Events
April 11, 2014 • 12:25:02 p.m.

Groundhog Day celebration to include movie writer

By JAMI KUNZER jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com Woodstock Willie didn't see his shadow, which means an early spring is headed this way during the annual prognostication at the annual Groundhog Days festival in Woodstock on February 2, 2012. (Sarah Nader)

Danny Rubin hasn’t been to Woodstock since 1992, when filming began on one of several screenplays he wrote after a brainstorming session.

Among his 10 ideas at the time was a film about a man repeating a day.

“I was thinking about living forever and what kind of life that would be,” Rubin said. “I was thinking it would be awfully cumbersome to show more than one lifetime.”

A single day had more possibility, he thought at the time, and provided some comedic opportunity. At the same time, it was about something, a human life, he said.

That idea eventually became “Groundhog Day,” the movie that has developed a cult-like following since its filming on the Woodstock Square, known in the film as Gobbler’s Knob.

In the more than two decades since the film was released, fans continue to celebrate both the film and its connection to the area with a week’s worth of Groundhog Days festivities Jan. 26 through Feb 2.

Among the festivities are walking tours of the filming sites, free showings of the film and, of course, the annual prognostication ceremony on the Woodstock Square. Woodstock Willie will emerge 7 a.m. Feb. 2 from his tree trunk just as he did during the movie to predict the coming of spring.

This year, Rubin is the special guest. He will participate in many of the events and speak at a movie symposium 3:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Main Street PourHouse, 214 Main St.

Rubin was somewhat familiar with the Groundhog Day prognostication that takes place annually in Punxsutawney, Penn., when he brainstormed the screenplay.

“I was vaguely aware it existed. At the time, Groundhog Day was one of those things on the calendar that people knew about that didn’t really mean a lot,” he remembered.

He researched the festivities in Pennsylvania and decided upon Feb. 2 as the day the man would repeat.

“I realized that would be a great setting for the story and the characters I could create around that day,” he said.

Among other screenplays written by Rubin are “Hear No Evil,” a film also released the same year as “Groundhog Day” in 1993, and “S.F.W.,” released in 1994.

He’s taught screenwriting most recently at Harvard University, but also at the University of Illinois, Columbia College, the National High School Institute, the Sundance Institute, the PAL Screenwriting Lab in England, the Chautauqua Institution in New York and the College of Santa Fe.

A writer for professional theater companies and children’s television, he decided to venture into the film industry. It took him a year to find someone willing to create “Groundhog Day.” He showed numerous producers the screenplay and went to about 50 meetings. They loved it, he remembered, but didn’t want to make it.

Why?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I never asked. It seemed to be the consensus, and I didn’t want to rock the boat. I was always thinking, ‘Why not?’ But I kind of got it because it was pretty original, and I knew for some people that might be a lot to take on,” he said.

Then Harold Ramis’ agent looked at the script. Ramis signed on as director, and the screenplay came to life. Ramis cast Bill Murray in the lead, a choice Rubin was skeptical about at first.

“Even though I loved his work, I thought of him as a comedian and I wanted someone who could do drama, could play a role and it would be funny, but not a comedian type of funny,” he said. “Luckily everyone knew Bill could do it, and he did.”

Murray recently commented on the movie’s script during an online “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit.

“It’s a script that was so unique, so original, and yet it got not acclaim,” Murray said. “To me. it was no question that it was the greatest script of the year. To this day people are talking about it, but they forget no one paid any attention to it at the time.”

Murray and the rest of the actors brought a lot to the roles, Rubin said. The screenplay was entirely made up, the characters only relating to Rubin in that he has “fairly poor memory.”

“Because of that, I constantly feel like I’m waking up in the same day,” he said.

Rubin often speaks at screenings of the film and finds himself sticking around to watch it, even when he hasn’t really planned to do so.

Like many, he finds himself captivated by the film.

The draw, he said, is likely that the film is both funny and inspirational for many.

“It makes them feel empowered, feeling like they can change the world by changing themselves,” he said.

“Even though in many ways it was a conventional love story and transformation story, it feels honestly come by. It’s not cynical. The transformation that took place could really take place for any of us. I think that’s among the reasons and it’s funny.”
 


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