Bruce Joel Rubin, screenwriter
ShoWest 2007 Screenwriter of the yearAs a young man, Bruce Joel Rubin hitchhiked to such exotic locales as the Greek isle of Paros and a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Nepal on a quest for spiritual enlightenment. It's an experience that has influenced his work on such sci-fi thrillers as 1983's "Brainstorm" and 1990's "Jacob's Ladder" and "Ghost," the latter of which earned him an Oscar in 1991. Rubin continues to explore otherworldly realms in New Line's current release "The Last Mimzy" -- which he adapted (with Toby Emmerich) from the acclaimed sci-fi short story by Lewis Padgett -- as well as "The Time Traveler's Wife," which he co-wrote with Jeremy Leven and is set for a 2008 release, also through New Line. The ShoWest Screenwriter of the Year recently spoke with Dion Rabouin for The Hollywood Reporter about his latest projects, the nature of creativity and the life experiences that continue to inform his work.
The Hollywood Reporter: You've been writing movies since 1983. Have you been happy with the way your ideas have come out on film?
Bruce Joel Rubin: Mixed, very mixed. Some really have been wonderful. The original screenplays have been very satisfying, and the ones that have been adaptations or where I've been hired to do other people's work tend to be less satisfying. There's not quite the same sense of ownership, and I have experienced -- over the last so many years -- that the interference of the studio is so great that it really alters the nature of the work. That's when it gets to be very difficult. On the other hand, when I stick with a project -- like I did with "Mimzy," where I just wouldn't let go -- it was like riding a bull. I said, "This is a movie that just needs to be held together," and I worked hard, and I held it together, and that's been very satisfying. Now, I'm working with a wonderful director (Robert Schwentke) on "The Time Traveler's Wife," and I feel incredible synchronicity.
THR: How did you become involved with "The Time Traveler's Wife?"
Rubin: It's a movie that I desperately sought out. I approached the people who were doing the film at that time, and it looked very much like I was the first writer in place, and I was going to get to do it. And I really wanted to do it. I loved the book -- it's a great book. And long story (short), I didn't get it. They gave it to somebody else, which was very painful for me. It was one of the most grieving experiences I've had yet in the film business. And then two or three months ago, I get a call from a man who's now directing the movie, who said he wanted a rewrite and asked if I would do it, and I was shocked; I was amazed that it came back to me. And when I sat down to write it, it just came out. It was the most amazing experience I've ever had.
THR: You practice yoga and meditation. Do those activities help you creatively?
Rubin: All creativity comes from that space. People don't realize that because most people aren't very analytical about how or why they create -- they just do it. But in truth, the creative realm is a realm just before the real depth of consciousness. It's kind of like the place between deep sleep and dreaming and waking consciousness. If you can go down into that kind of dream space awake -- which is really what we're doing when we're creating -- it's very, very instructive and informative, and it delivers pretty much everything we're looking for. People who think they're doing all the work are, I think, a little deluded. Sometimes, it's true; films that are purely crafted tend to have that feel. They don't have a lot of aliveness to them. But a film that sort of emerges from one's unconscious depths -- or even conscious in some people -- tends to speak deeply to the human condition.
THR: You hitchhiked, literally, around the world in the '60s. How did that experience help you as a writer?
Rubin: It's almost literal. (Laughs) There were some gaps in that. I started out in Greece, then decided I needed to go to India. I really wanted to explore the spiritual nature of things offered on that subcontinent, and the only way I could get there -- I didn't have any money -- was to stick out my thumb. I went to Turkey and Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan and then India and then up to Nepal. I lived in a monastery up there until the Nepalese government told me to leave the country. They gave me 24 hours. I continued my travels again through India and then through Southeast Asia. It was really a pretty amazing journey in terms of the spiritual discourse of all of those cultures -- but also, exploring myself in relation to all those cultures, which was very important in terms of getting to know what I was about and what I wanted to say to the world. I mean, the biggest problem for writers today is ... you have two hours to talk to the world: What do you want to say? And you ask most people, they don't know. They just want to make a movie; they just want to make money. They just don't care what comes out. If it's a screenplay that actually works from beginning to end -- on any level -- they're thrilled. But in the end, we're responsible for what we put on the screen, and I think one has to develop that in oneself before one starts to put stuff into the environment.