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500 Days Of Summer Script Breakdown Reveals How Non-linear Storytelling Isn’t So Hard


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by Script Reader Pro in How To Write A Screenplay
February 4, 2011 0 comments
500 Days Of Summer script

Have you ever wondered how the writers of 500 Days Of Summer made the story non-linear and yet so watchable and easy to follow? You can download the actual 500 Days Of Summer script below and we’ll walk you through it. 

Download the 500 Days Of Summer script here.

Writing a script can be hard enough without playing around with time-frames and trying to still make it all make sense.

The good news is, though, that non-linear stories like the one found in (500 Days) Of Summer are actually easier to write than they look while watching them on screen.

Telling a story out of sequence can be extremely effective if executed properly.

Some of the most (and less) lauded films of all time such as Memento, 5 x 2, Rashomon exploit this technique to give a sometimes formulaic story an original twist.

How The 500 Days Of Summer Script Freshened Up The Rom Com Genre

If ever there was a genre which needed an original twist it is the romantic comedy. Here’s where the 500 Days Of Summer script comes in. In this post we’re going to take a look at this film’s structure which plays around with time in order to shake up the much clichéd romantic comedy genre.

Maybe your romantic comedy could benefit from a breath of new life from a few shifts in time?

On initial viewing of 500 Days Of Summer it seems as if we’re randomly jumping all over the place whilst tracking the various stages of Tom and Summer’s relationship. We’re blown away by the haphazard structure and the fact it still manages to hold our attention while making perfect sense.

On closer inspection, however, it follows exactly the same three act, seven sequence structure as any other romantic comedy. Also, most of the sequences are actually linear, with just a few random scenes thrown in to mix it up and give the illusion of a haphazard structure.

Okay, so here’s a breakdown of the 500 Days Of Summer script to show you just how easy it is to write a non-linear screenplay. (Okay, nothing’s “easy” when it comes to screenwriting, so how about “not as hard as it seems.”)

500 Days Of Summer Script Breakdown Into Sequences

*We’ve added notes in bold alongside the scenes.

**The 500 days are indicated in brackets before the scene.

***The (- / +) symbol indicates that the sequence goes from a negative to a positive for the protagonist, and a (+ / ) that it goes from a positive to a negative

**** I, II, III indicate “acts” within each sequence. 

500 Days of Summer Script
by Michael H. Weber & Scott Neustadter

Sequence A – Tom meets Summer (- / +)
(488) Tom and Summer sit on a bench, smiling at each other. She’s wearing a wedding ring.

(1) Tom sits at a board meeting at work. A voice over says how Tom always felt he’d never be happy until he met “The One.” Tom as a kid watches the Graduate. (screenplay inciting incident)

Summer works. As a kid, she brushes her hair and the voice over says how she didn’t share this belief. Summer walks into Tom’s work and the voice over says how Tom knew the moment he saw her she was the one. But this is not a love story… (sequence inciting incident)

(290) A girl, Rachel, cycles. She arrives at Tom’s apartment. He’s upset. With his friends, McKenzie and Paul, she makes him tell them what happened. Montage: Tom and Summer in love. Summer tells him she wants to break up. He leaves. He says he wants to get her back.

(1) At work, McKenzie does a presentation. The boss introduces Summer to the group. Tom is smitten.

The voice over describes Summer as “just another girl” as she rides a bike. But she isn’t… Everything Summer touches turns to gold. Everyone looks at her as she gets on the bus. He says it’s fate that Tom met her.

(3) At work, McKenzie tells Tom she’s a bitch.

(4) Summer enters an elevator with Tom. She tells him she loves The Smiths and leaves.

(8) At a work party, Tom gives her a drink and asks her what she’s doing. Downstairs he tells her he studied to be an architect. She reads one of his greeting cards. He nearly chokes when she says she used to be called “anal girl.” She leaves and he draws a picture of a building but screws it up. (screenplay call to action)

(154) Tom tells Paul he’s officially in love with Summer. Montage: Summer being wonderful.

(11) At home, Tom waxes lyrical to Rachel about Summer. She says that liking the same stuff as him doesn’t make her The One.


Sequence B – Tom & Summer get together (- / +)
(22) In a bar, Tom tells Paul and McKenzie it’s off. Flashback: Tom and Summer in an elevator. She says her weekend was “good.” Tom says she’s not interested. Summer asks Tom if he needs anything from the supply room and he answers awkwardly. He plays The Smiths loudly in the office. She walks straight past without looking. In the bar, Tom says he’s not going to ask her out.

(27) McKenzie invites Tom to karaoke but Tom doesn’t want to go until he learns Summer’s going.

(28) Tom enters the bar and says hello to Summer. She gets up and sings a cute song.

Later, Tom joins her and McKenzie at a table. She says she’s not comfortable being anyone’s girlfriend. Tom asks her what happens if she falls in love. They argue about love and agree to disagree. (screenplay big event)

Later, Tom sings a Pixies song. Later, at the bar, they discuss Knight Rider. McKenzie sings badly.

Outside, they put him in a cab and he says Tom likes her. They agree to be friends and she leaves.

(31) At work, Tom and Summer photocopy. She walks over and kisses him. She leaves. (screenplay big decision)

Paul bursts into Tom’s apartment wondering what happened. Summer appears and meets Paul. He leaves.

Sequence C – Summer starts to let her guard down (- / +)
(282) Tom and Summer in a furniture store. She seems really bored.

(34) They walk through the same store, joking around with the TV and pretend to have dinner. They run to the bed. She calls him fun and says she’s not looking for anything serious. He agrees.

They arrive back at his place making out. Tom leaves for the bathroom and talks to himself about her keeping it casual. He goes back in and she’s naked.

The next morning, Tom leaves his apartment—the happiest man alive. He bops down the street saying hello to everyone and starts dancing. He enters his work elevator.

(303) Tom leaves the elevator the most depressed man in the world. Upstairs he talks to McKenzie and says he hasn’t won her back yet. He receives an email from her asking if he’s ready to be friends.

(45) At work, Summer sings the Knight Rider theme tune down the phone to Tom.

(87) In a record store, Summer says Octopus’s Garden is her favorite Beatles song. She drags him into the adult section.

At home they watch a dirty movie. They take a shower together.

(95) Tom shows Summer buildings around LA.

On a park bench, he tells her this is his favorite spot. He points out more buildings. He draws on her arm.

(109) Tom enters Summer’s apartment. The voice over says this was the night everything changed—the wall was coming down.

They lie in bed talking. The voice over says how Summer’s stories were ones you had to earn. She says “she never told anyone that before.” (big event success)

500 days of summer script

Sequence D – Tom & Summer grow closer (- / +)
At work, Tom discusses Summer with his friends. He says he doesn’t know if they’re dating or not.

(118) At a sports game at school, Tom asks Rachel what he should do. She tells him to ask her where he stands.

Tom drives and asks Summer what they’re doing. She says she’s happy and doesn’t care.

(259) In a bar, Tom complains to Summer about how women dress nowadays. He tells her not to get a tattoo. An idiot guy starts hitting on her. She tells him to get lost and Tom hits him.

They arrive home, and Summer’s angry. She says she doesn’t need his help and he argues with her about being friends. He leaves angrily saying they’re a couple not friends.

At home, Tom thinks in bed / Summer lies awake. Tom wakes up and answers the door—it’s Summer. She apologizes. They kiss. (screenplay midpoint)

In the morning, they discuss her exes. She lists them all.

On a park bench, they play a game and shout “penis.”

Sequence E – Tom is depressed about Summer (+ / -)
(191) In an art gallery they look at exhibits.

They laugh at the movies.

(314) Tom sits alone in the movies watching a black and white arthouse film starring himself about grief. He wakes up when it’s over.

(321) A woman tells Tom the boss wants to see him.

Tom enters the office and the boss asks if he’s OK. He says everyone knows about Summer. His work’s been “off.” He asks him to channel his energies into funeral cards instead.

(167) Tom tells different work colleagues how to write their cards.

(322) Tom talks about how he hates Summer.

He shouts on the bus and gets kicked off.

(345) Tom walks with a date. He tells her it’s not going anywhere.

Later in a diner, he complains about Summer to her. He says he messed up. He replays all the times they had together looking for signs of trouble.

He sings karaoke. She leaves. (midpoint failure)

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Sequence F – Tom realizes Summer’s engaged (+ / -)
(402) Tom gets on a train. He calls McKenzie who tells him he’s not going. Tom passes Summer and sits down. She joins him. She’s going to Milly’s wedding too. They get coffee.

They talk and laugh.

At the venue, he meets her and they sit down. Milly gets married.

Later, they laugh at the table.

Milly throws the bouquet and Summer catches it. They dance and she invites him to a party.

Tom sits awake on the train with Summer asleep on his shoulder. (cinderella moment)

Paul talks about how he met his wife. McKenzie says he’s easy. The boss says he’s been married 21 years. Tom doesn’t know what to say.

Tom arrives Summer apartment. The voice over says he believed that this time his expectations would align with reality. Screen Split—Expectations & Reality. It doesn’t work out as he planned. He sees she’s wearing a wedding ring and leaves. (all is lost)

(440) His alarm clock goes off. He turns it off.

(441) Same thing happens.

(441 ½) Tom buys orange juice and vodka.

He walks down the street in his robe.

Sequence G – Tom & Summer say goodbye (+ / -)

(442) Tom’s woken up by the alarm again.

Tom arrives at work. McKenzie says they’re late. They leave.

In a meeting, Tom is called up to contribute. Tom says they’re all liars. He says they should tell the truth. He says he doesn’t know what love means and they cards, movies and pop songs are to blame for all the lies. He quits and walks out.

Tom leaves the building.

(450) Tom talks to Rachel on the sports field. She says Summer wasn’t The One—he’s only remembering the good times. Tom thinks back about his times with Summer…

In a diner, she says she wants to see the movie.

They watch The Graduate. She cries.

Outside, he asks her what the matter is.

In the record shop, he realizes she hasn’t listened to his mix tape properly. She doesn’t take his hand and they leave.

Outside, she says she’s going home.

(456 – 476) Montage: Tom lies on his bed. He gets to work on an architecture design in his apartment. He reads architecture books. He draws. He sketches outside. Summer gets married. He rides on a bus.

(488) Tom arrives at the same bench he used to sit on with Summer. She’s sitting behind him and joins him. He congratulates her. He tells her he quit. She says she just woke up one day and she knew what she was never sure of with him. He says she was right about love. She says he was right—how she met her husband—it was meant to be… (screenplay climax)

(500) Tom enters a building and the voice over says how most days are unremarkable. May 23rd was a Wednesday. Tom sits in the waiting area with a girl who asks him if he’s interviewing. They flirt. The voice over says everything is coincidence—nothing is meant to be. He leaves for the interview, but goes back to ask the girl out. She says “no” but then changes her mind. Her name’s Autumn… (denouement

The End


That’s our 500 Days Of Summer script breakdown.

Note how each sequence goes from a negative to a positive. For example in Sequence A, at the Inciting Incident, Summer dumps Tom which is definitely a negative; but at the sequence’s end they talk for the first time at a work party.

Sequence B starts with Tom saying he’s not going to ask Summer out and he doesn’t want to go to the karaoke bar, but by the end of the sequence they’re kissing.

To learn more about sequences and how they work in both non-linear and linear storytelling, be sure to check out our screenwriting book “Master Screenplay Sequences”.

500 Days Of Summer script

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