Interview: Marc Webb Talks 500 Days of Summer, Cheesy vs. Lame, Zooey, and Sundance

I recently sat down with director Marc Webb to discuss 500 Days of Summer, what "indie" actually means, and how hard we can expect Marc's film to trounce Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this weekend.

Laremy Legel: This film reminds me a little bit of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with the use of non-linear time and intimate close-ups.

Marc Webb: I think that film is brilliant. It's not as serious as Eternal Sunshine but we talk about the nature of memory a little bit, how you remember things a certain way. These are delusions of grandeur, I acknowledge that, but Annie Hall was more of a model for us than Eternal Sunshine was. Or Two for the the Road which is also told out of order, but really based on two people having these experiences.

LL: There's a split screen scene in this movie that's one of the best things I've seen this year. What inspired you to throw that in?

MW: There were split screens in Annie Hall, in the therapy sessions, to compare and contrast one person's point of view. There were split screens in the original script and then I pitched a split screen title sequence. I'd done a couple of music videos with split screens, played around, and it's a fun tool to use. Scott Weber came up with the idea of expectations vs. reality. It's great conceptually but to pull it off was a different story. We worked it out, and it's a big testament to Joe and Zooey because they were on a clock. It was heavily storyboarded out, it was a really technical sequence. It was a huge sigh of relief when we showed it at Sundance and people actually understood what was going on. But it's a visual embodiment of the theme. This is the world we expect, but this is the world we encounter.

LL: Is Zooey's strength keeping an audience comfortably off-balance? She seems to gravitate towards these off-kilter characters who are also safe to be around ...

MW: Yeah, like she's not dangerous. She's not cruel either. What she does, which is really great, is that she refuses to fake it. If there's a line that she doesn't feel, she'll find something else that she does feel. It can be terrifying for a director but it actually works because she's always alive and in the moment. I really planned the movie out with Joseph and blocked the scenes and the arcs for the characters, so I really had a firm post. Then Zooey came in and wanted to discover it in the moment. You really feel like she's discovering the lines. You can see the information coming into her brain. It's so inviting.

LL: We recently ran an article about sincerity in film making a comeback. Not a sequel, no explosions, just a good story ...

MW: I think it's coming back, absolutely. There was an age of irony in the '90s because we needed it. Because earnestness can ferment into sentimentality. It can become really cynical because people are pushing something they don't believe in, where they pull your heartstrings because they know the cords that will do that. So people were digging into that. But I don't think I could do that. You have to be funny, you have to keep an audience entertained.

But one of my life philosophies is that you have a choice to make when you're doing something creative. You can be cheesy ... or you can be lame. It's one of the two. Lame people are too cool for school, they don't like anything, the Williamsburg Vegan Blogger society. And then there's the people who are a little cheesy, they get choked up in movies. They both need to exist. Everybody's part of the greater whole and skepticism and virtue are a part of that. But between cheesy and lame I choose cheesy. Those were the movies that moved me when I was growing up.

LL: You guys open against Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. How bad are you going to crush that film financially?

MW: Oh, completely. They moved forward two days because they were terrified of 500 Days of Summer. I think we're at like 16 theaters so they better watch out (Editor's note: actually, you're up to 27 now!).

LL: How has your festival experience been? And what do you make of the current state of indie film?

MW: Well, I think indie can be sort of a fake word. No one knows what it means, like post-modern, it's a very ambiguous term, and indie has become an aesthetic rather than a financial thing.

src="" alt="500 Days of Summer" width="279" height="186" align="left" hspace="6"/>LL: It's almost as if indie means "character driven movie."

MW: Yeah, I think you're right. But Sundance was a really cool thing. Joe and Zooey had been there a lot, and I was a volunteer at Sundance when I was in college. So it was a special thing for me. The festival circuit, the culture of festivals, it's really cool when you start seeing some of the same filmmakers. You can't underestimate how important that can be for a film. It's a little bit tricky because movies get pirated and having that much access to them before they are released can be damaging ... but it creates buzz; it's a really important component.

LL: And you guys can't spend $50 million in marketing like a few other summer movies.

MW: Yeah, we can't compete there. So it's been really important for us, whether or not we're indie is up for debate. We're a small movie, that's for sure. We don't have huge stars that are household names.

LL: Though they should be ...

MW: Yeah, hopefully we'll push them a little bit. They are great actors, and that sort of credibility is important in the festival circuit though it's not as important with the mass market.

LL: Quick random aside, what's your favorite food?

MW: Hmmm, I don't know if I have a favorite food. Pumpkin ravioli? That's something I order. There's a restaurant down the street from me in Los Angeles that I get pumpkin ravioli at that I really like.

LL: That's a controversial choice.

MW: Really? Well, fish tacos are good too. But pumpkin ravioli is good. Has a little cinnamon on it ...

LL: You mentioned to FilmSchoolRejects that you were an Amelie fan. Given that 500 Days is far different visually, is that still a place you can see your career going?

MW: Jeunet has such supreme control over the world he creates in terms of design and color and characterizations, it's very thought out. I'm in awe of that, frankly. We were in control of the color pallettes, we were in control of everything, but we weren't as vigilant as he was. I don't know, I'm not aspiring to be Jeunet. It depends on the movie.

LL I just wonder if directors see a film and think "I'm going to do that."

MW: There's elements of that. But it's never like you want to repeat something. Certainly you're influenced. Amelie is a good example of how you use colors. Green and red. We stripped down the primary colors, so it was a similar language. Not the same words, but a similar language.

LL: What did you see Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that you thought "This is the guy"?

MW: Mysterious Skin. He's playing a male prostitute but he's such a light-hearted guy, he's got such joy in him, but he really feels alive and engaging. When Joe smiles you feel like you've earned something. But that's the closest role even though it sounds weird. It's not an easy movie, but it's a good movie.

Check out the release schedule for 500 Days of Summer to see when it will be coming to your area!