Exclusive Interview: Director Marc Webb on (500) DAYS OF SUMMER

     July 16, 2009


After you see “(500) Days of Summer”, you’ll understand why director Marc Webb is about to break out in a big way.  He’s provides the film with an unbridled creativity that never feels too abrasive or unnecessarily draws attention to itself.  I recently had the opportunity to speak with him about how he approached this unconventional romantic comedy, what it was like taking the film to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, his plans for the film’s DVD, and his upcoming film “The Spectacular Now”.  Hit the jump to read the full interview.

This is an unconventional romantic comedy and I was wondering if you feel that the way you get to an honest romantic story is to come at it unconventionally.

MARC WEBB: Well, it’s funny because, it’s yes and no.  When we started making this movie, we wanted to work within and with people’s expectations.  We figure some people are going to go in there expecting a romantic comedy.  We used a lot of those romantic-comedy clichés like the wise-little-sister, the karaoke scenes, and wanted to play them in an honest way and arrive at an honest conclusion.  As a disclaimer, I hope that the audiences goes into it thinking that it will be conventional. In terms of its approach, because they know up front (because of the little note at the beginning) that something’s a little bit off, they’re more willing to engage the film on its own terms rather than just a romantic comedy.  And hopefully that makes it more satisfying.

While the film comes to a conclusion that happiness lies within, but do you believe that on the road there you have to go through the vanity of love and the heartbreak to arrive there?

WEBB:  Well there are different ways to go about it.  I know for me personally and other people I know, whether or not they think about it in those terms, I don’t know, but I do know you have to go through-it’s easy to think of love as a way out.  I always remembered that when I saw people get married they got on a rocketship and went to Planet Happiness, Population: Them.  And you’re not really a part of it.  That’s just a false notion.  That “Happily Ever After” is a great way to tell stories when you’re young but eventually it loses its meaning because it’s just not true.  And that doesn’t make love less meaningful.  You just have to go through a process. It’s a coming-of-age thing.  You have to find your sort of mojo with the truth.

500_days_of_summer_movie_image_joeseph_gordon_levit_and_zooey_deschanel.jpgHow was it bringing the film to Sundance and what was that experience like?

WEBB:  It was a little nerve-racking.  It was the first time an audience of that size had seen it and you hope it works.  But Sundance is a really special place.  They’re very protective of movies, especially lower-budget movies like our film.  And Jeff Gilmore, who was running Sundance at the time, was really supportive of our movie, and so that felt warm.  And I had been a volunteer at Sundance when I was in college so it was an extra-special moment.  It’s funny: they had to add an extra screening at the end of the week because it was so popular.  It was a really great way to kick off the movie.  I couldn’t have asked for a better reception.  Plus, Sundance is just fun.

What plans do you have for the DVD?

WEBB:  We have some documentaries, some deleted scenes, and some commentaries and special idioms and the layout is really cool.  I’m actually supposed to look at some of the DVD docs later today.  It should be a really cool DVD.

Is there going to be an Easter Egg where you can watch the film in chronological order?

WEBB: Oooh!  Is that a request?  Actually, given the space, we might be able to do that on the Blu-Ray.  We actually cut it in order one time but it doesn’t really work.

I just bring it up because on the “Memento” DVD there’s an Easter Egg where you can watch the film in chronological order but it doesn’t work that well either.

500_days_of_summer_movie_image_joeseph_gordon_levit_and_zooey_deschanel__1_l.jpgWEBB: Yeah, Michael [Weber] and Scott [Neustadter] wrote [(500) Days of Summer] a certain way for a reason.

And I was actually wondering that since they wrote it that way, how much leeway did you have once you were in the editing room in trying to organize it?

WEBB: Well, I tried to shoot it in a way that limited my flexibility on this.  I wanted to commit to a certain structure.  We did some tweaks and a few movements of scenes but by and large, you see it the way it was written.  People make the mistake that it’s sort of a modular movie where you can slip and slide the blocks but it’s not.  There’s an emotional continuity.  For example, after the Hall and Oates sequence, he goes into the elevator and then you flash-forward to 200 Days and the doors open and we tried to blend as many of the motivated time-shifts as possible, to suck out the arbitrariness of the jumps.  At the end of the day, we were pretty loyal to what we had.  I think what’s really good about the editing of it is the pace of it.  And that’s where Alan [Edward Ball] really contributed. That, and I know there were a lot of effects they handled.  That’s sort of where we flexed the editorial-muscle.

When you read the script, did you feel that this was a good fit for you as your debut feature?

500_days_of_summer_movie_poster_01.jpgWEBB: The structure wasn’t as meaningful to me as much as the tone and what it was talking about.  My first reaction to it was I felt that it was honest.  I felt like I had been through something like this before and I walked out of it NOT feeling cynical which is how you would expect to walk out of that experience but how you would hope to walk of it which is hopeful and engaged.  That was my personal experience.  And then the other part of it was that it was obviously a very playful script and there was the Hall and Oates stuff and some cartoon stuff and the narrator and the chronology was a big part of that but in my music videos I had played around with some of the same ideas so I felt like I was suited to do that.  I also knew it was a low-budget movie and more technical directors tend to work on bigger-budget films so I felt like I had an advantage because with music videos, especially recently, you don’t really have a lot of money.  So I knew how to do this effectively and efficiently.

I heard you’re now working on a film called “The Spectacular Now”.  Is that another film that’s unconventional?

WEBB: No, it’s more traditional comedy-drama.  Structurally, we play around a little bit but it’s much more restrained.  It’s more about the character’s experience and we’re wary of being too trick-oriented.  So we wanted to find a simple, honest through-line.  So there’s a couple games we play but it’s pretty straight-forward in terms of its construction.

Do you know when you plan to shoot that?

WEBB:  I’m not sure.  We’re just starting to turn the script into the studios.

“(500) Days of Summer” hits select theatres on July 17th and will expand across the U.S. over the next few weeks.

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