In their new film Paper Towns, store screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber were tasked with an unusual assignment for a film focused on young adults. Adapting the novel by John Green, they were asked to translate the mystery so important to the book onto the big screen.
The screenwriting duo had previously adapted novels like The Spectacular Now and the Fault in our Stars into screenplays and before that, they had written (500) Days of Summer. Each of those films focused on the travails on young adults but none of them had the mystery element of Towns.
During a recent interview with the duo, I asked them about this unique element of the film. Check out their thoughts on the subject below.
Michael, a few years ago you and I talked about John Hughes movies and how a lot of them set the standard for films about young people today, but few of them have the mystery element that Paper Towns has, so I’m wondering if there were any other films you looked to for inspiration on how to tackle the mystery element here?
Weber: Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any films about young people that had that element. I will say that the book had a larger sense of danger. It wasn’t just a mystery. It was ‘Is Margo alive?’ Something terrible happened to her and that’s something we downplayed for our adaptation partly because it didn’t feel like part of the spine of the movie we wanted to tell, and also, it just raised a lot of other questions: Where are the parents? What are the cops doing? The kind of things we didn’t want to get bogged down in.
Neustadter: The big thing that we did is we turned the mystery into a quest. We’re traveling with him. We’re seeing this through his eyes and what he knows is that someone is asking him to come find them, and so we’re kinda on this journey with him to not solve a mystery as much as win the prize. And that was kind’ve an important change. A lot of coming of age stories are quests, and we ran with that.