500 Days of Summer: Postmodern Love Story

“500 Days of Summer” began in angst.  It was sparked by two young screenwriters, one single and recovering from a badly bruised heart, the other in a long-term relationship, reminiscing over romances that could have been, that maybe should have been, but somehow just weren=t.  Almost everyone has had one and, in an age when everything seems to happen faster and more intensely, they seem to be ever more common.  So how, wondered Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, does a young romantic survive such a reality?   And how could today=s version of romantic idealism be portrayed on the screen in a way it=s never really been seen before? 


AThere are certain topics that romantic comedies always hint around and never really tackle directly,@ says Neustadter. “These were the questions Weber and I wanted to write about even though we don=t quite have the answers.@ 


Thus was born the character of Tom Hansen, a guy who believes madly, passionately, even unreasonably in the mystery and power of love, and the woman who doesn=t B Tom=s romantic muse, total obsession and the frustratingly non-committal, destiny-denying bane of his existence:  Summer.  But it wasn=t just Tom that the screenwriters were interested in; it was the inner workings of his memory, as he looks back on just what really happened between him and Summer. 


Romantic Comedy Meets Memento


AThe idea we had for the screenplay was sort of a romantic comedy meets “Memento.”  We wanted to follow a guy sifting through the memories of a relationship, moving backwards and forwards through time as he starts to see things he might not have seen while he was going through it,@ explains Neustadter.  AYou watch him gaining perspective and learning something about himself and about love.  Tom realizes he is someone who is in love with the idea of love and that=s why his story becomes a very hopeful one. He sees something about the nature of love.   It=s not your conventional romantic comedy, but it is a very romantic story.@ 


From the beginning Neustadter and Weber chafed against the perennially cutesy, sentimental and unexamined conventions of romantic comedies–and searched for a truer way to tell Tom=s story of the romance that put his heart through a mix-master, only to leave him with an even stronger, if more mature, belief in love.  AWe threw away all the rules and looked at alternative structures,@ explains Neustadter.  AWe followed every single idea no matter how crazy it seemed, from the way people are transported by a song to how they drown their sorrows in a movie.  Anything that was in Tom=s mind and memory was fair game.@ 


Continues Weber:  AWriting this movie became an incredibly creative experience, because we gave ourselves so much freedom and we were constantly exploring how people=s emotions and relationships are tied up in the culture all around us B in the songs, movies, books, television and art by which we define our identities.@ 


Neustadter and Weber also freely played with time, moving ahead and then back-pedaling through Tom and Summer=s relationship at will.  AJumbling the chronology of the movie was a lot of fun for us,@ continues Weber, Abut there was also a method to our madness.  By pulling out certain moments on their way up and on their way down, you see things you might not otherwise notice and from a new persepective.  And, if you think about it, that=s how memory really works, where something will trigger your mind to think of an amazing, wonderful moment and then that will trigger the memory of a bad moment and then comes a revelation of how they were all connected.@ 

Most of all, the priority was on keeping the whole process as emotionally honest as the two men could possibly withstand.  AWe=ve all been in the trenches of love, we=ve all gone through the highs and lows, so Scott and I felt that the only way to tell this story was to come at it from a completely real place,@ says Weber.  AIt was pretty interesting for us because Scott was just going through a break-up and I was in a long-term, stable relationship, so we each brought a totally opposite perspective, living it and not living it, and I think that tension helped to bring out more of the comedy.@ 


Ultimately it was that thread of emotional honesty that drew a diverse team of talent to 500 DAYS OF SUMMER.  Says producer Mason Novick, who also produced last year=s unconventional and widely acclaimed hit comedy JUNO:  AThis is a story that doesn=t fit directly into any genre or label.  It=s not your typical romantic comedy and it=s not your typical drama B it=s an intriguing, funny, fresh perspective on what modern relationships are really like.  And it attracted just the right group of people to pull it all together.@ 


Novick was amazed to learn just how much of the playful, fast-paced screenplay was pulled straight from real life.  AOf course, truth is often stranger than fiction,@ he says.  ASome of the scenes I thought had to have been imagined the writers told me, >no, no, that really happened.= They were able to bring that quality of reality and put it together with their very unique view of the world and of becoming part of a couple.@ 


Adds producer Jessica Tuchinsky, who is partnered with producer Mark Waters (director of such films as FREAKY FRIDAY, MEAN GIRLS and THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES) in Watermark Pictures:  AThe two writers, Scott and Michael, are basically two Toms.  They=ve grown up on the same songs, the same movies and they=ve felt the same fireworks when they=ve fallen in love as Tom in the movie and they put all of that into the script in a very clever way structurally.@ 


Producer Steven Wolfe (who brought the iconoclastic Polish Brothers to the fore with their directorial debut, TWIN FALLS, IDAHO) notes that everyone who read the script realized it would need a very special touch:  AIt uses a multitude of storytelling devices, and it=s very complex in how it flashes backwards and forwards and uses these total fantasy moments and pulls all these different pieces together into a puzzle,@ he says.  AWe knew it would need a director who could plan everything right down to the most minute detail.@ 


The search for a director with a vision that could stand up to the screenplay=s creativity led the filmmaking team to newcomer Marc Webb, who had cut his teeth on music videos and commercials and was in search of his first feature film.  He quickly gave his own heart to 500 DAYS OF SUMMER.  AWhen I first read the script, it was like Tom seeing Summer for the first time,@ muses Webb.  ASomething clicked and I just knew this was the one.@


Like any man infatuated, it was a sense of mystery that drew him deeper in.  AThe first time I read it, I remember feeling something I couldn=t define,@ Webb recalls.  AWhen I went back and read it again, I realized there is a theme in the movie that is implicit, it=s not ever explicitly stated, but it=s that Tom finally is hit with the idea that happiness is found within. He sees that it isn=t in the big blue of eyes of the girl in the cubicle down the hall, even though she can be very beguiling and gets him thinking that she is what will bring him happiness.  The truth is that you have to realize who you are and understand your own potential before you can really find true love.  At the end of the day I felt this story was a very fun way to say something that had some meaning for me.@ 


Webb was also excited about the daring style of 500 DAYS OF SUMMER B and the writers were equally excited about him.  AWe didn=t know anything about Marc at first, but we had the most remarkable marriage of ideas with him,@ says Neustadter.  AAll three of us very much wanted to make the same movie and that was exciting.@ 

Adds producer Novick:  AMarc is that rare director who doesn=t sacrifice substance for style.  He=s stylish but all of his choices are specific, deliberate and used to forge a point of view.@