Noah 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.