Interview: 'Amazing Spider-Man' Director Marc Webb's Film History
by Alex Billington
July 3, 2012
From Beastmaster to Top Gun, 500 Days of Summer to Amazing Spider-Man, director Marc Webb is quite a unique filmmaker. Leaping quickly from the indie world to superheroes, Webb took on Spider-Man next and his new take—The Amazing Spider-Man—is out today. Given we've spoken with Marc a few times before—we interviewed him at WonderCon in March, for 500DOS a few years ago, and he blogged for us in '09—when I was given the opportunity to interview him again, I decided to mix it up and ask questions to give us a more complete look at the cinematic & personal history that went into creating this filmmaker.
My interview with Marc, conducted over the phone, covered a variety of fun topics regarding his favorite movies growing up, how he eventually became a director, his favorite comics, shooting preferences and more. You can still watch a more Spidey-focused interview with Marc at WonderCon in March. I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man quite a bit, but didn't love it (more in Sound Off). I was curious to hear about the influences that have gone into Marc's life to mold him into the visually striking director that he is. Have fun:
What was the first movie you saw in a theater, or the first movie you remember seeing?
Marc Webb: Empire Strikes Back. At the Golden Hill theater. Yeah, I believe that was the first one that I remember seeing. Sorry, it was at Westgate Theater.
You've got it right down to the theater?
Marc: Yep. I remember it. It was very provocative. I don't think I had seen Star Wars yet, so I was catching up. But it was still very mysterious and exciting to me.
In relation to this: What was your favorite movie as a kid growing up?
Marc: It depends on… when I was very, very young, when I was in like third or fourth grade, it was The Beastmaster starring Marc Singer. I had a poster of it on my wall. It was… My brother liked Conan the Barbarian, and Beastmaster was like my younger brother version of Conan the Barbarian. It's something that I could call my own but had some of the same elements.
So when we would rented VCRs, I would always ask my parents to rent… for our birthdays we would rent VCRs, which were a newfangled invention back then, and I would demand The Beastmaster. I was not as interested in Beastmaster 2, though.
Just the first one?
Unless this is the same thing, what movie in your life has had the biggest impact on you?
Marc: Hmm. I mean there's a few. I think in eight grade I saw Dead Poets Society and it made me feel things I didn't know I could feel in a movie. I think, you know, Top Gun. It really stirred me up in a specific way. Yeah, those are two big movies.
And then when I got to college I saw the Kieślowski movies like Red, Blue, White, and The Decalogue, and those had I think more of a transformative impact… I mean I watched those all the time and tried to study them. I was really— At that point in my life, I think I was really moved by that, for a variety of reasons.
What was the point, and if there was a movie or an event related to it, that sort of made you know you wanted to be a filmmaker? What did you hit or what happened?
Marc: I think when I was a kid… I actually remember this moment… you know, I wanted to be a fighter pilot, I wanted to be an archeologist, I wanted to be a poet. I figured out after a minute, I was like, "Wait, what am I going to do with my life?" And I always had these different sort of schizophrenic ideas of what I wanted to do. And I realized that it was only after I'd seen Indiana Jones, or Top Gun, or Dead Poets Society that I wanted to do these things. It was the movies that really moved me, not the jobs themselves.
And so I was like, "I guess the only way I'm going to be able to do all those things is by making movies, or being in movies." I didn't really know there were people who made movies at that point in my life. The "director" was a very abstract concept growing up in Madison, Wisconsin before the internet.
So, then, how did you become a filmmaker? Where did you go to college?
Marc: I went to Colorado College in Colorado Springs, as you know. The first day I was there, a guy named Dan Junge showed his movie. And I was transfixed by it. I thought it was the coolest thing. And Dan Junge had gone on to win an Academy Award for a documentary he made last year [Saving Face]. Something… My eyes opened a little bit. I had known about NYU, but the idea that you could make a movie at this little school in Colorado, and the idea that it became a little more possible at that moment. Something clicked. I was like, "Okay, this is what I want to do."
And then I went to study at NYU for a short period of time my junior year, and then I came out to LA and just made a decision one morning, I was like: "Alright, I'm going to direct whatever I can, and that's what I'm going to do with my life." I didn't have a B plan; I didn't know what else to do.
"Direct whatever you can" is a big opening into the world of film. How do you get from there to where we are with Spider-Man? Did you say "I want to direct something with a big budget" or indies or?
Marc: I don't think I thought of big or small. It's weird, my friend J.D. Walsh, who is an actor, and now he does a show called Battleground, he used to make fun of me because I loved Armageddon, but I also loved Krzysztof Kieślowski. I just loved the idea of visual storytelling.
I don't think I ever broke it down. I mean, I was moved equally by different kinds of films. I think oftentimes we're trained to look down on big movies because it's just easier to be cynical about Hollywood than it is to be cynical about independent films. But I think truly there's a level of craft that goes on in a lot of the Hollywood movies that's really very good. I mean, you look at any Spielberg movie, like Close Encounters or E.T. - the domestic dramas that are going on within those movies are just so good. Like the performances you get out of those kids, it's really genuinely extraordinary and as good as any indie small film. So, to me, it's not about big or small, it's about how good the story is.
Do you remember the first comic book you ever read or received?
Marc: I think the first comic I got was Robotech: The Macross Saga. It was given to me by Nathan Van Dyke, who was a friend of my family's; he was a kid a little younger than me that was really into comics. And then I started to get into Groo the Wanderer, and then I sort of expanded from there. I remember reading some ElfQuest when I was a kid, and then G.I. Joe, and then Spider-Man and some of the DC Comics.
What was your first introduction to Spider-Man? What was that like?
Marc: Well, I think I knew Spider-Man before I knew comics; I knew the image of Spider-Man from a pillowcase or something. Having traveled with this movie, you realize how profound and visceral the connection the symbol of Spider-Man is for kids. Like, they've never read a comic, they can't even read, but they love Spider-Man. There's just something liberating about that symbol and empowering. And I think I felt the same thing.
And then when you realize there's a kid underneath the suit, and the kid isn't a billionaire, he's not an alien, he's just a kid and he has to do chores, and he has a curfew, and he has all the same problems you do, it makes that connection that much more profound.
Do you have a favorite comic book or superhero character at this point?
Marc: I mean Spider-Man, obviously. I'm a bigger Spider-Man fan now than I was before I started. You know, listen, Groo the Wanderer, the 12 year old part of myself reading that guy thought he was the funniest, coolest… he's not a superhero, but I love that character. But yeah, Groo the Wanderer was a great one. But I mean, I like… there's so many heroes that I like. I love Iron Man and all those guys.
Do you remember who the first major actor or celebrity you met was, whether it was in your youth or working on any of these projects?
Marc: Bob Hope. I met Bob Hope in an airport in Northern Wisconsin. My family heard he was coming to town and we chased him down and shook his hand, which was great. He was making some appearance somewhere, so we hunted Bob Hope in Northern Wisconsin. So that was the first celebrity I ever met.
The first celebrity I loved was Burt Reynolds. I admired him so much that I got an autographed picture from him, which is kinda cool. And then, the first celebrity I worked with? I don't know. I mean, I worked with bands first and foremost. I guess Good Charlotte. They weren't really celebrities at the time.
Who, then, is your ultimate "want to work with" person at this point?
Marc: I want to work with Audrey Hepburn. I don't know how that's going to happen, but it's the God's honest truth. I think she was the greatest movie star to ever grace us.
What about alive, though, someone that you want in your next couple movies?
Marc: I think there's just so many actors and actresses that I admire. I love Michael Fassbender, Daniel Day Lewis. Emily Blunt I think is a genius. There's so many wonderful talents that… It just depends on the role, though. We're in a pretty good time for great actors, I think.
Definitely, especially Andrew Garfield in Amazing Spider-Man. I mean he's a perfect choice, does an excellent job. If anything, you needed to nail the cast, and I think you did.
Marc: Yeah, he's great. And Emma Stone is great. I feel like their chemistry is pretty magical. I was really happy with the way that turned out.
Me too. Next question: Are you afraid of spiders in real life?
Marc: Am I afraid of spiders? No. I've seen more spiders now. I'm sort of more aware of them, I guess. But no, I never had any particular fear of spiders. They bite me occasionally, but it's never been lethal… yet.
I just noticed you had a copious amount of spiders, the first shot of the movie is a spider. But hey, it works for the movie.
Marc: Yeah… I just wanted to do something to introduce the 3D, I guess.
Film or digital? Though we know you used digital in this because of 3D…
Marc: Because we shot on 3D we had to do it in digital. I love film. And I hope it doesn't go away anytime soon. I look forward to shooting more stuff on film. There's a texture to film, and a latitude on film, that you can't get any other way. There's just something very special about it. And I always prefer to shoot on it, to be totally honest. But when you're doing 3D, there's a different dynamic in the quality, the depth of the film, depth of the image that comes through in digital.
How exactly do you like to shoot? Multiple cameras, one camera? What is your setup?
Marc: It depends. I prefer to shoot one camera. I really rely on one camera. I sometimes don't put a second camera, and a lot of times in this movie we put a second camera because we were doing a lot of improv. But I try… I really just rely on a single camera because I like to create scenes that way. It's what I do with music videos all the time.
But then when you are doing action and you have a dangerous stunt, it's imperative that you minimize the risk to everybody, and that requires shooting on multiple cameras.
What, if you can recall, is the most memorable visual effect or special effect in any movie you've seen that left an impact on you?
Marc: Visual effect, ooh.
Yeah, like a sequence or some moment from a movie.
Marc: Yeah. You know what I always loved? And this may be controversial, but I think it was genius because it was so emotional, but -- the creation of Sandman in Spider-Man 3 [YouTube]. I thought that was just a brilliant piece of visual filmmaking. I really did. And I defy anybody… you know, say what you will about the movie, but that moment is spectacular. There's this moment when the locket falls out of his crumbling hand… It's just so beautiful.
Now I feel like revisiting the Raimi movies!
Marc: It's great. It's a really great moment; really, really great.
Where are you going next? Where is your career headed? More big budget studio features, more comic book, more sci-fi?
Marc: I don't know! I don't know… I like the adventure of all those things. And I had a really good time making Spider-Man. I think it'll just keep… I'm sure my career will be slightly schizophrenic, the way my career has been up to this point anyway, and I'm sure it will continue in that way. But the truth is, I don't know. I just want to go to a beach and have a glass of whiskey right now.
A big thank you to Marc Webb for his time and Sony/Columbia Pictures for arranging. I'm glad we got to catch up again on the eve of the release of his biggest project to date. The Amazing Spider-Man arrives in theaters this week, July 3rd, catch it in 3D or 2D at a theater near you! Once you've seen it: Sound Off.