Greta Gerwig is a name and face becoming more and more recognizable by the day. She wrote and starred in 2007’s indie hit Hannah Takes the Stairs, and since then she has worked with directors like Whit Stillman and Woody Allen. Her second film with Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha is the perfect film to add to her ever growing body of work, as writer and actress.
Frances Ha is as real as it gets. It leaves you wondering just how autobiographical it is. Gerwig clears this up, once and for all. “I gave everything I had to it creatively, as a writer and as an actress. That being said, it’s totally fabricated. The core of the emotion, I understand. But once you start constructing something that is so highly written, I felt like I had the ability to put direct autobiographical quotes because it didn’t feel exposing. It felt like it was safe because it was within this construct. I could ask my parents to be in it without having them exposed. I like real things in made up worlds, and that’s what this film feels like to me. Yes, there’s a reality to it. But the reality of it doesn’t exist outside of me writing a movie. I wouldn’t have articulated everything I articulated if I weren’t giving it to a character to articulate. You find realities when you’re making things up.”
Romantic relationships are usually the basis for films, but what about friendships? They are just as important to us, and we are often just as co-dependent on them. Why is it so difficult to make a film about friendship? Perhaps because it’s a relationship that’s so hard to articulate in the same manner as a romantic one. “Noah and I were both using different friendships in our lives. We talked about different people and how much you place in them. There are no real words for this feeling, so you feel like you’re going through this experience that you can’t totally explain to anyone.” said Gerwig, “Like, my mom asking me what’s wrong, and not being able to explain the feeling of growing apart from someone. It’s also difficult because there is no way to codify that relationship. You won’t get married, you won’t really spend your life together. There’s no way to have it acknowledged in a public setting. When you feel so intensely, you feel like why isn’t there a way to codify this, besides a friendship necklace. I always thought of Westerns being about male friendship. These guys that get each other sober and fight the bad guy. Those are the main relationships. So there have been outlets for it in different genres.”
In that same vein, female friendship is an even more elusive topic. “I think it hasn’t been tackled because there haven’t been a great number of female writers, directors, and producers. If you don’t have a window into that world, how can you know it exists. My high school friend and I always used to say “we wish we could be this cool when someone is looking” because we felt like we were awesome, but that our awesomeness went away in public. In some ways, Frances Ha is removing the fourth wall on that scene, but you have to know what that is before you can create it. We did talk about Frances as a woman, but her gender is less important than her as a human on a hero’s journey. We thought of it as a road trip where she doesn’t go anywhere. It felt like that classical structure to us.”
Baumbach talked about the French New Wave as having an influence on him and his films. Gerwig weighs in, “Smoking a cigarette looks really good in black and white, even though that sounds terrible. Don’t smoke. We just felt it was another emblematic thing of Frances’ immaturity. She doesn’t smoke at the end of the film, which no one ever really notices, but I feel like you put those touches in for yourself. We didn’t specifically talk about the French New Wave in relation to Frances Ha . It was more that we both love those films. There was a desire to give Frances a movie – like a beautiful, black and white cinematic portrait. We wanted to give her a bigger scale than she might even picture for herself. Some of it was accidental. We were trying to dress everyone as contemporary New York 20-somethings. But when you look through the lens in black and white, they look like Paris in the 1960s.”
While Gerwig worked with Baumbach on Greenberg, it was ultimately Baumbach’s film. That easy collaboration was a big part of what made Frances Ha successful . Gerwig explains, “We didn’t sit in the same room typing. We wrote scenes separately. We would start with ideas, and add to them. We are very similar writers in that we really discover character and story through dialogue, which is more like playwrighting. We don’t really outline. I sort of feel like you write to find out, because if you already know the end, then why are you writing it at all. I like that act of discovery. What ended up happening in our collaboration is I think how it feels to write a song with someone. Okay, I’m not comparing us to The Beatles, but when you listen to Lennon/McCartney tracks, they had access to something when they wrote with each other that they didn’t have on their own. There’s something about it that creates a third entity. It’s like alchemy and a new thing that wasn’t there before is created.”
With roots in the mumblecore genre, Gerwig talks about that time in her life, and how it has affected her work to date. “I did those movies really soon out of college. It was an incredible canvas for me. I was collaborating with the characters and story points, but we were improvising everything. Sometimes, it was a way to write and act at the same time, finding out what works and what doesn’t. There’s a tremendous amount of freedom. As a person who makes films, I’m not interested in that anymore. I could swing back, but right now, I don’t like improvisation in anything. I don’t like improv and I don’t like hand held cameras, generally. I like locked down shots and composition and written scripts. I like a strict film.”
Frances Ha and Greta Gerwig are sure to be a big hit this summer. Check it out in Toronto theaters starting Friday, June 21, 2013.
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