Learning Not To Accept Hollywood on Its Own Terms

Question: How long did it take to write the script for \r\nGroundhog Day?

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

Question: What were the reactions to the \r\nscript?

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

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

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

\r\nHow did the film change from the original script?

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

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

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

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

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

Recorded on May 12, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

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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Credit: Petr Kratochvil. PublicDomainPictures.net.
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