Marc Webb‘s first feature 500 Days of Summer is that soon to be buzzed about film that you’ll be proud to say “oh yeah, I’ve seen that one.” Well now you can one up everyone else by not only saying you saw it first, but that you know how Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt got cast, how long it took them to shoot the film, how he kept the troublesome script in order, and a whole lot more.
We were lucky enough to talk to Webb over the phone (after having many phone troubles) about his upcoming, must see film. Webb is the the perfect mixture of both humble and confident, he was proud to promote his film, yet not too cawky and definitely not afraid of being honest.
Check out interview with him below (if you do, you’ll find out how I convinced him to let me film him eating a bug).
Finally, after many failed attempts we get to talk! It seems like everybody wants a piece of you right now…
Marc Webb: It’s sort of a new thing for me I guess, like interviews and all this hoopla. But it’s kind of fun, I have to admit.
Have you noticed anything weird coming up with everyone researching you?
MW: You know it’s funny, I wrote a bio, like five or six years ago that was on my website that searched like polls to put on to like the press and there was this thing on drinking games on it and people started asking me about drinking games. I was trying to be funny and stupid in my bio ‘cause bio’s are lame all the time. And like, people thought I should be an authority on drinking games. So I said I really have to brush up on my drinking game memories, of which I have very few.
‘Cause you were drinking.
MW: Right, I was drunk when they happened so the retention was bad. I mean there are all sorts of weird things. Someone asked me if I was misogynist in Seattle and I was like “you think I’m misogynist because I say the word ‘bitc’h is used in (500) Day of Summer?” I was like if you think this movie is misogynistic then you need to get the fuck out of Seattle and get your ass into the real world.
Welcome to Hollywood.
MW: Yeah, bitch.
I recently watched the Sid and Nancy skit that you directed with Joseph and Zooey. How did that come up?
MW: Kashy from meanmagazine had this idea and it seemed so appropriate for the film and then we were like, “I think it will only work if Zooey plays Sid and Joe plays Nancy.” It just seemed like a cool idea. It was really more about, “how do you not do this idea?” after it’s been put out into the ether. It was just one of those things that just sort of worked out. And Joe and Zooey were like “I don’t know. Okay!” They were total sports. We just ended up doing it one morning and it was just sort of fun and goofy and some way to mess around. I don’t know we just had fun with it.
Was Joe excited that he got to keep his beard even though he had to wear a blond wig.
MW: Well we wanted him to shave but he couldn’t because he was doing Hesher and it was right before. We wanted to do it the more sort of straight drag, but it just didn’t work out. In a way, it works better with him.
I think it added to it. How did you decide to cast Zooey and Joe?
MW: Zooey. When you cast a movie like this, you can’t cast them individually, you have to cast the chemistry, you have to cast like a dynamic. And they’re people with whom Joe would work well with and there are people who Zooey would work well with, but you know, you have to sort of maximize that sort of chemistry. They had been in a movie called Manic, and I knew that they knew each other and I had met them individually first and it just felt like—okay let me talk about Joe first: Joe is, I haven’t seen “3rd Rock from the Sun” yet, but he had done, very drool indie movies that are sort of oppressively intellectual, but fantastic, like Brick, The Lookout, Mysterious Skin, I mean, he’s mind some pretty dark territory, but if you look at Mysterious Skin, he’s smiling a lot, which he hasn’t done in the last five or six years, and he has this sort of whimsical side to that character which I think is really compelling, and in a way that is as close to Tom as any role he’s done ever.
You got Tom out of Mysterious Skins?
MW: No, I justified it. You look at that movie and you look at this performance and he is a child looking at world with child’s eyes. With a youthful, sort of enthusiasm, and that is what is the same, and that’s what I saw was interesting.
MW: Zooey, is like, I think we all know Zooey from her work in movie, but also from, she’s not a fungible beauty, she has her own unique identity and there a lot of women who are female actress that sort of the hot thing on the cover of Maxim and that says a certain thing and that could be used in a certain way, but Zooey has just carved out her own path, which I think is really important to have in a movie like this where she’s playing this sort of fantasy in a way. Her presence exists even when she’s not on the screen, and she’s one of the only actress who can really pull that off in any sort of legitimate way.
I heard you never actually auditioned them together, what if you got them in front of the camera and it doesn’t work, you’re fucked?
MW: Well they were in Manic, but I’ll tell you why the other reason why I knew it would work because when I met Joe for the first time, we were talking about who could play Summer, there was a list of maybe, there was a short lists of maybes. When I was talking to Joe, we were saying “there’s this person, and this person” and then he’s like, “but the real person to play this is Zooey,” and he had this look in his eyes and it was like, there it is, I remember I got goose bumps, I am not kidding, I knew, you know and he got really depressed after he said that, he’s like Zooey’s the right person and then he’s like, [sigh] and just sort of deflated, and I’m like, “what’s is the problem,” and he said “well no one will ever make a movie with us.” That’s the credit to Searchlight for letting us have that. We cast Summer, we talked and they had a familiarity with each other, I mean it was completely clear, unless they were lying to me, in which case my problems are much bigger.
So what do you call this movie? A rom-com? Comedy? Coming of age story?
MW: That’s a tough one. I think, I was looking at it as a coming of age story masqueraded as a romantic comedy, right? We do use the rom-com set pieces, like there’s a wedding, there’s a wise little sister, there’s a karaoke scene, those are sort of more modern rom-com genre pieces, I mean, we wanted to use those, but arrive at a sort of different conclusion. I think, the first sort of 20-30 minutes of the movie were trying to play pretty strict pop movie politics, you know were trying to use that, that’s where the sister comes in, that’s where the karaoke stuff is in there and then we try to sort of gradually evolve into something a little more sophisticated. And that was sort of my objective when it came, you know, I didn’t know, obviously we’re playing with the rom-com genre, but it’s a movie that was written by guys, that was directed by a guy, and told by the perspective of a guy so, which is antithetical to most romantic comedies.
And women are loving it still, as much as the guys.
MW: Yeah, well, you know, I just wrote like a blog entry about this, you have to test films. It tested better with guys, I mean it tested really well with women, but with the guys—the guy testing numbers were unbelievable, it was like action numbers, which was shocking to everybody, but then you look at the back of it, and it’s just whole from the guys point of view, it’s almost as if, it really throws people for loop to have a romantic movie that’s funny, so hopefully that appeals to guys, there’s no real genre for it.
Honestly, did you ever get lost in the days when it’s going back and forth between the numbers?
MW: No, I had a scroll, I had a key. I wrote out a big linear, scroll, its like 25 feet long and it had all the days laid out in front of me. What I did was I went with the production designer and the costume designer and we planned out every single detail, where the scenes where, what the color palettes were for that, how it was going to evolve, when characters were going to wear t-shirts, when they were going to wear blazers, when there was more like brighter colors, when there was more muted colors. That was a way for me to sort of keep track of everything. I’ve been living with the script for a year, a little longer actually by the time we started making the movie so I do, it was sort of in my blood, it was burned into my brain. So it didn’t really confuse, there was, the only tricky thing was, there was a puma joke in the pita scene which original was, the date was before she told the puma story so we had to switch the date of that. Which was, that was sort of one thing that we got a little mixed up on, that we ended up fixing in the final product.
You shot this film in less than a month which seems absolutely insane, looking back, is there anything you wish you could have done given more time?
MW: Well, I would have liked to have spend more time, there was this scene that we put out, which was the “The Worst Morning Ever” and it’s the “Best Morning Ever” sequence with a Hall and Oates parade, we had a sort of alternate version of that where the cartoon bird takes a cartoon shit on Joe’s shoulder. (laughter) But we just spent so much time, dealing with the opening, I wanted to get that “Best Morning Ever” perfect and we ate into the second half of the day where we were supposed to do the other part. So that would have been nice to spend some more time on. And there were some other sequence that we ended up cutting out that we shot near the end of the movie but we didn’t need them, ultimately.
You just wanted them…
MW: I think that…yeah. Listen, it was, our movie was a small movie, and we had to play by certain rules and when you’re backed into a corner that’s where, I think, good ideas come from a lot of the time. I do not feel that we were undermined by our schedule, it was a tricky schedule. The AD may feel we were undermined a little bit. He did a fantastic job at putting that sort of house of cards together.
How did you work on the timing of the split screen, expectation reaction scenes?
MW: We did a lot of anima tics and, and we sort of cut it before we shot it. There’s a of credit that goes out to Joe and Zooey for being able to, okay you have four seconds to be happy, you have four seconds to shake hands, in two different ways expressing a sort of subtle difference. So it was a brutal regimen in terms of timing to make that work while having some sort of natural quality to it. The thing that I’m sort of most proud of, we were talking about think before, it’s not an exaggerated difference it’s a gradual subtle difference between two screens that eventually gets, I think more pronounced.
You say this is a small movie but whenever I see most first time writers and directors out of the gate, the go for something very safe. Did you ever think, “oh, I need to play it safe” or did you just say “If I’m going to make a movie, I’m going to make the best fucking movie that I can make.”
MW: It wasn’t quite strategic in that way. I was just looking for a script that I found interesting. This was the first one that I was like, it was just a cut thing, it was an intuitive thing. I read it and I was like, I get it. It’s also in a way, it was, the tone I was familiar with, there was a lot of things that happened there that I had done in music videos, or at least experimented with in music videos, so I was like I could do this, I knew this world a little bit. I also had some experiences in my own life, which I think we all have, probably, which I could get behind.
The funny thing, I’m sort of surprised that people’s reaction is that it’s so “off-beat.” I find this to be a total pop movie. I think it is, Scott and Michael, the writers and I all had this idea that we were going to do something accessible and fun and have something, a beat you can dance to sort of speak. We weren’t trying to re-invent anything, we just wanted to have a good time and make a movie that people would enjoy watching, and that was it. A lot of times romantic comedies in particular are obligated to a certain formula and in this genuine desire to talk about love they’re sort of undercut by this formula they are to adhere to and we just try to make it a little more real.
It’s funny because, I was saying, because it’s kind of so over the top, it actually isn’t cheesy. And that’s what I think makes it different from most romantic comedies that I find cheesy and unrealistic, is the fact you do break out into song and dance that I actually find to be, in a way, more real because that’s the way that you feel inside.
MW: You’re exactly right. I mean it was, our whole thing about the, these (quite the fancy) was that it has to be organic, it has to coming from a emotional reality. What we’re trying to sell this entire time it not the objective truth of the situation, we’re trying to get inside somebody’s head and see how it feels and that’s where everything comes from. That’s where the narrator thing, I mean he’s looking back on his experience, his life, he thinks of it in a storybook fashion, like he’s trying to impose a certain meaning on it. That’s what Scott was doing when he was trying to write this movie. He was like, it was his way to process a relationship that he had had and find some meaning in it. And that’s how he did it. He put it in to a movie, and gave it sort of book ends and he told, Michael Weber, and he put a narrator on it, ‘cause we would all love for our life story to have a narrator who’s got this voice of authority and is omniscient supposedly. And it allowed us to play around without cutting or sacrificing that emotional truth.
This was their first screenplay, this is your first feature length movie, was it hard to get this off the ground?
MW: You know it’s tricky you know, in terms of casting and in terms of convincing the studio. But I had done a lot of music videos, I had done like 95 music videos. I knew what it was to be on set. I also,knew some of the pitfalls of music videos early, stereotypes that music video directors are assigned and I tried to avoid those. I did a really elaborate presentation for the studio – this is how it’s going to look, this is where you are going to be feeling this, this is the motivation of the character — I mean I went through every possible conceivable detail. I wanted them to feel like it would be dumb for them not to make this movie. You know, I just tried to talk to actors, like when I met Joe for the first time, I wanted to talk about character rather than look, or visuals or aesthetics, try to like empathize with all the different people that were coming together to make this film. I think Scott and Michael just generated a script that people believed in or at least Searchlight did because no one else wanted me.
What would you do if this movie got nominated for an Oscar?
MW: I would eat a bug.
Can I film it?
MW: Ok. As long as I get to eat the bug, choose the bug.
Deal! You give a very different prospective LA than what we’re used to seeing. More of the history and architecture than the weather. Was that something that you set out, was that something that excited you about it, that you got to show this whole other side of LA?
MW: Absolutely. I’m not from LA but I’ve lived here for quite some time. I think LA, I mean there are great, 72 degrees, LA story is a great version of LA but that is not what we’re talking about it. Part of the Tom’s character was, he finds meaning and the beauty of the past. I mean that’s what he’s doing when he’s looking over his relationship, that’s what he’s doing with pop songs, and that’s what he’s doing with the architecture in Downtown. He’s sort of this nostalgic guy. And Downtown LA is the perfect place for that. When they were building Downtown LA it the beginning of the 20th Century, early 1900’s late 1800’s, you know, people had a lot of hope. You look at these buildings and they’re really incredible. The Palace of Fine Arts or The Alexandria, the Cranberry Building is a great example, built in 1893-1894 somewhere around there, its, they’re extraordinary. Listen, there’s a lot of affection in this movie, and the affection for Los Angeles is part of that.
Did you know what happened in-between the days that you didn’t show in the movie?
MW: We had sort of idea to what Summer was experiencing, which we never got access to through the film, Zooey had ideas about that. Very specific sort of projectory of her life that Tom wasn’t preview to so she could have some sort of architecture, some sort of basis, some sort of, something to hang her, her performance on.
Is there anything you hope that people walk out of the theaters feeling or thinking or anything like that. Is there any inspiration or anything you hope they walk away feeling?
MW: Scott Neustadter said this and I don’t know if it will work out of context, but the other day which I thought was really wise, “just when you think there’s no such thing as fate, or love… you realize there’s no such thing as no such thing. I like that.