'Lady Bird' Producer on the Benefits of a Small Budget and Director Greta Gerwig's "Huge Ambitions"

Lady Bird Still Saoirse Ronan - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of A24

"You had 100 people on the set that would go to the ends of the Earth for Greta," says producer Eli Bush of the filmmaker's coming-of-age directorial debut.

According to producer Eli Bush, he and fellow producer Scott Rudin knew they wanted to make Lady Bird — first-time feature director Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age story about a mother (Laurie Metcalf) and daughter (Saoirse Ronan) in early aughts Sacramento — after reading the first page. “It was a sensational piece of writing and we knew Greta would do it brilliantly,” says Bush, who had previously worked with Gerwig as an actress on Mistress America and Frances Ha.

Bush, 31, who produced the $10 million indie dramedy with Rudin and Evelyn O’Neill, prefers to let Gerwig and the movie speak for themselves. (“The only person who should speak for Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig,” he said before surrendering the mic to the writer-director after winning best motion picture, musical or comedy, at the Golden Globes in January). But the producer conceded to speak with THR about the benefits of a small budget, his newfound love for Sacramento and, of course, the brilliance of Gerwig.

What was your first thought as a producer after you read the script for Lady Bird?

My main thought was how could we make this movie with Greta as quickly as possible. We had worked with Greta a bunch and were friendly with her and had heard about the script from a mutual friend and had asked her [if we could] read it. It all happened in 12 hours, we met with [Greta] the next day — I think she had just come back from filming the Mike Mills movie [20th Century Women] — and we were off to the races.

What were you looking for in a distribution partner for this film?

For a special movie we wanted to have a special, tailored release, so [A24] seemed like the right partner to do that. It was brick by brick on this movie. Getting the right people to see it, getting the right people to write about it, the trailers, the art — they paid attention to every detail. For a movie like this, you don’t want it to be put through the factory-grinder-type thing. A24 gave the movie a campaign that was very true to the project. The thing that they were selling was always what the movie actually was.

How would you describe the first day on set?

We always have huge ambitions, and Greta had huge ambitions for what the movie would be. It was always a big movie to her. So figuring all of that out meant prep was challenging. Like how are we going to get to use Dave Matthews and Justin Timberlake? How are we going to shoot a school musical? How are we gonna shoot in New York in the end? Then we got to set and in the first hour of shooting, Greta and her actors and her crew were just clicking. Whatever was challenging before we started, the moment cameras were rolling it was perfect. You had 100 people on the set that would go to the ends of the earth for Greta. She was an astonishing leader.

Do you have a favorite moment from filming?

It was pretty cool being in Sacramento. (Laughs.) People don’t realize this, but when we shot the Thanksgiving scene there, all of Greta’s family and old friends came. Greta was in Sacramento making a movie that was a love letter to this place that could be where any of us are from, so it was cool to be actually there. 

How do you think the small budget actually benefited the production?

It can be rewarding and also helpful to have that box and to know what the boundaries are, because then you can push up against them as hard as you possibly can. It’s like: Here are the rules. This is what we have. And we are just gonna shoot a school production of Merrily We Roll Along. Greta had made movies for $14, so she had the right energy. It created an environment of: “We are all in this together.”

Where does Lady Bird fit in the era of Time’s Up, when we are trying to get more women behind the camera?

It is incredibly exciting that now we are going to get to see Greta Gerwig movies for the next 50 years. At screenings, we see 17-year-olds and young kids come up and say, “Holy shit! I saw this movie that Greta Gerwig directed and like, “Huh?” We always thought the movie would be great and we believed in Greta. But it’s awesome to see your collaborators and friends and people who worked incredibly hard to make this movie get recognized. So, to get to have some fun at this stuff has been really nice.

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.