I took in a screening of (500) Days of Summer the other night and a lot of things rang familiar. As in, I was reminded how I almost made a film like this in college.
By no means am I claiming theft of idea. Hell, the movie was much better than (and pretty different from) what my script was. But as I watched the credits roll, I thought about a project I almost did.
Towards the end of my time in college, I entered a screenwriting/directing contest through the radio-TV-film department. The winning script would be made into a short film with the guidance of a Hollywood producer. Nothing huge, but a great experience nevertheless.
At the time, I was still in a fog about my first relationship falling apart. I spent a lot of time watching Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Swingers, and High Fidelity, so my script came from that kind of influence. It was hurt disguised by jokes, complete with quick cuts, visual gags, and quips.
The only parallels with (500) are a couple of plot points, but mainly the ending. In my script (envisioned as a low-budget, bare bones sort of thing that would run maybe 10-15 minutes), the main character spoke to the camera, telling embarrassing (but trying-to-be funny) stories about past relationships gone awry. There was no venom underneath -- just a lot of confusion, frustration, and a bleak attitude about the chances of future success. (Maybe there was venom and I didn't realize it at the time.)
I had to pitch my script to this Hollywood producer in front of a classroom filled with other RTVF students. I had never heard of the producer and he came across as somebody who wanted to be like Jerry Bruckheimer on a budget. I didn't think I really had a chance with this guy and he didn't think there was much of a story in my script. He passed on taking on the script, but I wasn't crushed.
I never really knew what happened to the winning script. I merely read a story in TCU Magazine about the whole process. The pitch session was documented, noting my "guarded smile" as I walked into the room (something I do in many rooms I walk into). I had heard the final product was not to anyone's satisfaction, and I'm thankful I was spared.
I rarely think about the experience these days and I certainly have no regrets. I much prefer to write about what the hell I want to write about, without anyone with moneybags telling me my idea is good or not.
I knew a few people that went out to L.A. to make it in Hollywood after graduation, but many of them came back. I don't fault them for trying their hands at the Hollywood life, but I was quite sure the life wasn't for me. I merely wanted to move from Fort Worth to Dallas, which I eventually did.
These days, I'm not against helping friends out who want to make films. If somebody wanted to do a documentary or shoot a trailer and asked me for help, I'd do it without asking many questions. I'm not against working on scripts. Since I must keep writing, it's always in an orbit.
In seeing (500) Days of Summer as a complete film, I'm glad it exists as a tale of romantic woe for people my age. And I'm glad people with way better chops put this together onto film.