(500) Days of Summer Screenwriters on Controversy, Pink Panther Sequels, and Girls
Now that ABC's picked up a new sitcom from them, what better time to check in with (500) Days of Summer screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber? Since the film's release, (500) Days of Summer gone on to be one of the year's biggest indie hits, and though there's been plenty of praise for the script's unique jumps in chronology, there's also been criticism that love interest Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is little more than a cipher. Movieline wanted to get Neustadter and Weber's take on that argument, as well as discuss the film's unlikeliest lost scene, their writing credit on The Pink Panther 2, and the British newspaper that opened a whole new can of worms for the real Summer.
Scott, a few weeks ago you wrote a piece in the Daily Mail where you said you gave the film's script to the ex who inspired Summer, and she didn't realize that you had modeled this character after her. I'm thinking your article probably clued her in?
SCOTT NEUSTADTER: Oh, I think she knew subsequently! It was an interesting situation. I think the Daily Mail might have blown a few things out of proportion. I don't know if you're familiar with them -- you probably aren't -- but "The Daily Mail" implies certain things...[Laughs] My original thing that they had me write for them was a lot less salacious. I wrote a thing that was very much about how this movie was inspired by this situation and whatever else, and they sent it back to me and it was like, "The Ultimate Revenge On His Ex-Girlfriend! How Does She Sleep at Night?" I certainly never, ever said that. I kind of made them tone it down, but it still comes across a little crazier than I actually am.
There have been pieces at The Daily Beast and Jezebel that argue that Summer isn't a fully-realized character, that she's just a generic female love interest who exists only to help Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) self-actualize. What do you make of that critique?
NEUSTADTER: I think that they missed the point! That's exactly right, but that's what we were doing: We set out to tell the story of a guy who was in love with a girl he really didn't know. The whole thing is told from his perspective, so there are gaps in his information. There are things that he should know about her, that he should have been paying attention to, but he just didn't. This isn't a romantic comedy; as we always referred to it, it's a coming-of-age story pretending to be a romantic comedy. In a romantic comedy, you'd want to have a male and female character who are three-dimensional and easy to identify with and everything else. In this case, we very purposefully wanted only one of these characters to be three-dimensional and the other, to be filled with his projection of her. You know the scene in the movie where she's talking about her dream?
NEUSTADTER: I don't know if you remember that part, but she's basically opening up to him and telling him about her dream, it's a big moment, and all he can think about is what it means to him. He's not even listening to what she's telling him. You know, Karina [Longworth, who reviewed the film at SpoutBlog], Doree [Shafrir, of The Daily Beast]...I actually know some of those girls! Doree went to college with me, and I emailed her and said "I agree with your article, but that was the point entirely."
I think that we're talking about it in terms of the person telling you the story is Tom, and everything is taking place in his head. Naturally, when he's describing someone, he idealizes, and he's not really talking about the concrete reality of this human being. We were hoping that people would get that all of this is taking place in his head, that it's a projection. It's not really Summer, it's an idea of Summer, portrayed by Zooey.