Lorene Scafaria began her career by lying to Pizza Hut. The rather distractingly gorgeous 34-year-old writer/director toiled on a metric ton of unproduced screenplays before her woefully under-seen 2008 adaptation of Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist finally made it to theaters, and since then has mostly been in headlines having little to do with her work. (She’s best friends with Diablo Cody and is often linked in the tabloids with Ashton Kutcher, if such things interest you.)
Scafaria sat down with PW to talk about her directorial debut, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World—a daring, yet weirdly traditional romantic comedy starring Steve Carell and Kiera Knightley, set on the eve of the apocalypse.
But first we had to clear up the Pizza Hut scam.
Lorene Scafaria: Oh God, I was terrible. In fourth or fifth grade, Pizza Hut had this program called Book It. You would get gift certificates depending on the number of books you read per month. I was really lazy so I would just make up books and write reports on them.
PW: That doesn’t sound lazy.
LS: I guess in hindsight it was more work. I just can’t believe I didn’t get caught, because the titles were like “Grandma’s House by Victoria Johnson.” I managed to get a lot of Pizza Hut meals and took my grandma out to dinner, so I was kind of a hero in my family. Little did they know I was full of crap. I guess fibbing was my earliest storytelling.
PW: So there’s your origin story?
LS: Well, I heard that Dolly Parton did the same thing. Not for Pizza Hut, but making up book reports … I was also writing screenplays by fourth or fifth grade. I mean, they were not real screenplays in any way. I was obsessed with David Mamet then, so I was trying to write like him. It was really raw. Way too much cursing for my parents’ taste.
PW: You had eight screenplays kicking around Hollywood before Nick And Norah was released. How hard is it to keep working under that kind of constant rejection?
LS: It didn’t really feel like rejection, because I had a career in this. And yet the idea that there wasn’t any output was driving me insane. I had a bit of a meltdown, went to my agent’s office and quit. I threatened to go out for acting jobs. I thought nothing could be harder than this. I was completely wrong. He sent me out [to audition] for Wonder Woman. I went in and read for two minutes and was like: Yeah, that’s harder than what I’m doing, actually. So I tried to keep pushing this rock uphill for at least the rest of the year.
PW: And that’s when you decided to set a romantic comedy during our last days on Earth?
LS: I think death is this equalizer. It’s inevitable and it’s coming for all of us. But I feel like people facing their own individual mortality is a little more terrifying, whereas I think if you have the whole world people can glorify that everybody’s going at once. And for me, I really liked that aspect of it in metaphor—you always feel like it’s the end of the world if you’re going through a breakup or a divorce. I liked starting from that place and seeing if we can feel uplifted.
PW: So there’s a bit of personal experience here?
LS: I moved from New York to L.A. a week before 9/11. So I was stranded out there knowing nobody and desperate for human contact, and so I found myself calling up old friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time. It was that feeling of this cataclysmic event, and it changes your own individual behavior and your relationships with people. New York was actually a really friendly place for a little while after that. People were looking each other in the eyes. It didn’t last, but for a little while it felt like a community again. Everybody was equalized by this horrible thing, and we were all in the same boat. Or the same sinking ship? There’s something beautiful about humanity coming together like that.
Read our review of Seeking a Friend For the End of the World here.
I don’t know if we should blame the economy or the death of projected film, but a lot of filmmakers seem to be awfully obsessed with the apocalypse at the moment.