By Sajida Ayyup
For his most recent screenplay, Michael Weber found himself taking notes from Tommy Wiseau, the man widely recognized for creating one of the worst films ever made. The screenplay written by Weber and his partner, however, was nominated for the prestigious Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. And although “The Disaster Artist” didn’t win the award, the film, which poked fun at Wiseau and his mess of a movie, did earn Weber and his partner the Hollywood Screenwriter Award.
Last week, Weber returned to his old stomping grounds at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications to talk to current students about his career.
Since graduating from Syracuse, Weber has gone on to work as a screenwriter for films like “Paper Towns” (2015), “The Fault in Our Stars” (2014) and “The Spectacular Now” (2013).
While studying Television, Radio and Film at Newhouse, Weber watched at least three films a day. But still, he never imagined he would be a screenwriter or executive producer.
“I was just dabbling in so many different things,” Weber reminiscenced about his days in college. “When I started seeing what screenplays looked like, I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll try that,’ not thinking that I would be doing it this many years later.”
Born in New York City, Weber said he never considered moving to Los Angeles, even though it’s known as the hub of film-making. After graduation, he decided to move back to New York City where he has spent much of his career. Just like he did himself, Weber told the audience to “live in a place where you’re going to get your best writing done.”
While working at TriBeCa Productions in New York City, Weber realized he had to change something about his writing for it to be noticed.
“Working just enough hours to qualify for health insurance and then I could have the rest of my time to write, I was not saving anything. I was in crazy debt. I had no connections anywhere. I was making somewhere [between] 15 to 19 thousand dollars a year,” Weber shared. “And, whatever. I was just going to write.”
Weber met his writing partner, Scott Neustadter, at TriBeCa where they occasionally escaped to the roof and talked about scripts. It was there that they realized their writing could actually be produced.
“The industry is so starved for halfway decent work and new voices,” Weber said. “What passes as acceptable will shock you.”
The first screenplay that Weber and Neustadter sold, (500) Days of Summer, went on to be Fox Searchlight’s highest grossing film of the year.
Weber’s presentation at Newhouse gave a peek into the film industry to students who are hoping to join production houses for internships or for full time jobs after graduating. When he opened the floor to the audience for questions, one student asked how it was to work on “The Disaster Artist.”
Listening to Weber speak about his experience on the set of “The Disaster Artist” was like watching a film in itself. He said that he’s an introvert, lacking the confidence to approach people, but that didn’t seem like the case during his presentation. His articulation left the audience a bit spellbound, especially his James Franco impression of Tommy Wiseau which sent the audience into a roar of laughter.
From serving at Robert De Niro’s assistant at Tribeca to be credited for “The Pink Panther 2,” Weber has worked hard for recognition in his field.
“Look, a lot of people want to do this,” Weber said. “I don’t say that to you as in, like, ‘don’t do it.’ Do it. The machine you have to build within yourself- you’re going to spend the bulk of your twenties figuring this out.”
The screenwriter ended his presentation with some words of wisdom for the students in the audience.
“Continue to make writing more important than a few more things in your life,” Weber said. “Get in the habit of doing it when you have no good ideas and you’re tired, when you’re super dizzy or you’re hungover. Go out of your way to write on those days because you’re going to get that much closer to a better writing session.”