Few filmmakers in recent memory experienced quite the ascent Marc Webb did when he was handed the reins to Sony’s “Spider-Man” franchise with only one feature credit under his belt (the breakout Sundance smash “(500) Days of Summer”). The studio’s gamble paid off. Webb’s Spidey reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” earned a whopping $750 million at the worldwide box-office, spawning this summer’s sequel, which Webb again directed.
With “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” set to open wide May 2, Webb dropped by the SXSW Film Festival to take part in the event’s first Keynote, moderated by writer Logan Hill (GQ, Rolling Stone). During the candid hour-long chat, Webb gave aspiring filmmakers in the audience advice on how to get started, talked about his crazy rise and dished on what fans can expect from his “Spider-Man” sequel. Below are the highlights.
Working on music videos allowed Webb to flex his directorial muscles.
Before embarking on a career as a feature filmmaker, Webb established one as a music video director, shooting for big names like Green Day and Maroon 5. He revealed that he was “forbidden” from watching videos growing up.” (“I was starved as a child, visually.”) Once in his twenties, he started watching “hundreds” of music videos to study them. “I wanted to try to understand why those videos made me feel a certain way,” he said. “In a way, it was an abstract deconstruction of videos. That was a really valuable time.”
Webb said he learned invaluable lessons as a filmmaker, by “writing treatments, shooting and editing videos for eight or nine years.” Working on so many videos, allowed him to “cross a lot of genres and try a lot of different things.”
He cedes control to get the best out of his performers.
“When you’re trying to get a certain thing from an actor, you have to cede a bit of control,” Webb said when discussing his first feature, “(500) Days of Summer.” “Otherwise, they lose the sense of authorship in their performance. What I’ve endeavored to protect as I’ve done bigger films, is to create an environment and let the technique take a backseat to the realness of a performance. My eyes opened when I did that movie.”
Webb initially didn’t want to have anything to do with the “Spider-Man” reboot.
Webb revealed that he didn’t like the first script he read for “The Amazing Spider-Man.” It wasn’t until Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal called him and said, “Honey, you can’t turn down ‘Spider-Man,'” that he reconsidered. “She was right,” he said. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Despite being a fan of the character, it was ultimately “the process” of working with an esteemed cast on such a huge-scaled production that appealed to him the most. “The opportunities were extraordinary.”
Webb admits that he didn’t take enough risks on “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
Webb admitted he didn’t have a strong handle on how to successfully incorporate computer effects into his first stab at the “Spider-Man” franchise. “I hadn’t worked on that scale before,” he explained. “There was a moment deep in the post-production process where a giant lizard was chasing a man in a leotard, and I was like, ‘This is not grounded.'” Because of this, Webb said that he made a pact with himself to inject more “spectacle” into the sequel. “I wanted it to be big,” he said. “I wanted it to express that feeling you have when you read the comics. I didn’t want to shy away from that.”
For Webb, it’s all about character.
Webb has a stranger to thank for his process. After screening his “(500) Days of Summer” at Sundance, Webb had an in-depth conversation with his driver, who also happened to be a video game designer, on the way from Park City to Salt Lake, that had a profound effect on his career.
“He described that when video games started it was a big slate,” Webb recounted. “In the popular games of the time, you could see the entire universe you were playing in. Your experience was more abstract. And then there was pitfall with ‘Super Mario Bros.’ where the game-play was still that big thing, but you closed in the space. When that happened, sales skyrocketed, because the experience was more emotional. Your experience became more personal. Then first person shooters came around, and you were the point of view, and sales jumped again. It was a eureka moment for me, cause ‘(500)’ is told all from one person’s point of view. Even the little fantasy sequences were renditions of his emotional life. That lesson has stayed with me through ‘Spider-Man.’ Based on the idea that you want to give inner life to the character. That’s always a compass for how I shoot I scene, my work with the actors. It’s all about connecting the thought process of a character to the audience.”