How the ‘Little Women’ Production Team Embraced the Author’s Hometown

When it came to the iconic Concord, Mass., home of Louisa May Alcott and the fictional home of the March family, “Little Women” production designer Jess Gonchor set out to create a neighborhood environment that would connect the Laurences’ mansion on one side, and the modest March house on the other. Though Alcott never named where the Marches lived, its commonly accepted that the Orchard House — the historically preserved Alcott home in Concord — was the central location for the original “Little Women.” 

In Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the time-tested family tale, the houses have never been so close — visually, in the film and on set.

Gonchor and his team built a replica of the Orchard House a few hundred yards from an early-1900s mansion that they used for exteriors of the Laurence home. It was the perfect find, with woods and even a pond nearby for the fateful ice-skating scene. Gonchor made sure to keep the March home “indigenous to the grounds, not upstaging its beautiful surroundings.” The build was full-scale, but they finished only the main parlor downstairs for filming purposes. Most of the interiors were shot on a converted warehouse-to-soundstage in Franklin, Mass., which gave the cast and crew much more freedom with filming needs.

Supervising location manager Doug Dresser, who took over from busy local location manager Mark Fitzgerald early in preproduction,
studied Gerwig’s script closely and stepped back to see what Massachusetts had to offer him.

“It’s an interesting job, a location manager,” says Dresser, who has worked with major Hollywood talent over the years on “Kill Bill,” “The Revenant,” “Baby Driver” and “Black Panther,” to name just a few. “We read words on a page and then we have to make that dream a reality. We start out with a completely creative, autonomous palette of looking for places — finding where the story could exist — and then we have to switch as we start production to deal with all the legalities, all the contracts, the permitting.”

For “Little Women,” he researched architecture of the time period — the 1860s — to find what was still available in the state. “One of the great things about Massachusetts is that there are still a lot of these buildings in existence,” he says. “By removing some of the modern elements, they mostly remain the same, and that’s why it was wonderful to be able to shoot there.”

Dresser and Gonchor worked closely with Jan Turnquist, executive director of the Orchard House, who proved to be an invaluable resource. From preproduction right through shooting, they leaned on her encyclopedic knowledge of the Alcott family.

Of all the versions of “Little Women,” this is the first time the story has been filmed where the book was written. Notes Dresser: “Concord is steeped in history [with relics from] the American Revolution, the times of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne — all these people who lived in this town that created a history that’s alive there today. We were very fortunate to be able to access some of those locations.” 

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