Lady Bird editor Nick Houy has worked with many first time feature directors, but writer-director Greta Gerwig “was not the typical first-time director experience.” Because she has co-directed, written a number of successful films, and acted in even more, Gerwig proved to be very comfortable behind the camera.
Houy felt the details in the script not only made it real, but also universal. “We had a great meeting before they started shooting, talking about the script. Luckily we really saw eye-to-eye,” shared Houy. “I felt the same love for the story and the characters that she did, maybe because I grew up in the same period.” Coming on after production, Houy’s directive from the director was “to tell the story we had talked about.”
According to Houy, Saoirse Ronan perfectly delivered “every single take” as the title character. Despite the young cast, all the performances were amazing, especially Lucas Hedges as Danny O’Neill and Timothée Chalamet as Kyle Scheible. Combined with veteran actors Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s parents, the cast was a “dream team.”
Houy’s goal in editing the performances was to make the story as emotionally resonant as possible. He takes pride in shaping the performances to bring the emotion of the actors to the audience and is happy that the viewers are recognizing those performances. “As far as getting the right tone with the actor’s performances, that wasn’t even a question. It was more about how we mold this to make it exactly what we originally intended,” stated Houy. “Showing these actors to their best potential was my number one accomplishment.”
Preferring not to be involved on set, Houy wants to interpret the film from the footage he receives, and not be influenced by any drama from production. Gerwig had experience in the edit room from other films. She understood the story very well and wanted to make it her own, so it was great having her in the edit room, but she also gave the editor time alone to “dig in” and do his work on the cut. It was important to keep some distance, so that she had fresh eyes when viewing the edit.
“If the director gets too used to seeing the way you are doing it, then they can’t see it fresh. She totally understood that,” said Houy. “I think both are good. There are moments when I come up with something that makes a scene really work on my own after slaving away at it for eight hours. There are other times when we’ve broken a moment working with the director. The teamwork clicks in and that makes it better.”
With a well-written script, tight performances and confident direction, there were only “small things” to deal with in post. Houy needed to make sure the tone of each character was working 100%. The filmmakers would have showings for small groups of people. Maybe one line that was really beautiful in the script would throw them in the wrong direction. The filmmakers would then have a viewing with a few more people. If they had the slightest feeling about that line, Gerwig and Houy would try to take it out. “We were really honing it. I think that’s why it feels really polished in a story sense. It had been through a hundred drafts already script-wise and then we were very hard on every single word, look and cut,” explained Houy. “We were lucky that we had a lot of time to hone in on every detail. We were wonderfully hard on the material. That was the most pleasurable and the most challenging.”