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Marc Webb's 500 Days of Blogging #1 - Dudes in Love

by
June 24, 2009

Marc Webb's 500 Days of Blogging

I was skeptical. Last year after the second test screening of a rough cut for 500 Days of Summer – a rogue but fortunately very positive review popped up on the website, FirstShowing.net. It was so good, in fact, I thought it may have been written by someone involved with the movie which would have completely sucked any meaning out of the praise. I shot off an email to the host and that's how I first met Alex. Thankfully neither the reviewer nor Alex himself had any affiliation with our film. I'm here to change that. It turns out Alex grew up in Colorado Springs - the same city where I went to school at Colorado College.

He's since set up camp in LA, but the way I see it he's a hometown boy and his website supported my film - so when he asked if I was interested in doing a blog series for FirstShowing.net, I was happy to oblige. So here's the plan: Every few days up until the release of the film on July 17th – I'll try to write a new post. If you guys have any questions or ideas for subjects please email Alex and I'll see if I can cover it. Anyway, here's the first installment:

DUDES IN LOVE (but not, like, with each other)

It's a funny thing when a bunch of guys make a movie about love. I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the writers (Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber) and I wince a little when people refer to 500 Days of Summer as a Romantic Comedy. Especially when that's not exactly the most prestigious genre (especially for a group of young male filmmakers). But marketers, bloggers and even filmmakers need a short hand to describe their movies. So, hopefully, 500 is funny. And, hopefully, it's romantic. So there you go – 'Romantic Comedy' may actually be the best genre to shove us into.

But I can't stand romantic comedies.

Here's the thing- historically romcoms have a very particular, defined audience: women. I guess the rule of thumb goes something like this: Girls like romance. Guys like farts. And even though I, a dude, loved this project from the beginning – people seemed to talk about it like a romcom. It seemed inescapable. But whatever. The script was the script and HOW I was going to make the movie wasn't going to change by virtue of its label. It is what it is. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?

When I got ready to direct 500, I went about making a personal, very private justification for the romcom label by telling myself if you must make a 'romcom' you can't ask for a cooler cast. Joseph Gordon Levitt? He's a bad ass. And Zooey Deschanel? Well, Zooey is exactly as awesome as you imagine her to be: kind, funny, super intelligent, ridiculously talented and able to spit out anal-girl jokes with the best of them. She can also bake.

So as such I tried to make peace with my genre. And somewhere deep down, I came to terms with the possibility that girls might like 500 Days of Summer more than dudes. Fine. I'll deal with it.

So we shot the movie – and by the time we put our ducks in a row we all knew that our romcom had something cool going on. You could just feel it. And then, in October, something happened. We test screened the movie.

Now, before I get to October, indulge me for a second - I come from a long line of math geeks and I have a weird obsession with numbers. I love code books, statistics, graphs (the black and white Summer effect sequence in 500 is evidence of this). My brother's an engineer, my dad is in the math education business at the University of Wisconsin and my grandfather was a math professor at the University of Arizona. You can understand why I think numbers are cool. This is my excuse for embracing the test screening: you can quantify what people think of your movie. Sort of. I mean, test screenings can be a really cynical, fear inducing, misleading, soul crushing instrument that lets studio hacks disembowel auteurs and their sacred creative processes… but they can also reveal some pretty intriguing info. Our October test screening was just such an occasion.

It took place in Pasadena. These were the very first virgin eyes to check out our flick. And when we got our numbers back we were right – women liked 500 Days of Summer. It's a romantic comedy. No big surprise. But there was something else.

The dudes liked it too.

Not only did the dudes like it. The dudes liked it MORE than the women. The numbers for the women were great but the numbers for the guys were off the charts. They were on par with some very successful male driven action fare and hard edged comedies. For a romantic comedy? A romcom? What the fuck?

If that sounds bizarre - it is. It's downright strange. In fact, one of our senior execs at Searchlight said she's never seen it happen. Ever. Not once. And she's been making movies for over 20 years.

Listen – this is a high class problem. Don't get me wrong. And it retrospect it kind of makes sense. It's a movie made by dudes. The director is a dude. It was written by two dudes and told from the perspective of yet another dude. The producer, Mason Novick, is a total dude. Eric Steelberg, the cinematographer, also a dude. I mean, list goes on. Dudes everywhere. And we all made it – certainly not because of the money - but because we dug the story. But it is a problem in that you have to figure out how to sell a movie that everyone assumes is a romantic comedy to guys.

How do you get dudes to see it?

One of our hurdles to getting this movie out there is making sure guys know it's okay for them to like it. It's really hard to cut a dude-friendly trailer when prime-time outlets won't let you say "anal girl" or "blow job" and you don't have a scene set at the UFC. You drop the word "love" with any earnestness and your slapped with the rom-com label.

I got to say, I think Fox Searchlight has handled this really well. (Have I said how much I like those guys lately? I do.) They're downright smart. In fact they're the smartest in the business. Especially with this kind of movie. That's why they rely on the internet. And that's why they rely on word of mouth (so people can convey the nuance that trailers cannot). And that's why they rely on blogs (many of which, like this one, are also run by dudes). And that's why I'm writing a whole blog aimed at dudes.

But I still think something is missing.

I went back to my first notes on the script and read some chicken scratches that addressed the "genre problem" way back before we had even started shooting. Back then I pitched 500 Days of Summer as a coming of age story masquerading as a romantic comedy. And that's really what it is. But that doesn't really fit on the poster. We need a meme. A brief, pitchable label that describes this kind of male-driven romantic kind of movie that we hope to be. Bromantic Comedy? Coming of age story? Dramantic Comedy? Indie Relationship Comedy? I don't know. Help me out here. We need some tips! What do you think?

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  • crumb
    This has two of my favorite actors and I really want to see this - but I swear to god if I see "Bromantic Comedy" on a poster, i'll never ever see this film. I'll burn that poster, too! I think you should avoid labels. But if you MUST label it, and this is coming from a dude that has yet to see the movie, i'd say... Two attractive, funny people live life. Okay. I'm no marketer.
  • David
    About time! I was just thinking about why there weren't romantic movies aimed at men, since it obviously takes two people to be in love. I thought I had discovered a new genre, but i'm also happy that someone is actually putting it on the screen.
  • David
    oh yeah if you do call it a bromantic comedy i won't see it either.
  • vyperstryke
    I agree with crumb, stay away from labels if you can. Simply state it's a dude flick. That is how Beautiful Girls is described and that worked well. A Y chromosome driven romcom you (or your date) won't want to miss!
  • Scott
    If anything, it seems like is a "dramedy about life and love", but that's about all I got.
  • http://500days.com Marc
    I'm so surprised this movie gets an even stronger reaction from men over women. It appeals to many different audiences so well and the girls I saw the film with loved it as much as the guys. A pitchable label? That's tough but I agree with staying away from bromantic comedy. I guess it's really a story about the "other side of love" which you don't normally see. Really looking forward to the rest of Marc's posts here!
  • http://www.ioncinema.com iheartsubtitles
    Hey Marc - I was sitting in the same row as Sir Alex Billington in PCity. I think we were 6 critics who gave the film 12 thumbs up - why you so worried? Congrats! and enjoy the wve of accolades coming your way. Here's my pitch: I had this poster hanging in my room from 1988 to 91. http://animals.timduru.org/dirlist/dolphin/MoviePoster-LeGrandBleu-Dolphins-Net-Flight.jpg When Luc Besson made the poster for Le Grand Bleu - the tagline he used was: "N'y allez pas, ça dure trois heures!"...literal translation: "Don't go, it lasts 3 Hours". I don't see many taglines that provoke and are bluntly honest in the same measure. Instead a whole bunch of marketers look for cool double innuendoes that common moviegoers forget 3 seconds after having read it. Go for something that both represents and dares the testosterone crowd to see it. "No Boobs, No Blood, No Blow" "Tell them you went to the Football Game instead" "Attention Bros: Your Feelings Might Get Hurt" "Cleanse yourself afterwards by seeing Die Hard again" (Note: 20th Century title - tough guy mantra)
  • dexter
    Its simple...We all will see this movie because we are fed up of CGI generated movies where the characters are made of scrap metals and out here destroying half of the wonders of the world. I think we can all do with two wonderful actors - living in real world, feeling what we can all feel and relate to.
  • http://www.thedvdlounge.com Travis
    Last night, I attended the first screening of "Summer" in Houston. I must say that it lived up to my expectations. As someone who has already seen "The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" and "The Proposal", it was nice to see a relationship movie for a change. Earlier this year at SXSW in Austin I got to chat with Marc, Joseph, and Zooey in between junket sessions and I got the impression that "Summer" would be a film that would get strong word of mouth. With four more screenings in Houston to go before its release in late July, I'm sure I'll see it again. Besides, anyone who can reference the works of Bergman and make it work in the context of the film, well that's a win-win right there.
  • Eric
    I've been following "Summer" since Alex first posted about it. This Friday, a bunch of us (2 guys, 2 girls) are headed to the screening at the LA Film Festival. When it was announced as an additional screening we pounced on the idea that we could see the film we had been waiting for so long for. Now reading this, i just can't wait till i get into the theater and see the magic that they have created.
  • David R
    I've been keeping an eye on 500 Days since it first came up on here, and boy has it stayed on my radar, every drop of news gets me more excited to see it, more excited in fact then my ex girlfriend (I introduced her to this movie and we were planning on seeing it together). I am very much a dude, And I very much can't wait to see this.
  • Bogart
    My brain gently quivers with anticipation at finally getting to see this film... it's been on my radar for quite some time (gracias Alex). As for a defining genre... hmmm... how about the 'Real Love genre'.... or 'a Love Comedy - n.b. not a Romantic Comedy'
  • Paul W
    The problem is RomCom = Chick Flick. SO- I'm fairly certain this won't be marketable and whilst this might not appeal to the right demographic (who on reflection may be who you're after), it may also not convey the tone of the film. But here goes. The 'not thinking with your dick' flick. I'm not going to patronise with my explanation, but I tested this line 'in the field' and it always get's a laugh. Anyway- ditto to the above about looking forward to seeing this, but I'm in the UK and will no doubt have to wait a little longer.
  • http://www.myspace.com/wemetinpizzeria lauryn
    marc, you're awesome. i can't wait for film! anyway, i can't think of some witty genre/label to give 500 Days but i'm thinkin' you could say some shit like ~eternal sunshine meets something else~ or is that sort of... annoying? i dunno, dude. to paul w - i'm from ireland, so i'll have to wait a while too. argh.
  • http://www.kashifpasta.com Kashif P
    I guess this is the best way to get read by you, Mr. Webb, and let me just say that honestly, as a 17-year old (straight) male filmmaker, just the *trailers* and marketing for this film is already making it one of those films that makes me really want to keep going in my chosen field, and tells me that every movie HASN'T been made yet. It may surprise you but I can't think of a movie I'm looking forward to more this Summer. So again, 17 year old guy from Vancouver. Why do I want to watch it? This may help you. (in no order) 1. Fox Searchlight. They really do have a reputation for the best live action films. Ironic how much I love them since I've spent most of my life growing up being vilified by Fox NEWS (I'm Muslim), but as John Lasseter says, "quality is the best business plan" 2. The cast. I need not elaborate, but I love both your leads in general - seeing them both together excites me 3. Writing. It all seems pretty original and fun, and, as you said, pretty non-standard. I've grown up with older sisters. I could outline a typical rom-com for you in an hour. 4. Style. This goes hand-in-hand with the writing, but the visual style fascinates me. How the sets and costumes all seem to just... match. It's like you've created a whole world for the story to live in, adding to the originality I also love the concept behind "iheartsubtitles" ideas above - it worked for all the Lemony Snicket books too - pretty much tell dudes not to go to it while hinting that they'll love it at the same time. I'd also focus on some of the really cool visual/storytelling aspects of it. You're in great hands with Fox Searchlight, and the current rounds of word-of-mouth+clips seems to be working for me at the very least.
  • Ken
    Saw a free screening. Loved it. Will see it again in theaters. Will buy the dvd and soundtrack. Great job.
  • leftcoastjane
    "Tell 'em you have to go, for your girlfriend."
  • Jamie
    Congrats Marc on your first movie. Personally (being female) I like romantic comedies, not that I have anyone to watch them with. Then again I love action movies too. As for a genre I like who ever suggested it as a dramadie. Otherwise I think of it as a movie to bring a date to. Good to see alone, better with a date? Maybe I pose this question to all male geeks I game with.
  • S
    I'm happening on this a bit late - but, I have to say, as a female who loathes romantic comedies, there is something about this film that strangely appeals to me. Part of it has to do with the casting choice and part of it has to do with the music infusion in the film (your trailer has them singing The Smiths, I mean c'mon!). However, that isn't enough to make me want to see a film, and yet, I find myself strangely wanting to see this one. Perhaps this is due to that bizarre "dude" phenomenon that occurred at your screen test; perhaps your film has a sort of... "High Fidelity" appeal, who knows? As far as genre plugging goes, for your film - what's wrong with just plain "comedy"? I mean, think about it - all great comedies have drama infused into them (they have to, or else where would the humour come in?), and some comedies have a romantic side story. Take of my ill-thought out and ill-planned comment what you will, but as the anti-romance girl, I have to say good job on making a film of this caliber that has peaked my interest.
  • masoner
    Dick Flick?
  • Kent Boyer
    Mark - I just watched the bank heist dance video. These two have this hot chemistry that is unmistakable - I hope the three of you do more projects together. I loved the movie and the Twist and Shout scene is unbelievably joyful and and fun and uplifting. Congratulations (and to Zooey and Gordon) on one of my favorite movies for a long long time.
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