement, but they were really big songs and at the same time very intimate, sometimes done with his wife. There’s this tradition of pop records made that way. So I was thinking — what’s the movie version of that? What’s something where, with a small group of people, you could make something in some ways homemade but in other ways like a great pop album.” Thrilled with the outcome, he added, “I do feel that in this movie, out of all of them, the end product is the closest to the abstract vision in my head. That doesn’t mean I think it’s necessarily better, but it is what it is.” And as for why “Frances Ha” was so on the downlow? “We didn’t really do it any differently than the other ones, but I guess… nobody really asked,” he laughed. “I would’ve told them in that case!”
Continuing with his new work method and shaking things up even more, both Baumbach and Gerwig decided not to dole out the entire script to the cast, instead using the Woody Allen Way™ by only giving participants the pages that included them. Mickey Sumner exclaimed that she didn’t know what was going on until she saw it projected on the silver screen. “But we shot mostly chronologically, so I didn’t really need to know what was going to happen. To be honest it was refreshing, liberating not to have to freak out what we were going to shoot next week, it really allowed me to focus on the day.” Baumbach agreed with her answer and reasoned, “As good as an actor is, how can they not think where a certain scene falls in the movie? Particularly one towards the end or near a turning point in the movie. In that case, everyone starts swinging for the fences suddenly. Maybe that’s what you want the audience to feel, but you don’t want the characters to feel that.”
Greta Gerwig On The Lack Of Films About Women
“I don’t know why, but I know that they are rare, and if you want to get technical, I think women doing anything other than falling in love is underrepresented across the board,” she said. “When we were writing it, the love story between Frances and Sophie emerged by itself, it wasn’t an intellectual idea that we decided beforehand, it came out through the characters. It just became clear that that was the most important relationship in her life. There was just a day where it dawned on us, ‘This is the story.’ I’m just so glad we got to make a film with this kind of bond in it, because whenever I see female friendships portrayed accurately or even sort of accurately, I’m so pleased.”
Rhythm, Editing, Rhythm, Editing
Lucky festival attendees quickly went head-over-heels for Baumbach’s new jaunt, with some even proclaiming it to be his best. While that’s certainly debatable, it probably does contain the most interesting, unique structure and rhythm out of all of them. “I realized more consciously when directing it and less so when writing it that it has a lot of little scenes in a row — Frances in the super market, waiting for Sophie outside of her job, and so forth. Each moment sort of hits and comes, then suddenly there’s a long scene and it plays out in real time. That goes throughout the whole movie, and I think the movie is structured by the locations, the way she keeps going to different places. So I came at it with that in mind and I think I approached specific shots or scenes in that way, in certain cases,” the director stated.
And while clever jump-cutting isn’t new to the Baumbach arsenal, it’s a technique he further explores with ‘Frances.’ “It’s something I started with ‘Squid’ and did in the following ones, the notion of coming in the middle of the scene or when a scene needs to start and end. Why you arrive at a scene when you do is interesting, and it’s a big part of editing. I think the rhythms are kind of inside me and just how I feel,” he explained. “When you’re cutting, you just kind of feel when you wanna be in something and when you want to be out of something, and maybe that means cutting in the middle of someone’s dialogue.”
NYC Vs. LA
Speaking about locations and environments, Baumbach also spoke a bit about how the Big Apple affected his new work, and also his conflicting opinion of Los Angeles that created “Greenberg.” “I hadn’t shot in New York in a little while, and I grew up here and live here so I wanted it to feel the way I feel about New York. I haven’t ran through Chinatown holding my friend’s hand laughing or peed on a subway platform, but I have that same general feeling about the place in other ways. I wanted to kind of come back here and shoot New York in a way that I connected with,” he said. “The fact that it’s also about location and dislocation, moving forward but also moving in place, I think all of that is true about my experiences in New York City.”
There’s nothing but love for NYC, but LA? Not so much. “For ‘Greenberg’ I really wanted to make an LA movie, and embedded in that story are inarticulated and even articulated feelings I have about Los Angeles: both great love for it, and the way that I felt not at home and alienated.”
“Kicking And Screaming” And “Frances Ha”: How They Compare
As the “fresh start” angle was brought up a couple of more times, the conversation switched to Baumbach’s first feature, “Kicking And Screaming,” which was a keen eye into a generation from one of their own. Before comparing his first and latest film, the director showed gratitude to moderator Richard Pena with a funny quip. “I thank you from saving ‘Kicking and Screaming’ from going straight to the USA Network! Programming it as a part of the New York Film Festival really changed the way the distributors viewed it.”
With a laugh, the filmmaker then went on to compare the two experiences: “Greta has what I brought to ‘Kicking.’ When I watched it for the Criterion DVD, it was difficult to look at it in some ways because I couldn’t help but think of what I would do differently. But some of what I think are the best things in the movie I could never do now, and I’m really glad that I was in a position at one point to do them. There’s a certain spirit in it, a reporting from the inside that could only be true from someone who was 24 when they made it. With this one, I could kind of come at it both from the inside and outside, and Greta’s able to do that too. I think it’s reductive to look at it like she’s the insider and I’m the outsider, that’s just not true.”
Here’s the entire press conference.