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“The Way Way Back” Poster Is All Wet

Exclusive: Oscar-winning writer-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon explain why the major stars are so small on the poster for their movie — and why their faces aren’t on it at all.

Liam James, Amanda Peet, Toni Collette, Rob Corddry, and Steve Carell in The Way Way Back Claire Folger

Your first movie poster as a director is a very big deal. Destined to hang in your office (or living room, or bathroom, depending), it is one of the only tangible signifiers that your movie really exists and is really going to be in movie theaters. BuzzFeed is exclusively debuting the new poster for the Sundance Film Festival hit The Way Way Back, a coming-of-age dramedy about Duncan (The Killing’s Liam James), a teenage kid spending his summer escaping his mother’s loutish boyfriend (Steve Carell) by working at a local water park.

Writer-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (who won Oscars for writing The Descendants along with Alexander Payne) also spoke to BuzzFeed about how the poster came to be, and why Rash (who also stars on NBC’s Community) and Faxon (late of Fox’s Ben and Kate) aren’t on it.

Fox Searchlight

So how much input did you guys have on this?

Nat Faxon: It was a collaborative effort. Certainly the guys over at Fox Searchlight have much more experience with this than we do, and we trust their taste implicitly. They brought us a bunch of different options, and we went over what we were feeling or what we liked. And then they took those notes and went back. It was an evolving process.

Jim Rash: We looked at different fonts. We went through from everything, from Duncan in the car, to Duncan on dunes, to everyone on the page, to much more simple things. We talked about the color, the different shades of orange, the graduating look of it. It was really presented with stuff until everyone’s eye sort of said, “I like that, I like that, I that.” Or as Nat always said, “I hate that, I hate that, I hate that.”

NF: I hated everything.

You’ve got genuine movie stars in your film, and yet they’re teeny-tiny on the poster.

JR: Obviously, we’ve hit the motherlode with wonderful actors. I think we let those names speak for themselves up on along the side of the title. We want their presence, but we didn’t want to also mislead anybody about the feeling of what the movie is about. It’s a difficult movie, balancing the need to show a big fun comedy in there, and we also have this dramatic tone to it.

I appreciate how you really get the kernel of the story from the poster.

NF: The Searchlight team did a great job. We rifled through a bunch of options, and then I think they had this “a-ha!” epiphany moment. A lot of the credit for that idea of having him underwater goes to them. I think it was important for us to not only show our main kid Duncan sort of isolated and awkward, but it was also important to show the fun of the water park and the other cast members. The movie was a little bit bigger than the smaller, sad tale of a kid coming out of his shell. I think it was important to show both those elements.

JF: There’s a little fun throwback in some of it, like a John Hughes movie. One, we have great actors, but the kids really are the adults in this movie. That was also a vibe that was interesting to play with.

Usually, studios are thrilled to be able to put something like “from the Oscar-winning writers of The Descendants” on the poster — but it’s missing here.

NF: Well, we are livid. Let me tell you. We are livid.

JR: We fought tooth-and-nail on this issue.

You know, while we love a balance of comedy and drama, and Descendants had that, Descandants falls into a more dramatic place than Way Way Back does. I hate that thing where you feel like you’ve marketed something incorrectly, and then that backlash of, like, “This is different from The Descendants!”

I wondered if in the corners there could be you guys just holding your Oscars, and an arrow saying “These guys made it!”

NF: If you wouldn’t mind shooting off a quick email to Searchlight, because that is something we both have thought of.

JR: Our characters [in the film] were on the poster at one point. I instantly wanted me removed, because I looked terrible.

NF: And I wanted myself enlarged.

JR: But maybe we could put our Oscars in the hands of our characters and really confuse everybody.

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