Writer Duos: How Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach Write A Screenplay

Collaboration is a beautiful thing. It’s a fundamental part of what makes WriterDuet and our community great! So we want to start shining a light on our favorite screenwriting duos out there and figuring out how they work together.

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are two of the biggest names in independent film today. Each of them has written and directed their own award-winning films, including 2019 Best Picture nominees Marriage Story and Little Women, respectively. Their collaboration began with Greenberg, which Gerwig starred in and Baumbach wrote and directed. Baumbach’s career and aesthetic went in a new direction once he met her, and the two co-wrote his next two films, Frances Ha and Mistress America. The resulting scripts are full of life and energy that hit an entirely different tone than the rest of their respective solo work.

Here are some tips we’ve gathered from how they write screenplays together, from their own words.

Frances Ha (2012)


Gerwig reiterated the importance of finding likeminded collaborators in an interview with Final Draft:

“Find your people! Find the people who hate the same movies as you, who like the same movies as you.”

– Greta Gerwig

Talking about approaching Baumbach after filming Greenberg :

“We just had a real shorthand real quickly, and for whatever reason, he thought we’d write well together. He asked me if I had any ideas, and I sent this list with three pages of stuff and he said, this looks pretty great.”

– Greta Gerwig

In his BAFTA Screenwriting lecture, Baumbach says of those early e-mail stages:

“She would send me scenes and it was so exciting to the point that, if I knew maybe a scene was coming, I’d just be refreshing email hoping it would come through. It would always make me feel good if she liked what I sent her or laughed at a thing or something like that.”

– Noah Baumbach

The two of them usually begin with a conversation at the computer. Baumbach will have compiled all of his long form notes into a single document for Gerwig to go over. Of this process she says,

“I’m much messier and disorganized. My issue would be that I’d always start new documents and new drafts and then I couldn’t find them. I’d write things longhand too, then I couldn’t find those. Then I would have this anxiety because I tend to overwrite, and what if I cut something and I want the thing I cut, and Noah said, ‘Just start a new document that’s called ‘cut stuff.’ And you put everything into that document and you can just look through the ‘cut stuff’ to see if you want something. Those kind of organizational things are really helpful because we move things around a bunch.”

– Greta Gerwig

Gerwig and Baumbach are known for their rapid-fire dialogue, which they concoct by reading out loud to each other. She told CreativeScreenwriting in an interview:

“We would always read scenes out loud, and if something caught on our ear wrong, then we knew it should be rewritten. Then when you give it to an actor, it’s not like they’re saying it exactly the way you said it, but they’re playing the same piece.”

– Greta Gerwig
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig at the premiere of FRANCES HA at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival

The two agree that they have made the other a better writer through inspiring each other to be better. Baumbach confirms this in his BAFTA lecture:

“I know I’ve improved as a human being because of her and as a director at least in my eyes from watching her, from working with her, and watching her movies now too.”

– Noah Baumbach

Gerwig agrees, but adds on her own take:

“He’s this incredibly important collaborator and influence on me. The most important. But I think I was hell-bent on making my own films, so I would’ve done it anyway.”

– Greta Gerwig

Baumbach and Gerwig are currently co-writing the Barbie movie for Warner Brothers, with Gerwig possibly attached to direct.

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