Writing “Groundhog Day”: did it really take less than a week?
The classic movie "Groundhog Day" is a masterpiece, and the screenwriter's story of how it was conceived and written is fascinating. What can we learn from it about the creative process?
Danny Rubin wrote the now classic movie “Groundhog Day” in less than a week.
At least, that’s what the title of his very insightful article says (link below). However, reading the actual piece reveals a more interesting story. I was blown away by the amount of golden process hints this article contains.
Before I go on, let me just say this: Groundhog Day is actually my favorite film ever. Seriously. Such a simple idea, but masterfully exploited to create lots of entertaining situations, witty dialogues and fun moment. No less important, I remember walking out of the theater almost bursting with optimism – something I did not necessarily go into the film with. Years later, it still never fails to make me feel good about life.
So, was Groundhog Day really written in less than a week?
Well, yes and no.
First, coming up with the concept was not part of the writing time. The idea of “a man wakes up every morning and it’s the same day, over and over again” was already there. In fact, it was “buried in a box of index cards” for two years. One afternoon in 1990, it happened to connect with a new thought – a thought about vampires, of all things. Since vampires are immortal, Rubin was basically asking himself: “what would you do for an eternity?”
“That’s when my head exploded”, he writes. “Putting those two ideas together was the birth of Groundhog Day.”
His agent was advising him to write something new, and quickly; so with that core idea, he sat to work. But by his own account, he did not start writing just yet – and that’s key.
The writing itself may have taken less than a week, but in order to be able to do that, Rubin spent no less than 7 weeks taking notes and sketching. That’s 7 weeks of exploring to 1 week of actual writing ratio. Mind you, 8 weeks is still impressive for the creating of a full feature film; let alone a classic masterpiece.
He also mentions the rewrites that came after, which would mean the “one week” probably refers to a very fast first draft that was later polished over many more weeks of rewriting.
What can we learn from this rare piece of process testimony? Here are a few takeaways.
- When you have an interesting thought, Capture it and keep it somewhere (I usually use evernote). You never know when an old thought is going to collide with a new one and create a potential masterpiece!
- A proper, well explored vision allows you to work very quickly. When stressed, many creatives try to save time by skipping that part; but that’s just a recipe for more stress, and possibly failure. It is counter-intuitive, but this article proves it once and for all: when time is short, explore MORE – not less.
- Once you feel ready with the vision, get your first pass up as quickly as you can, start to end. Read this post if you’re not sure why this is a good idea, and this post if you’re a writer and want some specific advice on how to go about it.
- Do yourself a favor and get yourself an impossible deadline. Danny Rubin had 8 weeks to write his film, of which the actual writing was done in the very last week. Keep that in mind the next time you plan a project.
You should definitely read the original article. It contains many insights about the creative process and the industry, and makes a great read for anyone interested in the making of a masterpiece. Here it is:
Notice a process takeaway I missed? Share it in the comments below!