Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Deschanel and Marc Webb © Fox Searchlight Pictures

Marc Webb comes from a background of music videos, winning MTV’s Best Rock Video in 2006 for AFI’s “Miss Murder” and Best Group Video for The All-American Rejects’ ‘Move Along.’ And he was the perfect choice to helm Fox Searchlight’s new comedy (300) Days of Summer, a probing narrative of a relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greetings card writer, and Summer (Zooey Deschanel), his boss’ breezy new secretary, told over 500 days … out of sequence.

When you were shooting it, did the actors always know where they were in the story? It jumps around so much.

Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Deschanel and Marc Webb © Fox Searchlight Pictures
Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Deschanel and Marc Webb © Fox Searchlight Pictures

Yeah, they did. Usually actors shoot movies out of sequence anyway so that was compounded maybe by not having structure in this movie but what I did before we shot was I made a scroll with all the days mapped out, but it was as much for the productions designers and the costume designers because it’s a real color evolution and their hair and make-up changed and evolved throughout the movie to convey the sense that it was happening over a year and a half.

So we would check in occasionally and they would know what had happened. It was a little bit harder for Zooey because it’s only Tom’s trajectory that was tracked in the movie, it’s told from his point of view, so Zooey had a whole other set of experiences which we didn’t see on camera, which is the point of the movie.

Can you talk about casting Zooey and Joseph? They have a great chemistry in it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitta and Zooey Deschanel © Fox Searchlight Pictures
Joseph Gordon-Levitta and Zooey Deschanel © Fox Searchlight Pictures

You can’t cast them individually, a movie like this that relies on chemistry you have to cast the dynamic. I met a few actors and actresses and I remember I met Joe and he had given more thought to it than I think anybody else had, and he was also concerned about why we were making the movie, and I thought that was really interesting. And Zooey and Joe had been in a movie together called Manic which is a very different movie, but there was something built in there and I knew that they would get along.

It’s hard to go in and fake it, actors can but I think we got a lot of leverage off of their previous relationship, having worked together before. We cast Zooey first, but before we cast Zooey I met with Joe and we were talking about who he thought could play Summer, who he’d like, and he said, ‘Really the only person that should play it is Zooey.’ And he had this look in his eyes and I was like, ‘Okay.’ It was perfect; it was a really beguiling look.

The only thing was, he got depressed afterwards and he was like, ‘No one will make a movie with us, because we’re not big enough stars,’ and I was like, ‘You know more than I do.’ So it was a great credit to Fox Searchlight that they were like, ‘Yes, we can make this movie.’

How did you like shooting the Fantasy dance number that Joe does down the street?

I’d done music videos for nine years, so it was like I was very familiar with that. It was like Music Video 101 – but you don’t get to do it in movies very often. I had orchestrated the sequence with the choreographer and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know if Joe is going to want to dance,’ but when we talked to Joe about it he was like, ‘Bring it on!’ He loved it. It’s a really magical scene, and we had such a good time that day. Zooey was really jealous, so we actually just shot a dance video [with both of them] which is going to come out in the next few days.

Was this a challenging film to direct?

I came from a world where there are very few rules, where you’re not as obligated to a strict narrative sensibility, and so you can break away from standard conventions. So I loved the idea of diving into a comedy that allowed itself to be non-linear and a little fantastical. The challenge for me was, within that, to find a way to keep the characters real enough that they engage people on a deep emotional level. You could say I wanted to find a line in this movie right between reality and magic.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.