May 22, 2013

Noah Baumbach on 'Frances Ha': Podcast with Marc Maron & the Scene That Took 42 Takes

Noah Baumbach Frances HaNoah Baumbach is a filmmaker whose character-driven narratives often find great depth out of simplicity, and his latest film Frances Ha pushes that sensibility even further. Shot digitally in black and white and lensed by Sam Levy, Baumbach notoriously did thirty or forty takes for many scenes in the film, in the hopes of finding "the one shot that tells the story." Marc Maron recently gave an excellent podcast interview with Baumbach, going in-depth about his previous films, his path to becoming a filmmaker and his approach to creating a contemporary digital black and white film with Frances Ha. Hit the jump for the audio interview and watch the scene that took 42 takes.

As an advocate of eliminating (or decreasing) expectation in film, I will first highly recommend you see it. That being said, this interview does a good job at not raising or lowering those expectations. Enjoy! (Extra special thanks to Maron for letting us embed this -- go buy something from him or watch his show on IFC):

Baumbach talks about his 'second career' that he got from making The Squid and the Whale, which took 6 years and a personal renaissance. It's nice to think that you can reinvent yourself after you've made a couple of films that you didn't feel strongly about, and proves that the art of filmmaking requires the filmmaker to dig deep within themselves to bring out a powerful personal story.

On the choice of shooting in black and white:

It's something that evokes film, but looks like something else. I felt the film should be shot classically in a way. A little bit like Woody Allen's Manhattan. Black and white focusses your attention because you're not distracted by associations that color brings you. And it was a way to see New York again.

Greta Gerwig, the star and co-screenwriter wrote a piece for the New York Times, detailing her journey with one scene in particular that took 42 takes. In the article, Gerwig takes us through her thought process on each of the takes until they arrive at what Baumbach was looking for:

Take 4 (2:16 p.m.): I know I’m doing the scene badly, but I can’t figure out how to do it well. Usually by Take 4 something has settled, but not this time. I do a weird line reading just to change it up. That surprises me midperformance, and then I mess up my next line — I say “three-hour-lunch friend” instead of “three-hour-brunch friend.” I apologize immediately after Noah calls, “Cut!” Little words count.

You can read her journal of all 42 takes at her article.

Baumbach explains this approach, from an interview at The Wrap:

Well, I’m often interested in how much story you can tell with one shot. And so sometimes I tend to shoot many pages in one shot, without a cutting point. If the scene were shot in a more traditional way, you’d ultimately be doing almost as many takes, because you’d be shooting a master and then medium close, then close … So in some ways you’d be close to 40 takes anyway. My friend Brian DePalma says he thinks coverage is a bad word. He says anybody can shoot a scene with coverage. I do think it’s more interesting to see how shots can evolve.

Achieving simplicity is not simple in filmmaking, and Frances Ha is proof. The film started its limited release on May 17th, check it out if you're in one of the major cities, and if not, perhaps you can request it on Tugg. Have you seen the film? Join the discussion below.

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21 Comments

I agree with Baumbach about the black and white, color is distracting in a way, BW helps on focusing on the story and that's what I did on my short film "Fish Heads". BW gives no distractions and a look and feel that's is more cinematic to my tastes. In a world where everything is in color, BW has something magic. I like color but not just random color but a defined palette who can set the atmosphere of the movie.

May 22, 2013

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If you can control all the colors in your film like Kubrick, then color works great. But for most of us, it's going to be hard to control everything, so maybe black and white would be better for those situations.

May 23, 2013

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Julian

I agree, with color you need working with production design and costumes, find a palette of colors to express a mood. Could be more challenging but it's about the story you want to tell. If you are going to shot things as they are, with no work on color maybe you can go with BW that's doesn't mean that BW is easy, is even more challenging to find the right stuff to get the right images.

May 23, 2013

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Excellent article! I had already heard Maron's podcast with Baumbach, and this was a nice addendum to that. I think you did a great job bringing together the podcast, the link to Gerwig's article and the Vimeo clip to create an in-depth look at the making of an independent film.

May 22, 2013

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Rob Unck

Wow I thought it was shot on film but they did with a 5D! really impressive! Here's Greta Gerwig talking about:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgKKaiawy8Q

May 22, 2013

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Haha, this is great. Thanks for sharing this. I've been wanting to see Keanu's doc.

May 22, 2013

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
writer, director, dp

I'm sorry but to say this film (based on the clips and trailer etc. that I've seen) is like Woody Allen's "Manhattan" is a colossal insult to the talents of Cinematographer Gordon Willis. I'd be surprised if there was a single shot in "Frances Ha" that could stand toe to toe with "Manhattan". These kinds of comments by indie filmmakers and actors etc. just make them look ignorant and self-important.

As for taking 42 takes to get something, that says to me the director doesn't know what he wants or doesn't know how to get it. Or, God forbid, he fancies himself as a Kubrick... Besides, whoever said every scene had to be shot Master, Medium, Close-up? This filmmaker should study his friend Brian DePalma's movies a little more and learn about blocking camera and actors.

Sorry for the negativity. This kind of filmmaking just isn't my cup of tea I guess... Too mumblecore.

May 22, 2013

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Neil

Manhattan is just a place of reference for these filmmakers, and it's not about the shots, it's about the characters. Don't dismiss something as 'mumblecore' just because it is not plot driven. 'Frances Ha' was entirely scripted, Baumbach is masterful at seeing humans in flawed light while still feeling an overwhelming empathy for them. Best film I've seen this year.

May 22, 2013

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
writer, director, dp

Forget finding "the perfect moment" until you have the scene lit properly... or at all.

May 22, 2013

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Anon

Shooting like this allows the viewer to be engrossed by the performance. Cutting to close ups, reverses reminds the audience that they are watching a film. I love this scene in the Krays after the wedding. Great writing, simple direction and an absolutely cracking piece of acting. Chills to the bone. Jump to 2:40, there's some bad language. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qojS0423IJo

May 22, 2013

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Neill Jones

I love the still at the top. It makes we want to see the film. The Vimeo clip is a little dark (in terms of light), though. But I like the emotional messiness of the scene.

May 22, 2013

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Tom

I know I was taught - if you can't say something nice.... - but I really don't get why this is impressive? I don't think the scene is very good. I don't think delivery is anything special - I don't even care to find out what happens - because honestly - it appears to be two girls doing a scene for drama class.

I apologize, am I off - or is this nothing special other than the fact that it took 42 takes to find one the director liked?

I watched it several times to see if I was missing something. I just don't get why this scene is educational.

May 22, 2013

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Jer

I feel like the scene escalates rather quickly and doesn't take any pause before erupts into yelling. I think they should have played it quieter or as if they didn't want anyone else to hear.

May 22, 2013

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It's more interesting to read Gerwig's full journal of all 42 takes to understand the development of the scene and how they worked together. I admit, when I saw this scene out of context I thought it was a little weird too, but when you're watching the film it really fits as part of a whole. I recommend you watch the film.

May 22, 2013

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
writer, director, dp

When I first commented I thought to myself, "I probably don't understand this scene out of context."

May 22, 2013

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Jer, maybe you don't like what you're seeing now (and, to be honest, I don't quite like it either -- I don't think the actors connect, and I think there's some pre-empting going on) -- but maybe it's much better than the other 41 alternatives.

May 23, 2013

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You're right. It feels like a bad acting rehearsal. I was frankly expecting a lot better.

May 23, 2013

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ryan

Nothing special here either. I like to see eyes. Eyes take us inside a person.

May 22, 2013

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William

In that scene, I couldn't really see anything, and I couldn't really hear anything either, which is even worse.

May 22, 2013

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Robertj

Nice Plug for the film...didn't mention its also on IFC on demand?? Likely its biggest source of income...We're left to tugg it if we're not in a major city? You make it sound like a desparate release

May 22, 2013

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guy whitey corngood

Some random thoughts on doing lots of takes and minimal coverage:
-- in El Mariachi, Rodriguez moved the camera around a lot. The idea was -- many angles = illusion of multiple cameras = increased production value. He'd film a line or two from this angle. Then cut. New setup. Now, this sort of shooting actually is very time-efficient. But does it not get in the way of the flow of the acting? Would anyone be nuts enough to yell "cut" every few seconds during particularly emotional scenes? So, I think there's a lot to be said for reducing your coverage, and getting better performances...
-- can't remember which director said it, but different actors seem to hit their stride after X number of takes. Some (many, in fact) do their best performance on the first take, and everything else is downhill; some deliver the same performance every take; some take 12 takes to get going. So, if you're crafty, then knowing how the person you're working with works affects your shooting strategy. If their best performance is on the first take, then shoot the close-up first. If one person takes 6 takes to get going and another person takes 1, then maybe save your two-shot to the sixth take.
-- Nicole Kidman comments somewhere on Kubrick doing multiple takes. Says that in her view it was to do with breaking down self-consciousness. If you're tired, and have repeated the hell out of a scene, then you're less worried about looking good or looking bad on camera, and you start thinking less and just DOING instead. Other actors comment that the notorious many takes was more to do with Kubrick knowing what he didn't want and not knowing what he wanted, and being open to the actor supplying something good that's unexpected. "Try this walk a little faster and see how it looks. Now try the walk a little slower." Still others seem to think that the performance an actor gives when tired, or the desperation and paranoia that starts to set in about whether the scene will ever be over, was precisely what Kubrick wanted for this or that reason.
-- Regardless of the actor, I think everyone struggles to keep it fresh time after time -- to not pre-empt reactions, to be surprised when you're supposed to be surprised, and to keep up your energy levels (including simple things like keeping the volume of your voice up). So, doing lots of takes can easily come back to bite the director.

But I should say that whenever I've been in this sort of situation, repeating a scene again and again (whether I'm behind the camera or in front of it), there's often, but not always, some sort of magical breakthrough moment. Eg: it's ok for the first two takes, it's crap for the next 12, and it's like you're beating your head on a wall or trying to run through mud, and nothing much changes, and everyone's depressed -- and then someone cracks a joke, and everyone's spirit returns, and the next take is magic. I don't know why it works like this, but it's happened plenty of times in my experience, so I can't help but think there's something to multiple takes... Requires faith and courage though. Faith that you're not just pouring money down the drain and that you'll eventually get the performance you want.

May 23, 2013

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