Little Women with Greta Gerwig and Rian Johnson (Ep. 229)


Hello and thanks for tuning in to another episode of the Director's cut brought to you by the directors guild of America featuring today's top director Sharon behind the scene stories of the latest films and insights into the craft of directing. Please take a second. Subscribe to our show wherever you get your podcasts. This episode takes us behind the scenes of director. Greta Gerwig new historical drama a little women based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott. The film follows four sisters in America. Amy Jo Beth and Meg as they come of age age in the aftermath of the civil war in addition to little women Ms Gerwig direct royal credits include the feature film nights and weekends which she co directed with Joe Swartberg Berg. She was nominated for the award for outstanding directorial achievement theatrical feature film in the Academy Award for best director for her twenty seventeen film lady bird following a recent screening of the film at the theater in Los Angeles. Ms Gerwig spoke director Ryan Johnson about filming little women. Listen on for their spoiler filled conversation. Thank you damn straight. Thank you for the movie. I guess. Destroyer okay so I just watched a movie for the first time. So I'm like all of you just kind of like emotionally overwhelmed and have a lot going on right now but I'll try and be coherent so I mean your your body of work which obviously your last tremendous movie lady bird was your first solo directing. But you've been reading co-directing even acting you've been You know and most of it in films that are feel incredibly current and that's a step back with us and do a period piece of course once you see it instantly it's like Oh my God this is so you rich in so many ways both beautifully as as a movie and beautifully told but also thematically instantly. Oh this makes so much sense. Talk to me about like talked about how would like what was it that drew you to initially. Well I mean in a in a funny way. Although although the my first movie I solo directed Ladybird was. It's much closer to our time. But it's actually you know it takes place in two thousand and two so I thought of both of them as period pieces. It's just two thousand much closer period to ours but mm-hmm but I've always liked the sense of being able to understand more about where we are today by looking at either the recent past our past and kind of you're looking at the way the stories are the same or the stories are different. So that kind of specificity of time has always been incredibly really important and I think you know when you're making a movie in two thousand to a lot of it is that thing of not wanting to oversell the moment like every song on the radio being from that year or every car on the street like you you WanNa have time tracers of like you know. Songs from nineteen eighteen. Ninety four is still playing and cars from the eighties. Like it's not quite. There's no frozen in moment time and for me dealing with the eighteen sixties. I kind of felt the exact same way. which was the south so this is a very specific? But things like cuts of suits suits I. We used cuts of suits from the eighteen forties for lorries costumes. Because his grandfather would have chosen them and he hasn't really really been keeping up with the styles in the past twenty years so that kind of jacket cut was actually out of fashion by the time lorries wearing and stuff like that. But I feel like the more you dive into the specifics of a time period. The more you're able to make it breathe and live and I was enabled by my brilliant costume designer Jacqueline Duran and on my set designer. who both are such world class artists and they were willing to just spend hours and hours and hours with me pouring Over paintings and photographs and looking for this thing that made it feel alive and so for example with the hair I wanted the hair fair to be messy and I needed examples of women with messy hair and the eighteen sixty s and. There's this wonderful photographer. Julia Margaret Cameron. Who has girls is with these wild and brushed hair and it looks they look like girls you know and I felt like I wanted every single thing in the film to be foot notable? I didn't want it to be anachronistic but I did want it to feel like it was breathing and real and it just I mean. That's the the most fun part. It's just I mean I'm more familiar with two thousand and two thousand eighteen sixty This felt no less just real and alive and just current. You just felt like you had Kim plopped in the middle of a big messy family. If it's a real isn't credible did you. Did you grow up reading the book. What was your history of the book and the book was my favorite book? It was my favorite book. I read it over and over again. I think I don't know if you had books like this. The books that become like ritualistic almost to read the live inside you so much and it felt like those. The march sisters felt like my sisters and Joe March felt like my she was my she was my favorite. And I don't know I don't know if I wanted to become a writer and then I discovered Joe March or Joe March was at writer. And that's what made me want to be a writer but whatever it was it was some combination of that and so it had been it so the emotional core of the story is also deep inside of me that that felt like it didn't feel like I was making anything up. It felt like it was all very much an extension Chen of me. It's funny because the Joe Character obviously the as view as a writer director. You can see the immediate connection. The aiming character is so rich also and you can see. There's so much now that you're that you're feeling through her to your connection the material in general you can just yards. Well one of the things when I was like looking when I was when when I was rereading the book and I was starting to write the script was I was so incredible. You struck struck by how vivid their experience as adults was was sort of the text of little women both is a novel but also just our collective memory of little women is them in their girlhood and their childhood in this kind of Snow Globe Halcyon days of of what Massachusetts Winter. And even though it's in the middle of the civil war there's a coziness hosing is to it. And then when it was reading the book I was finding all of this richness when they were adults which which I felt like I wanted to see and things like amy. Amy Goes to Europe and she realizes that she'll never be a great artist. And it's incredible edible in the book and she goes shoes going to. She's doing a tour and she says you know she went. She loves the Old Masters and so she goes and she's and then she realizes like Oh. No that's gone. Never be that and then this is my invention but also found. This is part of. What's making the film? She's she's in Paris which is right at the beginning of impressionism and right at the beginning of of many as painting and Sesana is painting and the sort of notion of of paint being. The subject of the painting itself is starting to emerge and she knows she's not doing it and I just thought it's so it just spelled so meaningful to me to have a young woman say I want to be great or nothing. It's such a wonderfully arrogant space to occupy and I felt like I felt like I just I understood her and then equally the character of meg often. It feels like make who gets married and has children. Her story ends with marriage as if nothing happens after that and the book I found all these riches of she has a spending in problem. She spends way too much money because she's really stressed out being home with twins all day and I thought what's this is terrific and she's lying to her husband. It's great and I feel like I. I just felt like there was so much about that was exciting to me. So then the we're sort of about writing. It was like well if I start in their adulthood then I can and used that as then the childhood can be this kind of common language for all of us of all than but then how do you continue to be brave and in big and interesting and have big dreams even after your past that point. Structurally how you approach. I mean it's genius. It's a million and also it creates. It's just this. I don't know the whole thing. Become the first of all the way that you juxtapose used to juxtapose flipping back and forth who have perspective on different do things before they happen. But it just becomes this big emotional tapestry. I imagined though it was not easy to both in the writing and in the editing room. I'm assuming to keep track into have it all land so emotionally talk about working with structure. Yeah well I mean it's I will say it's a structure. It's difficult to give notes on which I'm sure sure you've experienced with can be good really good. Actually that someone will say like can't you and you're like nope try again. But I mean the thing about the structure is there's two there's two time periods but everything's moving forward. There's no point actually where you're going going backwards. In any of the time periods everything is following and then at one point then you kind of add the layer of you have past present and fiction fiction so you sort of add you add another layer which also I think the time starting with adults and then going back to children allowed me to introduce introduced this idea of. Is that how you remember it or is that what happened or is that how you remember it or is that how you wrote it and once it's you had in that layer of the book end. which in so many cases book ends are just death and this is an example where it works so well and also brings in additional level all of richness to the entire thing so that the example with the thing with the end where you do kind of the Meta telling of you project that back the whole story is just yes? Well one of the things things that I discovered while I was researching Louisa May Alcott and I tried to bring in a lot of this is unlike Joe March who does get married and have children Louisa May Alcott never got married and she never had children but she was convinced that she needed to have joe get married and have have children in order to sell the book but she never wanted that for her heroin. She wanted her to remain as she called it. A literary spinster. But uh she they. They convinced her. No it's not gonNa work so she the other way and so part of what I wanted to do. Was I dunno one hundred and fifty years later give her an ending. She might have liked perfect. And I thought you know we can't do this now. Then we've really made no progress and we should all hang our heads but but But I I. The structure truly came out of wanting to introduce this layer of authorship everywhere in it how we author our own lives lives even if we're not writers and how kind of Tell and retell the story of how we became who we are. And then you know I I think it jumped out at me because the book was originally published in two parts the first part being more childhood in the second half being adulthood and they really when I was reading them they started to graft onto each other pretty pretty movingly and one of the things that I found most moving was Beth in childhood. Get Sick can get better and in adulthood she. She gets sick and she dies and and there was something about that. Felt like well if I can figure out how to put these on top of each other it to me we all this nip. It felt very moving this kind of doubling and I think there's something that some there's a feeling that I was trying to capture that I when I've I've had people in my life die perhaps way that there's something that I've said and I've heard other people say they say but but I just saw them like and it's a very. It's almost like this intuitive sense of has if as if as if it could stop something by by but by presence like but it was just the other way and I was kind of as I was structuring. The movie Isaac Ethic. I could get that feeling of like but they were just here that would that would create something to me. That felt like was already in the book. So be careful and so sad and also then when after she's died when you then have scenes where she's around and still alive but just brings a impossible ospel point and say yeah. I know I. It's a it's a very I think. I think that one of the things writers tried to do you were all artists. Trying to do is try to save something while we're still here and I always felt that the way that Louise May alcott tried to save her sister are was writing it down because she couldn't do it in life and I I find that very moving as a person who was wont to write things down. Uh the It's it's there's the bill talk about the actress and a second because the dialogue in the film and the way that you worked with the actors especially in the groups as amazing but before that some of the most striking moments in the movie from me were non verbal ones were ones where just directorial Tori. You feel like. You're creating sculpting these moments like when Beth is planned the piano Chris Cooper's character's listening to her which is just gorgeous or when the two sisters are sitting on the beach and the wind. Kicks up talk about how you approach visually. If you plan talked about working with Sam Hogger with collaborations like well well I was. I was aided by a my cinematographer cinematographer York. Lesot is just a wonderful DP. Frenchie worked with. He works a lot with Olivia and he shot all of his recent movies. And he's worked with Luca Guadagnino and I am love. Any shot bigger splash and both of Richard Gorgeous films but he also he shot Carlos which has this kind of Connecticut Energy and I knew I wanted the camera to feel like a dancer especially really in the younger scenes. I wanted to feel like we're very much in it with them but I didn't want it to feel messy or hand held. They didn't even want steady cam. I wanted it to feel like a moving painting. And and we pretty very specifically blocked and sh- shot listed and the way the script work with the movement it was all very intertwined in terms of people speak over each other but they speak over each other and very designated areas and then the Way York was able to you kind of be be a member of the scene in in those areas was i. It was exactly what I hoped he was. He was going to do you and then he did it and it was just. I felt alive and it felt in it. Felt like you know with period pieces. I feel often. There's this quality of being nailed to the floor. Like you can feel how expensive the lighting package was. You're like you can feel the the smoked up that room and then we're waiting thing and we did smoke up some rooms because it looks nice and we were lucky. We got to shoot on film which was incredible because it was just aiming it added this you know as my production designer says it kind of falls off the truck it already looks like like how you want. And also it's the eighteen sixties. It's very close to the kind of photochemical processes that they had. So so we we were establishing this look and then conversely in adulthood I kind of wanted more farther away more static more locked off more polite and and we. We're you know he was just he was very. He was very intuitive. A in how how he worked. Also I mean I'm a real. Oh planner I'm a real prepar and a planner and we'd just to show you show host. You come in with a shot list and I do bad drawings. We did work with a story story board artist for some of the sequences. I I loved it I was not used to it. I'm sure you've done it. A bunch bunch. It's it's it's amazing I but actually being able to talk through something and then have them draw it out. We did for that ice skating falling through the ice and and it was just a it was it was I liked. I think I think the thing that I was learning how to do in it and I I love doing it was finding its the plan but then the one sure they're finding the freedom even though you have this this this set of shots that you're trying to get but I mean to that end leases kind of talking about working with actors because one of the especially I come from a big family. I think if you grew up in a big family you know that sense of loving chaos of like everyone around you capture that so well in here and part of those the camera most of it is so how much of it is. Is Your actors how you work with them and how you make it feel like they. It felt like again like I said I didn't feel like a set shots have felt like you were in the middle of a family talking about how you work. Here's general the cast of big question I know but will I I we were able to do rehearsal. We had two weeks of rehearsal Which is so nice to have and I I? I like working with actors a lot beforehand as much as they can. I think it's I think I find the Moore. I work with them the deeper the performances get. I don't do you drilled you. Run the scenes Over I would expect with some of the group scenes you would have to almost you get the overlaps and everything or is it more talking through it how do you how do you come at rehearsal. We do both in this one for the group scenes. It was is getting everyone up to speed because I wanted the lines memorized. In that way. Where it's it's muscle memory? I never wanted anybody reaching for the words because we would do these kind of long shots that would hand off and it was like a game of hot potato. Everybody had to be on it so I did. We did rehearse those those lines. We do a combination Asian of talking and running the scenes. We do a lot of honesty. What I had a lot of the actors do I had them all perform for each other? I had them do monologues and or read poems or sing songs. They could choose what they did in front of each other but I feel like it made them instantly embarrassed but then instantly get over there embarrassment assessment. Because there's something so I mean the thing that you're asking them to do is act in front of each other and there is nothing more embarrassing you know so I but it was. It was great and then they made me do it which I was like. No No. I don't have to do this part and they were like no. You have to have to do a poem but it was. I mean we do that. We do lots of vocal physical exercises. And I think there's it was a acumen with the Dardenne brothers and they said something that stuck with me. They said it takes two weeks weeks for actors to stop being embarrassed of their bodies. And I think that's true. I think it takes a couple of weeks just to settle. And then you know there's all this in rehearsal you can really talk through and this is such a research heavy movie and I had given them all books to read and things to look at it and I was forcing them to watch movies movies and reading Heaven's Gate. They all fell asleep but look at how many walsers the reds. Because that's another I mean there's so many period pieces that don't feel like periods uses and McCabe and Mrs Miller and just like a lot of different films that I felt I felt alive and right for what this was but but yeah I mean they all and then I made them do things like go hang out without without me and to due dinners and have secrets and and and I I like create. I like as much as they can creating a bubble that everyone feels safe in. Good in Eh. So I mean cast is amazing and the cast is and they're all so I mean just the the the wattage. authorship charisma on the screamer the depth you get involved in but also just these young people who have so much. Divide me they all pierce through. Talk to me about Yeah if you can talk me through I guess starting with with the sisters kind of how you came to each of them and Well before I even knew that I was going to to that. I completely wrap my mind around doing this. I had a Dr- I actually wrote the script before I directed little before he directed lady bird so had written the script up to this then I directed lady bird then came back to this and I actually I always. I don't know how other people do it but I I need to be alone for a weaker to to kind of wrap my head around. What this thing is you right with? Actors in mind can't but even once I have a script I need a couple a couple of weeks to it's like I have to imagine this thing existing so fully that I can convince everybody else do this thing with me and I feel like that takes takes some sort of mystical time loan in any case. I hadn't done that yet. But certian new I was thinking about little women insertion. who had worked with before she? She just told me she was playing Joe. She's just she's not tapped me on the shoulder and said I know you're working on little women I'll be playing and I was like terrific do but then I felt like it is joe thing to do and then and then I looked over and Timothy did something something very. Laurie and I was like there's Lori and then and then I went away in the woods and then I seen I seen seen I'd seen. I seen a picture of Florence pugh before I saw. Yeah but I but then I saw lady lady Macbeth and shoes but I just knew she was amy. She has his perfect upturn knows. She's not afraid of anything. She looks like she's coming at life fully. It's there's something about her presence that I just knew would match amy and then she's such a brilliant actor which I I knew I wanted because I wanted her to be a proper proper boxing partner for Meryl Streep also told me issue is going to be in the movie which she was right and Meryl Streep thing and now I couldn't have been more. She's she's astonishing obviously she's Meryl Streep and also with all of these actors. Such incredible collaborators. There's so like made everything about the movies so rich. And how do you. I mean I'm interested because having done quite a bit of terrific acting yourself. How do you in terms arms of the now you mentioned the transition? But how is that useful. In terms of approaching directing or is it still reactors differ. And then you have to find your way your way in. I think I've I mean I think every actor is different so you always have to benefit. Because I've as an actor I worked with so many different actors in each actors you build the scene differently but I do think they all are. They all need slightly different things to thrive. Do you feel like you can. I don't know what you said before about becoming comfortable with like your body as you feel like you can you. There's there's something I'm from having done it yourself. That helps you when you step on that I for me yes I think it does because I think I have. I think I'm aware of how what I'm asking them to do. And I am very sensitive to like I mean there are. They all can do whatever. But I'm very sensitive to leg when it says bursts into tears here. How having I mean that's just stressful to know for actors? So I try to. I try to remove any pressure. What really try to do is make them feel like we have all the time in the world? It's because I think that when they feel that like clock going they they get. It's just it's imperceptible thing but one day I will say about shooting on film which is nice is it. Does I think for actors. There's a safety in and I've done it when you should. You know when you shoot you can shoot for very long time. You can shoot everything. There is still a formality to shooting on film that I think they kind of bring brings something extra. I know I do when I when I've acted and we've shot on film so and I like that I don't I don't I think it's detrimental if they feel everyone saying let's hurry up but I think it's good when they feel like action like how many how to shoot. It seems like a time it seriously. I not as much time as I would've wanted as yeah we had. I don't know what the final day count was but be forty eight days days. Well Yeah I think I killed every department head actually. They all said to me separately at the wrap party. They were like that was a lot but it but it was I. I felt like we had we. We did have we were given the support support. My brilliant producer. Amy Pascal I think is here just pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed into. I had everything I needed and and that was I. I mean like I was able to tell this story on this big canvas and do it do it big and do it right and it was really exciting but it was also it was. Maybe I think maybe it is always a little good to be a little too big to fit in the box. Always Yeah just ten percents your ten percent less than you need. Yeah there how big the boxes yeah. Unfortunately it's just an interview with Guillermo. Del Toro we said it is the director's obligation to go over time and over budget and I was like well now he tells us the house. We have a couple of minutes left. I want to really quickly. I want to ask you about editing one. Because I mention the structural before and obviously goes in the writing but talk about being in the other room with this talk first of all how you work in the other room and also if how much the whole thing ended ended up. Structurally changing because for something. This complex to flow is beautifully as it does and it takes a lot of work. Well it I mean and it is very similar to the script I I. It's it's pretty nearly to the script But it is a movie in which small changes have big ripple effects so it took a lot of calibration it. It was a long at it it was a it took it. It was something that at the heart of it was. They're very quickly. And I worked my editor Nick. Hui who I also did lady bird with is he's relentless and he's Ah just so wonderful because he never size he never says. Because I'm like we just try it again when we yeah I never. He's Jay he's always great. Let's do it again. Even if he knows we've done eight times already and but it it was it was a law I have to say it was a long process and then and then it was. There was so many moving parts that were happening in post in terms of. I knew how big the music was going to be as well and Alexander and just an extraordinary score and I knew that he was writing the music before we started shooting shooting and we'd had some conversations he'd written a couple of things that I was able to listen to while I was sitting up shots and kind of having some kind of a rhythm but I didn't really know what it was going to be and he wanted to listen to it with nothing and knowing that you're cutting to be watched naked is an as really hard then tempa. Ah We tempted for ourselves. Then we took it away because we were like you really have to. The integrity of the image has to work on. Its own own because you know as I'm sure many people in the room no music can sort of covers some fault if you need to get through a section and to that do not have that as a crutch was incredibly good exercise for me but it's funny because I would say the bulk of everything. was there the way the scenes were cut the way we saw the characters but just that little bit but I worked straight through. We kind of started at the beginning. Just work straight through and I was cutting the day after I finished shooting on while you were coding. While you're shooting or we were I was doing just sort of making sure all the angles I needed but I don't watch full assemblies assemblies. It's the most I do like. That would be like someone like slowly sticking their finger in your eye like I don't don't get can't bear. I wouldn't be able to bear it. No you watch you watch you watch thirty seconds and then it's unbearable and then you say okay no no but he was just making sure everything was sort of working and then we also knew because we were telling this time shift we. We've done some stuff in camera to distinguish between the two time periods with different filters we filter for a lot of. What was the color timing? It was gonna be the thing which we knew and we didn't want to bake too much into the image that we wouldn't be able a to undo because we weren't positive of how little flow but in any case nick and I we work through. We started I. I started cutting right away. I start cutting right away. I finished on December sixteenth and we're cutting on December seventeenth and then. Yeah the the core in the heart was there just. It took months of tinkering and really asking people to say what what was this. What was that and you know because it was something that you know? I love this book in so many people love this book and they know this book and I wanted to make something that worked for them but work for everyone and so that thing of being able to be brought into a story but also if you know the story being brought in a new way and it just so you know I think it was it some of them fall easily and this one took to time well well. It's an absolutely extraordinary achievement. Let's give it up for Greta. GERWIG incredible moving thanks for you're listening to another DGA QNA if you'd like to hear more you can find past episodes of the director's cut wherever you listen to podcasts. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more great acuna with the rectors Noah Baumbach and Molina Masukus and be sure to subscribe rate and review us. We'd love

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