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(500) Days of Summer writer Scott Neustadter on Relationships

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Since its Sundance debut, (500) Days of Summer has delighted both moviegoers and critics with its delightfully clever approach to "Boy meets girl." The film has been hailed by some critics as "this generation's Annie Hall" and is largely based on writer Scott Neustadter's relationship past. If you loved (500) Days of Summer as much as the rest of us, you're probably just as curious as I was to learn Scott's own take on falling in and out of love.

RF: How would you have written the film if it was told from a female perspective and the roles were reversed?

SN: I'm not sure anything would be different, to be honest. Guys break up with girls, girls break up with guys -- if you like the person, the hurt is the same. For us, this was never about gender. It was always age. Tom has some growing up to do. He's ignoring the warning signs and projecting his own feelings onto this person with almost no regard for what's really going on. It's like the Radiohead song, "just because you feel it, doesn't mean it's there." I think at one point in our lives we all do that, regardless of gender.

Now if you're asking how we would have told this story from Summer's perspective, well now that would be radically different! Good idea for a sequel...

RF: Do you feel that obsessive-like tendencies and falling in love go hand in hand?

SN: It's funny. In movies, characters are always doing these big dramatic gestures to win the other person's love. And in real life, most of that shit would get you arrested. Lloyd Dobler, outside her house with the boom box, that's a restraining order waiting to happen. And yet it's romantic, isn't it? No one questions the intent. I think you're right that it would be perceived way differently in reality, especially if the person trying to sleep wants nothing to do with the guy blasting the music on her lawn. But we see him doing that and we recognize it in ourselves and we've been there, least I have.

As you get older I think (I hope), you can better recognize that the feelings accompanying the early stages of falling in love -- while amazing -- are histrionic and ephemeral. And maybe you can keep yourself in check a little more. But there's an argument against that which says why would you want to? You don't feel like that very often.

RF: In your opinion, what is falling in love the "immature" way and how does one know the difference?

SN: My feeling is you don't, certainly not while it's happening. (500) is based on an experience I had (twice, to be honest) in which I fell head over heels for someone I never really took the time to know. I liked how she looked, I liked that we had similar taste in things, and I liked how I felt when I was with her. Looking back, it was an extremely immature (but in its own way, pretty rational) way to feel. I can see that now, of course, but during the relationship, not a chance.

I think the sentiment is best articulated in the scene from the film where Summer is telling Tom about a dream. And while she's describing it, opening up to him in a way she never normally does, all he can think about is how it affects him. He's not even listening to her, really. That's for me a very telling moment which decodes the essence of this relationship and why it's doomed to fail. Real love, mutual love, mature love -- simply isn't so selfish.

RF: Do men recall the events of former relationships differently than women?

SN: Again, I'm not sure it's a gender thing. As we all know, there are two sides to every story (maybe even three). We decided from the outset that we were going to strictly tell Tom's version of these events. And we were going to tell them through the prism of memory which is not always the most reliable thing.

Making this choice both frees and restricts us in a number of important ways. First, there are gaps in the information. He can't tell us what he doesn't know. Second, the girl is idealized in a way that can't possibly be accurate. He's projecting his feelings onto her. Summer doesn't get to tell her side of the story which you just know would be entirely different.

Weber and I flirted with a scene in which Summer stops everything and demands to have her say. But this would have gone against the rules we set out for ourselves in the beginning. These are Tom's memories and we're in his head the whole time as he's sorting things out.

RF: What are your favorite "coping strategies" for unrequited love that didn't make it into the film?

SN: Well, writing this script was a coping strategy for me. And I think I included every strategy I knew in it somewhere. Keeping busy, listening to music and watching movies that make you feel better, hanging out with friends and family, exercise (I was in the best shape of my life after all this went down). Basically just find the thing that makes you happiest and do it as often as you can.

RF: How did you come to the realization that you were truly over your breakup?

SN: We started writing this when I was most definitely not over my breakup. And you can tell this because in many of the early scenes we wrote, Summer is a villain. She's the bad guy. She's to blame. A strange thing happens in the script that also happened in real life and that's that both Tom and I realize she isn't. Because there's no such thing as villains in real relationship stories, just two people who don't feel the same. It sucks but it's nobody's fault. I think that was the wake-up call for me and once I recognized it I was able to move on.

RF: Have you found your "Autumn"?

SN: Yes! And we met because of this screenplay. Which is kind of amazing when you think about it.

Scott Neustadter hails from Margate, NJ and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He moved to New York in 1998 and was hired to work in the story department of Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions, first as story editor, then as Director of Development. Neustadter left Tribeca in 2002 to attend the London School of Economics. Graduating with a Masters in Communications, he moved to Los Angeles and decided to try screenwriting "for real." Seven years on, Neustadter has now sold projects to Sony, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and Fox Searchlight, including the recently released "Pink Panther 2" (co-written with Steve Martin) and the semi-autobiographical "(500) Days of Summer."