noah

Noah Baumbach made a splash with his 1995 debut feature, Kicking and Screaming at the tender age of 26. Since then, he has been one of the most respected and innovative directors on the indie movie scene with acclaimed films like While We’re Young, Frances Ha, and The Squid and the Whale, which earned his screenplay an Oscar nomination.

He’s attracted big names like Nicole Kidman, Ben Stiller, and Naomi Watts, while also launching the careers of Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig. In his latest film, Mistress America, Baumbach again works with Gerwig. She plays Brooke, a flighty dreamer in New York who takes a college freshman, Tracy (Lola Kirke), under her wing. Screenpicks got a chance to speak with Baumbach about his inspirations behind Mistress America as well as his filmmaking process.

Lola Kirke as "Tracy" and Greta Gerwig as "Brooke" in MISTRESS AMERICA. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Lola Kirke as “Tracy” and Greta Gerwig as “Brooke” in MISTRESS AMERICA. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

On how he gets his story ideas:

There’s really no telling in how I come up with ideas; it could be anything. Mistress America was in a way different. Once we stumbled on this character, who we even had in another script, we added her to different script that we were working on. Then we stopped writing that script, and then we just wrote a whole movie for Brooke.

A lot of it was a surprise … we hadn’t really thought that much about this story until we were actually writing. Whereas most of the things I’ve written are usually circulating for a while in my head. They’re usually a combination of big and small ideas, and characters, and stories; bits of dialogue, or notes I’ve taken. And at some point, the ones that stick find their way into a movie. For While We’re Young, the last movie I had done, I had this idea about couples for a long time.

On developing the characters with Greta Gerwig:

Approaching the movie was really a function of how to tell the story of Brooke, because we started with that character. And, we felt like coming to her from Tracy, as the narrator. We know that story device; we know it in literature, we know it in movies. It’s like meeting a person who seems larger than life, and in some sense fall in love with.

There were also experiences from relationships that people Greta and I both knew, from college and just out of college. Meeting people who seemed amazing, maybe seductive or dangerous, in some kind of exciting way, who, before not too long, you start to realize are maybe more complicated than that. And who you start to outgrow. I think there’s something in that feeling in young adulthood of outgrowing someone older than you – it is a strange feeling. But, it’s something that I think we all feel repeatedly the rest of our lives.

On his favorite scene in Mistress America:

I don’t really have a favorite scene, but I like the whole sequence in the house, which isn’t one scene, but it’s one section. I like how in some ways it felt like a risk, and it scared me. But, I felt it was right for the movie, so I’m glad we did it. I knew we could fall on our faces maybe.

(L-R) Cindy Cheung as "Karen," Dean Wareham as "Harold," Matthew Shear as "Tony,"  Greta Gerwig as "Brooke," Michael Chernus as "Dylan," and Heather Lind as "Mamie-Claire" in MISTRESS AMERICA. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

(L-R) Cindy Cheung as “Karen,” Dean Wareham as “Harold,” Matthew Shear as “Tony,” Greta Gerwig as “Brooke,” Michael Chernus as “Dylan,” and Heather Lind as “Mamie-Claire” in MISTRESS AMERICA. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

On how the ‘80s provided inspiration:

The ‘80s were another thing Greta and I were talking about when making the movie. That when we were thinking about the story, Brooke – she’s like a character from another era. Even her concept of New York, is not in sync with now. She lives in Times Square, which, nobody lives there! Somebody had asked me, “Why doesn’t Brooke live in Brooklyn?” Because the New York in Brooke’s head, Brooklyn is still an outer borough, it’s not cool at all.

That led us to start talking about these types of movies. I don’t even know if it’s a genre, it might be a subgenre. The movies in the ‘80s like After Hours, Something Wild, Desperately Seeking Susan … in that context, it was often yuppies and downtown artistic types. We were thinking about a larger-than-life character, who takes you out of your comfort zone, and pulls you into some kind of other version of the city.

Those movies kind of had that, and I felt like the music should accompany that. It should feel like we’re listening to New Order and OMD, which evokes the ‘80s, but is kind of timeless too. That was in a lot of the conversations we were having when working on the score.

Lola Kirke as "Tracy" in MISTRESS AMERICA. Photo by David Feeney-Mosier. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Lola Kirke as “Tracy” in MISTRESS AMERICA. Photo by David Feeney-Mosier. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

On how he became interested in film:

Well my parents were both very movie literate and loved movies. So I was introduced to movies at a young age. And also, I was introduced to movies as an art form that goes beyond entertainment. They were very into ‘70s European movies and the French New Wave. But those were more movies that I started to love later, like in college. I was going to all the films for my generation; I was the right age for Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T., and a lot of those great Spielberg movies.

But the movies I was sort of talking about before, from the ‘80s, were movies that came out when I was just a young adolescent, and starting to see movies that felt like they were for grown-ups. But I was now just old enough to see those. Those are always the most exciting movies to see, because you feel like, privileged, to see something that’s “R” rated or it has sex in it – but, you know, where you have to take sex seriously, too. So, that was an exciting time.

Director Noah Baumbach on the set of MISTRESS AMERICA. Photo by David Feeney-Mosier. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Director Noah Baumbach on the set of MISTRESS AMERICA. Photo by David Feeney-Mosier. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

On choosing story locations:

I made a movie called Greenberg in L.A., which was very deliberately an L.A. movie. I was thinking about treating L.A. as this big city, but from the perspective of an outsider. And I would do that again. I like shooting in L.A. Margot at the Wedding took place in the country. For the last few, New York has been integral to the story, but I have ideas for things and I’d want to do other places.

On how often he writes:

If I’m in the middle of a script, I write every day if I can. But, I don’t write every day if I’m not working on something. I have notebooks and things, I take notes, but I don’t go to an office and write every day. But, when I’m in the middle of something, it’s kind of everything – that’s all I’m doing.