For as far back as I can remember, media has a way to prepare us for the real world ahead. Growing up, I enjoyed the coming of age films that shows a teen’s rite of passage. Films like American Graffiti, Sixteen Candles and Almost Famous can touch the heart and show the true of nature of what its like being a teen without sugarcoating reality. In recent years, films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Way Way Back and The Kings of Summer defy the standards and set the bar higher of the 2010 teenage life. On this edition of INTERVUE, I had a chance to talk with Screenwriter Michael H. Weber (of 500 Days of Summer fame) about his new film, “The Spectacular Now”, a film that has generated buzz since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
So you informed is that this is the fifth anniversary that this film has went from being a screenplay to being a reality. Can you walk us through that process?
My friend and writing partner, Scott, and I had wrapped on 500 Days of Summer. Funny enough, also a movie that was five years from script to release.
Get out of here, really !?!
Almost exactly five years, crazy enough on that one. We shot that one in Summer 2008 in L.A. then we wrapped. Our studio executive at Fox Searchlight named Jeremy, who is great to work with, gave us this book, “The Spectacular Now” which came out in 2008. It was shortlisted for the National Book Award for YA. The same way that 500 was a response to how Hollywood had been making romantic comedies, this book felt like the story we were waiting for in response to how they been making movies about young people. More specifically, a story about young people that didn’t have vampires, wizards, super powers or sex with baked goods.
I agree, there are way too many of those in recent years.
Yeah, its too much. For me, it was not the movies I grew up with and the movies I’ve watched that I feel in love with movies. We read this book and it felt like a book that could have been written by John Hughes or Cameron Crowe. It just sort of channels those vibes. We wrote it as a studio movie and people had changed hands at the studios. It happens all the time where you just lose your champion. Its really important in the studio system to have those people internally fighting for your project. When that happened, they were nice enough to say “We’re not gonna make your film but you can go make this independently.” And that process was a many, many year process.
We, over the years, had many directors including James who was our third director. We had many versions of the cast. We almost made the movie in Oklahoma, where the book is set. Michigan, Louisiana, I mean we were all over the place. So ultimately, the great thing about making this independently is while we had a fifth of the budget, we can make the movie we always wanted to make. There was drinking, teenage sex and language. It’s just kids being kids and its not a movie about that because we always viewed it as a love story but we didn’t have to sugarcoat the other elements around the love story. That is the journey in a nutshell.
Speaking of the way the film depicts the life of teens, I was stunned that it received as “R” rating like last year’s documentary “Bully”. Both films tell the reality teens face in their lives. What are you thoughts that a teen films that tells the truth gets a “R” while other crazy teen films get PG-13?
We knew it would always get an “R”. We’re fans first before anything else and we see what’s going on. Again, one of the benefits of doing this independently is that we can make a “R” rated version. I think when making a studio version, studios, for the most part are run by the marketing side of the brain. It’s all about “who are we going to sell this to?” “How are we going to get this out there?” “Will it play internationally?” Lots of stuff and then the ratings system becomes a big factor in that. Doing it independently, we didn’t have to worry much about that. It took a longer time to find someone to finance the film and we were lucky enough to find Andrew Lauren who was brave enough to believe in the “R” rated version, the version we wanted to make. I always been puzzled that extreme violence, lots of things blowing up and people getting shot– that’s PG-13. An honest look at the emotional complexity of being a young person is “R”. I have a feeling the endgame won’t be this kind of movie being PG-13, it’ll probably be those violent movies being “R” but maybe that’s a step in the right direction for a more level playing field.
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley create such amazing chemistry by making Sutter and Aimee 100% believable. Who was responsible for this casting?
Barbara and Angela stuck with this movie for five years when other people have given up on it. We were going through multiple versions of the casts. Here you work with young actors and suddenly, its amazing how a young actor can go looking like their high school age appropriate to looking like they are thirty. This project looked dead in late 2011. Shailene was going around after making “The Descendants” and telling people that her favorite script was The Spectacular Now”. We weren’t even sure how she got hold on it. We realized that this is something we had to capitalize on.
Yes, you have to strike while the iron is hot!
Yeah. Miles had auditioned and by his own admission had bombed the audition. He kept fighting for it and he came back in. If you meet Miles, he walks in a room and has those Sutter qualities. He lights up a room, he has that energy to get to know you. At the same time, you also quickly realize that underneath he has sensitivity and intelligence there, much like the character. Being there in Georgia for two months last summer and seeing the two of them, that chemistry evolve and bringing the words to life. It was really special because they are such gifted actors that they made the words even better. That’s all you can ask for as a writer. They just elevated the material. It made it worth the, at that point, four year wait.
And the four year wait has gotten your film into Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. What was your reaction when you heard that Spectacular MADE IT to Sundance, the cream of the crop of independent film festivals?
Sundance was really exciting! We were very lucky to be there a second time since 500 Days was not in competition but had its debut there. The first time we had shown the film to ANYONE was at Sundance in 2009 and then here we are in 2013 back at Sundance with the next film that we’re really proud of. It was really well received. It’s funny that the first time at Sundance, the whole thing was kind of a blur and I think it was “This can’t be happening, Oh My God!” and now this time, I was able to enjoy it a little more. I was able to have a little fun with it. Its great and I really hope we go back to Sundance. They are such a terrific group of people who run that festival. It’s still a festival that there are a lot of great films every year. Film lovers are there and you meet so many nice people. The town embraces the film community.
I heard that your next film will have Shailene Woodley in it
Yes, “The Fault In Our Stars” . In fact, she is the joke on our Georgia set last summer while making the Spectacular Now.
Whoa, whoa! You are going to have to explain that to me.
When she was on set with us, she said “The only reason I am doing Spectacular Now is that we put her in “The Fault In Our Stars”. We would say “Look, we are producers, Scott & I, on Spectacular Now not on Stars. We didn’t have that kind of say but we appreciated her doing both movies.” She actually auditioned for Stars and beat out 200 different actresses. We’re just excited to be working with her again and we will begin shooting at the end of August. We are already talking with Miles to try and find another project with him. We love to work with Kyle Chandler again and Andre Royo and Bob Odenkirk. We’ve worked with some really special people in Now.
You talked about your favorite teen films growing up from the likes of John Hughes & Cameron Crowe. Are there any particular ones that really stood out for you?
Growing up watching American Graffiti for the first time. It’s that time period of your life as a teenager. I remember the first time I saw it as a teenager and I loved that movie. Dazed & Confused, another movie about being a young adult. There have been some great ones over the years and anyone who compares our film to those is really the nicest thing anyone can say about the Spectacular Now.
I have a feeling 10 maybe 20 years from now when they look at the young adult films of this decade. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Way, Way Back, The Kings of Summer and this film are the ones that defined the age of the 2010 Teens.
We just wanted to make a film that felt honest to us. When we are writing the tool that we rely upon more than any other. When we are stuck, brainstorming, or outlining is the simple question- what would really happen. Its nice to work on these movies where we can use that tool so much because it guides our choices. It seems to guide the choices of the movies I care about the most just as a movie fan. It’s interesting that a movie like “Almost Famous” and “Dazed & Confused” seems so personal to the people who made them and yet they are embraced by so many people as if they understand the emotions and the experiences in the movie as well.
One last question: If you can give some advice to a future writer, what would you tell them?
My best advice is really simple: Write Every Day because that’s the only way it will get better. There are too many factors you can’t control. Whose gonna read it? Will someone want to be in it? Will you have money, actors, finance? There are so many factors that you shouldn’t worry about that stuff. The one thing you can control is the number of hours a day you put into writing because that’s the only way it will get better. The better it gets, the more of a chance that all these other things will happen.
We like to thank Michael H. Weber for one of the best interviews of 2013. GO SEE this wonderful film, The Spectacular Now, in theatres NOW! For INTERVUE, I’m Dean Rogers