The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Greta Gerwig: Hello. I’m Greta Gerwig.
John: And this is Episode 433 of Scriptnotes.
John: Yeah. A podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. 433 episodes.
Today on this show we will be discussing ambition, authorship, and adaptation, which is why we’re so lucky to have Greta Gerwig filling in for Craig. She is the acclaimed writer and director of Little Women and Lady Bird. We’re going to answer some listener questions about descriptive writing and parenthood as well.
John: Craig is out sick today. But he has promised to join me after the credits for a bonus segment for Premium members where we talk about what was happening with him and Tiffany Haddish at the Golden Globes. So, Craig won a Golden Globe. He won a Golden Globe for Chernobyl.
Greta: That’s amazing.
John: Which is great. And now you already had a Golden Globe, because you won a Golden Globe for Lady Bird.
Greta: Actually you know what? The thing is because I wasn’t listed as a producer on Lady Bird or Little Women I actually don’t have any awards.
John: Well, you have many awards. You don’t have a Golden Globe?
Greta: No. Because it won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy but because I’m not a producer I don’t have a Golden Globe.
John: I’m going to throw this table.
Greta: I know.
John: I’m so angry.
Greta: I know. People are like let me see your Golden Globe and I’m like the thing is I don’t have one. It’s quite all right. I think eventually I will be a producer on my projects. But for the first couple I was like I want other people to be able to take that full space.
John: That’s fair. So I assumed that you and Craig had that in common winning Golden Globes. But you and I have something in common I discovered during our research. We are both born on August 4th.
John: We are birthday twins.
Greta: Birthday twins. Plus Obama.
John: Plus Obama. The three of us. A powerful–
Greta: Have the same–
John: A powerful team.
Greta: And I think Queen Elizabeth. Is that right?
John: That sounds right. I’ll believe it. Say it with confidence and we’ll believe it.
Greta: Queen Elizabeth. No, that’s really great. A Leo.
John: Yeah, a Leo. I don’t really believe in astrology but like–
Greta: Oh, I do. [laughs]
John: But I have many qualities of Leo.
Greta: I mean, actually I don’t know that I believe in it in that I don’t know that I think there’s a correlation between the facts of the world and what you can glean from astrology. However, I think people use lots of things which it’s not technically based in hard fact at all. And if it makes you a little happier, why not? I mean, an astrologist told me once that I was in a lucky corridor. It was when I was making Lady Bird actually. And then she was like so if anything goes wrong, just ask yourself how is this an opportunity for me. Because it is.
And I was like well that’s just pretty good advice in general.
John: Yeah. Exactly. Astrology maybe not true, but good advice always welcome.
Greta: Good advice. And I have Leo-ish qualities.
John: I’m going to be asking a lot of advice from you for our listeners. But let me lay out the overall agenda of things I’d love to talk about while I have you here for this hour. So I want to talk about your adaptation of Little Women which is unconventional and just terrific.
Greta: Thank you.
John: We have the script in front of us so we’ll be able to do some deep diving on some scenes. But I want to know how you came to write it. Why you wrote it? It’s a story about ambition. Jo is very ambitious. You are ambitious as a filmmaker. You were instrumental in helping create a whole genre of filmmaking. So we should talk about that.
John: And then I want to talk about the notion of authorship because Jo aspires so hard to be an author. And the work I associate you with is so autobiographical. And so like Little Women is sort of meta autobiographical because of some of the things you did, but Lady Bird is highly autobiographical. So the degree to which you are writing things that only you could write is I think a good thing for us to talk about.
John: That will be our agenda for this hour. But I want to know how you came to write Little Women because it’s a public domain story. You could have written it at any time, but you wrote it in a very specific way. So tell me about how you came to write it.
Greta: Well, the truth is actually I didn’t really know about the public domain for a long time, in terms of the text of Little Women. But I grew up reading this book. I read it many, many times. And Jo March was my favorite character. And in many ways she was the character that made me believe I could be a writer, because she wanted to be a writer. She was a writer. And then in some way that I didn’t know completely but I think you intuit when you’re reading it is because you’re holding the book Little Women in some ways you know she became the writer who wrote the book even though it’s a different name.
And I didn’t really know who Louisa May Alcott was because I read books the way all kids read books which is that the things within the pages seem real to you, even though they’re fiction. And I think the last time I read the book when I was something like 14 or 15 and then when I was 30 I reread it and I felt like I’d never read it before. I felt like it was brand new.
John: You read it just on a lurk? There was no reason?
Greta: I was actually moving out of one apartment into another apartment and that’s often the occasion to uncover some things, which is why it’s sometimes good to either move or clean stuff out, because then you revisit stuff. Anyway, I had the copy of Little Women that I had had when I was a girl. And I reread it. Or I sat down to sort of like page through it. And then I started reading it and I was like, oh my god, this is – in one way I almost know this by heart, and in another way I feel like I’ve never read it. I feel like it’s totally modern and strange and pressing. And I knew I wanted to make it into a film. I started seeing it as a film.
And then coincidentally my agent mentioned that Amy Pascal and the folks over at Sony were interested in making it. And I said you’ve got to get me in that room. And I went and I talked to Amy and Denise Di Novi and Robin Swicord and I told them what I wanted to do with it. And I hadn’t yet directed Lady Bird. So it was a long shot. But they said – initially what they said yes to was me writing the screenplay.
John: Let’s talk about you as a writer before that moment. Because you’d written on other movies before. And you directed before, but much smaller things.
John: And so what were they reading of their work?
Greta: Why did they give me this job?
John: I’m truly curious. You’re coming into this room. What was it like?
Greta: Well, I had co-written two screenplays with Noah, Frances Ha and Mistress America. I think especially now that I’ve written and directed stuff on my own I think it’s a little easier to see how much of that is my writing. But I think when you’re initially a cowriter and also when you’re an actor I think there’s almost an assumption that maybe you just wrote the lines you said.
Greta: Which is not true. But it’s an understandable assumption. And then–
John: And that’s probably true for any writing team in general. You don’t know whether one of them by themselves can really do the work.
Greta: Exactly. And you’re not sure – and, because Noah had done things alone, it’s a little harder to tease out. But I’d done that. But then I had been hired properly – properly I mean by a person – I wrote a script for Lionsgate for Eric Feige and that I went in, I knew they had an idea of doing something I pitched and I said here’s what – and they gave me the job. And I wrote them a script. And so that was kind of the first thing that I’d done like that.
And then actually interesting on a sitcom that I tried to do that didn’t work, How I Met Your Father, How I Met Your Dad, I was a writer on that as well.
John: So there were things people could look at to say like she can really write by herself.
Greta: Yeah. There were a couple things. But it was kind of on faith. I mean, I did give them the script to Lady Bird even though I hadn’t made Lady Bird yet. And said, oh, I wrote this.
John: OK. That’s a pretty good script.
Greta: It was a good script, but I also think, you know, it’s hard to be the first one in the pool. And I thought it was a good script and I had gotten some feedback. People said, oh yes, it’s a good script. But like nobody really knows yet. You know, you have to believe in the thing before anybody else says it’s good. And that’s like what makes great producers is they can read something without anybody else telling them it’s good and think it’s good.
I had that script but it was still kind of – I mean, they certainly didn’t hire me to direct it. And it was like, well, give it a shot.
Greta: It wasn’t like–
John: Take a chance on you.
Greta: Yeah. It wasn’t like some big like now we’re all in on you. And I think I always wanted to direct it and thought that I should, but even though they weren’t thinking that way, I think a couple of things helped in that regard which is that I sort of had a sense of like I’m going to do whatever I want with this script because I mean nobody is ever going to make this.
John: Well let’s talk about talking into that room, meeting with – because I know Amy well and I know Denise and I know Robin Swicord. They’re all very smart, accomplished women.
John: What was your conversation? Were you coming in to them saying like I want to do Little Women and here’s my take of a nonlinear way to get into this and how you’re going to handle all this? How much of it did you know as you were going into those meetings?
Greta: I knew quite a bit actually going into the meetings. Well, I think one of the first things I said was that I said to me this book is about authorship and ownership and it’s about money. And it’s about women and money and how that intersects with artistic output. And it felt like it was all over the book to me. And then I had already started looking at Louisa May Alcott’s life and what that was. And how that intersected with the subject of the book. And I didn’t quite know how I was going to interweave the time periods, but I didn’t know that I wanted to start with them as adults. That was the way I wanted to come at it.
And I think in part because I knew that the adaptation that I wanted to do was not just an adaptation of the text as it is in the book. Although I did rely heavily on the text in the book. I also wanted to treat all adaptations as almost an urtext as a collective memory of what Little Women is, so that there are things – you know, this is an example that I don’t know how much it’s useful but I always think about it. Our conceptions of heaven and hell for example. They’re not from the bible.
John: No, they’re not at all.
Greta: They’re from Dante. That’s where we got all of it from. So if you actually go to the bible and you’re like where are the descriptions of the hell fires? They’re not there. They don’t exist. Because that’s something we got later. And I do think that there’s this sense of an urtext or collective text which means more than even what the original text said. So I felt like I had the original text, but then I had images. And the images are things like Marmee and the girls gathered around the fire reading the letter from father. And the kiss in the rain under the umbrella. And Amy falling in the ice or burning the book. There are these little moments. Or going to the Hummels or the Christmas morning. These moments that I feel like they’re from the book but they’re also from all of the times we’ve seen it.
John: The collective unconscious. It’s what we associate as this being–
Greta: Exactly. So what I wanted to do was kind of find a way for that to be almost like the found materials. And then to explode it and deconstruct it and put it back together again.
John: So you mentioned the starting with them as older and then going back to them as children. My guess when I watched the movie was that part of your instinct for doing that was so that the actors that you cast would be established as the older versions so that when you come back to them as a younger version it didn’t feel like a weird mismatch. Like if you started with those older actresses as the younger versions you’re like, wait, she’s not 13. But you’re more forgiving. That’s something as a filmmaker you’re doing, but it was also your narrative sense of that you really wanted to make sure that the older life of them was as important as the younger version. What was your instinct?
Greta: Yeah, well, one thing that I realized – I mean, there are so many angles I could come at this from which leads to very longwinded answers. But there’s an inherent meta quality to the text which I was alluding to before which is that you’re holding a book, so someone wrote it. And then so you have Louisa May Alcott writing Jo. And Louisa May Alcott is writing something that looks vaguely like her life and Jo is kind of an avatar. And then Jo was also writing something that vaguely looks like her life. And then it’s me writing Louisa writing Jo. And I felt like the only way to represent all of this is to get quite Cubist about it.
It’s like there’s all these different points of authorship. And I think that there’s a real ache in the text. There’s a couple of lines I could point to that have it. But one thing is that the text is not told – it’s not first person. It’s not Jo narrating it. It’s Louisa or the narrator or whoever that person is. And there’s a lot of sadness in that person behind the people. And this perspective of Louisa’s real sister is already gone. Her sister Elizabeth died. And Louisa herself had gone to the Civil War as a Civil War nurse and had suffered through typhoid fever and almost died. And her sister, not Meg, but the character that Meg is based on, she’d gotten married and it was devastating for her.
And so there’s all these things of like she is writing about a thing that already past. And there was something when I was reading the text – and this is why every answer is so longwinded – I realized that once they’re all in their separate lives, like once Amy is in Europe, once Meg is married, once Beth is living at home but sick, and Jo is in New York trying to sell stories, they are never all together again. The thing that we think of as Little Women has already past. And I think that ache and that absence of the togetherness and that absence of the sisterhood as being the way that we contextualize these cozy scenes brought out something in me that felt was inherent in the text.
And then I think I wanted to start it just squarely with the publisher with this idea of this negotiation of will you buy my work and what do I have to change for you to buy it. And I think, you know, there’s another level on which like this scene is something that I know from this scene. I know what it’s like to sit across from someone who basically tells you morals don’t sell nowadays. So it was – I mean, there were lots of reasons for it. But emotionally I felt like there was, yeah, that ache. That it’s already gone. And then beyond that this relationship of Louisa to the text and me to the text of I think that what artists do is you write it down because you can’t save anyone’s life. Like I think that’s part of what the impulse is.
I can’t save your life, but I can write it down. And I can’t get that moment back, but I can write it down. And I think that’s part of it for me. And that kind of – and it allowed me to kind of weave that sense of is that how you remembered it or is that what happened. Is that what happened or is that how you wrote it?
John: But you also by moving back and forth between the two timelines you’re creating a tension for the viewer saying like, wait, how did we get there because I assumed that Laurie would be with her, but Laurie is with this other guy, so it becomes a mystery.
Greta: Exactly. And then also I will say this is a less poetic response. But I think there’s always been just when you tell the stories narratively straight, this is now just a nuts and bolts thing. I think there’s two things that are tricky about the traditional straight ahead narrative of Little Women. The first one is Beth gets sick and then she gets better. And then Beth gets sick and then she dies. And I always find that’s like a little hard narratively to kind of get like oh no, oh it’s OK, oh no it’s not. So one idea I had was just that stacking. And then there are poetic reasons within the stacking–
John: Of course. There are scenes where she comes down and sees her there, sees her not there.
Greta: Exactly. And that feeling of like when someone dies I think you have this inherent feeling of like but they were just there. And it was just the other way. And I felt like it was a way to cinematically give us that. And then the other thing was I felt as a viewer and as a reader and why I wanted – I hope there’s no spoilers – but why I wanted Mr. Dashwood as the publisher to say like “Frankly, I don’t see why she didn’t marry the neighbor” is because that’s what everyone for 150 years has thought. Like if you’re going to marry someone, you might as well have just married that guy across the street. Like he seemed really nice and he likes you. And what’s wrong with him?
I feel like it’s more true in movies than any other medium that the person you see them with first is the person you believe they should be with. I don’t know why it works like that. I just think it tends to work like that. And so one thing when you tell the story straight through is that you see Laurie and Jo together. And when it’s like Laurie and Amy you’re like what the hell is this? I’ve been with these other people.
The second thing is then when you meet Professor Bhaer you’re like dammit who is this guy? I don’t know this guy. I don’t care about this guy. I’ve never met this guy.
John: I don’t want him in my movie.
Greta: I know. He’s an old German professor. Like who cares? So in a way, I mean, that’s just nuts and bolts-y. I was like if I see Amy run into Laurie first and obviously he’s the object of her affection, and if I see Professor Bhaer at the beginning then I’m less introducing a new person later. And then on top of it someone said later they were like, oh, Professor Bhaer when he shows up it’s like deus ex machina, but to me I was like but that is what it is. It’s in the book. It is deus ex machina. He just shows up. And it’s like if we could set that early at the beginning and be like – and I mean, also because I’m dealing what is storytelling and what do you need and what do you expect from your characters, like with just the briefest outline of this is a romantic interest that you’re like, oh yes, I see it is a romantic interest. Part of it is playing with narrative expectations. So in any case that’s like the less beautiful answer.
John: But even in trying to establish that, Bhaer as a potential love interest, you’re doing a very deliberate rhyme where like she burned her dress both times with both of these guys. And so we associate like, oh, her burning her dress or being caught on fire is a thing that happens when there’s a love interest introduced.
Greta: Yes, that’s right. It’s right. And also the first scene of the movie when she’s trying to sell the scandal story and he says, “You know, if the main character is a girl make sure she ends up married, or dead, either way.” And then the very first scene you see her in it’s like well there you go. There’s the guy. I mean, we just set up guys because it’s like he just told her married or dead. So now we have to see is it marry or dead. It’s like putting a gun on the wall in the first act.
John: Chekhov’s marriage.
John: All right. Let’s take a listen to a scene. So this is a scene from Page 68 in the script. This is Amy and Laurie in France. I think it’s chapter 39 in the book. It’s pretty late in the book. This is a scene between Amy and Laurie. Let’s take a listen and then discuss the scene.
Amy: I’ve always known I would marry rich. Why should I be ashamed of that?
Laurie: It’s nothing to be ashamed of. As long as you love it.
Amy: Well, I believe we have some power over who we love it. It isn’t something that just happens to a person.
Laurie: I think the poets might disagree.
Amy: Well, I’m not a poet. I’m just a woman. And as a woman there’s no way for me to make my own money. Not enough to earn a living or to support my family. And if I had my own money, which I don’t, that money would belong to my husband the moment we got married. And we had children they would be his, not mine. They would be his property. So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition because it is. It may not be for you, but it most certainly is for me.
John: Ah, such a great speech.
Greta: Thank you.
John: So Julie Turner who hosts the Slate Culture Gabfest, they were talking about your amazing movie on this week’s episode. And I asked her like Greta is coming in so do you have any more questions for her. And she said, “Did you always find Amy sympathetic or is that something that came to you on later readings? How did your view of her evolve?” Because this is the evolved Amy we’re hearing in this scene.
Greta: Yes. Well, no, Amy was one of the characters that I was just utterly knocked backwards by when I read it again. And she was the one that I kept underlining lines. And there were so many great lines I couldn’t even get them all in. I mean, everything about the script I will say can be essentially footnoted. I could tell you why every line is there. And it’s either directly from the book or it’s from a piece of research. But she has a line where she says, “I don’t pretend to be wise, but I am observant.” And I was like holy crap! Who is this? That’s such an amazing sentiment. And I felt like, oh, she’s been sitting here this whole time.
And I felt to me actually the section when she’s in Paris and in Italy, but she’s with Laurie and she’s kind of contending with her art, I found that to be very profound. And it was, you know, the line “I want to be great or nothing” it’s straight from the book. And I was like well that’s not a person who takes their art lightly. That’s somebody who is really swinging for the fences. And I think that depth of seriousness about her work was fascinating to me and also the pain of giving it up because she doesn’t think it’s going to go great. That’s a very adult thing. And it’s something that I very much understand.
And so, yeah, Amy was the one who was fascinating to me. And also hilarious in a way that I felt like I hadn’t even totally tapped into. Or I hadn’t realized when I was younger. But there’s a whole section – I mean, there’s so many great things in the book that I couldn’t include. But there’s a whole section where she says, she’s asking about Beth because Beth is very good at piano. And I think it’s after Mr. Laurence gives her the piano, and Amy is trying to logically work out what the difference between her and Beth is. And she’s like, “Oh I see. It’s nice to have talents. But it’s not nice to tell everyone you have them.” And they’re like, right. And then but she’s not humble. But she’s figuring out that to be liked she better look like she’s humble, which I think is really funny and really great. And anyway she just was so much richer and funnier than I had ever really totally given her credit for.
In any case, and like the “I don’t pretend to be wise, but I am observant” I later turned that into the line where she says – “Since when did you become so wise?” And she says, “I have always have been, you were just too busy noticing my faults.” I kind of thought that for me it’s like for 150 years we’ve looked at this character as being kind of petty and a little shallow. And I was like we never noticed. She was always kind of amazing.
John: Let’s take a look at this scene again. So this is a moment where Laurie is really noticing how incredible she is. So she says, “I’ve always known I would marry rich. Why should I be ashamed of that?” Laurie, “There’s nothing to be ashamed of as long as you love him.” He’s the person challenging the romantic ideal that you should marry for love. And she has the insight to say, no, this is an economic transaction. This was obviously a thing you pitched from the very start.
John: This idea that this is really a story of money.
John: And here it is. So of her speech here, what comes from the text? Because we looked through chapter 39 and couldn’t find any of those words, but the spirit is there.
Greta: The spirit is there.
John: It’s a much longer scene and a much longer conversation. But none of these actual words. So how do you get to this?
Greta: Well, OK, so the line “I’ve always known I would marry rich” that’s from the text. She does say that. And later she feels sort of embarrassed about actually having said that. But this speech actually for the most part it comes from a conversation I had with Meryl Streep about this movie. We had an early coffee and we talked about it and she was going to be in it. The book had meant a great deal to her. And she essentially said to me the thing that you have to make the audience understand is this. And she said some version of this. But she was sort of like it’s not just that women couldn’t vote. It’s not just that they couldn’t own property. They couldn’t. It’s that they didn’t own anything. And that they legally couldn’t unless they were completely unmarried and had their own fortune. But even then it was complicated. They couldn’t get educated.
And so she was sort of laying out these limitations. And I knew I wanted Amy to have a speech like this, but actually this particular speech I wrote ten minutes before we shot.
John: Holy cow.
Greta: Yeah. Because I knew I wanted it to get there and I knew I wanted them to have this conversation. And I assume the people who are listening are screenwriters. In the run up to making the movie what often happens is you end up having to cut a lot of stuff to make page count seem lower, because you’re trying to be like this isn’t unwieldy. This is completely reasonable to make. So you end up like cutting so much stuff. And what I was doing, and it doesn’t matter now because it’s all made, but what I did was I cut the script down, but then I would just save the pages I wanted to make and then write before we’d go. I’d just give them to the actors and I’d say, all right, we’re going to do this. Or I’d give them the night before or something. Sometimes I’d just give it to them handwritten so there was no paper trail. Because I didn’t want them to give it to anyone.
And I’d say like can you just say these things. Because I figured once the lines are in the dailies what are they going to do? Tell me I can’t have them?
John: They’re not going to compare them back to the printed pages. No.
Greta: No. Nobody is going to do that. So I knew I wanted something like this, but I knew nobody is going to let me do this.
John: So this scene existed in the shooting script, but it was shorter and it didn’t have quite this text in it.
Greta: I think this scene ended before the speech. It did. It ended before the speech because nobody was interested in the speech. And anyway, I handwrote it. I gave it to her. But I always knew I wanted something like that in it. But I just felt like hearing Amy say I want to marry rich sounds quite crass if you don’t really understand the stakes of what that means. And it’s, you know, for women at that time it was the decision. And if you married the wrong person, if you married someone who had–
Greta: –drinking problem, or couldn’t make a living, or treated your children badly, that’s it. That the worst decision you could make. So, in any case I wanted to give her context.
John: Now, while we’re looking at physical printed pages here, two things you do in this script which I find so great and so fascinating. So first off, all the scenes that are in the past you have printed in red. And was that from the very start. Did you always plan to do that?
Greta: Yes. I always did it that way.
John: Because very few scripts have such a back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. It’s got to be so helpful for everybody involved to know like, OK, from production design to costumes to everyone like what world are we in.
Greta: It was a beast in prep I will say just tracking everything. And we had things set out that, you know, on boards where it was like here it is chronologically. And then here it is the way it appears in the script. Because I just always wanted the present and the past to be talking to each other.
John: Of course.
Greta: And there’s always a link. And in some ways like I felt like I wanted everything to work emotionally. Where moving from one place to another that even if you’re not intimately familiar with the story, because the truth is everything moves forward, which is there’s two origin points of the story. 1868 and 1861. And everything moves forward from there. You don’t actually go back in this story. You just go between those two timelines that are everything is going forward.
So I wanted it to work emotionally, but I also wanted it to if you broke it down to completely work logically. I actually did look at them like a graph, like Nolan had made during Dunkirk. I mean, he had the three timelines that took different amounts of time. And I mean I really loved that intersection of time and the play with it. But you might not know on first viewing how everything lines up. You just are watching it emotionally.
John: But you also have confidence that it will work.
Greta: Right. So if you do break it down later it all works. And so I wanted it to be, you know, have that thing that it both works. I mean, there’s lots of movies that do that. Obviously Irishman does it.
John: Big Fish does it the same way.
Greta: That’s right.
John: So Big Fish both timelines move forward, but we’re in a fantasy timeline or a real world timeline. And ultimately they overlap.
Greta: Exactly. I mean, I think it is one of the things – it’s tricky to do and it’s scary to do. But I think it’s something that movies do well. Can play with time in a way that other mediums can’t as much. Like it’s certainly harder in theater. And also because this is a movie about what it is to make something and to make something of your life–
Greta: So it felt like the exact right way to play with it. But, yeah, I definitely put it in red from the beginning and I remember Tom Rothman at Columbia Pictures who is great, I always say he’s my favorite person to fight with. He was like, “But I know that it’s the other time because it’s red. How will anyone else know?” And I was like, don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.
John: There will be a flashing red light in the corner that says PAST, PAST.
Greta: I know. But it was actually in the writing of it it was always like this. But it was a bit of a trick in the beginning to figure out how to present everything. But I really have faith in viewers. I love lots of complicated movies. But also people watch really complicated television shows with multiple plot lines, multiple timelines. And I was like viewers are super sophisticated.
John: They are.
Greta: Like I think that they’re very good at – I mean, I watch Game of Thrones. It’s amazing how intricate it is. I think that sometimes people underestimate how sophisticated viewers are. And they really are able to follow things that aren’t – you don’t need to sign post everything as strongly as you think you need to sometimes. And actually it’s so funny because I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience. Like while you’re making something you encounter different things and then you’re like, oh, well they did it this way, and they did it this way. But also at Columbia Pictures was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood which I loved very much, but like I remember talking to Tom about it and sometimes there’s a chyron that says it’s this place or this time, and then sometimes there’s not.
John: It’s arbitrary.
Greta: I was like how does he do that? And Tom I think was like because sometimes the audience needs it and sometimes they don’t. And I was like, oh, that’s right. You can do whatever you want.
John: Whatever is helpful is helpful.
Greta: Sometimes when you’re conceiving of these things everything feels like it has to be so very logical. And the truth is when you’re watching a movie sometimes you need it, sometimes you don’t.
John: I will say in watching your film, at the start I wasn’t quite clear what timeline we were in for a while. And I gave up worrying about it and I just trusted that it was going to work, and it worked. But I was reading our local free paper that gets distributed, The [Unintelligible] Park whatever. The reviewer gave your movie a 9 out of 10. And said phenomenal except that it has this crazy nonlinear thing which is completely unnecessary.
Greta: Oh, that’s really funny.
John: You don’t understand the movie you watched, but you enjoyed it.
Greta: Well you know what’s funny? You might not think it was necessary, but maybe you wouldn’t have had the experience you had–
John: Oh, he wouldn’t have at all.
Greta: If you had told it linearly. I mean, that’s the thing. I don’t know. Movies are mysterious like that.
John: Someone will do a cut of Little Women that puts everything back in order.
Greta: Well, it can’t be done. I mean, it really can’t be done. Because it’s not made that way. It’s not constructed that way. There is no entry point. And I will say there was in the edits a moment where we looked at – because we were asked to look at could you do it the other way. And you can’t. I mean, there’s no movie. And actually one thing that’s not funny but just that I’ve noticed – again, I hope it’s not spoiler-y, but I assume if you’re listening to this you’ve seen it. One thing when shows have asked for clips one thing that’s interesting to me is I often find that the clips aren’t very good at communicating what it is because if you see just childhood in isolation–
John: It looks weird.
Greta: It looks weird because that’s actually not what it is. And if you see – it’s like seeing the kiss at the end of the movie as if it was just the kiss. But that’s not what it is. So, when you just see them gathered around reading the letter from father it looks like a very pitch straight down the middle. But it’s not a pitch down the middle. What’s the pitch that drops? Do you know baseball?
John: No. I don’t talk about sports well on this show and Craig always makes fun of me for not knowing. Like a slider? A drop?
Greta: Yeah, a slider.
John: Sure. We’ll pretend.
Greta: Like it looks like it’s coming over the plate and then it’s just not. So I find that like actually there’s no way to really – the tone is the contrast if that makes sense.
John: Totally. On page 68 we also have an example of something else you do which I’d not seen before. You have a lot of overlapping dialogue.
John: But you also do this thing where you warn us in the title page. There’s a slash in the first person’s dialogue to show where the person is interrupting. And I’ve never seen that done before. Tell me about your choice to do that.
Greta: The slash is sort of a “don’t make,” and then there’s a slash “fun” and then Laurie is “I’m not!” So the word that overlaps is fun and I’m. So don’t make/I’m not. That’s sort of the way it’s supposed to sound. I took that from playwrights. Caryl Churchill does it all the time in her plays. And Tony Kushner does it in his plays. And it’s something that I find really useful because if you want to specifically hear certain words but you like a controlled cacophony it’s very helpful because it makes the actors know it’s not talking over each other. It’s like a madrigal or a round or something.
John: It’s also an anticipation of what they’re going to say and–
Greta: Exactly. So it gave for the girls in particular like the four of them it’s overlapping over the time. And it gave a very technical thing to work on during rehearsal which was wonderful which was getting everyone up to speed. And it means that, I mean, I like this in general. I like everything said exactly how I wrote it. Because I have strange rhythm things that if you change a word it sounds wrong to me. And it makes it so that you need to have the lines memorized in a muscle memory. You can’t be reaching for the lines ever. And I like that kind of memorization. And I like that kind of ability because it allows me to – especially with the group scenes – treat all the actors like an orchestra.
John: And you’re also able to stay wide which is helpful.
Greta: Yes. Exactly. And I think some of that does come from my background. My first love was theater. I wanted to write plays.
John: And plays are very much that. But here I want to talk about the other films you’ve made. The whole genre of filmmaking you’ve made. Because I associate mumblecore as being under-scripted.
Greta: Well it was. The funny this is, well, I wanted to be a playwright. But then I became involved with this very loose improvisational – and improvisational in all ways. We’d have characters, we’d have scenes, ideas, but we would have no actual lines written out, or just the most rudimentary lines written out. Because we would find it in improvisation on camera. And it was incredibly useful in a lot of ways because it, I mean, it became a film school. It became the way I figured out how things were edited and what the camera is interested in and not interested.
But I always missed writing. I really always missed the written word. And I missed what actors could do with text because I found that in a certain way I think we’re all understandably self-protective. And as actors improvising I think it’s actually very hard to go to scary places. Something will stop you from doing it. You know, your brain is protecting your ego or however that works. And one thing about text is it forces you to be vulnerable in a way that you might not be if you weren’t given it.
So when I think of part of the job of an actor is to rise to the text, you can have very complicated, very vulnerable things that you might not access another way. So I always missed the text. And so when I started writing with Noah Baumbach and I wrote those two movies with him part of it was because – the first time I worked with him was as an actor. And when I read his screenplay for Greenberg I thought oh this is, yes, it’s so precise. It is so precise. I know exactly – I could hear it when I was reading it. And that was something that we really shared. So when we started writing together that’s how I wrote.
And then as I continued writing that’s just how I continued writing. I mean, maybe one day I’ll loosen up. But I really like things just said as they were written. [laughs]
John: You talk about vulnerability, so I want to get to a second clip. So this is Jo and Marmee. They’re talking in the attic. So it’s page 100 of the screenplay. Probably comes from chapter 42 of the book.
John: Let’s take a listen.
Jo: I just feel – I just feel like women – they have minds. And they have souls as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition. And they’ve got talent as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it. But I’m so lonely.
John: So that is a terrific. A terrific moment. So iconic. Let’s talk about what it looks like on the page. So they’ve been having a conversation. It gets down to Jo. The parenthetical reads (crying, trying to explain herself to herself). And then it gets into those words. What a great parenthetical.
Greta: Oh yes. I do like a parenthetical. You know, it’s funny. I do think of screenplays as pieces of writing that should be able to stand on their own. And I try to make them as deep as possible. And I think I never want it to be just a blueprint. And I think one of my sadnesses actually about screenwriting is unlike playwriting is that the screenplay is just never a thing.
John: It’s not seen, read.
Greta: No. And I have some pride in what the actual text of the screenplay is, including screen directions, including parentheticals. So, in any case thank you for pointing out the parenthetical that no one will know. But I also think sometimes I try to cue in the actor to something that is going on. But in any case.
So this scene, you know, it’s come off of this sequence of death to marriage. I wanted to do this thing of like the older timeline where Beth lives then all of a sudden it’s Christmas. And then when you go back she’s gone, then it’s to funeral, and then of course to me it made perfect sense to go from a funeral to a wedding. These are the ceremonies of how we mark life. This is how we do it. This is what… – Anyway, so we do that. But there’s all these losses that have accumulated in both timelines. And this comes from the chapter where Jo does say–
John: I am so lonely.
Greta: She actually doesn’t technically say I’m so lonely.
John: Oh, Marmee says, “I see you’re lonely.”
Greta: Yes. And Marmee says it. And then but she does say, “If he asked me now I’d say yes,” which I felt like, wait, we always think of Jo as being like so certain in her path. She never doubts it. I think that’s kind of to the urtext of Jo. And I was like she doubted it. She wondered should I have done the other thing, which just kills me. And in any case this text, this speech, “women have minds and souls, as well as hearts,” actually is from another book that Louisa May Alcott wrote. This is from Moods, I believe. I have to go back and double check that. But I think it’s from Moods. And I found this piece of text. I thought it was so beautiful, but to me that “but I’m so lonely” just was kind of the penetrating thing in this chapter.
I will say about this chapter, too, which goes to the idea of the narrator, is that it begins with the narrator, which we can assume is Louisa May Alcott, speaking about being a spinster and speaking about never marrying. What she says is, “Girls of five and 20 joke about being spinsters, but they do it because they don’t really think it’s going to happen. But when girls become 30 they stop talking about it at all because they know it is happening.” And then she says, she goes on this kind of tangent of be kind to the spinsters because you don’t know what passions are hidden under their somber gowns, or something like that.
It’s this amazing tangent. And I was like, oh my god, it’s her talking. Like you don’t know what my life was, or my loves were based on the fact that I didn’t get married. You cannot tell my heart from my outsides. And I just thought that that was such an incredible thing and in any case I wanted that to be part of this scene. And so when I found this passage I was like I love this passage and I want to add this penetrating loneliness. And I also think there is something about not just Jo as a character, but I think there is a certain loneliness to the writer. And I think she has the loneliness of both.
John: At the end of the script we get to sections where they’re labeled “fiction?”
John: One of the lovely controversies of your movie is sort of like what actually happens. And I’m not going to ask you to specifically state because clearly looking at the script you want there to be some ambiguity in terms of to what degree did she do this thing, did she not do this thing. To what degree is she the author of this text? You start the movie with a book by Louisa May Alcott and you end with a book by Jo March. So it’s clearly getting into that sense of what is authentic, what is authorship.
But this choice of labeling fiction at the end, was this controversial at all during the development?
Greta: Yes. Well, it was controversial also because someone said, “Oh, you sent the wrong thing. There’s question marks all over the end. This can’t possibly be the final draft.” And I was like, no, it is. I mean, this is the end of the book. The end of the book is she’s opened the school, she’s married Professor Bhaer, and it’s Marmee’s birthday. That’s the end of the book. So that is the end of the book. And in life Louisa May Alcott, she didn’t get married, she didn’t have kids, but she did keep her copyright. And the book which was printed, which is actually the book that you see being made is a reproduction of the first printing of 1868 which sold out in two weeks, which is kind of incredible.
Greta: I knew I wanted it to interweave. And this goes more towards directing, but to me directing and writing, it’s all so linked. Because to me everything needs to be on the page in a way that I understand. And I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to shoot this, or how I wanted to shoot the scenes of the past or the “fiction?” But I did know I wanted the style to be different. And it’s a more heightened style.
John: It is.
Greta: And I wanted it to feel that way.
John: You got some big long Steadicam shots.
Greta: Yes, well actually we’re on a crane. We’re on a big like–
John: The Techno Crane kind of thing?
Greta: Yeah. And someone is on a wheel. And we did these big long shots. We did two, no, three sequences. It took all day to go through the house and then to go on the other side of the house and then go down to Marmee. In any case, it was a big – I don’t actually have a lot of – I have two moments of Steadicam in the movie. But everything else is on dollies or cranes.
But in any case like I knew I wanted it to feel heightened. It’s funny, I was actually just talking with – I hope I’m not giving away trade secrets, but I think he’s talked about this – Edgar Wright about the end of Baby Driver, which is a fantasy.
Greta: But he was like well some people don’t know that. That’s OK. Like that’s OK.
John: That’s fine.
Greta: Like whatever you want to know about it. In any case, I hope I didn’t give anything too much away about that. But I wanted it to be both. But what I did know is that I wanted the moment at the end when you see Jo hold her book. And I knew from the beginning I wanted it to be this way. I wanted to figure out how to do a trick where the image you didn’t know you wanted to see was this girl holding her book.
John: Exactly. You’ve established the goal of the character from the very start to have her book printed.
John: And so if the movie ended with like Marmee’s birthday that’s not rewarding.
Greta: No. It’s not. Marmee’s birthday–
John: It’s lovely, but it’s not the reason we’re here.
Greta: But I felt like because I’m doing this thing where I’m honoring the book itself, I also really wanted to do the literal ending of the book, which is this birthday. Someone was like, “Oh, it’s so weird that it’s her birthday. Why do you need that?” And I was because for the people who know how the book ends this is how the book ends.
John: Julie Turner had one extra question which is related to this moment. She asks why did you make the professor a smoke-show. Why is he hot?
Greta: Oh. Well, I mean, for a couple of reasons. Number one, movies. It’s movies. [laughs] But really, I mean, I don’t want to get too much into this because I hesitate to talk about male gaze, female gaze, because I think it can sometimes ascribe something gendered to something that doesn’t have to be. Like I don’t want to say like this is how women see the world and this is how men see the world. Because I just think that that’s too reductive.
But, I’m a female filmmaker. I want Professor Bhaer to be Louis Garrel.
Greta: I mean, I feel like men have been putting glasses on hot women forever and telling us they’re awkward. I can do whatever I want. I always saw, you know, with Laurie and Professor Bhaer and with James Norton who is also very beautiful, you know, all the men. You know, Chris Cooper. Tracy Letts. They’re beautiful men. And I thought, you know, the very first time we see Timothée Chalamet I shot that 48 frames per second. I shot that to be slow because I wanted to shoot him like Bo Derek. He’s the object. He is the object. And I felt like no one really understood why I’d done that. And actually I felt like no one knew totally at the studio why I had done that and thought it was kind of goofy and weird and maybe take it out.
And then the first time I ever had a screening of the movie in Paramus, New Jersey I heard every girl in the audience go – [gasps] – they did exactly what Amy did and I was like because that’s the way we feel about Timothée. And that’s OK.
And I felt like I wanted to make Professor Bhaer the same way. I’m a female filmmaker and this is in some ways if you’re allowed to author that the way that looks maybe you get to author it this way. You know, I wanted to do that. Also, I just Louis. But, in any case it was in a way my own commentary on what we’ve been told women are in movies.
John: Two questions that people wrote in with. They’re not specifically about your movie, but I think you might have some answers for it. This one you kind of already answered but I’ll ask the question, too. Jordan asks, “I recently read the script for Parasite by Bong Joon-ho and was completely blown away by how the scenes lifted off the page and roped me in. To be clear, I haven’t seen this movie yet, but the text was enough to draw me in and make me incredibly invested in the family. I also read the script for Annie Hall, another movie I hadn’t seen, but it felt like a chore to drudge through despite many people saying it’s one of the best movies of all time. I felt like if I was a reader at a studio and came across this on my desk I would have passed on it.
“My question is how important is it for a movie to be engaging on the page? Writer-directors don’t necessarily need to paint the world as richly because they’re the ones shooting it, but it seems strange to leave that detail on the page because you know you have it in your head.”
Now, you were saying that you think the screenplay needs to be a real document to read and enjoy that you can really see and feel the movie.
Greta: Yeah. Sorry, I’m just going to go to the first – I want the sentences to be active and to draw you in. I want to feel part of something that’s in motion from the beginning. And I’m very deliberate about this.
John: Do you want to read some of your first page?
Greta: Sure. So, you know, it has the sort of New York publishing office, 1868. Jo March, our heroine, hesitates. To me, I’m interested. What? She hesitates. Like I feel – it feels open. It feels like I’ve opened something. And not everyone has my taste, but for me to give something that feels perhaps unnecessary, you could just write she’s standing in a hallway. Like there’s no reason. But the hesitates, you’re like why? What’s going on?
Greta: So Jo March, our heroine, hesitates. In the half-light of a dim hallway she exhales and prepares, her head bowed like a boxer about to go into the ring. She puts her hand on the doorknob. A pause. And then she opens it onto a disorderly room. Like I want the words to draw – I want it to draw the picture. And then even at the end, and I didn’t know what I meant when I wrote this, but at the very last page she’s given the book and I say, “Jo turns it over in her hands, touching it like the holy object it is, her inchoate desire made manifest. Jo looks up…and sees the future. Cut to black.”
I don’t know what I meant by “sees the future,” but I also did.
John: Yeah. You knew what you meant.
Greta: And I knew that Saoirse would be able to do that because she’s a genius. But I feel like for me I always want every piece of making a movie to be as excellent as it can be. Because the truth is I don’t know if this is going to become a movie because it’s so unlikely because they’re so unwieldy and expensive and it takes so long. So for the moment all I have is this script. So I want it to be as good and as emotional and as detailed and as specific and honestly as dense as it can be. Because this is all I have of the movie at this moment. I don’t have the movie yet.
So, I want every piece of it to feel that way because that’s how I know it’s – I can will it into existence if I can feel it on the page.
John: Yes. You’re going to be asking all of your department heads to do their very, very best work. And so you as the writer doing your very, very best work, it’s got to be inspirational if they can see what you’ve done on the page.
Greta: And I also think like little details, little details that are – like I mean on page two a parenthetical that I always liked, I mean now I’m just complimenting myself.
John: I enjoy.
Greta: But I do think nobody ever knows the parentheticals, but on page two it says, “What do you – that is, what compensation?” He’s saying, they’re talking about the story she’s selling him. He says, “We pay twenty-five to thirty for things of this sort. We’ll pay twenty for that.” She says, “You can have it. Make the edits. But the parenthetical just says “(money over art).” And like to me I was like, oh, no one will ever see it. But I think – I sort of wish – now this is probably I shouldn’t say this, but I sort of wish that the screenplay that would get distributed would be the actual complete shooting script. Because I find it, you know, you do take things out and change them. And this is very close to the shooting script.
But, at the same time, I mean, I find as a screenwriter one thing that helped me tremendously was being an actor because there were lots of things that I auditioned for that I didn’t get. But what I did get was to read the script. And then I got to watch the movie. And then I was like, oh, I see. It went from this thing to that thing. And I feel like reading essentially a transcription of a movie after the fact isn’t as useful as reading the screenplay. Because then you can really see what happens.
So, I understand why later it’s like, well, you don’t need to have the scene in that wasn’t in, but I mean, but for my movies actually I will say they cut really, really close to the actual screenplays. And also my line producer said to me, he’s like, “You really did use all of it.” And I was like I told you I would. That’s why I needed it.
John: So the next movie they’ll know.
John: So, on this podcast a lot we’ve been talking about assistant pay. And how low assistant pay is a pervasive problem in Hollywood. There’s a New York Times story that came out today as we’re recording this. You can see a photo of me and producer Megana Rao in this exact room where we are recording this. But Kimberly wrote in with a question. She said, “I’d love your thoughts on assistants with or wanting to start families. I’m really hoping to start a family within the next year and I have 100% confidence in my ability to get both my assistant work and my own work done while also having a baby. But I’m afraid to ask for any maternity leave or an increase in pay to do so. Do I have any right as an assistant to get pregnant and start a family? If this becomes an issue with my higher ups do I have the right to call foul for women’s right? Will this cost me my job, which I like and want to keep entirely? I recognize this is an issue that is country-wide and spreads across multiple industries, but I’m hoping you can talk more about specifically assistants who aren’t in their young 20s who may have families or rather responsibilities, especially women, and how they can navigate moving up in this crazy industry?”
Greta: Yeah, well, I mean, this is a big one. This is the big – I think this is a huge part of talking about women both in our industry and all industries. And what we’re doing about it as a country and collectively. And I think it’s something that, I mean, I don’t want to speak to things that I don’t have actual correct knowledge to speak to, but I do think that there is something about things that are “women’s issues” or “family issues” where somehow they become something that you just have to deal with behind closed doors and we have no idea how you got from A to B.
And I think that’s a failure of our sense of what civic life is. And I think civic life is family life. How do you think we get engaged citizens? By people raising them. Mothers and fathers. And I think you can point to a lot of Scandinavian countries who have very excellent ways of dealing with this. And when I was in Sweden they told me they have not just maternal leave, but they have paternal leave which is mandatory.
John: Absolutely. Norway has it as well.
Greta: Because otherwise they want to make sure that men don’t not take the time.
John: Or that women are penalized for having taken the time and men are moving up.
Greta: And men are moving up. So, I mean, I think that this is at the center of a civic discussion is what are we doing for families. And it’s everything. It’s healthcare. It’s benefits. It’s leave. And I will say, because I was pregnant while I was making Little Women and I gave birth 72 hours after I showed the studio my cut. And it’s something I’m still educating myself about and learning about because I did not know a lot of the laws that were already on the books. And I’m not someone who doesn’t have access to information, but I actually didn’t know that you have – in California – that employers are required to have a certain amount of paid leave. And I didn’t know any of that. I actually didn’t know stuff like that. And I also think what are the laws that are on the books? What are the laws that we need to get on the books? What do we need to move forward?
Also, I mean, childcare. I mean, national childcare. I have help and I also have my mother. And my mother and my dad watching my baby while I’m able to do different things.
John: Record this podcast.
Greta: Record this podcast. And I also have an amazing nanny. And that is something I am able to have because I have access and I have means. And not everyone has that. I mean, this is a big old thing. So, I guess everything I’m saying is just to say I don’t know if that’s the right question. And I think I am everyone else, I do want to figure it out.
I think also as filmmakers it’s difficult because if you’re employed by a corporation there’s laws that you can – again, I don’t know that this is completely right. But there can be laws that constrain and also prescribe corporations to do X, Y, or Z. So if you are an assistant working a company, or employed through a company there is something that sort of can be done in a top-down way. But if you’re a writer or if you’re a director it’s a gig economy in a different way. Then it’s like you’re writing something on spec, there is no one to give you leave. You’re on leave because you’re not working. Do you know what I mean? So, I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that.
Same with acting. Like it’s not–
Greta: And I think, and I don’t know if that’s something that we need to go guild by guild, or it’s a national thing we need to be dealing with, or industry, but it is – here’s another thing I’ll say in addition to being in Sweden. I shot a film in Paris. There’s French hours.
John: Oh, French hours are required.
Greta: French hours are also – the women who are working on the set, and the men who are working on the set, because of the day is more manageable they were able to either take their kids to school in the morning, or give them dinner and put them to bed. But if you’re working 12 hours and then with transpo and everything it’s 14 hours away from your family, if you’re a man or a woman when are you going to take care of your family?
John: Craig and I are both pushing for French hours.
Greta: I think it’s so much more human. And so that’s a whole lot of gobbledygook I just spat out, but I–
John: I share your frustration. And in Kimberly’s question when she said “do I have any right as an assistant to get pregnant and start a family” I wanted to throw a chair.
John: Because, yes, you do.
Greta: Yes, you do. Yes.
John: And part of like having reproductive rights is the right to become pregnant.
Greta: Yes, that’s right. That’s right. And of course – and also there should be laws to protect that and resources to help you. I mean, actually there’s a book I read. The title of it is, it sounds much more hard than it is. But it’s called Motherhood and Cruelty. But it’s by a really interesting thinker, Jacqueline Rose I think is her name. Anyway, she says it’s funny that parenthood is seen as an antisocial act because what could be more social. That it’s something, meaning as we were speaking about civic responsibilities, but sort of like a thing you do on your own. But yet what is more social than parenthood?
John: Parenthood and continuing our culture and our species and our civilization.
Greta: That is a social act. But it’s seen as you do on your own time. And the social thing is seen as just capitalism or commerce. And somehow that’s not part of it. But, anyway, yes, of course you have the right.
John: At the end of every episode we talk about One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing this week is actually a puzzle which is sitting in front of you. It’s called New York in Color. It is this really good 500-piece puzzle we did over Christmas holidays. It’s these photos by Nicole Robertson. I just loved it. I love a jigsaw puzzle.
Greta: Oh, that’s so cool.
John: I find it a great way to make my brain stop braining and just sort of focus on puzzle pieces. Especially good for the last thing at night before you go to bed. Just check out.
Greta: Puzzling. You know who is a big puzzler is this genius actress I’ve gotten to work with is Laurie Metcalf.
John: Oh, I can imagine.
Greta: Loves a puzzle. She also puzzles before she goes on stage every night on Broadway. She’ll like get there an hour early. She’ll puzzle for a while. And then she’ll go out and give the best performance you’ve ever seen in anything. And she kind of, I don’t know, she’s extraordinary. I love her.
That’s good. Well, I guess I’ll give a book suggestion.
John: We love books.
Greta: It’s a big book, but it’s a rewarding book. It is Behave by Robert Sapolsky. I don’t want to give the title wrong, but he’s a professor at Stanford. He’s an evolutionary biologist, I think. But he’s written a lot about – he studies primate behavior. Anyway, he’s written a lot of really fun – I love science books for lay people.
John: As do I.
Greta: Because like I don’t really have the math to do it.
John: Give me some Dawkins. Give me all that.
Greta: Yeah. Like I can’t do any of the real stuff, but like I’m so happy to have it explained to me in sort of laymen terms. And I loved it. And it’s chockfull of lots of interesting things. But it’s sort of about a given behavior that we say like why this. And he sort of walks it through kind of from the nearest proximity to the farthest away.
So like milliseconds before a behavior happens, what are the synapses in your brain doing? How does it get from there to here? But then if you walk it back two weeks, where are your hormonal levels? And then if you walk it back 100 million years, how did we get to this point of this behavior? It’s a very interesting book and also I think one thing is because obviously I tend to – I read a lot of fiction. But it’s not a book that I inherently thought, oh yes, I need to know all about this. But I think as a writer it’s important to read widely.
John: Oh, absolutely. And this sounds like a book an actor, a director, a writer.
John: Like talk about behaviors.
Greta: It’s interesting.
John: What is the motivation that got that moment to happen?
Greta: And it’s looking at it from a very specific perspective, but it’s really, yeah. And I also think – somebody told me when I was young, it was actually a neighbor who said, “If you read widely consistently, that’s as good as going to college.” And I said, really? And she said, “Yeah, just keep reading everything and don’t only look at the one thing you’re interested in.”
And I mean I ended up going to college. But I don’t know.
John: Maybe you didn’t have to.
Greta: I never forgot that she said that.
John: I think that’s probably true. That is our show for this week.
John: So for listeners who are Premium members, stick around afterwards because Craig will talk about what happened at the Golden Globes.
John: Scriptnotes is produced by Megan Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro is by Jemma Moran. If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. You are not on Twitter I’ve noticed.
Greta: No, I’m not on any of those things.
John: You’re so smart. So smart. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. We’ll have links to the books she mentioned and we’ll also have a link to the screenplay so you can download it and read it. That will also be up in Weekend Read if you want to read it there. You’ll find transcripts at johnaugust.com. We get them up about four days after the episode airs.
And, of course, you can become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments.
Greta Gerwig, thank you so much for being on the show. Please come back any time.
Greta: Thank you.
John: Craig Mazin, welcome back to Scriptnotes.
Craig: Oh, thank you John. A little under the weather. Sorry I couldn’t be there. I was so bummed. But you did not want me there. That’s for sure.
John: So when I was talking with Greta you thought you had a cold but that was not in fact the case.
Craig: No, so I thought I’m feeling worse than I would normally feel with a cold. And I had a night of – you know those dreams, those looping dreams?
John: Mm-hmm. Yep.
Craig: Where you just dream about like the same four seconds of dream over and over and over.
John: Yeah, it’s a fever thing.
Craig: That’s a fever thing. So I went to work. I sat there. I did absolutely nothing except feel awful. And on the way home I swung by the urgent care clinic here in my little town. And they did a test for the flu. Have you ever had the flu test?
John: No, but is it a nasal swab? How do they do it?
Craig: Yeah, it’s a nasal swab. They put a little Q-Tip up both nostrils. But man they go in deep. It is incredibly unpleasant. Anyway, they go and they do this fast test and the doctor came back in and she said, “Well, you know, let’s just cut to the chase. You’ve got the flu.” Which is bad. And I’m stupid. I didn’t get the flu shot. Because I was – it’s not because – I love the flu shot. I worship the flu shot. I just, you know, oh I was too busy. Blah. Well.
John: That’s what happens.
Craig: And people are nice. They’re trying to comfort me by saying I got the flu shot and I also got the flu, which can happen. But they put me on Tamiflu immediately and it’s been very effective I will say.
Craig: Yeah. I think if you have a choice between getting a cold or getting the flu and having Tamiflu started immediately, weirdly you’re better off with the flu and Tamiflu.
John: All right. So you’re on the mend. Now the reason why I desperately wanted you on for this bonus segment is you and I have not spoken since you won your Golden Globe and most crucially since that moment where you were up on stage and Jared Harris is speaking, he’s giving a speech, but you’re holding the Golden Globe. And Tiffany Haddish leans her weight against you. And there’s an eye contact moment. What was happening between you and Tiffany Haddish on stage at the Golden Globes?
Craig: You know, some people thought that maybe she was going to faint or something, but I think all she was doing was taking her shoes off. I think she was uncomfortable in her shoes. And when I look at the shoes that people wear I get it. I understand why. So we were just kind of – so I was like, oh, this is cool. Me and Tiffany Haddish. I’m not going to tell you what we talked about. We had a good conversation. It’s private. It’s private stuff between me and the Tiff.
John: 100%. I get it.
Craig: But, well, I’ll tell you off the air. I was so happy to not – so I had arranged to not do the speech. Some people were wondering why I did not do the speech. And the answer is, you know, we all worked on this. And when it comes to an award where the show was winning I think it’s fair for some of the other people that worked so hard on it to talk. We initially – I had convinced Jane Featherstone to do it, but we all expected Jared to win. And he didn’t. In fact, the opposite of what I thought would happen happened. I thought Jared would win and I thought the show and Stellan and Emily would lose. And Jared did not win. And the show and Stellan won. And I said to Jane, what do you think about the speech and she said, yeah, let’s give Jared the speech. I mean, he was our quarterback. And so he did a great job.
I mean, he was a little nervous that he had to have a rejiggered speech up there.
John: He also had to follow Michelle Williams which felt like just I mean a bullet dodged on your behalf because she gave really the moment of the evening. And the next speech after that was not going to be as big a moment.
Craig: Yeah. I think when you’re watching television that’s probably how it feels. In the room itself there were a lot of good speeches I thought. I mean hers was terrific. Maybe my favorite was Ramy.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: I thought he was adorable. I was like this guy is so humble and not fake humble. Humble-humble. And genuine. And funny. I thought that was fantastic. And I could have listened to – Tom Hanks who I think gave me the flu from the stage. I didn’t meet him. I didn’t get to meet him. I was so bummed out. But I think just by listening to him intently I got his flu. But I could have listened to him for another hour. I was fascinated by him.
But you know the truth is honestly speeches–
John: Now the reputation of the Golden Globes and everything I’ve heard is it’s a very boozy evening. Was that your experience there in that room?
Craig: Oh yeah. So it is. There’s two large ice buckets on your table, each with a magnum of Champagne in it. I think that’s what that’s called. That big bottle. And they have wine coming around all night long. And people are getting drunk. There’s no question about that. It’s a very strange kind of dinner. We got there on the early side. And because it’s – I mean the red carpet had no interest in me. And the feeling is mutual. I’m not wearing like some flowing gown, or am I an actor.
So Melissa and I just headed on into the ballroom I guess you’d call it and there were – you know, maybe it was like 20% full. And every single seat at every single table there was a bowl of soup. And after about eight or nine minutes of being in there and maybe five or six other people had come in an army of waiters just swept through and removed the soup. And I just thought no one is ever going to have the soup.
John: Nope. The soup is gone.
Craig: The soup is gone. And then, yeah. It’s a very–
John: Maybe it’s a lesson for life. Like the soup will always disappear. If you don’t take advantage of the soup when you can have the soup, there’s no soup to be had.
Craig: I just thought like – but I get it, because actually what they don’t want is people eating during the show. If you don’t want people eating during the show and you do want people on the red carpet then you should just not have food. But then I think some people will get grumpy and drunker. Look, I mean, I was just fascinated by the whole thing. I mean, the tables are so close. Everyone is very chummy. I mean, it is tight.
John: And Cousin Greg was joining you at your table for at least part of the evening.
Craig: Oh my god. We were so happy. So Nicholas Braun who plays Cousin Greg on Succession, aside from being one of the tallest people in the world is also one of the most pleasant. He’s just a sweetheart. And there were just a lot of Succession people. And he kind of got overflowed onto our table. And I kept telling him I’m like first of all I spent most of the night just yelling the word Succession out because I love that show so much. And Jesse Armstrong is so brilliant. And the cast is so great.
And they seemed like a happy family. They legitimately do seem like they like each other which is always nice. Especially when it’s a show about people that hate each other, or are rivals. And I said to Nicholas if we win you should come up there with us. Just come up. Let’s not explain it. Let’s not make it seem weird. You just happened to join us as if you were on the show.
John: Yes. The way Greg Roy is always showing up at the Roy’s places. Like why is Cousin Greg there?
Craig: Right. And he said, “Should I?” And there was an HBO executive at the table who said, “No. You should not.” She said, “You know, Chernobyl is over. Your show is continuing. No.” [laughs] But so we almost had him. We almost got him.
John: Congratulations on the Golden Globe. You are skipping out on the – is it TCAs tonight? What was the awards tonight?
Craig: Tonight is as we’re recording this it’s the Critics’ Choice. And I’m very sorry I can’t be there. But Carolyn Strauss and Jared Harris are there. And hopefully we do well. But, you know, listen, I never thought I would be in any Critics’ Choice short list. So, it’s very nice. And I’m sorry I won’t be there. But I think everybody would prefer that I not bring my contagious self.
John: Absolutely. Well, congratulations on that. I hope you do get a chance to hang out with Greta Gerwig in the future because you would love her. We talked about parentheticals and a lot of stuff on the page. She will be one of your favorite writers I suspect. But Craig continue to heal up and we’ll have a normal show next week hopefully.
Craig: Thanks John. Appreciate it. Bye.
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