Marc Webb's 500 Days of Blogging #1 - Dudes in Love
by Marc Webb
June 24, 2009
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?