Bruce Joel Rubin had been working as a screenwriter for a few years and achieved some credits, though just had modest success. He'd written the screenplay of one modest film, and the story for another. And then he wrote Ghost. His life changed. So did his mantelpiece, because he had to add an Oscar to it.
Here's a the Email Interview I did with him a few years back for the Writers Guild of America website. Most of the questions were the standard ones I sent to all interviewees. He did the heavy lifting with his answers.
Bruce Joel Rubin
Edited by Robert J. Elisberg
Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin wrote Ghost, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, and received five nominations in all, and additionally won the Oscar for Whoopi Goldberg as Best Supporting Actress. Among his other credits, Rubin wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife, Deep Impact, My Life (which he also directed and produced), and Jacob's Ladder.
[Subsequent to this interview, Bruce Joel Rubin has written Stuart Little 2, The Last Mimzy, and most recently The Time Traveler’s Wife. His screenplay of Ghost was recently adapted in to a stage musical for London’s West End, and it was also adapted in Japan as Gôsuto.]
>> Were there any movies, TV shows or books that first got you interested in writing?
BJR: I was first interested in directing and chose to be a writer as a path to directing. It worked. But by the time I got there I realized I enjoyed writing more. I also understood that if I was going to be a writer I better
try and be a good one. In the end I think I am a good writer and a mediocre director.
>> When you write, how do you generally work? Is there a specific time you prefer to write?
BJR: I have a very specific schedule that has evolved over the years. In the morning I meditate, I go to the "Y" and swim, I have breakfast, and then I spend the morning usually re-writing the material I generated the previous day. I break for lunch, sometimes take a nap, and then write again until dinner. If I am approaching the end of a script I will often write again in the evening, although that sometimes makes it hard to fall asleep. I become too energized.
>> Do you have any specific kind of music playing or prefer silence?
BJR: I don't listen to music. I don't like any distractions although I will answer the phone, don't ask me why.
>> Are you a good procrastinator?
BJR: I procrastinate with the best of them. It is almost always hard for me to sit and begin writing, even when I really want to. I'd always rather check my e-mail.
>> What sort of characters and stories interest you?
BJR: I am mostly interested in characters who's sense of the ordinary is tested by internal or external events. I loved The Twilight Zone. Why is that after so many years those stories keep coming back to haunt me?
>> Where did the story for Ghost come from?
BJR: Ghost came to me while watching a performance of Hamlet and wondering what would happen to a contemporary man who saw a ghost of a friend or lover that told him to avenge his death.
>> How do you work through parts of a script where you hit a roadblock in the story?
BJR: When I get stuck I will often lie down on a recliner chair in my office with the problem I am facing in my mind. I will ask the universe for an answer or solution and then nap. Much of the time I will wake up with the answer I need. If not, at least I feel rested. Sometimes I will simply go back into the script and start reading up to the point of obstruction and sometimes the momentum of the read carries me over the hump.
>> What is your most memorable experience as a writer?
BJR: My most memorable experience as a writer is whenever I sit down to write and something unexpected happens, something comes through I would never have thought about or imagined. I love to be surprised. I love it when a character says "no" to me. "I" wouldn't do that. That's when I'm happiest as a writer. I think it’s fine to plot a story and develop a character. But when the character is determining the story and developing you, that's when it's working.
>> Was there any particular writer who acted as a sort of mentor to you?
BJR: I never had a mentor. I've had to figure it out as I went along. I'm still figuring it out. I remember sitting in Lindsay Doran's office at Paramount and having her tell me that a character needed an arc. I'd never known that before. That's how much I knew.
>> Why do you write?
BJR: I write mostly as a teacher. I have learned a lot meditating, sitting quietly for thirty years, and have wanted to share some of what I've experienced. I'm not sure film is the best medium for communicating ideas, atl east not challenging or complex ones, but I figure if I can get one substantial idea out per film I've achieved something.
I also think some of the best ideas are discovered emotionally or experientially and that giving the audience an experience that allows them to unearth the idea for themselves may be the better approach.
In the last six months I have put screenwriting aside and have begun my first novel. It is my response to having lost my voice to producers and directors who, through no fault of their own, have different visions of the world than I do. I needed to recapture my own sensibilities, to reaffirm them. It is one the most joyous writing experiences I have ever had. I have no idea if the finished product will be any good, but at this point I couldn't care less.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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