Greta Gerwig clips her 350 page wings

December 27, 2017 Jeff Goldsmith

Writer-director Greta Gerwig on continually refining her script until Lady Bird was ready to spread its glorious wings.


Here’s a brief excerpt from this article in Backstory Issue 30 for your reading pleasure:

(Spoiler Alert: Only read this if you’ve seen the film)

The first draft of Lady Bird was way too long, coming in at over 350 pages. Considering the finished film is just north of 90 minutes, that’s a lot of content left in the drawer. But Gerwig says her first drafts are always too full—a good problem to have versus not being able to fill a story. “That’s just my way. It’s much easier to generate a lot of material than go through the process of culling and editing and condensing it. Cinema is definitely a medium of images, but it’s also a medium of language, and I think because the language has such a finite amount of real estate in a script, it should have the same power as a play or poetry. It should be chosen carefully. So in some ways I write and write and write in order to distill everything and make it as powerful as I possibly can.” Gerwig began Lady Bird in 2013 and wrote between her other projects, finally landing on a production-ready draft in late 2015. “I wish it didn’t take me so long,” she says, noting that a two-year-plus time period isn’t uncommon. “I wish I was one of those people who wrote screenplays in 19 days or something, but I’m not that person.”

Surprisingly, not a lot in terms of the overall structure of the film changed from that 350-page draft to the screen, but there was a lot of editing. Extraneous characters were removed, and supporting characters’ subplots were either heavily condensed or eliminated altogether. A good example of this is Julie’s relationship with teacher Mr. Bruno (Jake McDorman). What we see in the film is that Julie clearly has a crush on him and he has taken a shine to her in some vague way, often going out of his way to compliment her. When Mr. Bruno shows up at a performance of the play Julie and Christine are in, he brings his pregnant wife, and Julie is devastated. And that’s really the only infor­mation Gerwig gives us. It’s only barely hinted at that there was something more to this relationship—either in an innocent or not so innocent way. “In some ways, I was sad about losing things like that,” she says, “but in other ways it all gets in there anyway. You realize you don’t actually need to see all of it for it to make an impact.”

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