Marc Webb's 500 Days of Blogging #3 - Internet Wormholes
by Marc Webb
July 20, 2009
Hey guys! Sorry it's been a minute since my last blog. Its been a very crazy few weeks preparing for 500 Days of Summer to come out. There are screenings all over the country, Q&A's, interviews and all sorts of hoopla that go on non-stop. This kind of smaller movie requires a lot of personal attention to replace the big billboards and commercials of our big studio brethren. There's a lot to process and so far the response has been pretty warm. Now that the movie's starting to get out there (stretching further and further into new markets in the coming weeks - click here for release details) I finally have a minute to hit my belated blog.
One of the oddly time consuming (and totally neurotic) activities that Scott and I indulge in is the internet scan. A cycle between search engines of various types fueled but a strange blend of curiosity, fear, hope, self loathing and vanity. Chances are if you wrote the words "500 Days" and posted it anywhere on the internet either Scott Neustadter, Michael Weber or I have read it. Google blog alerts, Twitter searches, Rotten Tomatoes – the internet is our library. And if we were more mature and took the advice of those much wiser, we wouldn't do it.
Of course, we still do.
We read EVERYTHING. And most younger filmmakers I know do the same. It's both exhilarating and maddening. Sometimes you want to pat someone on the back and sometimes you want to punch someone in the face. But at the end of the day – it's just too enticing to go down the 500 Days of Summer internet wormhole. (What people reveal on Twitter is amazing - I know exactly who stole the poster from the Union Square theater.)
But I would argue, in order to do this – you have to have some sort of emotional cover. Something that allows you to take the good with the bad. In order to adequately express this armor (which I think is invaluable when you're in a profession where you're constantly judged by massive quantities of people who you don't know) I have to start by a piece of writing I read right after I graduated from college.
There's a short story – well, more of an essay really, by Jorge Luis Borges called the Library of Babel. It's maybe 10 or 12 pages and though it was written long before the internet – it's always seemed to be its best metaphor. As Borges tells it, "The Library of Babel" is a series of chambers spreading in all directions – up and down, North, South, East and West – as far as anyone can ever walk. No one has ever found its end.
Each chamber is lined with books containing every conceivable combination of letters and punctuation. But here's the thing… most of these books don't make sense. They're filled with this random collection of letters. HOWEVER, because no two books are the same and the library extends (perhaps) infinitely – somewhere every text that is able to be written HAS been written. Somewhere. You can find a bible where Jesus is named "Hank" and drives an AMC Pacer or plays center for The Pistons. You can find all the Harry Potter books written backwards. Theoretically, they're all there. Theoretically. You can find whatever you want to find. The truth is subjective. There's no such thing as the authoritative voice.
So what's the point of this? Well, firstly, humans should read more Borges. He's the shit. And secondly, you can find whatever you want to find on the internet. Whatever idiosyncratic view of a movie, of the world, of politics, of religion you have – the internet will both challenge and support it.
I always have this going on in the back of my head when looking at reviews (I read them all) and Twitter feeds and blog searches. And certainly there's ways of quantifying trends that Borges' “imperfect librarian” didn't have (like Rotten Tomatoes and Per Screen Averages). You genuinely can get a lot out of this – you can get in touch with a segment of your audience and sense what's important to people (at least people who are active internet users). But it can also confuse and confound, I suppose.
So you have to keep that distance.
At the end of the day, any empirical measurement of artistic quality falls a little short. What is really important and what is absolutely unique to each person (director, writer, critic, audience member) is what they're looking for. Sometimes we're looking for approval sometimes we're looking to laugh, sometimes we're looking to champion an underdog and sometimes we're looking to define ourselves by rejecting something that offends us. There's always something underneath the surface.
And that's what's most interesting about reading all the reviews, blogs, Twitters etc. is imagining what it is from their life that makes them come to this conclusion about our film. Point of view is everything. It's at the heart of 500 Days of Summer – the idea that perception is a relative thing. Ultimately what's more important than the quality of any movie – is WHY you think the movie is good. Or bad. Or honest. Or trite. And what about you makes you feel that way.
So that's the armor. That's how I try to process it – you take the good with the bad and try to figure out why it stings to see one thing and why it feels good to see something else. Book, review, movie Tweet or whatever. It's probably a little crazy but so far it works for me. Now go read some Borges! He's awesome!