Marc on Marc: My Interview with Director Marc Webb
I mentioned earlier this week the great thrill I had to meet and sit down with 500 Days of Summer director Marc Webb in NYC. Below is the discussion we had about 500DAYS.com and 500 Days of Summer. We chatted quite a bit before really getting into the interview (Marc’s an easy guy to talk to) so we sort of got cut short on time. Still, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed making it.
Marc Webb: So I’m going to interview you for a second. What made you put up 500DAYS.com?
Marc Tytus: It was back when that teaser came out. I was addicted to Apple Movie Trailers for a while and was going to school at the time. I was just procrastinating a bit and saw the trailer and thought, ‘I haven’t seen anything like that for so long’, and it totally blew me away. I remember calling in all of my roommates after I watched the trailer once and saying, ‘you have to see this’, and then everyone else was so pumped about it. I was actually able to take those people to a screening in Toronto.
MW: Had you put up websites before?
MT: Yeah, that’s the thing. I do some internet development-type stuff. I have another fan site for The Office.
MW: Oh cool. I went to NYU with Ed Helms for a semester. He was one of my very good friends. We worked very close to each other in L.A. I’ll tell him that.
MT: Yeah, we’ll have to get together sometime.
MW: Sounds good (laughs). Well thank you for doing this; it was very cool of you.
MT: Well I heard that it was you who stumbled upon it (500DAYS.com) first.
MW: Probably. Actually, it may have been Scott (Neustadter). We both have Google blogs searches and we snoop around. But it’s funny, because you usually cop onto things sooner than we do, and it’s like ‘let’s just go there’.
MT: Well I’ve been out of the loop for the past couple of days now. People are yelling at me on Twitter.
MW: Can you track how many hits you guys get?
MT: Yeah, tons. It’s funny, you can see the traffic increasing as we get closer and closer to the release.
MW: That’s so cool. That’s so crazy!
MT: Everyone who sees this film loves it.
MW: That’s great to hear. I’m excited for it to get out there and see what happens.
MT: I’m sure you have a good idea. It’s getting a great response after every screening you’re at.
MW: It’s pretty cool. I don’t think that you can ask for a better reception as a director. But what’s great about it is that it’s a bunch of people, like Scott (Neustadter), Michael (Weber), Joe (Gordon-Levitt), and Zooey (Deschanel). But for Scott, Michael and I, in particular, this is the first time that we’ve really had something come out and that warmth is very invigorating. It’s cool to share, because there are so many people that really came together, and it wasn’t about making money, and it wasn’t a cynical thing. It was a bunch of people who came together because they believed in it. It started off with Scott having this relationship and sort of suffering through this very brutal heartbreak that’s goofy and funny in its own way, but trying to find meaning in that. I feel that people have really identified with that; it’s a great thing.
MT: I didn’t realize how closely Scott’s story was actually Tom’s story.
MW: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
MT: I really feel for him.
MW: Well, we’ve all been there, probably. It’s funny, we screened at Madison, Wisconsin (where I’m from), and there was a bunch of high school kids there. It’s interesting to see how people feel about Summer at the end of the movie. Some people are very understanding and sympathetic towards her. Other people reject her and feel bitter towards her. It’s funny because it says a lot about where these people come from. Nobody’s wrong or right. It just is and people enjoy the film regardless of their feelings for her. But it’s an interesting thing to see how that tracks across the generations and across different parts of the country and the world. I’m curious to see how that pans out.
MT: Scott said last night that after Fox bought the script they told him a scene in which the audience could think Tom and Summer might still get back together had to be added.
MW: Right, there’s an earlier draft where we didn’t have that and his friends tell him what happened and the shooting draft was an evolution of that. It’s tricky, because I always prefer when audiences don’t know what the ending is before they go in to see it. But some of the reviewers have given that away and it’s sort of a bummer because the beginning says ‘this is not a love story’. Critics know what that means because they’re fans of movies and they know what that genre specification is. But some people on the street who don’t see ten movies a week think it’s just a quip and they sort of dismiss it and go into it expecting that these people are going to get together and that allows them to invest in the story. That puts you more directly in Tom’s shoes because he expects the same thing. You know, “love stories work out!” That’s what we’ve been told; that’s what pop songs say; that’s what music videos say. Part of the fun with the movie is that it plays with those expectations.
MT: You talked about 500 Days of Summer being a dude movie at the screening last night. Written by dudes, directed by a dude, starring a dude. Was the goal all along to create a romance movie that guys could relate to?
MW: It wasn’t so much the goal. I read the script and I related to it. I wanted to give the audience the same feeling I had. I blogged about this. Guys embraced this in a way that was pretty awesome but is sort of unique. Our agenda wasn’t a gender thing. We just wanted to tell the story. The interesting thing is that guys can relate to it and girls can relate to it. It’s about a time in your life more than it is about gender roles. One of the things that I want people to know is that if you’re a guy you can watch this movie and you can access this. It’s dealing with realities that you’ve dealt with. It’s not the sort of bullshit romantic comedies that some of us like and enjoy, but as a man, are often hard to relate to. They don’t resonate with you. I think that my goal is to show that men can like this as much as women can.
MT: Well it’s coming across. Is that what drew you to the script? Because you worked hard to get it going.
MW: It was partly that it was told from a guy’s point of view and I think that I just related to that. It’s a rare thing. I didn’t realize how rare it was until we started shooting. I think that I had gone through experiences that were similar, and this idea of really romanticizing another person and elevating them and putting them on a pedestal is often endorsed by Hollywood. The mythology of “oh, this person is so fantastic and quirky and unbelievable” and then they end up together and your life and all of your problems are solved and you’re happy is bullshit. There’s a consequence to putting people on a pedestal. It’s tiresome for the person who’s on the pedestal. It’s not very satisfying, unless you’re pathological. It also isn’t real, but we’re so conditioned to believe in those kinds of things that I liked the way that the script negotiated with that and talked about those feelings in a legitimate way. It articulated something that I had felt but had never been able to say, and that is a great asset for a script or a story. Maybe not a totally original sentiment, but lately it hasn’t really been explored as much as you think it should be.
MT: Before this script, you were primarily a music video director. It must be very different working with musicians who are just being themselves in music videos compared to actors and actresses, especially those who might have different views on how their character should be. What was it like working with Zooey and Joe in that regard?
MW: When you’re doing a music video, it’s a very short affair. You have to make sure that person feels safe and can do their thing, but they’re usually very developed in their persona. Billie Joe Armstrong is Billie Joe Armstrong. You just turn the camera on and he sings and it’s awesome. Or if they’re doing a story you have to make sure that they’re comfortable being in that thing, but it’s a very small scale. But these actors are coming up with entire personalities and they have to adopt somebody else’s take on life and practicalities. So they tend to be much more involved in discussions and own that persona, but it’s also more tender because it isn’t fully developed. They need you to be supportive of that. That was a fun process and I do very much like collaborating in that sense. Luckily Joe and Zooey are very, very smart actors. Sometimes you have to push a certain thing or pull back on a certain thing, but by and large their instincts were very spot-on. Most directors will tell you that a big part of directing is in casting. Once you have those people on board, you use them to use their strengths.
MT: That’s fantastic. You have nothing but amazing things to say about them so that’s very cool. Was there a lot of collaboration between the screenwriters and you on set, or was it all discussed beforehand?
MW: We discussed it beforehand. We shifted some things, some dialogue, after rehearsal, and made it so that it would fit within their view of the character. There were actually a lot of lines that were cut out. Joe could say something with his face or his posture that you didn’t need a line of dialogue for. So there’s a lot of, ‘well, we don’t really need to say this; we can cut that out’. But the sentiment remains the same. There wasn’t a lot of improvisation. The vast majority of the lines were written, but there were things that we trimmed because there was a more efficient way to communicate them.
MT: Which is why it comes down to casting.
MT: You obviously had a lot of fun filming and it seems like you’re still having fun afterward; there’s a lot of cool videos floating around on the internet. I heard that you did some sort of dance scene short film with Joe and Zooey.
MW: We did. We’re just finishing that up and hopefully it will come out soon. It’s a bank dance. It’s going to be awesome. I don’t want to say too much about it. I’m not sure, we may release it for the home video thing, we might hold onto it until the end of the year, or we may release it very shortly. It just depends on things that are outside of our sphere of control at the moment. I’ll just say that when you see it you’ll love it.
MT: The fans are very intrigued!
MW: Well it’s going to be awesome. Zooey has taken a lot of dance, and Joe never really took dance. So when we didn’t include Zooey in the dance sequence she was a little heartbroken and I felt like I needed to remedy that.
MT: What was your favorite scene to shoot in 500 Days of Summer?
MW: I think that the first thing that comes to mind is the dance sequence. It was just really fun to do. But I think that what I got the most joy out of was the reality/expectations, which we shot over two nights. There are a lot of subtle differences that we planted that were really fun in a sort of technical way, but it was also really satisfying to shoot. We had fun with the actors seeing how those things played together. It really evolved different levels. There’s an emotional storytelling. There was a technical part of it. There was a big narrative beat in that scene that’s obviously really important. It was exciting because you’re firing on all cylinders and I felt like it was original. I hadn’t seen anybody do that before. Dance sequences are part of the lexicon in some way, but this sequence was just different. It’s new and I really enjoyed that.
MT: Let me get one last good question in here. If you were making a music video to tell the story of 500 Days of Summer, what song would you choose?
MW: That is a great question…that is a great question (Pauses to think for a few seconds). “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Smiths. I don’t know what the video would be but I think that’s the perfect song.