Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: From the Black List to the Big Screen
Jesse Andrews wanted to be a filmmaker, but all his writing experience was in a different genre altogether. After all, he is the author of the award-winning young adult fiction novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
But he couldn’t resist a movie production offer from Dan Fogelman, Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. Rales, and production company Indian Paintbrush. So, despite never having read a script, let alone written a screenplay, Andrews worked through making the adaptation of his novel. He managed to do the near-impossible, too; his first movie adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl landed on the 2012 Black List, an annual feature of Hollywood’s best liked but unproduced screenplays.
Coming up with the screenplay
When Dan Fogelman, writer of the Pixar mega-hit Cars, read a manuscript of Andrews’ novel in 2012, he entertained the idea of adapting the novel and directing it himself. But he ended up deciding to just produce the movie, along with co-producers. He reached out to Andrews and offered to help write the screenplay for the film adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Andrews admits that his first screenwriting process was something of a struggle. He lacked screenwriting training, so the first draft didn’t have the right pacing and rhythm. In some cases, translation from the book to the screenplay didn’t work well. Fogelman also gave Andrews valuable advice on sequences that were good but ultimately cut from the script because they were unfilmable.
Getting a director hooked
A leaked copy of Andrews’ adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl made it into the hands of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who had worked as a production assistant and second-unit director for Nora Ephron, Martin Scorsese, and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu. Gomez-Rejon became intensely interested in the project. When told by the production company Indian Paintbrush that more renowned directors were being considered for the film, Gomez-Rejon made a highly personal mood reel of his perception of the film, using visuals and music. A few months later, he won the job.
Gomez-Rejon says he made the movie because he wanted to use comedy to work through the grieving process and to make a movie that’s about love but is not maudlin or sentimental. Filming the movie was therapeutic for him, as he was processing the loss of his father at the time. He found hope in the character of Greg (the Me in the film’s title), who focuses on his own awkward humor instead of the disease Rachel (the Dying Girl in the film’s title) is suffering from.
“At the end, if I’m able to incorporate that loss into my life and move on in a positive way with humor, then I think I would have also come of age—like Greg. … To me, it’s about incorporating loss as a part of life and then moving on with humor and optimism, and that’s something I was very much struggling with. I was not a happy human being, but it was the making of the movie that allowed me to transform,” says Gomez-Rejon.
Shooting Me and Earl and the Dying Girl for the big screen
Filming for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl started on June 16, 2014 in Pittsburgh, hometown of Jesse Andrews and Steven Rales, one of the film’s producers. Gomez-Rejon and his crew had a budget of under $5 million to work on the film over a four-week period. Andrews’ family home in Point Breeze, Pittsburgh was actually used as Greg’s house in the film, while the homes of titular characters Earl and Rachel were in Braddock, Pennsylvania and Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, respectively. Various locations around Pittsburgh were also incorporated into the film’s story.
Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung used ARRI Alexa cameras to shoot the film digitally. The film was shot using ARRI Master Prime and Master Anamorphic lenses in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Gomez-Rejon loved the extreme wide-angle lens for making Greg ‘get lost’ in the frame so he’s harder to find. It was also effective at showing the space between Greg and Rachel when he first visits her in her room.
Brian Eno provided previously unreleased recordings and some original compositions for the film’s score. The music for the film’s beginning sequence and end credits was composed by Nico Muhly.
Awards for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and received a standing ovation. It won the U.S. Grand Jury prize for the Drama category as well as the Audience Award for U.S. Drama. The film was acquired by Fox Searchlight Pictures and enjoyed a wide release to 870 theaters on July 4, 2015.