The classic story of Little Women turns 150 this year and gets a modern-day makeover from director/screenwriter Clare Niederpruem. Starring Lea Thompson (Back to the Future, Some Kind of Wonderful), the film opens in theaters nationwide on September 28th, 2018. With an engaging cast that includes Sarah Davenport, Melanie Stone, Allie Jennings, and Elise Jones, it carries all the warmth, faith, and love that fans expect from this timeless tale.
Dan Goforth spoke with director/screenwriter Clare Niederpruem about how Little Women was a part of her own growing up experience, the process of creating a modern retelling of a classic, being a first-time director, and how she hopes this film will speak to people and families from all walks of life.
On bringing the project to life:
CLARE: I had been a fan of [the book] Little Women my whole life and it’s always been a very inspirational book for me. I read it when I was a child and a teenager, and then as an adult. I felt like it was very relevant and relatable to my life today, especially the dynamics between the sisters—in the female friendships and just the thematic elements of following your dreams and hopes. So I thought, “Well, I wonder what it would like be like to explore the March family in 2018.
Kristi Shimek [who edited and is also a producer on the film] and I worked together before, but more like a producer relationship. But when I had this idea of Little Women, I knew she’d be the girl to go to, because literature is just such a big part of her life, and she loved the novel. I really wanted to do it with someone who had that amount of love for the original. So, we just got together every day, between our two apartments in Los Angeles, and reread the book over and over again and watched all the film adaptations, talked about the different characters and just explored that way. It was a really fun process—one of those that kind of flowed out of us. It was a great experience.
We really wanted to stay true to the meaning of the book and what it meant to us. After we finished the first draft of the script, we thought, “This actually works in modern time!” I love the original work. I think the reason it is called a classic is because it is so relevant today as a hundred and fifty years after it was written. It’s kind of our love letter to the original. Kristi and I wrote it on spec late at night, into the early hours of the morning. We brought it to some producers who we knew—and who we didn’t know—and enough people responded to the script, I just thought one day, “I think I want to direct this.” I kind of just kept saying it to people to see how it felt, and I kept expecting someone to be, “No!”, but everybody kept saying, “Okay!”
When you’re writing a script, you’ve already envisioned it in your mind, so that’s why there are a lot of writers/directors out there—because it’s such a visual process. I think it starts with a great script. That is one of the most important things. Then, while you’re filming, it takes on a life of its own… and then while you’re editing.
On the pressure of being a first-time director.
CLARE: Oh, gosh. Terrifying and amazing! You know, all the feelings! I started off mostly as an actor, but I have been writing and taking any role on set I could get for a long time, being an assistant, production designer, all the things. That was the best experience I could have to prepare me to direct. When you work for a department, you understand more how to manage them. I feel super lucky that I had all that experience of those long days… of just doing whatever I was told to do—get coffee or put that mark on the ground. That kind of stuff really helps you become a director.
I remember waking up the first day of directing, “I don’t know if I can do this!” And then I would think about Louisa May Alcott: “Yeah, she would tell me I can.” She’d be, “You go there, girl! You do it!”
I surround myself with people who believe in me and so those moments on a set where everything felt like it was falling apart, I had people that I could rely on. I loved directing! I thought it was an incredible experience, and I hope I get to do it again. You know when you feel like you’re in the spot where you’re supposed to be? That’s how I felt directing. I’m very lucky and very fortunate that people believed in me to allow me to do that.
On how the cast ended up bonding.
CLARE: We’re a micro-budget independent film. Our producer had decided to put all of the four sisters in one house while they were on location filming, which they didn’t know about. And so they showed up and they’re like, “Wait! We’re all living together???” So, you have this beautiful scenario because they became super good friends. They became so close—and that chemistry reads on-screen. But it was one of those beautiful mistakes like, “Well, this is kind of a budgetary thing,” but it ended up being a really powerful tool in the end. I remember they would stay up late, running lines and playing games together. They were having their own March family reunion after we were filming all day.
On what she hopes the audience will take away from seeing this film.
Clare: It’s a story about a family, and how a family can support each other. I really want mothers to be able to take their daughters and sisters, to be able to go together and have a bonding experience, like I have with Little Women in my life. I want women to be able to support other women, no matter what their future looks like, no matter what their dreams. I think a lot of times, it’s easy for us to support people who want the exact same things as us. But it’s a little bit harder to support people whose life looks different. And for these four different sisters, they all want different things in their life. I think it’s a good example to show how your support—whether you want a family or you don’t, or you want a career or you don’t, and how we can be there for each other even through our differences. I really hope that people can connect with this family and then connect with their own family through it.
Little Women opens nationwide on September 28, 2018. Visit the film’s website at LittleWomenTheMovie.com.
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