News Column

A 'Spectacular' success [Press of Atlantic City (NJ)]

August 18, 2013

YellowBrix

"The Spectacular Now" could describe Margate native Scott Neustadter's life at the moment.

Neustadter, 36, and Michael H. Weber are the writers of the movie, which opens Friday at the Towne Stadium 16 in Egg Harbor Town-ship.

The movie, adapted from Tim Tharp's coming-of-age novel, stars Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller. The film has already made a half million dollars in two weeks in only 19 theaters nationwide. Ninety percent of the 73 critics who saw the picture liked it, according to the film review aggregator website

rottentomatoes.com.

Neustadter also is one of the movie's executive producers. The success of the movie, along with Neustadter's first film - "(500) Days of Summer" - means his future in Hollywood is looking bright.

"The change is that people have read a lot of the stuff that we have written, and it's easier to get them to read a new one. If someone hears that we are interested in something, apparently, it means something now, but it certainly doesn't feel that way. It feels exactly the same as when I was on my own," said Neustadter, who married his wife, Lauren, three years ago. They had their first child, Michael, in September.

"The Spectacular Now" was published in 2008. In the film, a hard-partying, high school senior meets a slightly nerdy, serious student, who is following her own path. They change each other's lives. After the success of "(500) Days of Summer," Fox Searchlight wanted to work again with Neustadter, Weber and director Marc Webb. Fox Searchlight gave Neustadter Tharp's book to read.

"I thought it was something we would really have a lot of fun with and asked Webb if he wanted to do it with us. He read it and loved it, so the three of us were going to do it together," Neustadter said.

But then Webb landed the director's job for "The Amazing Spider-Man," the reboot from last year with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

Without all three of them together, Fox Searchlight's enthusiasm cooled. The adapted screenplay Neustadter worked on in January and February 2008 at his home in California and in his parents' dining room in Margate was being passed around Hollywood, but was not made into a movie. Woodley, 21, hot off her Golden Globe-nominated performance in "The Descendants," kickstarted interest in the script again. She said to anyone who would listen that "The Spectacular Now" was the one script she wanted to do.

Tom McNulty is one of the producers of "The Spectacular Now." He had the rights to turn the book into a movie. He knew Neustadter and Weber and was friendly with them. When Fox Searchlight asked him about giving it to them to adapt, he said, "Absolutely, I love those guys."

"They just really elegantly chose wisely in terms of what to focus on in the book. It was definitely an adaptation that wasn't an obvious one. Those guys are really masterful at adapting books. I got very lucky," said McNulty, who also produced "Date Night" with Tina Frey and Steve Carell. "The thing of it is they are so insanely talented. They don't know how talented they are in the sense that Scott and Mike always think the last script they write will be the last script they ever write."

With Woodley, director James Ponsoldt and a script, the only thing missing was a leading man. The actor chosen was Teller, 26, who appeared in the movies "Rabbit Hole," the "Footloose" remake and "21 & Over."

Teller spent a couple years of his youth living in Cape May County.

"It is a really tricky part. He's a likable guy. He's kind of a magnet and has lots of fun, but at the same time, there is a danger to it and a destructive quality. It's very hard to find a likable actor who also isn't doing the greatest things and yet, you are still kind of on his side. Miles is perfect for that," Neustadter said.

The dynamic of Neustadter's writing relationship with Weber has never changed, even with the success of "(500) Days of Summer," he said.

"We have never written in the same room. We just sort of talk on the phone a lot and email back and forth. Then, we divide up the scenes, and that's how it has always worked even if it's an adaptation of a novel or a rewrite of someone else's script or whatever it is," Neustadter said.

Most of the changes to "The Spectacular Now" from the book to the movie have to do with the ending, Neustadter said.

"The ending of the novel is pretty bleak," Neustadter said. "We didn't want to go for a happy ending. I don't particularly believe in happy endings. I think the best you can hope for is a hopeful ending because I just love movies that end in an ambiguous fashion where it is like life."

With the novel being in the first person, the hardest thing about adapting it was converting thoughts in the protagonist's head, Neustadter said.

"What we didn't want to do was to have a ton of voiceover and have his thoughts permeating all the time, so we had to figure a visual way to convey a lot of these things. That's a big difference, but always something you have to do when you are talking about a novel," Neustadter said.

"The Spectacular Now" had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January in Utah where Woodley and Teller won a special jury prize for their acting. After debuting at Sundance, the A24 company scooped up the movie to distribute it. That company also put the younger-skewing films "Spring Breakers" and "The Bling Ring" into theaters earlier this year.

Before opening in limited release in Los Angeles and New York City on Aug. 2, "The Spectacular Now" was shown at the Montclair Film Festival in Essex County. Tom Powers, the artistic director of the festival, has seen the movie.

"There are so many films about young people out there and a whole set of cliches about young people, and what really stood out to me about this film was it avoided those cliches. It was smarter than most films about young people and more sensitive to nuance," said Powers, who added many people who saw the movie at his film festival responded very positively to it.

Neustadter and Weber are among the hottest screenwriters currently in Hollywood.

They have two screenplay adaptations completed. "Rosaline," a comedic and revisionist take on "Romeo & Juliet," has been picked by Universal. A movie based on the best-selling novel "The Fault in Our Stars," again starring Woodley, is supposed to start filming Aug. 26 in Pittsburgh. It will be in theaters next year or in 2015. They are in the middle of two other adaptations, the recent popular novel "Where'd You Go Bernadette" by Maria Semple and "Rules of Civility," which was on the New York Times best-seller charts for 27 weeks.

"Typically, when you are hired to adapt a book there is something everybody loves, and all you have to do is translate that into screenplay form," Neustadter said. "I love adapting books. We have done four in a row now. 'The Fault in Our Stars' was such a perfect book that it took six days," Neustadter said.

Contact Vincent Jackson:

609-272-7202

VJackson@pressofac.com

Film

'The Spectacular Now'

Opens Friday at Towne Stadium 16, 6733 Black Horse Pike, Egg Harbor Township. Starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. Adapted screenplay by Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter. Rated R (95 minutes).

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