Lyrics As Shorthand: Soundtracking 500 Days Of Summer From the opening narration of the new romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer, you get an idea of the dry humor of the movie, which is infused with music. That should comes as no surprise, since director Mark Webb got his start directing music videos. NPR's Melissa Block spoke to him about the role music played in his new film.
NPR logo

Lyrics As Shorthand: Soundtracking A Movie

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Lyrics As Shorthand: Soundtracking A Movie

Lyrics As Shorthand: Soundtracking A Movie

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

(Soundbite of film, "500 Days of Summer")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) This is a story of boy meets girl.

BLOCK: The opening narration from the new romantic comedy, "500 Days of Summer."

(Soundbite of film, "500 Days of Summer")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) The boy, Tom Hanson of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he'd never truly be happy until the day he met the one. This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total misreading of the movie "The Graduate."

BLOCK: You get an idea of the dry humor of the movie, which is very funny and sweet and infused with music. That should come as no surprise, since the director, Mark Webb, got his start directing music videos, and he joins us to talk about his debut feature film and the music behind it.

Mark Webb, welcome to the program.

Mr. MARK WEBB (Director, "500 Days of Summer"): Thank you. I'm going to start off with a correction right off the bat.

BLOCK: Uh-oh, didn't get your start directing music…

Mr. WEBB: No, no, no, you got all that right. I don't know if this is a romantic comedy. To me, romantic comedies are always aimed towards, you know, like, exclusively towards women, especially lately, and this is a movie that's sort of made by guys. It's certainly, well, you know what? Maybe it is the best genre, probably, because it's romantic, and I hope it's funny. But it's, well, it's a coming-of-age story masquerading as a romantic comedy, if you want to get technical.

BLOCK: Well, whatever we're going to call it, whether it's a romantic comedy or some other hybrid…

Mr. WEBB: I give you license to call it whatever you want.

BLOCK: Okay, okay. It is the story of two 20-somethings, Tom Hanson and Summer Finn, and they both work at a greeting card company, and he is immediately head over heels when he sees her.

The first time they meet is in an elevator, and he is listening to his iPod. Let's listen to what she says.

(Soundbite of film, "500 Days of Summer")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actor): (As Summer Finn) I love The Smiths.

Mr. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (Actor): (As Tom Hanson) Sorry?

Ms. DESCHANEL: (As Summer) I said I love The Smiths.

(Soundbite of song, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out")

Mr. MORRISSEY (Singer, The Smiths): (Singing) And if a double-decker bus crashes into us…

Ms. DESCHANEL: (As Summer) You have good taste in music.

Mr. GORDON-LEVITT: (As Tom) You like The Smiths?

Ms. DESCHANEL: (As Summer) Yeah.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (As Summer) (Singing) To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.

I love them.

BLOCK: And that's all it takes, right?

Mr. WEBB: Well, I think we all can relate to this idea that, you know, when someone likes the same music you do, it can be a very powerful thing.

BLOCK: Right. And he thinks, well, this is a sign. They have everything they need to know right there.

Mr. WEBB: Exactly, and it's The Smiths. So that's a sort of an ominous sign in terms of romance.

BLOCK: Why is that? I'm sorry, why is that?

Mr. WEBB: Well, you know, The Smiths have a, you know - Morrissey has this reputation of being the sort of voice of heartbreak, you know, and if there's a girl who's as into The Smiths as you are, well, you know, you can imagine where that's going to lead.

(Soundbite of song, "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want")

Mr. MORRISSEY: (Singing) So please, please, please let me, let me, let me, let me get what I want this time.

Mr. WEBB: I feel like you can say things lyrically, where you're using the singer as a narrator, that you can't - that the characters can't say in an explicit way. They can only say it implicitly, you know what I mean? That you can say it through subtext, but when it comes to the lyrics of a song, somehow it just bypasses your conscious brain and lets the audience know what's going on.

(Soundbite of song, "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want")

Mr. MORRISSEY: (Singing) So for once in my life, let me get what I want. Lord knows it would be the first time.

BLOCK: Was there ever a time when you had a song that you wanted to include so badly that you ended up changing something in the script or in the storytelling to fit the music?

Mr. WEBB: Sure. I mean, I think that there was this - there's a montage near the end of the film, and I was shooting a video in Budapest and I was listening to my iPod, and there was this song from Wolfmother called "Vagabond." And the song that was scripted in there I felt was a little bit soft. And, I mean, Tom is a, you know, he's a guy and he has - there's a sort of a muscular component to his character that I thought this song "Vagabond" really hit.

BLOCK: Can I tell you, I love this scene because Tom is a - he's in, you know, the depths of despair. He's lying in his bed. He's bouncing a tennis ball on the floor, right?

Mr. WEBB: Yeah.

BLOCK: And it's in perfect synch with the music and you sort of don't realize at first that the music is the beat, as well as the ball being the beat.

(Soundbite of song, "Vagabond")

Mr. WEBB: Well, I love this idea, you know, and the way that the image and the music dance is a really - it's something that you can do only in the movies, and I love that. I mean, that's what I did in videos for a long time, and I love that. It's a really fun language to play with. And I think that sequence is a - it's sort of the most music-video-ish sequence in the movie, but it's also telling a very important character beat. You know, he's picking himself up by his bootstraps.

(Soundbite of song, "Vagabond")

Mr. ANDREW STOCKDALE (Singer, Wolfmother): (Singing) You don't need to know what I do all day. It's as much as I know watch it waste away, 'cause I'll tell you everything about being free. Yes, I can see you, girl, can you see me?

BLOCK: Would you be playing this song on the set while you were filming?

Mr. WEBB: Well, we had to play it for the tennis ball gag. And then…

BLOCK: To match the beat.

Mr. WEBB: Yeah, exactly. And what was sort of surprising, I was talking to Joe about this when we were shooting the movie, he's, like…

BLOCK: Joe, the lead actor.

Mr. WEBB: Joe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of course, the lead actor playing Tom, and he said they don't normally know what the music is before you shoot. And that, to me, just seems strange because it lets them know the tone that you're after. And I think that's a really important thing for an actor to know or to feel before you shoot a scene.

BLOCK: So what would you do in scenes with dialogue? Would you have music playing and then you'd go back and redub the dialogue after?

Mr. WEBB: Before we started shooting, we - I gave Joe and Zooey - Zooey Deschanel, who is playing Summer - little iPods with all the days broken down with songs that I had listened to, sort of when I was breaking down the script. It conveyed to them a sort of feeling that I was going after, and we didn't always use the songs that I put on the iPod, but it was certainly a good tonal example.

BLOCK: Okay, I know I said the scene with Tom bouncing the ball is my favorite, but I have another favorite, and you know what it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: It's the dance sequence when Tom has just had a stellar night, shall we say, with Summer.

Mr. WEBB: Yeah.

BLOCK: And he comes out of his house, and this sort of low-key guy all of sudden has this incredible spring to his step and swagger. And as he walks around, everybody else has the same swagger. Everybody's smiling. They're, you know, giving high-fives and fist bumps. And it turns into this incredible dance routine with everybody who comes by, construction workers and marching bands.

Mr. WEBB: Yeah.

BLOCK: And the song?

Mr. WEBB: Hall & Oates, "You Make My Dreams."

(Soundbite of song, "You Make My Dreams")

HALL & OATES (Music Group): (Singing) What I want, you've got, and it might be hard to handle…

Mr. WEBB: This is - I mean, listen, this song is probably overused in movies, which is exactly why we used it, because it expresses - it's like a shorthand for joy. And it says - part of the joy of this movie is, like, we're trying to relate what's going on inside somebody's head, not the objective reality of it. We're trying to get how somebody feels, and we've all been there, where you feel sort of this triumphant joy. And how better to express that than, you know, a massive dance sequence, I guess.

BLOCK: Especially after a night like the one he had.

Mr. WEBB: Especially after a night like that, yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "You Make My Dreams")

HALL & OATES: (Singing) Oh yeah, you make my dreams come true, girl, yeah. On a night when bad dreams become a screamer…

BLOCK: Well, Mark Webb, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. WEBB: Thank you. I really appreciate it. It's great. I think my parents will be proud of this appearance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Glad we can get you in good with your parents.

Mr. WEBB: I appreciate it.

BLOCK: Thank you very much.

Mr. WEBB: Thank you, Melissa.

(Soundbite of song, "You Make My Dreams")

HALL & OATES: (Singing) I ain't the way that you found me.

BLOCK: That's director Mark Webb. His debut film, "500 Days of Summer," opens next Friday.

(Soundbite of song, "You Make My Dreams")

HALL & OATES: (Singing) You make my dreams come true, oh yeah, well, well, well, you…

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.