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Greta Gerwig and ‘Little Women’ Crew Mix Modern and Classical

Greta Gerwig wrote and directed Sony’s “Little Women,” a new look at Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved 19th-century classic. Eager to pay tribute to her artisan colleagues, Gerwig says, “It was a joy for me to work with all these people. It’s a movie that’s impossible to create without world-class artists. They killed themselves for me!”

Yorick Le Saux, cinematographer
“We shot on film, which was critical to having the film look like we wanted. Yorick made every scene look like source lighting. I didn’t want the film to be overlit in evening scenes, especially interiors; I was OK with dark corners falling away. Besides, it’s more romantic to have the light of a candle and to have things fall into shadow. It’s his skill and his team’s skill that allowed us to shoot that way.

In pre-production, there were a lot of films we used as reference. We were looking for period filmmaking that didn’t feel precious, with an active camera. We looked at Truffaut, with “Two English Girls” and “Jules and Jim.” For scale: “Heaven’s Gate” and Altman’s “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.” [Bergman’s] “Fanny and Alexander” has a great quality of childhood being gone. I love Vincente Minnelli, with bright colors as a window into childhood.”

Jess Gonchor, production designer
“In the work he’d done with Bennett Miller [‘Capote’] and the Coen brothers [‘Hail, Caesar!’], Jess did period pieces that felt alive. Jess’ sets have personality in the smallest details, which stops them from feeling like sets. It was important that the audience accept that these are rooms people live in. It takes a great deal of craftsmanship to make it look worn in.”

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Jacqueline Durran, costume designer
“I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time. We think of the 1800s as drab because all the photos are sepia. She showed me that they were rather outrageous, because they had figured out how to dye cloth in bright colors. There were people wearing neon-green silks to balls, or chartreuse hats and orange gloves. In the sequence of Meg going to the ball in Boston, all the girls are dressed in pastels. Jacqueline brought it all together; I wanted to show a world so fancy you could almost taste it. It’s nowhere else in the film, but you can see ‘Oh, that’s what [Meg] had always wanted!’ Jacqueline evoked that.

I loved all the details. As a young woman, Jo is wearing a red dress. As a grown-up, she’s wearing a red handkerchief around her neck. Jacqueline had Jo and Laurie trade clothes. So near the end, you see Jo wearing a waistcoat that you saw him wear eight years earlier.”

Nick Houy, editor
“Nick [who worked with Gerwig on ‘Lady Bird’] was editing in New York but would come to Massachusetts on the weekend. He was cutting to make sure I had all the angles that I was looking for and could cut from scene to scene the way I wanted to. I don’t watch assemblies because I find the process nausea-inducing. He had ideas, and he knew what we were going for. So when we started editing together, we started with the first shot, and we worked through beginning to end. Then we started working in sections.

We have a rhythm of working together; it’s like we’re hearing the same invisible orchestra. He’s relentless, which is a good quality in an editor. The story is so intricate that it was a beast to shoot, but when we started editing, the heart of every scene was there. But it took a lot of calibration and time. One change in one scene could affect everything else.”

Alexandre Desplat, music
“I knew this film would have a lot of music, and I wanted someone who could be both completely emotional and intellectual about the movie, both modern and classical. I knew he was the right composer. He ended up recording 90 minutes of music, which is a huge amount for a film. When we finished [editing], he wanted to see the entire movie with no score. It was a good exercise for me, because it made me focus on the images. He started writing music that so elegantly wove the story between childhood and adulthood. One of the first pieces he sent me was when they’re on the beach, young and all together. Eight years later, it’s just Jo and Beth on the beach, and you hear the skeleton of the music you heard before, played on just one instrument. I thought, ‘That’s it exactly.’”

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