Exclusive Interview with Michael Weber & Scott Neustadter, Writers of THE SPECTACULAR NOW
I was fortunate enough to watch The Spectacular Now and, you guys, it truly was spectacular! I’m a teen at heart, and coming of age films hit me hard every time. I may not have gone through the same experiences, but the awkward feelings and falling in love are always there.
One thing that was super special about The Spectacular Now is that everything felt… real. The setting, the characters, the drama – everything felt like it wasn’t a film. It felt like a friend was telling me this story and I was there with them. I haven’t felt that with a film for a long time. I cried so much after the first viewing that I had to re-watch it straight away. When I found out that I was also interviewing the writers of this film, I was beyond excited! You may recognize the names Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter because they also wrote the much loved (500) Days of Summer. The film is on limited release for now, but expanding to more theaters on 8/16 and nationwide on 8/23. Find out where it’s playing here and check out what we talked about below!
HG: How did you get involved with the project? Were you already aware of the book beforehand?
MICHAEL: In late summer 2008, we’d just wrapped shooting on (500) Days of Summer when our executive producer on that movie gave us the book, The Spectacular Now. It had recently made the shortlist for the National Book Award in the YA category and we immediately fell in love with it.
SCOTT: One of the things we’d already wanted to do was bring back the feeling of those indelible ’80s movies about young people – Fast Times, Breakfast Club, Say Anything – the ones that really inspired us and no longer seem to exist in cinemas.
MICHAEL: The same way 500 was a response to how Hollywood had been making romantic comedies, Spectacular felt like the perfect response to recent movies about young people – there were no vampires, wizards or sex with baked goods. Just an honest story about the emotional complexity of being a young adult.
SCOTT: Which meant, of course, we would have to go for it. Drinking, partying, awkward sexual experiences – all the things that accurately reflect the teenage experience without poking fun of it or making light. You can’t honestly depict young people with a PG-13 rating.
MICHAEL: As a result, the studio got kind of nervous, but they were kind enough to let us go make it independently. All those years later, here we are.
HG: Does the film reflect your own experiences of high school?
MICHAEL: Yes and no. I was certainly an underachiever in school. And while it wasn’t because I was out partying, I didn’t see the point in taking things seriously, much like Sutter. It was probably a reaction to handling the emotional complexity of becoming an adult. One thing’s for sure: when I look back now I certainly don’t want to be 17 again!
SCOTT: Having written a pretty autobiographical script with 500 Days, I know that I at least was looking to write something next that DID NOT resemble my own experiences. We loved the characters in this story not because we were them, but because the things they were going through, the things they were feeling were so recognizable. It’s funny how the more specific the characters and their world are, the more universal the whole thing becomes.
HG: Which scene did you most enjoy writing? Did it turn out on the screen as you expected?
MICHAEL: Honestly, it was five years ago, so I can hardly remember! The scenes between Sutter and his father were interesting. The sex scene was tricky – how much do you describe? In terms of what’s on screen, there are always sacrifices when making an independent film. One of our favorite scenes involves an ex-girlfriend and a hotel hot tub. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have room in the budget to make that work. The good news is we managed to use some of the best lines from that scene elsewhere.
SCOTT: Pretty much every scene between Aimee and Sutter was enjoyable to write. And I loved the moments between Sutter and the math teacher Mr. Aster (played by Andre Royo from The Wire). In their final scene, Aster says “don’t you want to grow up?” and Sutter says, quite surprisingly “Why?!” and he makes some really interesting, salient points. Growing up can be really, really scary and that scene gave us an opportunity to show that Sutter’s “live for now” attitude isn’t entirely based in selfishness and reckless behavior. He’s terrified of what comes next.
HG: How did this compare with other projects?
MICHAEL: Every project is it’s own journey, with peaks and valleys. The lows on this one seemed so low that for a while I was convinced the movie was never getting made. But we never gave up. And neither did the other producers. That critics and audiences are responding so favorably is a great feeling – and when I think about how difficult it was to get this made in the first place it feels even better.
SCOTT: Also, this was our first time not just writing the script but also being producers. Which meant we had a little more say than normal on casting, hiring the filmmaker, etc. (which screenwriters almost never do). I think we learned a lot about making movies – as opposed to delivering scripts – during this process. And we made some great friends as a result.
HG: How was it to see Bob Odenkirk reading your lines? Are you Breaking Bad fans?
MICHAEL: Breaking Bad is fantastic! And Bob Odenkirk has long been a hero of mine. Seeing him read the lines was great. As fine of an actor as he is he’s also a really great guy. We had dinner during the production and I just listened for hours as he told stories from his career: writing for Saturday Night Live, creating Mr Show, acting in Larry Sanders and Breaking Bad. I really hope we get to work with him again soon.
Image via A24