Learning Not To Accept Hollywood on Its Own Terms

The screenwriter had 50 meetings with different producers when he was trying to sell his script. The most common reaction: "I loved 'Groundhog Day.' Of course, we can’t make it."
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: How long did it take to write the script for Groundhog Day?
 

Danny Rubin: As I recall, it took me about seven weeks to brainstorm and figure out what the rules were and what I wanted the main characters to be in the story and the flow of the story and how I wanted it all to come out and after I’d figured that out, then I just sat down and wrote it and that took me about three or four days.

Question: What were the reactions to the script?

Danny Rubin: I had written one screenplay already and had sold it and that was the sum total of my Hollywood experience up until then.  I had gone to a lot of meetings and my agent had pretty much said, “You really need to write something else and get it out there quickly before people tire of you,” and I had had this thought and I decided, you know what, I could write that one quickly.  That’s a really good one.  It’s a little movie.  I can write it quickly and get it out there and use it as a writing sample just to show people when I walk in the room, here’s my latest script.

So, that was the purpose of it and then after it went out, I got a ton of meetings off of it because people liked the story and they liked the writing and I counted 50 different meetings and that’s what really got my feet wet in Hollywood.  I got to meet a lot of these producers.  I got a couple of jobs off of it.  Nobody wanted to make Groundhog Day.  In fact, kind of strangely, I was new to L.A. and I was going to these meetings and people would say, “Danny, glad to meet you.  I loved Groundhog Day.  Of course, we can’t make it,” and I would say, “Of course.”  And nobody ever explained to me why and I didn’t ask why not because I was trying to just go along, get along to accept the industry on its own terms and they’d say, “Well, but what else have you got?” or, “We’ve got this list of ideas.  See if you like any of those,” and then I got a couple of jobs and I was on my way and it wasn’t until my agent quit to become a school teacher, that I found myself without an agent, but I had this spec script that I was sending around to try and get a new agent and that’s how that script wound up at CAA with Richard Lovett.

He called me and said, “I love Groundhog Day.  Of course we can’t represent you.”  And I said, “Of course,” and he said, “But I have a client who I think might like this.  Can I give it to him?” and he sent it to Harold Ramis and that’s how the movie got set up.

Question:
How did the film change from the original script?

Danny Rubin: One thing that occurred to me is I wanted to do something fun with the movie and the first thing I thought was, “You know what?  I don’t want to have to deal with how he got into this situation.  I don’t want to deal with some kind of supernatural reason that he was stuck in the same day because then the movie becomes about the plot of his getting out from under it instead of about that existential quality of how does he just deal with it.”

And so, I thought, “Well, I know how I can avoid that.  I’ll start in the middle.  The first things that happens is you hear the clock radio come on with the “I Got You Babe” and then the DJs come on doing their little shtick and Phil is able to sort of mouth the words to what they're saying when he wakes up before he even knows what they're saying and the audience is thinking, “Huh, that’s strange.  How does he know what's playing on the radio?”  And then he goes downstairs and he knows what Mr. Lancaster is going to say before she says it, so he’s anticipating and the audience is thinking, “Wow, this is weird.  How does this guy know what’s going to happen before it happens?” 

Then he goes outside and this geeky goes, “Phil?” and Phil goes up to him and takes off his glove and he slugs him and we have no idea why that happened.  And so, I set it up by beginning in the middle with this mystery.  How does this guy have this supernatural ability and we go through meeting, you know, going through the Groundhog report and setting up the day and then he repeats the day and that’s when we know how the movie is set up and we understand how he knows what he knows.

That was the way I set it up and from the very beginning, they were - the studio was a little antsy about that.  Harold Ramis, the director, said that he liked that.  He tried to keep it, but eventually there was just this weight of convention where they really wanted to just establish who he is, set it up and then have this thing happen when he starts repeating the day.  And so, I’d say that was the biggest thing that changed, was when the movie opened, the beginning of it.

And also, as part of having the movie start in the middle, I had a voice-over.  Phil had a voice-over sort of leading the audience along so they wouldn’t feel too disrupted or too disoriented and kind of helping them bond with Phil and as soon as we straightened out the timeline to where it began a little sooner, that became unnecessary.  So, on the face of it, the very two biggest changes were that it began soon, before the repetition and that there’s no voice-over.

Recorded on May 12, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman