Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Arrives

For telling female-focused stories—with attention to detail

After a decade on low-budget indie film sets, Greta Gerwig had pretty much done it all: acting, makeup, costumes, production assistant, co-writing, co-directing. She’d put herself through her own apprenticeship and locked down all the skills. 

For her solo directorial debut, Gerwig wrote something simple and personal: Lady Bird, a coming-of-age story seemingly handcrafted for young millennial women—what she herself described as a much-needed female counterpart to films like The 400 Blows and Boyhood. Securing the project’s US$10 million budget turned out to be “fairly simple,” with producer Scott Rudin signing on within a day of reading the script. Gerwig got to work, mapping out preproduction with obsessive detail, and her team carefully gathered all the essential touchstones of the film’s setting in California, USA circa 2002: flip phones, bootcut jeans and velour tracksuits.

Lady Bird earned five Academy Award nominations, including for Best Director—making her just the fifth woman to get a nod in that category in the 91-year history of the Oscars. The wait was relatively short for Gerwig’s next project: the 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women. Once again, she was meticulous about holding to her vision. For weeks, she schooled her cast in the dialogue and etiquette of 19th century America. She banned mobile phones on set. To ensure visual authenticity, she hired professional calligraphers to re-create Alcott’s handwriting onscreen. Gerwig’s pregnancy, which she kept under wraps during the three-month production phase, expedited the project’s race to the finish, prompting her to crunch a typical 10-week editing process into seven.

Gerwig’s first wide release was largely overlooked during awards season—perhaps a sign that the 1868 novel still has something to say about women and power. But audiences loved it. The box office haul: more than US$200 million.