Writing any movie is difficult, no matter if the script is fiction or non-fiction. But while writing any script is hard work, trying to write a movie based on a very popular book like “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is an almost impossible task. After all, you’ve got to leave out scenes that might work on the page, but on a movie screen, they don’t further the story. Also, whoever has read the book has their own vision of the movie in their head, so whatever you write won’t be what the reader imagined. So, like I said, it’s a very difficult task. But based on the reaction from the people who read the book, fans of Audrey Niffenegger’s novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife” shouldn’t worry, as the people I spoke with really enjoyed the film.
So to help promote the film, I recently attended the New York City press day for “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and got to participate in a roundtable interview with screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (“Ghost”, “Jacob’s Lader”). During the interview he talked about his desire to take on the material, writing the script, how he’s working on the musical of “Ghost”, and a lot more. Take a look after the jump:
Question: This must’ve been a tough book to adapt. It’s always hard to deal with time travel. How did you figure out how much of it to include in the story?
Bruce Joel Rubin: I’ll tell you the long story as fast as I can. I found this movie in an ad in ‘Variety’, or not an ad but a little article that New Line wanted to make a movie out of something called ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’. I really got very excited by the concept. I managed to get a copy of the manuscript and I read it and I said, ‘I have to write this movie.’ Bob Shaye and I were working on a movie at that point called ‘Mimzy’ at New Line and were four years into it an eight year process. I actually begged to do this movie. I met with all the producers. We seemed to have a really strong understanding. I started working on it. I started imagining how this was all going to work and it was really exciting to me. Then another writer came in who was also doing a very big movie at New Line and somehow or another he got the job. It was totally, totally devastating for me because this thing was in me and it was alive.
Approximately four years later I’m in Costa Rica for Christmas. I get a call from my agent saying that there’s was a new director on this project and he wanted me to write the script. I mean, I’ve never had an experience like that in my life. I thought it was extraordinary. I came to Los Angeles and met with Robert [Schwentke]. We were on the same page with this movie. We both saw it as a love story. We both knew the movie that we wanted to make. I sat down and four weeks later I had a script. That script, if you will, was absolutely deliberate. Every so often something is deliberate. It’s the most wonderful and extraordinary thing that happens in writing and it’s not happened to me often. It happened to me on ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ ‘but mostly for me I just sat and knew scene to scene to scene what this movie should be. What I knew was that it was a love story and that it followed the dictates of a love story, that it has an arc. All love stories have a particular arc and even though this played in time it didn’t matter where I went in time, as long as this love story was moving forward that’s all that mattered. That’s what I tried to do. It told me how to write the story. It literally told me. So I don’t take a lot of credit for it other than I was lucky that I could listen and have had years of training in terms of listening to stories and how they need to be told.
Question: As a viewer I tried initially to keep up with where he was going in time. Then I just gave up and decided that there was more to it than just that. How valid of a response is that do you feel to this movie?
Rubin: Very valid. We fought a lot, or not fought, that’s the wrong word, but we were very concerned about how we got out the rules of time travel, how we sort of layered them into the movie. It was very important that the movie not just be a movie that makes you cognitively involved and not emotionally involved. I think the moment you probably got sucked into the moment, and I think it was an important moment, is when he sees his mother on the subway. You suddenly go, ‘Oh, my God. This is about something other than the manifestation of time travel. It’s the emotional life of someone who can do that.’ When that happens the movie starts to speak differently, and as the movie goes on, at least for me, that element of the movie, the fact that it allows you a richness of emotional experience that normal, linear life doesn’t the movie starts to gain emotional weight.
Question: How did you craft the story to keep the feeling of the book knowing that you didn’t have as much time to tell the story?
Rubin: Well, I knew I couldn’t stop the movie every two minutes and say, ‘Henry is now fourteen. Now Henry is twenty eight.’ There was an earlier version of the script by the person who replaced me that tried that. I read it and it didn’t work. I was very glad that he figured that out and I didn’t because you can’t watch a movie from your head. I’m not sure if you ever watch yourself watch a movie, but if you watch a movie you watch it from your gut, here, and from your heart. These are the two places that you experience movies from. If it’s a great movie then you can also kind of tap into your head as well and have it almost be a full bodied experience. But you don’t want to watch it primarily from your head unless you’re watching ‘Memento’ or something like that where you can’t help but do that. That’s it own kind of experience.
It’s puzzling and it’s fun and you’re doing all this kind of stuff. But a real movie tends to be centered lower and so I had to find a way to make this movie come from here and not make it something you’re thinking about all the time. When you’re thinking about it, what happens to me when I’m reading a script and I have to think about it or a movie, it takes me out of the movie for about twenty seconds or ten seconds, whatever it is and then it takes about that long to get back into the film and by that point you’ve lost time in the movie. Building your trust in the movie again is hard. I didn’t want that to happen. It’s unavoidable on some level with this movie, the first twenty minutes or so and especially for men. This is not a man’s movie particularly. This is a real two quadrant movie. It’s really a female movie and I expect you guys are all going to beat us up in the press because unless there’s an emotional life most guys are not going to love this movie. My younger son watched it and he said, ‘You’ve got two quadrants, dad. I’m not in it.’ I understood that. I really understood it. It’s a very emotionally driven film.
Question: Can you take us through the different manifestations of Henry’s time travel that you guys discussed before settling on the one that was in the movie? How much input did you have in that, too?
Rubin: The life of a writer in Hollywood, I won’t go into the whole drama of that, but I was never on the set. I have no idea what went on with any of that. Truly, we could take you aside later and talk about what it means to be a Hollywood writer. I had the privilege of getting to adapt this movie, turning it into a script that I thought was worthy. It got made into a movie that I still think is worthy although it’s different in some ways from the script. It has integrity which for me is the most important thing in a movie. Movies are not the book. Movies are not even the screenplay. They are the movie. When I wrote my first film and then directed it and I looked at it for the first time on what’s called an assembly, you look at this movie which is every scene you wrote, every line of dialogue you wrote and you want to kill yourself the minute you see it. It’s like, ‘How did I write something so horrible?’ I remember the director of photography turning to me afterwards because I was almost on the floor and he said, ‘Bruce, now you make your movie.’ It’s true. Your movie starts to come alive when you realize all you can make it with, all you can build it with are the images on the screen and the performances on the screen. So as a screenwriter I have to turn my work over to a director and let them build it in the same way that an author like Audrey [Niffenegger] has to risk everything to give this to a studio and say, ‘Make the movie you want to make.’ It’s hard, hard.
Rubin: I can’t tell you what their process was. I can only tell you that there is an energy coming off of them on the screen. I don’t know what it is about Rachel. You can see it in ‘The Notebook’. You can see it in almost everything she’s in, and most men I know see it. It is unbelievably attractive. It just sucks you in. It is so alive and so seductive. She does that on the screen, that’s her performance. I fall in love with her. I think that any male on the screen is in love with her and I think the two of them have wonderful chemistry. I think they’re wonderful embodiments of who I envisioned would be on the screen. I started writing this movie when I thought that it was going to be Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. That’s how far back this goes. I was writing it in my mind originally for them. So that had to go through a lot of permutations of who was going to be in the movie. But I kept hearing Rachel’s name for a long time because we share lawyers. They kept saying, ‘She wants to do this, she wants to do this.’ I thought that would be great. Then she did it and I think it’s wonderful.
Question: Have you gotten any feedback from the novelist? Has she seen the movie?
Rubin: I honestly don’t think she’s seen it. I’m not sure she wants to see it. It cannot be easy. It cannot be easy, that’s all I can tell you, for a novelist to see their work no matter what. Unless you took every scene, every line, every element of the book and put it on the screen which would be perhaps a mini-series or a long series it just can’t be what she wrote. Unless you’re in this very surrendered state you’re going to suffer.
Question: Can you talk about the challenges your facing in adapting ‘Ghost’ for the stage?
Rubin: I don’t want to talk too much about that, but it’s completely thrilling to be working on a musical. That’s all I can tell you. I love every moment of it. I love being a writer in a medium where they have to ask you, ‘Can I change this line?’
Rubin: I wrote twenty songs and about three remain at this point. Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard were doing the music and are doing a lot of the lyrics now. The director said to me, ‘Dave is a really good songwriter, Bruce. Why don’t you let him do this.’ I just said, ‘Okay.’
Question: I didn’t know that about Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt.
Rubin: It’s their company that’s doing this movie, or was their company.
Question: At one point were they starring in it?
Rubin: Oh, never. Don’t print that they were starring in it. It was just their company. It never got that far, but in my mind, if I was writing the movie, if I had gotten the job they were the two people I was hoping for based on the fact that they had made the deal to make this movie. I thought they would’ve been perfect for the film.
Rubin: Because I saw them as Henry and Clare. I just did. They just seemed like a perfect version of Henry and Clare.
Question: What about them made you see them as the characters?
Rubin: I just found them equally attractive, equally compelling in terms of the Hollywood sort of arena at that moment in time. They were as good a couple as you could find and I thought that I would’ve loved to have seen them together in a movie.
Question: So then would you say that the relationship in the screenplay is to a certain extent about them?
Rubin: Oh, no, no because by the time that I wrote it they were no longer together.
Question: OK, but not the idea of them?
Rubin: No. I think that I had really moved beyond that. Don’t do headlines saying that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were supposed to star in this movie. That was never ever the case, but it was their company and is now still his company that made this movie.
Question: Is there any similarity in the process of the adaptation between ‘Mimzy’ and this?
Rubin: Well, ‘Last Mimzy’ had a short story as a basis that we just took the idea from. This had a full blown, wonderfully realized sort of series of characters and plot. It had everything. I had to eliminate from the book and in ‘The Last Mimzy’ I had to create a story. ‘The Last Mimzy’ movie is really a movie that I wrote pretty much from imagination whereas this movie was trying to in many ways represent as best as possible Audrey’s vision.
Question: You mentioned some of the frustrations being a Hollywood writer. Sometimes the script you write isn’t the movie made. Have you thought about directing?
Rubin: I have. I directed one film called ‘My Life’ many years ago with Nicole Kidman and Michael Keaton. I found that I was able to destroy my work as well as anyone else. It turned out to be an okay movie but I realized I was a mediocre director. That was a big deal for me. You don’t know until you do it. I think that if I had directed twenty movies I’d actually be a good director. But because I started all of this late I’m not going to get a chance to do forty movies, but the one thing that I’d been doing a lot of was writing. So I figured stick with what you know.
Question: Where do you keep your Oscar?
Rubin: Right next to my bed, actually. It’s where I put it when I came home and it has never moved.