Interview: Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach discuss Frances Ha
The ‘Ha’ of the title is a device that isn’t unveiled until much later on in the newest film by Noah Baumbach. Frances herself though, is suddenly relatable and understood, a vivacious late twenty-something full of enthusiasm, balancing out the dread of a forming a career and the uncertainly of relationships with uninhibited goofiness and spontaneity.
The character, one whose solid foundation of friendship, career, and living arrangements starts to slowly crumble away, was tirelessly crafted to perfection by co-writers Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, who plays Frances. The heroine is her own special creation, made possibly only by the combined efforts of the two.
“Most of it felt like it a pure collaboration in a sense that it was an alchemy that created a third thing,” explains Gerwig during a stop in Toronto to promote Frances Ha ahead of its June 21st release. “It’s not one part is Noah, one part is Greta. We are similar in that we discover characters through dialogue, and they kind reveal themselves to you,” adds Gerwig.
“In some ways we found Frances in these moments and scenes and pieces, and as soon as we had her rhythms and found how she was funny and how she was sad and how she was cocky, we didn’t over talk it.”
When production began, the script was set, and the two could assume other duties. There was no improvisation, and nothing needed to be rushed. Gerwig spoke of the benefit of flying under the radar, making a film that wasn’t hyped at all and that few were expecting or anticipating. Noah, meanwhile, spoke of a talented and dedicated team that allowed for him to take his time and for everyone to make sure they got the right shot.
“I was very meticulous, I always have been, but in this movie we created a kind of lean and mean production crew. Part of that notion was we could take our time and wait and get it right and even come back another day to get it right,” says Baumbach, who filmed across New York City as well as in Sacramento, Gerwig’s home town, for a scene in which Frances visits her family played by Gerwig’s parents. “I just felt like, lets see what happens, let’s try to be rigorous about this and not just accept stuff we don’t feel great about.”
When the time came, Gerwig and Baumbach took to their respective roles, shifting considerably from writing to acting and directing duties respectively.
“I didn’t experience feeling like I was handing over the film to Noah as much like I was letting it live through me in a way,” said Gerwig of the transition. “That’s Frances: you have to take everything and channel it through you.”
“I wasn’t ceding power as much I was going under,” continued Gerwig. “Film acting is real muscle; it takes a lot of stamina and endurance. I felt like running a marathon, and at the end of it I felt really strong, everything was working, firing on all cylinders.”
The film is so very much a creation of the pair, as they scouted locations, adorned sets, and had input on costumes, all of which combine to create a film about a young woman’s journey through a particular stage in her life. Even the idea of shooting in black-and-white, which on the surface is something Baumbach admitted he just really wanted to do, fits into the framework of Frances.
“The material felt very contemporary and the character very modern,” said Baumbach. “The black and white would complement that; make it old and new at the same time. It would make her intimate life feel more anthemic.”
“She is stubborn, but she rolls with life in a kind of heroic way. She makes difficult decisions and faces difficult realities about herself and her life that aren’t easy,” says Baumbach. Gerwig adds of Frances’ struggles, “The ability to readjust when something doesn’t work out is something necessary and heartbreaking.”