Greta Gerwig Credits ‘Little Women’ for Her Writing Career

Dave McNary

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Greta Gerwig, who wrote and directed “Little Women,” told hundreds of writers on Thursday night at the Writers Guild Theater that Louisa May Alcott’s iconic 1868 novel was her own origin story.

“I’d grown up with the book ‘Little Women,’ and I loved ‘Little Women,'” she explained at the WGA West’s Beyond Words event. “And it was the book that made me think I could to be a writer because Jo March was a writer. But I hadn’t read it since I was 14 or 15, and when I read it again when I was 30, it was so modern and urgent, that it felt like lines were written in neon.”

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Gerwig, who is nominated in the adapted screenplay category for a WGA Award and an Academy Award, was responding to a query by moderator Aline Brosh McKenna, screenwriter and co-creator of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” about the question of money in the movie.

“The one that jumped out at me page after page was this book is about money and authorship and ownership and women and art and money,” Gerwig recalled. “In the book, Jo March stops writing, and doesn’t write and marries this German man. Ugh.”

Gerwig revised Allcott’s narrative for the script in which Jo March (portrayed by Saoirse Ronan) winds up retaining the copyright to “Little Women.” She recalled Thursday night that the movie’s opening scene in which Jo March tries to sell her book had a personal resonance.

“The opening scene when she’s trying to sell the book to Mr. Dashwood is almost lifted world for word from the book,” Gerwig said. “She’s trying to pretend she hasn’t written it. She needs to ask how much do I get paid, which is humiliating to ask, because she needs the money. I was thinking this could have been me yesterday talking to the head of a studio to figure out how much I can compromise and still get it done.”

Beyond Words featured many of the nominees for WGA Awards as a prelude to the 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards on Feb. 1 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills and the Edison Ballroom in New York City.

Noah Baumbach discussed the memorable scene in “Marriage Story,” in which Adam Driver’s character deals with having accidentally cut himself during an interview with a social worker, then insists he’s okay.

“I love the idea that humiliation trumps pain,” Baumbach recalled. “The whole scene is about keeping up appearances.”

The event also included a discussion of whether outlining is a useful technique for writers. Scott Silver, who co-wrote “Joker” with Todd Phillips, said, “I try to put off writing for as long as possible, but I can outline forever.”

Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed “Knives Out,” evoked major laughs by admitting, “My handwriting is so bad. It looks like the opening credits of ‘Seven.'”

Other panelists included Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman for “Booksmart,”: Steven Zaillian for “The Irishman,” Mark Jonathan Harris for “Foster” and Lauren Greenfield for “The Kingmaker.”

Variety, the Writers Guild Foundation and Final Draft sponsored the event, introduced by Variety senior entertainment writer Adam B. Vary.

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