Interview: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber — “(500) Days of Summer”, “The Spectacular Now” (Part 2)March 12th, 2013 by Scott
Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have written scripts that have made the Black List a remarkable 5 times, broke in with the hit indie film (500) Days of Summer, and have become go-to guys for adapting novels having written screenplays for The Spectacular Now (to be released this summer) and The Fault in Our Stars (pre-production), and writing high profile projects Where‘d You Go, Bernadette and Rules of Civility. We are most fortunate to have them as our ‘guests’ all this week.
Today in Part 2 of our interview, Scott and Michael delve more into their movie (500) Days of Summer:
Michael: We kept talking from there. I remember we both sparked to the idea of, you can have an insane moment on the way up in a relationship as you have on the way down, but the outcome is so different, based on where you’re at in the relationship. In most movies, that moment is an hour apart. But what if, in our version, they were right next to each other?
In an early draft, it was a scene at a Chinese restaurant or something, and he’s trying to make her laugh. On the way up the mountain, he’s making fun of some other people in the restaurant, and she thinks he’s the funniest guy in the world.
Then on the way down the mountain, her response is, “Why are you so judgmental?” It’s the same thing, but it’s based on where they’re at. Anyway, it was conversation about moments, about real things that we related to and other people would relate to that got the ball rolling. He had some diary thing –
Scott N: I believe we men call them “journals…”
Michael: And I started tracing out an entire relationship of just moments, moments that happen on the way up the mountain, moments that happen when you’re on the top of the mountain, and moments that happen on the way down, almost just like a boy and girl.
We just started talking about all these pieces, and some of them fell hard. They weren’t relatable enough. Some of them we needed to flesh out more.
Scott N: Ultimately we had what amounted to, like, 150 pages and I realized we were really still in the first fucking act. This wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t know what point I was making because I was still broken up about the whole thing and in all our outlining and conversations the one thing that was really missing was the theme. Other than fuck romantic comedies, what were we saying?
And that’s when lightning struck a second time in the form of my actual ex-girlfriend getting engaged like less than a year after telling me she would never marry and didn’t believe in love. I was like, wait, what? No. You can’t. That’s… And then it hit me: if SHE could find it, there was hope for all of us. It was out there and just because it didn’t happen between these two people, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. There’s no such thing as no such thing. Now we had our point and then, rather quickly, we had our ending.
Michael: It was different than our more recent experiences, because it wasn’t the traditional outline we normally do, where we’ll have an 8‑ or 10‑ or 12‑page document, that’s just simply, and then this scene happens and then this scene happens and then this scene happens.
It was initially a little more, “We have a lot of ideas we like. Let’s maybe start writing them and then we can move the pieces around.”
Scott M: That idea of a nonlinear approach to the narrative, it was an organic thing and arose early in the process?
Scott N: I didn’t think anyone would be all that interested in reading about my relationship craziness. Which is what this was honestly. But when I hit upon the nonlinear-ness, it made me think hey maybe there’s something here other people will enjoy.
Michael: Yes. The cool thing is that in that example I was just talking about with kind of the restaurant thing, putting those scenes back to back, it meant that right off the bat, we could justify why we were doing this. It wasn’t like we wrote a standard romantic comedy and then thought, well, let’s throw in some gimmicks. From the very start, there was a method to the madness.
But then, we were realizing, this is about how you perceive experience and how you remember a pain you just went through and how you look back on things. Then, how pop culture and the things you love influence these experiences, the filter of music and movies and books.
Scott N: It started from a place of anger – “Jenny Beckman, bitch, etc.” But by the end of the movie, both character and author(s) have embraced the idea that there are no villains in this story. You cannot fault someone because they do not feel the same.
Michael: All that was…really excited in there from the very start. We probably couldn’t articulate it this well initially, but we both felt it. We knew we wanted, Scott is the music maven, and it was like, we’re going to have some cool music, and we’re going to have parts that will really feel almost music videoish.
VIP on the song and dance number was something we talked about very early on because we felt that way. When you meet someone special, you really do feel like you’re walking down the street and great music is playing.
Scott M: For a nonlinear movie to work, there has to be some internal logic tied to the characters. And in “(500) Days,” it feels like the main link has to do with memory. We don’t remember things in a linear fashion, and since the story’s told from Tom’s perspective, that nonlinear device dovetails nicely into his random memories of events.
Michael: Yes. We had ideas that we never used. For example, we kicked around the idea that Summer would stop the movie, after a certain scene, and go, “That’s not how that happened.” Then she would take control, and we’d see her version of what happened. It was a fun idea, but it violated the logic of the movie because this is entirely from his point of view. There’s been some criticism about why don’t we know more about what Summer is thinking? Why is she just this pixie fantasy dream? Anything that’s not in the movie is because Tom doesn’t remember it.
Scott N: Not just because he doesn’t remember it but also because he doesn’t know. Nor did he bother to ask. And it’s all his fault. All of it. He’s only seeing what he wants to see which is why he doesn’t see the axe falling. He doesn’t see it coming. Like the scene where she’s describing this dream she’s had. He’s not even listening! He’s only thinking about how great it is that she’s letting him in on a secret, sharing something with him she’s never told anyone. If he listened more a lot of this probably could have been avoided. That was the point, anyway. He is to blame for all that happens in this relationship, not Summer. We never wanted to be un-subtle about it but perhaps we were too un-subtle because people still talk about this as a two-hander, likely due to the “code” of contemporary romantic comedies between about two people and not just one wrestling with his own inner demons. But that’s what this is entirely. This is, for better or worse, all Tom’s story. You’d need a “Flags of Our Fathers/ Letters from Iwo Jima” situation to get both perspectives.
Michael: Really this is less about a girl, and ultimately, more about a phase of your life. The only character arc, it’s subtle, but it’s there, and as an adult male, it’s sort of everything. You’re talking about a guy who in the beginning of the movie is scared to ask a girl out. At the end of the movie, he’s willing to take his lumps. He just comes out with it, and it’s, whatever happens, happens.
There’s really not much more arc than that, and yet it’s something I think that’s very relatable that all men at a different coming‑of‑age experience have at some point.
Scott M: That’s interesting, too, because I know people will typify “(500) Days” as a romantic comedy, but I’ve always looked at it more as Tom’s growing‑up story. That’s really the root of the story, right?
Michael: That’s our joke, because unfortunately, so many romantic comedies were made so poorly for a number of years that romantic comedy became a bit of a dirty word, especially within the studio system, that we realized, actually even really not a romantic comedy. It’s a coming‑of‑age story dressed up as a romantic comedy. We have now been very fortunate to have worked with a number of producers and met a lot of other producers, and found steady work, and we’re very, very fortunate. We love our work and want to keep it going. But it’s interesting how regularly, especially after “500” came out, that we were approached to work on romantic comedies that went against really the reason for “500’s” being. They were built around set pieces. They were built around wacky hijinks.
Scott and I have always joked, nobody’s ever gone on a date to the aquarium and been bitten in the ass by a dolphin. But for a while they were making them that way, like, “They’re going to go on a date and he’s about to tell her how he feels, but then something crazy happens.” That doesn’t happen.
When the guy doesn’t tell the girl how he feels, it’s because he’s scared. It’s a tool Scott and I have all the time, that probably more than any other tool in our toolbox, is we take a step back, and we ask the question, “What would really happen?”
The number of times that’s either enhanced what we were working on or got us out of a serious jam…thousands. It’s just why we connect to movies. We obviously just used that all the time on “500,” but it’s a question we ask on every project we work on.
Tomorrow in Part 3, Scott and Michael round out a discussion on (500) Days of Summer, then provide background on their new movie The Spectacular Now.
For Part 1 of the interview, go here.
Please stop by comments to thank Michael and Scott for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have.
Scott and Michael are repped by CAA and Kaplan/Perrone.