Benjamin Percy Talks Subverting Coming-of-Age Tropes With Summering

Benjamin Percy has become a familiar name to a number of superhero fans, with prolific tenures writing series like Green Arrow, Wolverine, and X-Force, as well as several of Marvel's SiriusXM audio series. Last weekend, audiences were treated to an entirely new kind of storytelling from Percy, as he co-wrote the coming-of-age dramedy Summering. Written by Percy and director James Ponsoldt, the film is set during their last days of summer and childhood — the weekend before middle school begins — as four girls (played by Lia Barnett, Sanai Victoria, Madalen Mills, and Eden Grace Redfield) struggle with the harsh truths of growing up and embark on a mysterious adventure. Percy and Ponsoldt's heartfelt and fresh take on an age-old coming-of-age story is brought to life by a stellar ensemble cast, which also includes Lake Bell and Megan Mullally.

In celebration of Summering's recent debut, recently chatted with Percy via email about his work on the project, and how his larger body of work influenced the film. We also spoke about his and Pondsolt's friendship, the film's genre-bending elements, and so much more!

(Photo: Bleecker Street)


How did your involvement in Summering come about, and what was it about this project that made you want to be a part of telling its story?

Like every dork dad, I was excited to share with my kids the stories that had influenced me growing up. But when I sat down with my daughter and read books like The Hobbit and The Outsiders and Where the Red Fern Grows and Hatchet—or when we watched movies like The Goonies and Stand by Me—her response was always the same: "That was great, but where are the girls?" 

One day I found her at the family computer, typing away. When I asked what she was writing, she pointed to the title: The Girl Hobbit. The first line went something like this, "This story might seem familiar to you, but it's about a girl hobbit." 

It was in that same spirit of revisionism that James Ponsoldt and I started talking about a story we might tell for our daughters.

What was the collaborative process like of working alongside James on the script?

James and I have known each other since 2003, when we were baby writers and roommates at the Sewanee Writers' Conference. We became pals and stayed in touch and frequently collaborated.  He went on to direct films like The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour and I went on to grind out the novels and comics. We've written several screenplays together, but this is the first one that's gone the distance. We're also working together right now on Urban Cowboy, which is in development as a series at Paramount+. And a few others things I'm not allowed to talk about.

We have a pretty egoless process. Our phone chats give way to a Google document that talks about big picture stuff and character beats and maybe offers up a loosely sketched outline. Then we start trading script pages back and forth. We write over the top of each other, so that by the end, it's never really clear who wrote what: a singular voice.

It's very refreshing seeing the tropes of Summering, which have usually been told in male-centric movies like Stand by Me, presented in this female-fronted context. How important was that to you, in constructing the story?

Very. Kids imaginatively rehearse for life. They pretend themselves into movie and comic book characters. They speak through their dolls and action figures and arrange them in some approximation of reality. So what does it mean if their imaginations have been engaged constantly by crime or horror stories in which women have been victimized or adventure stories in which women are absent or in peripheral roles? This story is actively working against that standard.

I loved seeing how the film occasionally dips into more horror-tinged, spooky elements — it felt very reflective of your style of comic writing. What was the experience like of trying to find that tonal balance, while still keeping the film grounded?

It's a story about friendship and a transformative time of year and life, but it's also about loss and longing. The character of Daisy is our focusing agent, and she's experienced a wound she hasn't recovered from: her dad left the family, and her mom has been emotionally distant. So when the group of girls stumble across a body—and commit themselves to figuring out who he was—it's an analogue to her own lost father.

Because you're in the imaginative filter of an 11-year-old, a lot of the story is emotionally real but not "happening" real. There's light and dark magic at work that dissolves by the end of the story, when the girls rub up against the harsh truths of adulthood. So by the end of the story, you should really be left wondering whether there was ever a body.

Beyond the spooky elements, how would you say that your recent Marvel work — both the comics, and the audio series — influenced your work on Summering?

In a way, writing comics is like writing a slow movie. They're both visual mediums, and panels aren't so different than a storyboard.  In comics, you have to hit certain beats on certain pages and include B and C storylines and contribute to theme and characterization and plot all at once; those same sort of standards apply to film, but with a slightly different length and algorithm.

What surprised you the most about the experience of working on Summering?

Because James and I are old pals, he very generously allowed me to be part of the entire process. I learned all about financing. I visited the set. I listened to score samples. I watched different cuts during post-production. It was an incredible education.

One of the most inspiring things was the collaborative effort. So many people are involved in making a movie, and they're all strenuously doing their best to tell the greatest story possible. From make-up to costume to lighting to editing; it takes a village, as they say.

I also was really blown away by how important the editor is. They're the true author of the story in a way, given how many hundreds of hours of footage they're considering and synthesizing. 

Cost was probably the most frustrating thing I learned about. You want to have some characters walking down a street and talking? Okay. We've got to shut down the street and pay all those businesses and their employees the money they would have made that day. You want to have a rainstorm? Fine. We need to rent rain machines and maybe build scaffolding around a house to darken it and get some LED lights to replicate lightning. I could go on – but I came to recognize how much story decisions have to account for budget.

What are you most excited to see audiences respond to, once Summering comes out? 

I hope they're swept away by the magic of it and maybe left with a heart-bruised feeling at the end.

Summering is now playing exclusively in theaters.