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Lorene Scafaria Interview, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Toronto 2008

Kevin Kelly
By Kevin Kelly posted 1 year ago
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Lorene Scafaria, screenwriter of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

From left to right, Diablo Cody, Dana Fox, and Lorene Scafaria. Or, the “Femmepire” as they call it, a triumvirate of female screenwriters.

Lorene Scafaria has been toiling as a screenwriter for awhile, although her first produced film, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, is actually an adaptation of a novel by the same name. However, it manages to nail the “teen voice” without slapping a message all over it, and it should open up a few more doors for Lorene. Not that she needs them, since she’s already recorded an album of her own music, and has her next project already in the works.

Read on to find out how she tried to capture the New York City feeling in this movie, what she’s been doing with best friend and fellow screenwriter Diablo Cody, and what’s in store for her.

Good morning.

Good morning!

Adapting this from the novel, what was that like? Especially since you’re relatively new as a screenwriter. What was the process like for you?

Yeah, I’m definitely relatively new as a screenwriter. Unfortunately, Nick and Norah was my ninth script that I had written. [laughter] But, certainly my first adaptation. And I really wanted to be as true to the spirit of the novel as possible. It was fairly daunting at first, just because I loved the characters so much. I loved who they were, I loved the course of the night, I loved the tone of it.

But, movies like this haven’t been made in a while, and so it was just a real challenge to kind of bring it back to those movies that I grew up on in the ’80s, John Hughes movies and Cameron Crowe.

And then to try to make it a little more cinematic than the novel was itself, actually, which was beautifully written of course. But everything kind of started in this hyper-intense club and then it was sort of Nick and Norah hanging out for the rest of the night. Which is great…I loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset so I wouldn’t have minded watching Nick and Norah just hang out all night.

But, yeah, we certainly had to come up with some devices to just maintain the thrust of that story. So things like Caroline going missing. Things like Where’s Fluffy, being this band that they’re looking for. You know, little things like that that certainly propelled it a little more.

Was music a part of the novel?

Yeah, it was.

Like specific well known songs?

Yeah. But it’s strange, because at the time I didn’t even know if it was a period piece, because of things like The Cure and Green Day. So, I didn’t know when I first started reading it what era it was even.

Yeah, certainly The Cure was someone who I sort of grew up with, and Green Day too. So it definitely was a part of it, of course, but it wasn’t specific to modern day.

Did you put some of the music in the screenplay or make suggestions?

I didn’t write it in, but I made a mix CD, but that was four years ago, with the first draft.

What was on it?

The Black Keys. It was a lot of… it was music I was really into then: Bloc Party, Frou Frou. I don’t even know how to say that, Frou Frou? But, it was definitely more in my mind than trying to capture that kind of hipster, scenester thing that now the movie is really sort of about. Oh, yeah. Sure, I definitely threw in my two cents. But, ultimately I’d say Pete and Myron, the editor, I think they started to really compile lists together. And certainly I’m a fan of Vampire Weekend and Bishop Allen. The fact that they played in the movie was just so, so cool. Local boys, you know. It was great.

But, yeah, I would say it sort of rounded out even in the editing process probably. And especially because it’s wall to wall sound. It’s kind of a throwback to what I loved about American Graffiti. It’s really capturing an era, and that’s what this was doing ultimately with all the real modern rock. Hopefully it won’t be played out by the time, you know… [laughs] Hopefully, it’s timeless in that way and isn’t just representative of right now. I wish one or two of my mix CD songs had ended up in there. [laughs] But that’s OK. Yeah.

We don’t see any parents, which I think would probably break the spell of this. Are there parents represented in the book? I mean, is there a conscious decision not to have some parent hovering on the outside waiting for like a cell phone call?

Yeah, there actually was. And in the book there was. Norah’s father is a great sort of figure, but I believe he calls at some point during the night. I believe there’s some kind of more of a ticking clock with him and Brown and more of decisions like that.

And there was a brief scene in the very early draft that I was trying to rip off The Graduate as much as possible. [laughs] And have Norah kind of be hiding up in her room. I wrote an early scene of her father and mother. But, eventually since that was it and we didn’t really require that, it sort of became great that you don’t have that. You don’t have anybody hovering over. You just really get to absorb what it’s like to be young, and you’re not thinking about your parents when you’re out all night. [laughs]

So, why should we as an audience be really focused on that? I don’t know.

It’s like Peanuts. It’s like this hermetic kind of world that kids live in.

Yeah. That would have been great, just so hear, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.” I would have really liked to hear that. [laughter]

Did you like how the film turned out?

I really, really, really did. I’m very proud. And it’s so rare, I imagine, someone’s first film getting made the writer would be as pleased as punch. I really am, yeah. I think Pete Sollet’s amazing. I loved Raising Victor Vargas. I saw it when it came out.

He came on board, I’d say maybe after the first or second draft of the script. And I just knew he was the guy to do it all along. He captured such reality in his first film, and a very specific group of young people in that. It just seemed so appropriate for this. He’s a New York guy, I’m a Jersey girl. We hung out in cafes in the lower East Side and worked on it together. He’s pretty amazing.

How do you think it’ll translate for people who live out in the Midwest, let’s say, or someplace where they don’t have quite as much access to these all night, all these great haunts?

Sure, yeah. I would hope that people would still relate to having one of those all night events. I certainly, growing up in the shadows of New York kind of had that experience a lot. Traveling from Jersey into the city and having those nights.

I think it’s such a nostalgic piece. If you are young, and in the Midwest I imagine it would strike a chord. And I imagine if you’re older, hopefully it would just remind you of that time. Of course it’s a New York story and everything, but I think it’s really more about being young and falling in love, really. And sort of shedding all those insecurities you have when you’re a kid and trying to be as brave as possible at a very early age.

I should hope it’s relatable, yeah. I would love that. And also I imagine people kind of just seeing what that’s like. I was certainly fascinated by L.A. movies before I showed up there.

How much of yourself did you put into Norah?

You know, it’s weird. Norah, it was me on the page. It was so scary when I read it the first time. Definitely some. What’s strange is if you see a photo of me at 18, I look an awful lot like Kat Dennings without the lips and the… boobs and stuff. I wasn’t quite as stunning of course, but I was trying to look that way. I think girls at that age are so complex, and I think…

What do you mean “at that age”?

Well, at any age, right? Especially when they’re still trying to figure out how complex they actually are, and unfortunately dealing with boys that age, who are not quite as complex yet. [laughs] Definitely what I love about Norah is she’s got this great sort of wall up that she’s built herself. And certainly over the course of the night and over the course of data with Michael Cera, it’s starts to drop a bit.

And I think she’s a pretty guarded person, which I am. And yet pretty outspoken, which I am. So, yeah, I’ve definitely fallen in love with a few musicians in my day. So, I can relate. Also I have this father who’s larger than life, for me anyway. I can really relate to kind of what that experience is like, to sort of feel like you’re living in these halls with these people and your Friday and Saturday night are so very special when you get out of that and sort of shed your skin a little bit.

So, yeah, there’s plenty of me in there. But, I felt it when I read the book so it wasn’t hard. I was immediately attached. When I read it, it was a manuscript, it wasn’t published or anything. And I was just lying in bed and I just like closed it and cried a little bit because I was like, wow, that sums it all up. That’s exactly like what I kind of experienced at a time in my life. So it was already on the page, I think.

Michael Cera is coming off of Juno which was written by Diablo Cody, which kind of made her this poster girl for young rock and roll screenwriting women, and she has her column in Entertainment Weekly. Do you identify with her as a writer, or are you sort of….

[laughs] She’s my best friend.

Well, there you go. I guess that was easy.

There’s three of us. There’s myself and Diablo and Dana Fox, who wrote What Happens in Vegas. We call ourselves the “Femmepire.” [laughter] We’re trying very slowly to take over the world. Diablo certainly set the charge, which was kind of amazing. I love her so much. I loved her before I knew her work. So, the beauty of that was actually getting to see her film after I’d already fallen in love with her and getting to see how much of her was on the page actually and on screen.

Yeah, I admire her work tremendously. Obviously there’s going to be so many comparisons to Juno. We’re here, it’s the same day, next year. She came out to support me this year, which is great. She and Dana are both here so it’s really supportive.

I think what she brings to the table is kind of what I would hope, which is balancing that great line between comedy and drama. And allowing real people to be seen and not treating teenagers like they’re idiots. There are smart kids out there and they don’t all talk the same.

She obviously has a very unique voice. I wish we had known each other when we were both writing these things. That would have been kind of great. Now it’s going to   you’ll hear line hopefully repeated over and over. We all write in the same room together and kind of ask each other, “Is this funny? Is this not funny? Is this too offensive.” Most of the time.

I take it as a compliment anytime someone says that, for sure.

What advice did she give you as you were embarking on this publicity process? Because she had been through that.

Yeah. Well, I don’t have to get asked if this is better than stripping, so that’s kind of nice. [laughter] I never did any of that, so I don’t have any of that to fall back on . She was really just kind of… she said I’m going to be exhausted and to try to enjoy it. Dana, who’s also here, she calls it a “business wedding.” So, they’re my maids of honor and they’re reminding me to eat. That’s sort of the thing. Shoving banana bread into my face. I’ll leave it there for a while before I finally take a bite. They’re doing that kind of thing. She didn’t do the hair and makeup, and I was like, “How could you not have taken advantage of the situation?” [laughter] She was like, “I don’t want all that.” So, yeah, that was about it.

Have you ever thought of collaborating?

Yeah. We have. The three of us have talked about producing different projects together certainly. I think our styles are all so   I think they would gel really well together. I think we’d probably love to oversee a project together more than even collaborating on the writing itself.

She’s working on her television show right now, which is taking up a lot of time with “Spielborg,” I like to call him, because he’s part machine, for short. It would be great, but really getting to produce all together would probably be more of a goal than even writing together.

I don’t know how that would be. I had a writing partner for a very brief spell. And that’s not easy, it’s really not. It’s really not. I thought it would be half the work, but it’s really twice the work because you’re going over everything even more specifically.

When you look at a character like Norah and Juno for example, and then you compare them to the female roles in the John Hughes movies, what do you think it says about how far teenage girls and young women have progressed in the 20 years since then?

It’s sort of Molly Ringwald all over again. Unfortunately I think there was a real gap there in the middle where teenage girls weren’t portrayed in that way. A lot of the teen comedies that came out were sexist, in my opinion. [laughs] And really didn’t   I don’t know, I never found them very relatable, certainly. Hopefully it’s a reemergence of that. I should hope so. I think certainly in my era it was all about popularity. Remember? It was like popularity was the theme of everything. And a little bit of class struggle, and that was kind of it.

Nowadays I think it’s so much more about insecurity. I think beauty is such a strange and illusive thing these days. Young girls have all these magazines to look at and feel horrible about themselves. Diet, health, all of that. I think Juno, I think Norah, I think they’re real girls. I think both of these actresses are absolutely gorgeous but they’re not walking out of “Gossip Girl.”

Conventional.

Yeah, it’s not conventional beauty, obviously. I, for one, really appreciate that. [laughs] I should hope it kind of continues. The unfortunate thing is that women in general don’t get those roles any more. And the fact that it could kind of reach teenage girls is even more special to me.

Which is so funny, because now they’re the demographic, right? Now, that’s what everybody’s marketing towards. They’re the ones buying the t shirts. So, maybe out of some sick desire for box office they’ll actually maintain these young girl themes of hopefully confidence building rather than the opposite.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

I wrote a script called Man and Wife about an immigration officer who interviews married couples to figure out which marriages are shams where he’s sort of living his own sham marriage. Gabriele Muccino, who did The Pursuit of Happyness is attached, so hopefully that’ll get going pretty soon.

And I’m going to direct hopefully pretty soon, with a mandate again. I’m doing a project that should hopefully hit the trades pretty soon. And I recorded an album during the writer’s strike. [laughs]

What?

Yeah. I’m a singer/songwriter. I don’t know why. It’s my little hyphenate I’m trying to build up for myself. Yeah, I recorded an album during the writer’s strike because I just was losing, losing, losing my mind, out of just boredom and panic. And so, yeah, I’m going to try to push that as much as possible.

What’s it sound like?

I play piano and sing. So it’s piano based. It’s all about the lyrics. [laughs] My voice is trying to catch up to my lyrics, I think. It’s Fiona Apple/Feist.

Do you have a title or a label?

It’s called “Garden Party.” But I don’t have any label. If anybody out there is listening…

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