|L-R: Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter|
On March 26, Phillyâ€™s CineFest opens with one-time seashore scribe Scott Neustadter's (500) Days of Summer strangely subtle delightfully off-beat romantic movie . Not just because the screenwriter known most for Pink Panther 2 made an indie comedy that's not trashy and obvious. I'm happy he made it out of Jersey. Together with Michael H. Weber, Neustadter has crafted an elegant unusually warmhearted (but not too warm) second feature film (in mere months yet) starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. (Check the trailer here and a clip here.)
City Paper: So how bad do you feel about The Pink Panther 2 and would you say it is parallel to how great the money was?
Scott Neustadter: Let's come back to that one...
CP: Why does Hollywood â€” for all its guns and glory â€” still love a tenderly offbeat romantic comedy?
SN: I think the best movies are the ones you can identify with on a personal level. For me, those tend to be superhero/tough guy movies â€” anything with a renegade cop, and those that star Patrick Swayze. But for other, more sensitive types, there are these offbeat romantic comedies.
CP: What else is there to do in Margate growing up other than writing?
SN: Plenty. Listen to music. Watch movies. Go to the beach. Some people had sex. I wasn't one of those people.
CP: How did you get from a gorgeous Jersey shore to Hollywood? And â€śpracticeâ€ť is not an optional answer.
SN: It took balls to leave Margate. Big ones. And like the good East Coast kid that I am, I was always terrified of L.A. I saw Annie Hall. I knew what a horrible, culture-less, soul-sucking city it was. There was no way in hell I was ever moving there. Then, when I was 25, I went to visit. I found out that this place is awesome. So now I live in Santa Monica, which is basically the Margate of L.A. You cant beat it.
CP: What did Philly mean to you growing up â€” at least in terms of your cinematic arts and writing arts? And what else did you write other than delicious scripts like (500)?
SN: I spent way too much time at the TLA and the Troc to really take advantage of Philly as a city. Sure saw some great shows, though. And other than scripts, I pretty much only wrote e-mails â€” HILARIOUS e-mails.
CP: For (500) did you get this thing cast as you wouldâ€™ve chosen?
SN: Oh yeah. It's impossible to imagine anyone else playing these roles. In fact, the entire movie is without exception exactly what my co-writer and I hoped it would be when we wrote it. Which never happens, apparently, so we feel quite fortunate.
CP: Were you surprised to have gotten (500) made so quickly and easily â€” at least thatâ€™s what I heard?
SN: The truth is this: the script wasnâ€™t written to be made. It was barely written to be read. We wrote this thing because I was downhearted and needed somewhere to channel my exasperation with relationships. Months later, when I finally decided to let it be seen, I expected to be mocked, jeered, taken by the shoulders and violently shook while someone screamed "snap out of it, man" in my face. I never thought people would relate to it. I never thought someone would buy it, and I certainly never thought it would be filmed. so, yeah, I'm pretty darn surprised.
CP: Were you surprised to have it as an opening film of this year's Film Fest?
SN: Iâ€™ve got three generations of family members and friends Iâ€™ve known for 29 years coming to see it. Itâ€™s a huge thrill for me.
CP: What do you think you did differently with this film, from other writers, to make yours so quirkily original?
SN: People call this an "anti-romantic comedy," and that simply isn't true. It's more of an "anti-Hollywood romantic comedy." The whole "he likes cats, she likes dogs â€” how will it ever work?!" kind of thing made me crazy. So the intent was to create something with its basis in reality, where the obstacles keeping people apart are genuine and sincere. And, because we chose to tell the story through the prism of memory â€” where things aren't always clear or, um, you know, accurate â€” we were able to take some risks and break some rules.
CP:Â Will you always write with Weber, or do you own him money and canâ€™t get out of the deal? And whatâ€™s with Underage and No Relation? I keep seeing these film names in relation to what y'all have planned next.
SN: Underage is another relationship comedy with a legitimate obstacle keeping its two characters apart. I'll let you guess what that obstacle is. Hint: it's in the title. Paramount is making that one with Ivan Reitman producing. And we also have two Fox Searchlight projects we're working on â€” a father/son dramedy called No Relation and an adaptation of a book called The Spectacular Now which will reunite us with Marc Webb, director of (500) Days.
CP: So ... how bad do you feel about The Pink Panther 2?
SN: What do you mean? PP2 is a masterpiece. I can't wait for the DVD release when it finally gets it due as a new American classic. Seriously.
CP: Finally â€” is there something about you that should give people insight into you when they see the film? Something they wouldn't get immediately?
SN: We may share a hometown, a love for The Graduate and the Smiths. We may dress alike and carry the same messenger bag. And yes, we both have the same unshakable belief that love conquers all. But really Iâ€™m nothing like Tom â€” the protagonist of (500). That dude is at least 5 inches taller.