‘The Spectacular Now’ screenwriters Michael Weber & Scott Neustadter talk open endings, casting, more

We had the chance to chat with screenwriters Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter about their upcoming film The Spectacular Now which hits theaters on August 2nd, along with Hypable, Fangirlish, That’s Normal, Young Adult Hollywood, and YA Fics and Flicks. The movie stars Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in a story about losing yourself, and changing (in good and bad ways) through first love.

I don’t like to come up with my own ending. I like the imagination of the author a lot more than my own so I was really happy that you guys came up with one! Although yours was a lot more positive than what my mind had led to and I was just wondering what led to it and how you came up with it. Was that the direction you were given, did you have other ideas, that maybe weren’t as positive?
Scott Neustadter: We did not intend it to be cut and dry positive. Our aim was for it to be a little more hopeful than the book. For those of you who don’t know the book ended on quite a bleak note. So we wanted to shoot for at least a little possibility. Now without going into a lot of detail that might spoil things, we actually don’t see the ending as all that positive. Somebody might get it together and somebody might get forgiven but also someone may not. I think we wanted everyone to leave the theater with that question in their mind. Will this go better now or not?
Michael Weber: Our favorite movies are the ones where you walk out of the theater talking about it so just to have those conversations in the first place is what excites us.

“This is a girl with big dreams who knows her life is just starting. Shailene saw it this way as well.”

A change I noticed from the book is that Shailene’s character is not as nerdy in the film. She is just like a normal girl?

Shailene is terrific to work with in so many ways. Her perspective of this character was that this is not a mousy little girl in the corner who cannot come out of her shell. Her attitude was that this is the smartest person in this town. She knows there is more to life than high school. She knows her life is just beginning, that this world is a much larger place than just this little town and that is what our attitude was as well toward the character. We have seen this before..the shy girl who has to get a little makeover and take off her glasses. That is never what we wanted to do with this. This is a girl with big dreams who knows her life is just starting. Shailene saw it this way as well.

How do you find a balance between bringing everything from the book to the script to help people understand the characters but not giving too much away?
Writers: The book is a first person narration so you have Sutter telling the story the entire time. You start to realize he is not a totally reliable narrator and the way he sees himself may not be the way that others see him. That is something we were really excited about and wanted to attack that challenge because what a huge thing for someone to discover. When you are 17 you see the world a certain way and you think that everyone else does also. It’s fun to imagine what changes when you realize that that may not be what everyone else sees, the way they see you. For us we wanted to keep that first person narration alive without having to use voiceover narration and have Sutter in every scene telling you what he’s thinking. So we kind of let it go and you can kind of make your own conclusion about him as you watch his behavior. The other thing about him that we thought was very important was to not really judge so we don’t have anything in there to say what they are doing is bad or isn’t this great. Everything is a gray area and I think that is something we hope will be met with pleasure from the audience because you can bring your own perspective and look at things in your own way. I think that is something that all of us, Shailene, Miles and us were hoping that we could achieve.

You guys also wrote the screenplay for The Fault in Our Stars and I was wondering since you saws Shailene Woodley work with you’re The Spectacular Now script did you write The Fault in Our Stars script in part to play into Shailene’s strengths?
Writers: No. She was a big fan of the book and our script. It seemed like there was a false story going around that it was predetermined that she was going to be Hazel Grace but she actually did audition and beat out a couple hundred people! I’m not even sure we had met Shailene when we wrote the script for The Fault in Our Stars. It’s great. We love that we are working with her again. She’s fantastic but TFIOS script credit is obviously to an amazing book.

“There was a false story going around that it was predetermined that she was going to be Hazel Grace but she actually did audition and beat out a couple hundred people! I’m not even sure we had met Shailene when we wrote the script for ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’”

As a related question to that, what do you think Shailene’s strengths are as an actress?
Neustadter: I think she only has strengths. She is somebody who can kind of do anything and wants to so it’s really exciting to be on the ground floor and watch her in these two movies because I think that everything she does from now on are really going to blow everyone away.
Weber: I marveled every day on set..she was consistently the most prepared, the most professional..just got it. It really was such a pleasure working with her every day..I couldn’t say anything negative about working with her. She was just fantastic to work with and it shows on screen. She really knew the character and was such a pro.

With all the YA scripts that are out now and scripts featuring young actors and actresses..what was it about this particular story that you wanted to be involved with the project?
Weber: Scott and I became friends in New York over a decade ago because we loved the same movies. We had a lot of the same heroes. We loved John Hughes movies and it seemed like for a while they stopped making the teenage movies like that. We read this book and it really felt like material that harkened back to the honest real teenage movies we grew up with and that process of just first falling in love with the book is what really drew us to it.

In any sort of adaptation you change detail that is not centralized to the story..I was wondering if there was reasoning behind location change. Because you were shooting in Georgia did it make sense to change it from the location in the book to where it was in the film? Can you talk a little about that?
Writers: We write the script and when you get lucky enough that they are actually going to make a movie you then have a lot of economical issues that arise. We initially wrote the script for Fox Searchlight which is a larger distributor..we were going to get the money in advance and probably have 4-5x the money that we actually had at the end of the day. When we made this movie we made it independently and all the sudden you don’t have a lot of the resources that you have if it had been made at a studio. So then we had to make changes. We were lucky enough to find James who grew up in Athens, knew Athens really well, could do an amazing job shooting there. We had already scouted Oklahoma City and saw that one of the amazing things there about this novel was that it could be shot anywhere. It was about young people so we were very excited about the possibility of doing this in Georgia and we could do it a little bit further down there which was helpful for us. So the changes you make in the script are often times one thing and when you are making a movie it’s a different animal and you have to make changes so that’s how it came about.

“I think a lot of times people mistake edgy for mean. Miles has an edge to him, but Miles is a really sweet guy and there is no meanness there. You have to like him…even though he is not always doing the right thing for himself or other people.”

There are a bunch of different actors who went for the role of Sutter and eventually Miles Teller got the role. I was wondering if there were pieces of Sutter’s personality that Miles really brought in his performance, which was why he got the part?
Writers: I don’t know if you have met Miles but when he walks into the room he has that Sutter quality of he is the center of the attention, he lights up the room, he will make ten new friends in a matter of minutes, he will know everything about you or remember you next time. He really has that charm that you can’t teach..it really comes naturally to him. At the same time there really is a more emotional side to him..it might take just a little longer..like in the movie..to get to that side or to see it but it’s there and that balance is crucial for the role of Sutter because a lot of people can play the kid who is partying and loved high school life but you also need to really care about this kid and what he is going through.

I think a lot of times people mistake edgy for mean. Miles has an edge to him, but Miles is a really sweet guy and there is no meanness there. You have to like him…even though he is not always doing the right thing for himself or other people. You like him and want to root for him, and want him to get stuff together. I think Miles always carried that perfectly.

Was there something you wrote originally in the script that you were looking forward to seeing on screen that didn’t make it to the screen?
Weber: When you make a movie independently obviously how you use your resources is everything. There was obviously some tough choices along the way. We managed in some cases on scenes we lost to take moments out of those scenes and move them to other places. I sort of enjoy all those creative challenges of putting all those puzzle pieces together. I wouldn’t say there is one specific scene for me but you always have to make some changes and cuts and probably on a large movie as well. Scott do you disagree? Do you have a scene you miss?
Neustadter: For those who read the book there is a really lovely scene where Sutter runs into an ex-girlfriend and has a conversation with her in a hot tub. We had written that scene and I think it was just too expensive to shoot so we had to lose it but what we wound up doing was taking some of the bits from that we thought were really important and sprinkling them in elsewhere. That is one of those creative challenges you were referring to Weber..but I always felt that was a nice but just had to sacrifice.
Weber: We were also very fortunate too because this was the first movie that we were also producers so rather than it being dictated to us..cut this..change this..move that..there was a discussion that we were involved in. We like to be involved as much as we are invited to so it was great in this case to be part of the team that was doing that creative problem solving.

“We have been really lucky. We have been doing this run of adaptations and whether it’s Tim Tharp with ‘The Spectacular Now’ or John Green with ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ they have all been very supportive and open to what we are doing.”

Did you work with the author of the book at all..Tim Tharp? Did he give you any advice at all on how to adapt and any must haves?
Writers: Not really no. Tim is an awesome guy. We went down to Oklahoma City and had a meeting, hung out and talked. I made a joke to him that we weren’t going to change much except for the ending. He thought I was really kidding and I told him that his ending is quite bleak and we thought we might try something a little more hopeful. Tim said he would have to see that for himself. When we showed it to him he was happy with it and thought it was a smart change. He has been totally on board. We were at Sundance with him and it has been a really fun thing for everyone and we enjoyed talking to him.

We have been really lucky. We have been doing this run of adaptations and whether it’s Tim Tharp with The Spectacular Now or John Green with The Fault in Our Stars they have all been very supportive and open to what we are doing. We have had a dialogue with all of them. First and foremost we love the book and want to do right by their vision. It was their baby first and it has been great.

“In our efforts to not make a movie that is an after school special where we are saying “this is good and this is bad” our feeling was to catch this stuff in the most real and authentic manner that we can.”

There is a scene in the book where Amy gets drunk and slaps Cassidy. I noticed after seeing it that scene is not there, and that you never really see Amy get sloppy drunk. Was that a decision that you made, or is that just how it ended up in the end?
Writers: We wrote it that way and filmed it that way. Maybe it will be a deleted scene on the DVD, but when you looked at it afterwards and editing it and putting it together one of the things that really stood out to us is that Shailene can do it without having an embarrassing episode. She is someone who understands herself maybe even a little bit better than the Amy character in the novel does..and that was always her thing. She is the smartest person there..she knows who she is. She is not a meek wallflower. She is just someone who can’t wait to get out of there so she’s also this person who tries drinking and experiments with it but it isn’t going to become a problem. She is just too smart for that and we thought that was absolutely right. In our efforts to not make a movie that is an after school special where we are saying “this is good and this is bad” our feeling was to catch this stuff in the most real and authentic manner that we can. We decided to take that scene out, and in our viewing it we think it says more about who she is than if you actually watch it. But who knows..it might be in the DVD..you never can say!

Is Sutter an alcoholic or is he just addicted to being popular?
Writers: We never sat around and used those labels when we were writing it. We never set out to write an afterschool special and I think sometimes if you start to use those labels. I think his drinking is obviously a concern and his disinterest in the beginning of the movie with college and looking ahead in life is a concern but again we just wanted it to feel honest without preaching or moralizing. For us we always viewed this as a love story, a coming of age story more than a movie about drinking.

You guys adapted The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars, you are adapting When You Were Mine to Rosaline? Is there something about a tragic love story that attracts you to the book to write or is it a coincidence?
Writers: When You Were Mine is an outlier there because we are doing the comedy version there..I’m not sure if you know that. We are not doing the tragic love story. We are making crazy light of it. At it’s core is two people finding each other and discovering yourself. I don’t know what it is about Weber and I but we are still writing about characters who are finding themselves but we seem to gravitate toward stories about two people who don’t entirely know who they are and then through meeting someone else and starting a relationship with someone who challenges them or shines a mirror in their faces they kind of make some discoveries. That is something that we kind of love. (500) Days of Summer is another one of those that we just don’t think of them as romantic comedies..they are just our favorite thing..it’s all we know.
Yeah I would say for us it has always been about writing the stories we go see. For us it has always been about movies we fell in love with.

What is your dream project?
Hmm..dream project. Certainly the best movie ever made that I haven’t yet thought of.

So it was an original, not an adaptation?
Writers: So far I haven’t read a book that is my dream dream project. We are very fortunate to be working on the ones we are working on..each one of them has been very special to us but we feel like we are just getting started. When we like something we chase after it for a while. I first read Rules of Civility a number of years ago and we chased that for a while. I first read Fault in Our Stars and had to chase that to get that job. We have been very lucky that when we fall in love with something we just chase after it..

Writers:I don’t know. Dream project…I will have to think about that. You stumped us on the last question!


Kimmy is a 21 year old nerdfighter who is the founder and editor-in-chief of Page to Premiere. When she's not writing about books and movies here or on her Hunger Games site called Mockingjay.net, she loves Tumblr-ing, eating sushi, drinking Thai iced tea, and being lazy with her cat Rue! She hopes to be a published author one day. You can follow her on Twitter at @kimmymary.

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  • dhmhtra375

    I am so happy that they changed the ending! I fell in love with this story just by watching the trailer (haven’t seen the movie yet), so I had high expectations for the book. Needless to say, I was thoroughly disappointed. I honestly think, though, that I’m gonna love the movie. Can’t wait to see the changes they made! And judging by the trailer, they are gonna be a lot! And, from what I’ve seen, all for the better! :D

  • Kate Owens

    The character’s name is Aimee Finecky, not Amy.

    I won’t be seeing this movie. The screenwriters made so many changes it’s no longer Tim Tharp’s story.

    The bleak ending of the book was necessary and realistic. I’m almost as equally disturbed by turning Sutter’s mother into a struggling single mom; it was made quite clear in the book that Sutter’s mother remarried for money and neglected Sutter. All of these things are keys to Sutter’s personality.

    Cassidy, whom Sutter described as my “beautiful fat girlfriend”, is now played by a slender actress, and Aimee has been “de-nerdified”. Taking away Aimee’s painful shyness and her escape into a dream world of science fiction and horse farms takes away what made her special.

    I hope the film will draw people to read Tim Tharp’s book. I thought The Spectacular Now was wonderful, one of the best books I’ve ever read, and it I felt sick for days after I finished it because of what happens to Sutter at the end.

    Yes, I wanted a happy ending for Sutter and Aimee, but life isn’t always happy endings. Sutter doesn’t believe anybody can love him because nobody ever has, so he can’t accept Aimee’s love when it’s so obvious that it’s real.

    So what we have is a movie that follows the plot of the book more or less, but has changed the motivation and personality of the two main characters. It’s not the Spectacular Now. It might be a good movie but it’s not the story I know.

  • Kimmy West

    The ending certainly isn’t happy in the film. It’s just more open-ended. I agree about some of the changes though. The film is still spectacular, like the title suggests. :)