The guild cameraman Yorick Le Saux captures the "big dreams / the big world" of Greta Gerwig's new version of Little woman – a radical interpretation of the classic novel.
By Elle Schneider
Photos by Wilson Webb, SMPSP
Fresh from growing up as an Oscar nominee Phenomenon Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig already knew what she wanted to direct as the next film: a screenplay for which she had been engaged years earlier, based on a novel that had an impact on her youth. Little Women was written by Louisa May Alcott and originally published in two volumes (at the behest of Alcott's publisher) in 1868 and 1869. Little Women is the classic story of the four March sisters – Jo, Amy, Meg and Beth, who all grew up in Concord, Massachusetts during this nation's civil war. Little Women, a pinnacle of American literature, had been adapted for film and television more than a dozen times, so Gerwig knew that she needed a new approach. This included dividing the story into two different periods – childhood and adulthood – to give the narrative a new perspective and to give the typical women's film a kind of "rock & roll" spin, with the help of what the author / director describes as a "dream team" of employees.
This team included local cameraman Yorick Le Saux, whose previous work for writers / directors such as Jim Jarmusch, Luca Guadagnino and Olivier Assayas had found the perfect balance between Gerwig's intentions. "I love (Le Saux & # 39;) a total hug of beauty," she says. "Some (DPs) are afraid to do something beautiful because there are concerns that it is not so critical." And it wasn't just Le Saux & # 39; stunning photography that caught Gerwig's attention. "I Am Love (directed by Guadagnino) is so beautiful that you can almost taste it," she adds. "But there is also this unrest behind the camera – you can always feel movement. I wanted this movement in this story. I wanted to move away from the static, idyllic film that we are used to, especially when we are watching young women in a rural setting The combination of (Assayas & # 39;) Carlos’s hectic looseness with the all-round beauty of I Am Love was exactly what I was looking for at Little Women. ”
When the two first met to discuss the film, Le Saux said they spoke the same visual language. "I told her I could feel the energy of these four girls, especially in childhood," he recalls. "And that it was important not to handle the frame too cleanly." They watched numerous films (including many by Francois Truffaut) to find a style of recording that would bring every picture to life and still feel true to the times. They limited themselves to the ease of movement and did not try to make scenes appear over-composed. This allowed Le Saux to take risks, e.g. B. shoot wide open on Cooke s4s and greet highlights. "And we expected that every day on the set," he says.
Gerwig says in Le Saux & # 39; earlier films "there is unrest behind the camera". "You always feel movement," she adds. "And I wanted that movement in this story." Three of the March sisters (Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh) shoot via Le Saux on site at Bradley Estate, Canton, MA
Changes in the audience's expectations of a historical film also meant close collaboration between Gerwig, Le Saux, and other department heads, including Oscar-winning (and six-time Oscar-nominated) costume designer Jacqueline Durran on her films Darkest Hour, Mr. Turner, Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, and the two-time Oscar nominated production designer Jess Gonchor (known for his work with the Coen brothers), especially in such set pieces as the three balls, which occur at key points in history.
"I was very interested in the fact that these are different," says Durran, "because artistic ballroom scenes can often merge." The Christmas ball, where Jo March and Theodore "Laurie" Lawrence, the sisters' charismatic neighbor, meet for the first time, "is Christmas in the country," added Durran. "It's a local dance without the sophistication of the pastel ball, and the pastel ball doesn't have the sophistication of the European ball."
For Gerwig, highlighting costumes or locations in these scenes often meant eliminating lights that could be captured in a wide-angle shot, for example. According to Le Saux, the balls were a "classic" balancing act of what could be increased without sacrificing anything else to ensure that each scene was unique and identifiable.
Gonchor, who originally wanted to be a lighting designer, says his background in the theater encourages a close relationship with the cameraman. "As soon as (as soon as) I build a set or go to the location, I ask myself:" Where does the light come from? Where is the window What is the source? "He shares. To fulfill Gerwig's plan for a slightly" crowded realism, "Gonchor and Le Saux worked together to create motivated, unique light in a world that would only have been lit by a fireplace or candlelight, and even went so far to build models of the neighborhood New York street scenes to plan complicated camera angles and movements. "Even the natural light was different between Massachusetts and New York because there were taller buildings in New York and couldn't see the sunlight as well as in Massachusetts." says Gonchor.
Production designers Jess Gonchor and Le Saux worked together to create motivated, unique light in a world that would only have been lit by a fireplace or candlelight.
Places and photography are intertwined to move little women beyond what was seen in other adaptations, both in the representation of the busy publishing world in Lower Manhattan and in the contrasting rural life of Concord. Much of the film was shot on a large plot of land in Massachusetts, where the exterior of the March house could be built on the site opposite the stately Lawrence mansion.
"In all of the other adjustments, (the characters) couldn't see one house from the other," notes Gonchor. Having both houses in view and being able to show geography in front of the camera gave Le Saux and Gerwig flexibility in taking pictures outdoors. If the camera captures moments longer and can breathe scenes, the audience can dive into the room instead of breaking the world down into separate, isolated places. Over more than a dozen exploratory trips, Gonchor said, "We have spent a lot of time in different light periods and have returned to the (March) house to walk around as it evolved." The property also doubled for multiple locations, including one decaying Carriage house that was converted for Amy's Parisian painting studio, allowing Gonchor to create an environment that was more unique than just gilded moldings and columns. The room "had nice light with all the doors that were for the horses and carriages," he notes. "Some rooms shine better than others, and this is simply beautifully lit."
The fresh approach to visuals extended to hair, makeup and wardrobe, conversations in which Le Saux was deeply involved. "Sometimes (contemporary pieces are) too dead," he says. "You can see that a hairdresser finished the actress a second before" Action ". We wanted the opposite – hair that moves in the light because the photos from that time show all women with long, messy hair that can be seen everywhere move." Gerwig's idea was to remove the barrier between the audience and the characters who often plague static films and to enter their world, be it through movement, production design or costume. “We want to be in this room with these girls and experience things the way they are,” describes Le Saux.
Durran looked for images of bohemians and artists in Victorian references, photography and painting – people who were unusual. “The Alcotts are a radical family,” she says, “and I tried to find out what it would have looked like. There are rules for Victorian costumes that have been shared with everyone, but then ask yourself if they did. Louisa May Alcott ran long distances herself! It's hard to believe that she wore a corset and all these skirts that run a marathon. Based on the Victorian reference, I then made a fantasy jump to think about how these radical women would have lived. "
Gerwig, Durran and the actresses discussed in detail how each of their characters would have accepted or rejected period norms. In addition, a color palette was created for each March sister who followed them through the story. "The bright red of Jo in her youth turns into a red bandana when she is older," says Gerwig, "and the deep purple of Meg when she is a girl is only a lighter, grayer purple." These colors were determined by a scene in the novel in which the girls' mother, Marmee, gave them books on Christmas Day.
Different looks were created for past and current timelines, with Gerwig describing childhood scenes as "whirling and full of movement", while today's scenes placed characters in a more isolated frame, "frontally, correctly, statically," as Le Saux reveals.
Find differences between the two schedules (without being persistent) was the key to centering the audience in history. Gerwig says she wanted the scenes from childhood "to feel like the movement of youth swirling". "To make it move, breathe, dance," she continues, "we block precise movements so that each person can enter a room from another. We tried to choreograph so that the camera is a dancer in the room. "For the" current "timeline, the characters were more isolated, frontal, correct and static." Not everyone in the frame moves everywhere, "explains Le Saux.
Another subtle rule was to keep as many of the four sisters as possible in the "past" and fill the frame with the coveted energy. Steadicam was used sparingly, with Le Saux preferring a simpler old-school approach like handheld or laying down the dance floor and switching to dolly for more precision. "I prefer to use older tools," he says, "and even after that, the DI Suite was just simple printer lights and not many Power Windows."
A combination of filters, including the Varicon, was used to set the look for each period. This included "this golden warmth of youth," says Gerwig of the past scenes, "and not much to do with the present because, in contrast to this golden past, it would inevitably look colder." Le Saux adds that, in line with a simple approach to color correction, "the cold shade and warm skin have fallen for the current look". The color of course also extended to Gerwig's conversations with Durran and Gonchor and stated that everything should “look more alive” when the girls are children. "I wanted it to feel almost like a Vincente Minelli film – Meet Me In St. Louis or Gigi," she says. “Saturated and almost more in memory. And the colors of adulthood were subdued, grown, and "more appropriate". "
While light and color were critical to each timeline, shooting the 35mm ARRICAM film provided the important third element – texture – that digital capture may lack. Le Saux & # 39; The goal was "to play like a sculptor with glaze, to destroy the negative, to get in low or high light and not to be afraid of under- or overexposure, because at that moment there was always something interesting there, "he describes. Le Saux used 500 ASA Kodak shares, both indoors and outdoors, to meet the challenges that would result. "I chose the 500 to get more grain, and it's a stock that I know very well," he adds. Further work on creating the texture was carried out in the post. “In the laboratory, I pushed development one step forward. I played with the negative and tried to get the matiere to appear on the screen. "
Le Saux used 500 ASA Kodak materials for both indoor and outdoor use, helping to create what Gerwig calls "almost the look of a breathing painting" without being so tedious.
"It's almost as if we wanted it to feel like a painting that breathes," added Gerwig, "but without it being so tedious – we got that feeling straight away with the film." And it felt right because film is a photochemical process; They had it in 1861. We had no moving pictures yet, but it felt like it was spiritually a little closer to the times. "
The use of films also helped convey the scope of the ambitious, colorful life of the March girls, who, as writers, actors, painters and musicians, changed the typical Victorian feminine ideal. (Alcott based the characters on her own sisters.) So Gonchor tried to emphasize a more feminine note in the artistic scenes, especially in Amy's studio, to show a contrast to the masculine art world of the time. "There is a lot of it in the film, just figuring out what could be dominated by men and what could be dominated by women," he notes.
"The Alcotts were part of an artistic community," says Durran. "(And the characters) talk a lot about money and the lack of power women had, the poverty the Alcotts lived with, and how money was a problem," she continues. “Greta was inspiring in this regard and did a lot of research. She had so much insight into the Alcotts. Every woman was a valid choice. Jo is the protagonist and a figure with whom creative women can identify. She is a 19th century person who becomes a successful writer and it becomes her story. But it's really about the four women and their unique choices. "
The March loft, which was built on a stage with the rest of the house, was the girls' creative nerve center. "It was their creative starting point and area of work," says Gonchor. "Jo had her place in there … a little cozy corner where she could curl up and write. It was a warm environment in which to dream. “Depending on the period, the way the room was designed could feel closed, open, empty, full, dark or light. "We experimented a lot with the size of the March house and the textures of the wallpaper," he adds.
The March house facade was built just a few kilometers from the real house where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. "We tried to make it look like difficult times, but they made the best of it," Gonchor concludes. “And when we went in, we wanted it to be like opening a jewelry box. A wooden jewelry box that is dusty on the outside but open and lively on the inside. It is warmth. It is velvet. It is color. It is hope. "
Gerwig (center) with Le Saux on site at Crane Estate, Ipswich, MA
Local 600 crew – – Little woman
Cameraman: Yorick LeSaux
A-camera 1. AC: Greg Wimer
A-camera 2. AC: Talia Krohmal
B-cameraman / steadicam: Colin Hudson, SOC
B-camera 1st AC: Jamie Fitzpatrick
B-camera 2nd AC: Autumn Moran
Loader: Josh Weilbrenner
Still photographer: Wilson Webb, SMPSP
Publicist: Scott Levine