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The Art of the Scene: Greta Gerwig Discusses The Opening of Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut in Lady Bird is considered one of the best coming-of-age stories in years. Set in Sacramento, Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is a senior in high-school who “lives on the wrong side of the tracks” and wants more from life than what she thinks her hometown can offer her. Lady Bird has her sights set on New York as the place where she wants to go to college and find culture. The heart of the film is an emotional and powerful look at the mother-daughter relationship as well as other touching issues that everyone faces on the cusp of adulthood.

It’s a fantastic debut that’s expected to earn a more than a few Oscar nominations come January 23.

For the latest installment of The Art Of… series, I talked to Gerwig about the important opening scenes when we first meet Lady Bird and her mother (Laurie Metcalf).

“The very first shot is of Lady Bird and her mother lying in bed together sleeping and it’s a moment of tranquility and togetherness. I wanted to start there because I knew what I was going to put the characters through, so I wanted to start with something that felt loving and loved.” Gerwig says, “We decided to have this very warm, sunlight lighting for that shot and the shot directly after it is in the hotel room and it was these beautiful yellow curtains that were transparent. It had this particular look that it almost felt as if they were actors waiting to go on stage.”

Gerwig has c0-written films like Frances Ha and Mistress America with Noah Baumbach and has starred in films as varied as To Rome With Love and Wiener Dog. From the outset she knew what she wanted to do with the opening minutes of Lady Bird. “I like films where the entire movie is set up in the first few lines.” She explains, “I wanted it to feel as if it was establishing the look of the film and that look is plain and luscious, and that was the watchword for the movie.” Gerwig says. “That opening came together so perfectly. We storyboard everything. I knew what I wanted the shots to be like, but then they snapped into place.”

Take a listen as Gerwig talks about the opening of Lady Bird and the hotel room set up.

On The Film’s Challenges:

As Gerwig’s  film evolves and explores the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, the next scene shows the teenager in a car with her mother. For anyone who’s been in a car arguing with a parent, there’s a feeling of being trapped and you may want to throw yourself out of the car and that’s exactly what Lady Bird does. Gerwig explains she looked at two films that influenced the way she shot the scene. “There’s a particular fight in Paper Moon, it’s extraordinary and it’s one shot, Tatum O’ Neil and Ryan O’ Neil fighting and it’s this astonishing shot. We looked at that and there’s a lot of driving in Cleo From Five To Seven, but something we realized about both of those films, both of those cars don’t have tops.”

As for Ronan throwing herself out of the car and not getting injured, she explains she looked at numerous options before finally working out how to bring the scene together. “Technically, figuring out how we were going to get Saoirse falling out of that car was a bit of a beast. I didn’t want it to look like a stunt, we looked at green screen, we looked at having a stunt double and we looked at different ways of doing that. She was in a harness and she worked with a stunt coordinator who helped her figure out how to do it safely and it really came together.”

On the film’s music and why Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic was important to her.

You’ve probably seen Gerwig’s letter to Justin Timberlake seeking permission to use the song, Cry Me A River in the film.

“A lot of the songs I had written into the movie. I had a very strong feeling of wanting it not to feel like all the music in the movie was from 2002/3 and I wanted it to have traces of the 90’s.” Gerwig says. When Lady Bird throws herself out of the car, Hand In My Pocket is on the sountrack. Not only were the song and Morrisette from that era, but Morissette is personally important to Gerwig. “I think the Alanis Morrisette song, I’ve always loved that song. For me, I think that was the first cassette tape I bought. I listened to it over and over again. She was my Patti Smith. She was my lady who wrote and performed herself, she was my rockstar.” She adds, “She existed before the moment of what then became Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, they had a different vibe, but there was something about Alais Morrisette that felt like she was speaking straight to me.”

On The Scene with Beanie and Lady Bird giggling over the communion:

Take a listen as Gerwig talks about the scene when Lady Bird has a moment with a communion wafer and her pal Julie (played by the superb Beanie Feldstein). “I love that scene primarily because they are truly cracking each other up. That’s rare in movies that you get to see two young women who are in their characters, they’re acting but also they’re genuinely laughing really really hard. That felt special to me. We just kept rolling because they were so funny together.”

Consider Gerwig and Lady Bird in Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay.

Lady Bird is released by A24