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CONTENDER Q & A

The boys of 'Summer'

The writing team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber turned the former's ill-fated romance into their first film script, which resulted in the Oscar hopeful '(500) Days of Summer.'

December 23, 2009
  • Scottƒo Neustadter, left, and ƒo Michael Weber.
Scottƒo Neustadter, left, and ƒo Michael Weber. (Los Angeles Times )

When is a romantic comedy not a romantic comedy? "(500) Days of Summer," essentially Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber's first screenplay, has trappings of the genre -- the romance, the comedy, the best friends, even the karaoke scene. But the boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-sinks-into-black-depression story with the chaotic chronology also flouts the rom-com rules with such brio that it becomes an original, entertaining and truthful experience. It ought to be, as its pages are torn from Neustadter's tear-stained diaries. As becomes evident from sitting down with the writers in a West Hollywood cafe on a rainy day, that point is only slightly exaggerated. The travails of the protagonist, Tom, are based on Scott's real-life heart-crushings.

-- Michael OrdoƱa

Michael, how was it writing jokes about your friend's agony? And Scott, were there times when you went, "Um, let's not go there"?

Scott Neustadter: [laughing] I never said that; we were always able to go there.

Michael H. Weber: I think we always wanted to go there.

SN: I needed to go there.

MHW: The whole thing was probably in a darker, angrier place in the beginning. [To Neustadter] You were in a darker, angrier place in the beginning. Certainly the evolution of the script matched your coming to terms with what happened.

SN: You start from a place of anger, "How dare you break up with me? I'm going to get you back!" and you come to a nice sort of a distance where you can say, "Maybe there are no heroes and villains in a real relationship. Maybe these are just two people who didn't feel the same way." I've been on the other side of it too, where someone liked me more than I liked them, and I wasn't the villain there either. It's just as bad.

MHW: They're both terrible.

SN: You realize, just as the character does, that [misreading] "The Graduate" totally . . . me up. I believed that you get the girl and you're happy and that's the victory in life. But you realize that getting the girl is not the answer. The answer is all the things that make you happy that are unrelated to other people; you have to help yourself. So we started writing this script in the same way that Tom starts doing the things he loves again. Your movie is like the real last moment of "The Graduate" -- not the getting away and the euphoria but that final uncertainty.

SN: If you look at that as Tom does -- "Get the girl, live happily ever after" -- then "The Graduate" has a happy ending. But there's that one last thing, where they think, "Wait a minute. What if that's not true? And now what?" "The Graduate" and our movie are basically coming-of-age movies masquerading as romantic comedies. What's an example of something in the script that's totally real and something that's totally not?

SN: I'm pretty sure that everything in there, but for one scene, is sort of based in real things. Everything. The only thing that didn't happen, which is the harshest thing, is the bench scene, where she basically says all the things that someone like me would have needed to hear. In real life, you never get that closure moment. The dance number obviously didn't happen, but everybody's felt like that. You were shopping "(500)" when you got "Pink Panther 2," right?

SN: "(500)" sat around for six months before anybody wanted anything to do with it. Everybody read it, everybody appreciated it, nobody wanted to touch it. "We love this script. But it can't be about a relationship." What would it be about instead?

SN: "What if we made it more of a murder-mystery thing? He starts in a car. Bleeding from his skull. . . ." I understand you got engaged, Scott?

SN: I did! Congratulations. How does it feel to finally get the girl?

SN: It's pretty great. The crazy irony is that she works for a movie company and read the script and said, "I want to meet the writers of that script." That's how we met. She's a very professional person, so nothing happened at the meeting. But we ran into each other a little after and started to date. But this script being the thing that helped me get the girl, it's crazy. Michael, are you spying on that relationship to get some new material?

MHW: We've kind of switched places. I was in a relationship for 10 years; I was the relationship guy. That ended when yours started. So now I need to find a girl to screw me up enough to inspire days 501 to 1,000.

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