SXSW: In the vaults from indie-filmmaker to tentpole blockbusting director, Marc Webb took one of the biggest jumps in recent memory. He started his feature-length filmmaking career with 2009’s inventive and quirky “(500) Days Of Summer” and then made the quantum leap to “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
He’s had a taste for big-budget filmmaking, is back for more and will even direct the third ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ movie. But next on the horizon is chapter two, which hits theaters this May. While Webb is still practically in disbelief he got the ‘Spider-Man’ directing gig, the filmmaker sounds like not only is he enjoy the job, but he’s fully embracing everything big about making would-be four-quadrant moviemaking. Webb spoke at SXSW yesterday about the upcoming “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” his career overall and much more. And while his comic-book movies have a lot of visual fireworks, the filmmaker wants to assure you it’s about the heart and soul of actors. “It’s about creating an environment and letting the technique take a back seat to the performance,” he said of For me movies are a social experience, you want to feel what the characters feel.”
Oh, and he wants fans to know: Sony and he are aware, you’re concerned ‘ASM2’ has too many villains, but you need to trust their long-tail plan. Here’s highlights from the conversation below.
The concern from fans that ‘ASM2’—like Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3”—could suffer from bad guy-overkill.
“It’s about writing. We’re aware of those movies and the complaints people had. The main villain is Electro. Every other villain emerges around that. We were careful to make sure the stories entertained. You had to make sure to create obstacles that were difficult to overcome. We wanted to make the physical and emotional obstacles difficult. Rhino is in it for four minutes so it’s a legitimate comparison, but when you see the movie, I’m confident.”
To that end, Webb revealed that the Rhino is only in the movie for four minutes. So while a lot of villains may appear in ‘ASM2,’ it might only be quick cameos to set them up for other movies.
The art of convincing people sincerely is all-important in getting what you want, especially if you want to use expensive music.
“When I moved to LA, I worked for a guy who had made a film called ‘Hype.’ And he had all of these super obscure Seattle bands but he also had Nirvana and he had Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. And it was a small little documentary. He had to get the rights to all that music. I remember seeing the cue sheets and the incredibly complex process to get the rights. So when ‘500 Days of Summer’ came around I had ideas about incorporating The Smiths and there were artists who were smaller and easier to have access. But it was such an important part of that character. So I wrote a lot of letters and wrote a lot of appeals. Fortunately, it’s really important to the identity of the film.”
Webb still can’t believe he got the ‘Spider-Man’ gig to begin with, and he had to wrestle with the decision initially.
“It was the stupidest idea I had ever heard. [Sony chief] Amy Pascal brought it up to me and I thought it was crazy! But of course I was a Spider-Man fan, but more of Peter Parker. It was a tricky time. I had just finished ‘500 Days of Summer.’ I didn’t know what to do next. And those movies, which are really sacred to people, weren’t that old. They gave me a script I didn’t like. And Amy said, “You can’t turn down Spider-Man.” And she was right. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. But to build that up, it was an adventure. Not only being a fan of Spider-Man is one thing but I was really curious about the process and work with people who were up-and-coming like Andrew Garfield but also Sally Field. The opportunities were extraordinary. I’d wake up every day and think about what I’d done right in a past life.”
Looking back on “The Amazing Spider-Man” and what he could have improved.
“In the first movie I was a little too reserved with the CGI, quite frankly, because I didn’t want it to look too weird or awkward. There was a moment deep in the production process where a giant lizard smashes through a wall and I was like, ‘This is not grounded.’ And I made a decision that in the next movie I would embrace the spectacle and not be beholden to smallness. Not to reject the emotional stuff but I wanted it to be big and express and command that feeling you had as a kid reading the comics—that color and that bravado. I think in the second movie we’ve really maintained the grounded, emotional texture and combined it with spectacle.”
Finding the emotionally and personal center in a big canvas—just like videogames.
“When video games started, it was a big slate. Those games, you could see the entire universe you were playing in. Your experience was more abstract. And then there was ‘Pitfall’ and then there was ‘Super Mario Bros,’ where the game play was that big thing but you closed in the space. So you could only reveal what was directly around that character. And when that happened, video game sales skyrocket. And it wasn’t because of the complexity of the game but because the experience was more emotional and personal. Then first person shooters came around and you were literally in the point of view of that character, and video game sales jumped up again. In the first Spider-Man there was literally point-of-view and you wanted to make the audience connect. That’s always a guideline for me. All of that is about rending the inner life and thought process of the characters on screen.”
The amazing cast of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
“You see the call sheet in the morning and it’s crazy. It’s so much fun. You get to work with these actors who really enjoy what they do. It’s a really wonderful environment to make a film in because these are actors who are operating at exceptional talent. The reason I cast Paul Giamatti was that I saw him on Conan O’Brien saying that he wanted to play the Rhino. And I said, ‘Oh what a great idea!’ And of course Jamie Foxx is so brilliant and you know him from these incredible dramatic roles but he has this huge capacity for comedy and inventing characters.”
Coming from the world of music videos, music is extremely important to Webb.
“I worked with Hans Zimmer, who’s a brilliant composer, and one of the reasons I wanted to use him this time was because I wanted to work with a composer but also a contemporary artist because I wanted Peter Parker to live in a world we know. I told that to Hans and Hans was like, ‘I have the perfect person.’ I know Pharrell and he would be perfect. I said, ‘That’s amazing! Of course!’ So I was super excited about that. And he said, ‘I have another person – Johnny Marr from The Smiths!’ Then he brought in Mike Einzing, another brilliant guitarist and Junkie XL, who is a DJ. When you go to Hans’ studio there are 15 people milling around and he’s in the center like the ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ We were trying to come up with a theme for Electro. He’s the main villain, played by Jamie Foxx. As you might guess, he’s made of electricity. So we have to embrace the electronic nature of this guy. I wanted to make Skrillex retire when he hears this. Then Hans shows me a 17th century aria. What Hans was tracking is the song is about a cold demon that is being summoned from the winter, against its will. He’s singing about wanting to return to the cold. What’s great about the aria is the cadence is a shiver. And that, for Hans, was like being electrocuted. So that became the foundation for the electric pulse of the theme. It was very different than the rave I had in my head.”
“One of those pieces I listened to was the soundtrack of “Suspiria.” [Johnny Marr] had aligned it with the image of plasma globes. He clocked into that. There’s a part of that music that he loved.”
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opens on May 2.