For some, heartbreak becomes lyrics to a song; for others, paint on a canvas. For screenwriter Scott Neustadter C’98, it became (500) Days of Summer — a Golden Globe-nominated film out today on DVD and Blu-ray.
Hailed by reviewers as “offbeat,” “quirky” and “delightful,” (500) Days was considered one of the most likable romantic comedies to hit theaters last summer. The plot may sound straightforward as summed up in the tagline — Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t. — but unlike traditional rom-coms, it’s told out of sequence and with a dark cloud always in view. As one reviewer put it: “(500) Days of Summer may be the movie that best captures a contemporary romantic sensibility.”
On the eve of the film’s DVD/Blu-ray release — and less than a week after its Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Movie or Musical was announced — Neustadter discussed his first-hand inspiration for (500) Days, his current writing projects, and his favorite Penn professor.
What inspired you to write (500) Days of Summer?
Looking back, I can pinpoint two very distinct inspirations for the script. First and foremost was the fact that I had just been dumped by a girl. I couldn’t make sense of this and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong. My friend [co-writer Michael] Weber and I always wanted to write a relationship movie like our heroes (him: Woody Allen; me: Cameron Crowe), we just didn’t have the relationship to write about. Now, suddenly, we did.
All that said, however, it was really the second inspiration that turned this from an extended “woe is me” diary entry into a screenplay we were confident could work. And that was the screenplay’s unusual structure. I think I had the title first (initially it was “408 Days of April” or something). I thought, what if April was the girl’s name, and the numbers represented a specific day in the course of their relationship. Day 1 is when they meet, Day 40 is their first date, etc. I wrote Weber a very long email in the middle of the night kind of mapping out how we could do this and the movie wound up being eerily close to that initial e-mail from 2003.
How much of it is autobiographical?
Almost all of it, unfortunately.
Were you surprised by its reception this past summer?
Oh yeah. Every step of the way we’ve been surprised. We never expected anyone to read this, let alone want to buy it, make it, act in it or see it. Even after Sundance, where people were pretty much going crazy, you wonder is this just a festival thing, you know, will this work in the real world? Somehow it did.
What are you working on now?
We have several scripts in the pipeline and are working on a handful right now. My two favorites are a project we wrote for Fox Searchlight called The Spectacular Now which is based on a really great funny/sad novel by Tim Tharp that everyone should read. And there’s another off-kilter relationship story I’m pretty proud of called Underage, which Ivan Reitman is producing. I promise it’s not as pervy as it sounds.
How did Penn prepare you for your screenwriting career?
Penn is where I took my first writing classes, wrote my first feature, and got my first internship, which opened lots of doors for me in the future. My favorite classes were the two writing classes I took with [English professor] Marc Lapadula.
How are you feeling on the eve of (500) Days’ release to DVD/Blu-ray?
It’s exciting. I’m really proud of this thing and I hope, thanks to the Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture – Comedy, more people will hear about it and check it out.