By Christopher Bell | The Playlist September 21, 2012 at 2:05PM
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.
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."