Producers Lucy Barzun Donnelly and Rachael Horovitz Knew the Edies Were Great Characters
HBO: How did each of you get involved with Grey Gardens?
RACHAEL HOROVITZ: I got involved with Grey Gardens after meeting with Albert Maysles — before I knew Lucy and Michael were already producing a Grey Gardens movie — to discuss doing the same thing. It was a coincidence and more importantly fate!
LUCY BARZUN DONNELLY: Michael sent me the script — we’d known each other at Georgetown — and I knew right away that the Edies were great characters for a unique movie. He hadn't incorporated the documentary in his original script, because he didn't have the rights, but rather had based his story on Little Edie's journals and letters. The first thing I did was approach Al Maysles and Maysles Films about getting the rights to the doc. Then I got a call that Rachael had been speaking to Al Maysles about a film concerning the Edies, so I called her up. We had a fantastic first meeting the same day we met with Jessica Lange about playing Big Edie and the team was off and running. Drew joined us a few months later, and then we labored for many months — actually years! — to get it to the screen.
HBO: Why is this story important to tell?
RACHAEL HOROVITZ: The story, to me, is about letting go. Everyone’s family screws them up to some degree — some worse than others. In the case of the Edies, I believe they’re both victims of not only their families but the larger realm of society. The cultural mores of the 30s and 50s (and in Big Edie’s case, the teens) really did a number of each of these women. Big Edie blames her husband. Little Edie blames her mother. But by story's end, I feel they're both come to terms with their anger and identities.
LUCY BARZUN DONNELLY: Especially in this moment of economic crisis, it’s inspiring to show audiences such a convincing example of people for whom happiness is unrelated to money or material things.
HBO: What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this story to the screen?
RACHAEL HOROVITZ: The toughest part of the project was getting to a balanced screenplay. There was so much we wanted to include that it was very difficult to feel “finished” with script development. But then again I always feel that way.
LUCY BARZUN DONNELLY: And getting anyone to take a chance on a film which is about two old ladies!
HBO: What was the most satisfying part of the production for each of you?
RACHAEL HOROVITZ: The most satisfying aspect of the production far and away was watching Drew and Jessica do their jobs. I love both performances so much — as I dearly love the documentary, as they both do. It was exciting to watch them create their roles in front of the camera. Another thing I enjoyed immeasurably for me was inserting details on the fly — the sort of stuff you think up in the middle of the night the day before a scene shoots. In this case, as I said, there was so much we had to leave out of the script, it was a joy to get to layer some of these omissions back in during production. Sometimes these were visuals, like Big Edie cooking corn in bed, and sometimes they were lines of dialogue. One of my personal favorites was trying to find a visual link for Jackie and Little Edie and coming up with the idea of Jackie dropping the scarf when she visits — which we then notice atop Edie's head in her dance scene.
LUCY BARZUN DONNELLY: For me, it was seeing it all come together after so many years of pushing the boulder up the hill. Watching the first audience appreciate all the nuances in the performances was very satisfying. It’s inspiring to show audiences such a convincing example of people for whom happiness is unrelated to money or material things.
HBO: The role of the producer is often misunderstood. How do you see it?
LUCY BARZUN DONNELLY: As my mentor, John Lyons, said when speaking at Sundance, a producer has to be Storyteller, Psychologist, Manager, Mother, editor, the list goes on . . . it’s also the greatest job in the world and I’m lucky to get to do it.
RACHAEL HOROVITZ: The producer is the person who gets everyone to talk to each other. From the outside this may be nonsensical, but from the inside it’s a vital job without which no movie would ever get made.
HBO: What is the most important lesson you've learned about movie-making?
LUCY BARZUN DONNELLY: Movies don't happen because you as the producer really, really want them to. About a million stars have to align and it’s very much a team effort that takes the efforts of everyone from big movie stars staying attached through thick and thin, to a singing coach who is willing to work on spec until we have the money lined up. From the make up artist to the driver, everyone needs to be on board to pull it off.
RACHAEL HOROVITZ: I think the lesson I’ve learned over time about movie — making is to always be confident and yet open-minded about my ideas.