Skip to content
Who's in the Video
Danny Rubin is a screenwriter whose credits include "Hear No Evil," "S.F.W.," and the cult classic "Groundhog Day," for which he received the British Academy Award for Best Screenplay and[…]

Screenwriting is like creating Frankenstein’s monster; assembling body parts is easy, but giving them life is “almost impossible.”

Question: How did you get into screenwriting?

Dannyrn Rubin: I’ve always done writing as part of everything that I’ve rndone in the past, just various creative enterprises.  I write songs and rndo music and write essays and short plays and sketch comedy and all rnthese things and during my 20’s, I was living in Chicago and probably rnpursuing everything creatively that I could think of all at once and rnwaiting for something to choose me. 

I got a job right out of rngraduate school working for a local television show in Chicago and so I rnwas doing writing for that, but I was also writing music and I was doingrn a little bit of performing.  I was writing plays and also performing onrn stage and doing the music thing and playing coffee houses and blues rnclubs and, ultimately, I was just waiting for something to choose me andrn what happened was somebody suggested, “Well, why don’t you write a rnscreenplay for a movie?” and I thought, “I like movies,” and so I wrote rnone and l looked at and said, “That was fun.”  I didn’t like that rnparticular screenplay and didn’t do anything with it, but then I wrote rnanother one and sent it out and somebody bought it and all of a sudden Irn was screenwriter and I thought, “That was easy.  I’ll do this.”  And rnso, I just kept doing it and I haven’t had any reason to do anything rnelse since. 

Question: What’s the hardest part about rnwriting a good screenplay?

Danny Rubin:  Making it rngood, that good part.  Writing a screenplay is not so hard.  That’s all rnabout knowing where the margins are.  Writing a good screenplay is rnalmost impossible.

I think it - part of it has to do with being rnoriginal, trying to do something that feels fresh when there have been rnso many movies made and also particularly in Hollywood, a tendency to rntry and remake the same movies over and over again.  So, it’s writing a rnmovie that’s original that becomes really difficult and there's rnsomething very formal about the enterprise of writing a screenplay.  It rncan’t be longer than two hours.  So, the kind of story you tell, rnwhatever it is, it has to be as engaging and as exciting as possible rnwithin that one and a half to two hour period and that forces certain rnkind of conventions on you.  Places where we really want to have them rngripped in the story by here or else they’re going to leave or change rnthe channel or walk out of the theater.

There's a certain kind ofrn efficiency built into screenwriting that’s very elegant, but that makesrn it as hard to craft as a very finely crafted piece of sculpture, rnfurniture, something like that.  And making it all come alive when you rnjust start putting together all the pieces of things that you visualize rnthat would wonderful.  It all seems in your mind to be wonderful, but rnthen when you look at what you’ve created on the page it’s like a rnFrankenstein’s monster.  You’ve got a head, you’ve got the hands, you rngot the feet, you’ve got the body.  You’ve thought of everything and rnwhen you look at it, it’s still just a bunch of dead meat lying there onrn the table and you're trying to get a pulse to go through the thing.  rnWhat makes it real?

It’s complete artifice.  It’s completely rnmade up.  It’s all these things from your head and your desires and rndreams and it isn’t real yet and somehow, something has to spark off thern page that makes you to join the life that’s going on in this world thatrn you’ve created.  And to make that smooth life feel real when the whole rnthing is artifice.  It all has agenda.  It’s all people you’ve created rnand worlds that don’t even exist.  Making that feel real, that’s the rnabsolute impossible thing.  Being original, making it feel real and rnmaking it all fit.  It’s the easiest thing in the world and it’s rnabsolutely impossible.

Question: Do you consider rnscreenwriting an art form?

Danny Rubin:  rnScreenwriting is an art form, but it’s also a craft.  It’s both of thosern things.  It’s a commercial art and both of those things you need to be rngood at.  If you just know the craft and you don’t have any sense of thern art, that means you don’t have anything to say and you don’t have an rninteresting way to say it. 

If it’s all art and no craft, then rnyou’ve got these great ideas, but you aren’t able to articulate them in arn way that makes it all work out as a good blueprint for building a greatrn movie.  So, I definitely think there's a great deal of artistry rninvolved.  I’ve never seen a good screenplay that was nothing but craft.

Recorded on May 12, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman