Greta Gerwig Talks Making 'Frances Ha,' Comparisons To 'Girls,' The Brewing Animated Movie With Noah Baumbach & More

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by Kevin Jagernauth
June 12, 2013 11:04 AM
3 Comments
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In case you hadn't noticed by now, we really, really like Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha." The movie has stuck with us since we first caught it at Telluride last year, and with the picture officially landing in theaters this summer, it has placed on our list of 2013 Best Films Of The Year...So Far. And if that weren't enough, we drafted up 5 Reasons You Should Go See Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig's "Frances Ha," so needless to say, we're big big fans. But why has this film resonated so much with us?

Penned by Baumbach and Gerwig -- with the former directing, and the latter starring -- the picture is both a flat out funny, and slightly melancholy look at that time period everyone in their 20s has faced between college and the bracing wake up call of reality. "Frances Ha" beautifully captures that sort of inbetween space, when the decision to continue pursuing your dreams is sometimes met with the compromises of becoming a responsible adult who can fend for themselves in the world. It's worldly and wise, hilarious and touching and just a terrific piece of filmmaking all around, that calls back to Woody Allen and the French New Wave, while still commanding a voice all on its own.

With the movie continuing to expand to more cities (check here for theaters and showtimes), we got on the phone last week with Greta Gerwig to talk about making the movie, the comparisons to "Girls" that the movie has been met with and what her future collaborations with Noah Baumach have in store.

While "Frances Ha" expertly chronicles one young woman's struggle to figure out her life, Gerwig's own experience was a bit more fortunate
In the film, Frances (played by Gerwig) aspires to be a dancer, and clings to the brief window of opportunity she has for a regular position as part of a touring company. But stuck dancing part-time, while trying to make ends meet, leaves Frances frustrated and wondering if life is passing her by, particularly as her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) is falling into a steady relationship, with potential bigger career and life plans on the horizon. And while the situation is well drawn, Gerwig wasn't necessarily using her own life for inspiration. 

"I think for me, I had a lot more luck than Frances did in my early 20s and throughout my 20s. I’m 29 now, and even though I wasn’t succeeding financially particularly, I was getting signs from the universe that what I was doing wasn’t a complete mistake with my life choices," she said.

"I did some sort of strange mental trick with myself when I graduated from college, which was that I decided that I just wanted to be part of the world of film or theater and that I would do it anyway I could, so whether that meant working in a development fund or working a light board or acting or writing that I would try to be part of it somehow because I loved the people and I loved the world that film and theater existed in," she continued. "I loved the idea of dramatic art of storytelling as a way to make sense of things. It’s really what I love and what I care about. So in a way, I kind of short-circuited actually the idea of, 'I’m going for my dream' by deciding that I would be happy with a lot of different outcomes."

And yet, despite the success she has made out of her career, which has seen her leap from indie films to bigger Hollywood pictures, Gerwig takes nothing for granted. "...there were…many different points in my 20s where I felt like I don’t know how this is going to work out, and I continue to have that feeling a lot," she shared. "So it hasn’t really gone away, though I’m incredibly lucky and privileged and grateful. So I don’t take the gift that the world has given me lightly, but I also don’t feel far away from having those things."

Gerwig compares writing with Noah Baumbach, to being a musician in a band
Gerwig first crossed paths with Baumbach on "Greenberg," playing the small ray of sunshine Florence, to Ben Stiller's perma-sour titular lead. And it was on that project that the actress first got the notion that she shared a similiar writing voice with Baumbach. "When I read 'Greenberg,' I had a really strong sense if I could be any kind of writer I wanted to be, I’d be this kind of writer. And I felt like, even in my experiences, what writing I had done, even on a small scale, when it was good, it shared some quality with it," she explained.

"And so when we sat down to work on this screenplay…We both heard it the same way," she added. "It’s what I would guess being in a band and writing a song is like. I mean I’m not comparing us to The Beatles, but you know like Lennon and McCartney, they both could write songs on their own that were great, but something happened when they wrote together, which was impossible for either of them to achieve alone, but with both of their voices somehow writing the same song. So I obviously felt like we were writing the same song."

But that doesn't mean that they always were on the same page (pun intended). Gerwig reveals there was one big section of an early draft that was ultimately axed, something she initially was hesitant about doing. "I had written a long section that had taken place in Sacramento. It was about 30 pages, it was a long section, and a lot of things happened and there were new characters. At some point, Noah said, 'I think we have to cut that section. I don’t think it fits.' I was really upset about it, but then he was right. It just didn’t fit in the story, I think. And he has more experience of being ruthless with his own writing," she said. "I had less experience with just cutting 30 pages and saying it just doesn’t fit. It was good that we cut it. In some ways, I love big sprawling movies where there are too many characters and people get introduced halfway through and you’re like, 'Wait, who are these people?' And I think at some point, I’d like to make a movie that indulges all of that, but I think he was right that this wasn’t the movie to do it on."

Gerwig is okay with the "Girls" comparisons, but thinks they are different kids of stories at their core
Full disclosure -- even we played the "If you like 'Girls'..." card in our 5 Reasons feature for "Frances Ha," but for those looking for deeper connections between the film and the HBO show, that ignores what makes each so different and special on their own. As for Gerwig, she stresses "Frances Ha" actually came first, and hopes that viewers can see beyond the surface similarities.

"Well, we wrote the film and made the film before 'Girls' was on the air. So it was totally coincidental. We knew Adam [Driver] had already shot the pilot and that he was going to be in it. We talked about it with Adam especially, because we were like there will probably be some overlaps. We just felt like, 'Fuck it. He’s great.' He’s a great actor and it’s foolish to hurt something that you want to make because you potentially want to guard against some comparison that may or may not happen in the future," Gerwig said. "I love 'Girls' and I’m friends with Lena [Dunham] and I think it’s an amazing show. It’s so funny and so wonderful. I really would only be bothered by it if somebody said, 'Your movie reminds me of the show ‘Girls’ and I hate ‘Girls,’ therefore I hate your movie.' That would feel bad. But I think it’s nice, I love 'Girls.' "

But again, there is more that makes them different than makes the same. "I mean, there are ostensible similarities, but I also think in their hearts, they’re just different animals," Gerwig continued. "They almost exist in different universes to me, like they have a different worldview in a way. And I understand the comparison, but I also feel like I don’t. Some people want me to explain how mine’s different I feel like, I don’t like it, because I feel like it’s A) reductive to both and B) kind of not my job."

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3 Comments

  • Fred | June 13, 2013 11:40 AMReply

    Bet MAX wrote that on an IPAD.

  • brian fantana | June 13, 2013 7:39 AMReply

    max - you are an idiot

  • max | June 12, 2013 11:17 AMReply

    I'll give you one BIG reason why I will NEVER see FRANCES HA - it was made by the most untalented, boring, and unispired Emo filmmakers, Noah Baumbach.
    I would sooner shove white-hot sewing needles into my eyeballs than have to sit through another frame of one of his god-awful films.
    In short - Baumbach SUCKS!

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