"Groundhog Day" Screenwriter Danny Rubin Has Seen This All Before

Screenwriter Danny Rubin says that he came up with the idea for the classic comedy "Groundhog Day" while thinking about the idea of immortality—and, specifically, how a person might change over time if they were immortal. "I was curious about whether one lifetime was enough for somebody," he says. "There are some people, those arrested development type men who can’t really outlive their - out grow their adolescence and I thought, well, maybe one lifetime isn’t enough.  Maybe you need more."

The hard part, however, was getting his script made into a movie. In his Big Think interview, Rubin says that he met with maybe 50 studio executives about his screenplay, and was told time and time again: "I loved Groundhog Day.  Of course, we can’t make it."  Finally, Columbia Pictures and director Harold Ramis took the film on, bringing Bill Murray and Andie McDowell on board. Despite getting a few tepid reviews at first, "Groundhog Day" won Rubin a number of screenwriting awards, and soon became a cult classic.

Rubin attributes the film's success, on some level, to the universality of its theme. "The movie shows that it is the repetition of days itself which pushes us forward in our own maturation as we start to encounter the same things over and over again," says Rubin. "And so, there's an element of truth to the fact that we are repeating the same day over and over again.  But, I think the biggest thing that affects people is the fact that Phil is presented with the exact same day and the very first time he’s presented with it, it’s probably the worst day of his life.  And, by the end of the movie, we see that it’s the exact same day but somehow this is probably the best day of his life."

Rubin, who teaches screenwriting at Harvard, spoke as well about what it takes to write a good screenplay, saying that the hardest part of writing has to do with being original. "Screenwriting is an art form, but it’s also a craft," says Rubin. "It’s both of those things.  It’s a commercial art and both of those things you need to be good at.  If you just know the craft and you don’t have any sense of the art, that means you don’t have anything to say and you don’t have an interesting way to say it. If it’s all art and no craft, then you’ve got these great ideas, but you aren’t able to articulate them in a way that makes it all work out as a good blueprint for building a great movie.  So, I definitely think there's a great deal of artistry involved.  I’ve never seen a good screenplay that was nothing but craft." He also talks about the importance of structure in screenwriting, and says that novice screenwriters most often get tripped up by relying too much on dialogue.

Lateral thinking: How to workshop innovative ideas

Don't underestimate the power of play when it comes to problem-solving.

Videos
  • As we get older, the work we consistently do builds "rivers of thinking." These give us a rich knowledge of a certain kind of area.
  • The problem with this, however, is that as those patterns get deeper, we get locked into them. When this happens it becomes a challenge to think differently — to break from the past and generate new ideas.
  • How do we get out of this rut? One way is to bring play and game mechanics into workshops. When we approach problem-solving from a perspective of fun, we lose our fear of failure, allowing us to think boldly and overcome built patterns.

Are these 100 people killing the planet?

Controversial map names CEOs of 100 companies producing 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Image: Jordan Engel, reused via Decolonial Media License 0.1
Strange Maps
  • Just 100 companies produce 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
  • This map lists their names and locations, and their CEOs.
  • The climate crisis may be too complex for these 100 people to solve, but naming and shaming them is a good start.
Keep reading Show less

Straight millennials are becoming less accepting of LGBTQ people

The surprising results come from a new GLAAD survey.

Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • The survey found that 18- to 34-year-old non-LGBTQ Americans reported feeling less comfortable around LGBTQ people in a variety of hypothetical situations.
  • The attitudes of older non-LGBTQ Americans have remained basically constant over the past few years.
  • Overall, about 80 percent of Americans support equal rights for LGBTQ people.
Keep reading Show less