• Summer Feature 2012

  • Feature

    • "Meditations on Story" An HD video featuring Bruce Joel Rubin on screenwriting, spirituality and ghosts.
    • Interview An interview with Academy Award winning screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin
Feature > Interview
Bruce Joel Rubin

Bruce Joel Rubin

Bruce Joel Rubin, a Hollywood screenwriter for over 25 years, has written such films as Jacob's Ladder, Deep Impact, My Life (which he also directed), and Ghost, the top-grossing 1990 film starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, for which Bruce won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. In 2011, he adapted Ghost for the stage, and now Ghost The Musical meets with rave audience reviews in both London and on Broadway. In addition to his writing life, Bruce has been a teacher of meditation and yoga for the past 40 years. Recently retired, Rubin and his wife Blanche split their time between their Rhinebeck, NY estate and their home in Los Angeles.

Interview with Bruce Joel Rubin

I met Bruce at his sprawling 150-acre Rhinebeck estate, which consists of a large house built in the 1600s, two large ponds (one with a small island in it with a single tree), a running stream, a horse stable, and a large green field in the back of the estate where we saw deer prancing—which Louise (Bruce's dog) loves to chase. After a walk in this serene atmosphere, Bruce and I settled inside his living room. We drank some White Green Tea, which is Bruce's new thing, and talked about his creative process, his spiritual beliefs, and the story of Ghost in all its evolving forms.
—Guy Shahar

TCR: There's a deep sense of the spiritual in everything you write, and on our walk just now, I understood how inherent that is in how you live. How did you come by that?

Bruce Joel Rubin: I've wanted more than anything in the world to know what all this is, and I've pursued that every way that I could. At the age of 22, I left everything I knew and hitchhiked around the world to find a teacher. I spent a year and a half traveling from Europe all the way through Turkey and Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan and India and throughout all of southeast Asia and then all the way to Japan looking for people to teach me what this is. And then in some very classical form, I find the teacher that I've been looking for just four blocks from the apartment I had in New York City. So I had to go literally around the world in order to earn the right to walk four blocks to find Rudi, an antique store owner in Greenwich Village, who, when I first met him, asked what I was doing in India, and I said I had gone to find a teacher. When he asked if I'd found one, I said "No." "Well, you know," he said, "I could teach you everything you want to know." And I knew it was true. I just knew it.

Ghost happened because I always wanted to tell a ghost story from the side of the ghost, to get across the idea that somehow when the end of life comes, there's more. The idea of a context for life's being something beyond birth and death is really fascinating to me, and I kept trying to think, 'well, what's the movie?'

One night I was watching a production of Hamlet. When the ghost of Hamlet's father appears to him on the parapet and says, "avenge my death," I thought, Wow! Imagine somebody in 20th century America being told by a ghost to avenge a death. That fascinated me. I had a story.

...the story of a couple, Sam and Molly. They're deeply in love and living in New York. One night they come home from a gallery opening (a production of Macbeth in the film) and a mugger shoots Sam. Sam chases after the mugger but doesn't catch him. As he's coming back, he thinks he sees Molly has been shot, but as he gets closer, he realizes that it's his own dead body she's hovering over on the ground.

So here is this man who has always believed that the end of life is nothingness, and he's still there. Then he realizes that this mugger has a key to his apartment and Molly is in danger, and he needs to save her. He has no way to communicate with her until he meets this fake psychic lady (Oda Mae) who is amazed and terrified that she is able to hear him. And he tells her, "You have to help me save Molly." So it's the story of Sam, Molly, Oda Mae and the killer.

TCR: How did you start?

Bruce: I was living in Illinois and I just had this idea for a very small story with a very powerful wish-fulfillment element: What if I could have one last moment with someone I love, who's no longer here? That was universal, and I crafted the story around that. When I finished the treatment, I had four pages, and I showed them to my wife Blanche. When she finished reading it, she looked up and said, "that's a movie. It's a movie because it's so simple." And that's when I understood what a movie was. Until then, a movie was still in my mind as a complicated up and down story.

TCR: So a screenplay is about one simple wish a character has, and then you craft the journey that makes that happen.

Bruce: That's right. You figure out how to tell that story in a surprising way. You take one simple thing that someone wants, something impossible to get, and you let him figure out how to get it.

Sam has to do something rather mythic and heroic, which is to come back from the world of the dead into the world of the living, find out how to be empowered in this world, affect the world, complete an important mission which is to save the woman he loves, and then, even more importantly, tell her that he loved her.

TCR: Now that it's a musical on Broadway, is it still the same story? What was involved in adapting Ghost for the stage?

Bruce: You know, I transformed the movie into a 'book' for a musical replacing a lot of the dialogue with songs. A song really captures the emotion of the story in ways that can't happen when you speak. Somehow, singing expresses it more fully and more deeply. I realized through the help of our director, Matthew Warchus, that all of the dialogue-heavy movie scenes became simply brackets for the songs. Thus, I condensed and repositioned much of the material to make the show flow better and faster.

TCR: How did that whole process come about, creating a musical?

Bruce: I was first approached 8 years ago, and I really wasn't interested. I thought it was a no-win situation and that I would be deeply embarrassed by it. I had this image of people singing—you know, I call it "ditto-ditto"—and I just didn't want that to be a part of my legacy. So I kept saying no to it.

But the persistence of one producer, Tony Adams, got me started. He made movies with Julie Andrews and her husband Blake Edwards. He was producing the musical, Spiderman. And then he passed away very suddenly, and I thought, "well, that's over." Later, David Garfinkel, who was now producing for Tony Adams' company, started pushing the button again, but I kept saying no.

He brought in another partner from London, Colin Ingram, and they came here to this house and they sat me down. We spoke for hours and we went to dinner. I was getting more and more intrigued by what they were saying. Then it started to click. The movie of Ghost, in my mind, is a very technical movie. It's a Hollywood production and very satisfying, but when I first conceptualized it, it was a much more grey-toned film. It went deeper. It penetrated some of the more spiritual ideas I was interested in. By the time we made the movie, a lot of the film had gotten a brighter focus. So I thought I could use the musical as a way of going back into the deeper spiritual realms of the film and explore them more effectively.

We talked so late that they missed their train and ended up having to spend the night upstairs. In the morning they went back into the city with me on board. Not on board the train, but on board the virtual train of making Ghost a musical.

It became probably the most exciting creative journey that I've ever been on because theatre—unlike film—is so inclusive. It incorporates the writer and the writer's vision. The writer has a voice, and it's respected in the theatre business, whereas in Hollywood it isn't, unfortunately. So I found myself very excited about the possibility.

TCR: Talk about how you started with that?

Bruce: The producers wanted to go to people in the rock arena to do the songs. And so we started to meet some of these people, but I have to say none of them were exciting to me. Then we found some Broadway people to do the show. I waited about three months and all I got was a little piece of lyric, a piece, really, almost on a napkin. I listened to it and it was everything I was afraid of. The character would never sing the way this person had them singing. It wasn't capturing the voice of this character. It was painful for me.

When they left, I called the producer and said, "I don't think we're going to be able to go with these people." And they said "Don't worry, they just quit."

So here we were then, in search again for songwriters. And what I did next was very unexpected of me. I sat down and wrote a song—well, the lyrics anyway. I had never written a lyric in my life. And then I wrote another one. I wrote 20 songs. And I was amazed because they were fun and they were definitely in the voice of my characters. I was kind of thrown by how much pleasure I was having doing all this.

Then Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard came on board as composers. Dave is this incredible rock musician, part of Eurythmics with Annie Lennox, a very powerful 80's group. Glen Ballard is a producer for Michael Jackson and Alanis Morissette. They took my lyrics and put music to them.

When I heard the music, I thought if I could write or compose music, that's how it would sound. It was stunning. It was beautiful and emotional and it captured everything. Suddenly I was really a songwriter. They did all 20 songs.

Then, some time after, the director, said "Bruce, your lyrics are good. We really like them but, they are—" he tried to be cautious. He said "Look, we have two of the best songwriters in the world here, why don't we let them have a shot at this?"

What could I say? Better songs could only work to my advantage, and gradually, most of my songs got sort of removed from the show. Although a lot of the DNA remains, the new songs were better. That was the birth of the musical.

TCR: It sounds like it was a very collaborative experience.

Bruce: We talk about it as a completely egoless experience—every one of us working not for ourselves but for the show. I'm telling you, when that happens, something remarkable takes place. When all the creative parties let go of their individual need to shine and all come together as a collective, what results is more luminous. It's really beautiful.

TCR: What do you think allowed that to happen?

Bruce: It's kind of top-down. If the creative people aren't concerned about owning their work, something softens and everybody starts to walk in the door, leaving their egos outside. Then everything that comes in represents this singular vision. Everyone is serving the story and not their own agenda. And it just works. It turns into something that thrills everybody, and everybody knows it when it happens.

TCR: Did you have any experience writing for the theatre before?

Bruce: I'd never written for the theatre. I did write one short play when I was in college and lots of little tiny plays when I was seven and eight years old. I always loved theatre. To me, it's one of the greatest of all possible art forms. It's very different from film. It's an experience of aliveness in an auditorium that you don't get in movies. Something that happens in the intimacy of the theatre speaks to you almost like someone is sitting right here talking to you. It takes you on a much more subterranean ride.

TCR: Having written at such an early age, did you know then you wanted to be a writer?

Bruce: When I was a boy, I wrote poems and short stories that my mother read to my aunts. Their approval was very important to me, but as I got older, friends would look at it and go, "this sucks"—you know, the kind of peer reaction that really hurts, and I stopped writing for a long time. Then, I wrote a short story in the ninth grade that the teacher loved and singled out. That was important to me. It put me back on track.

Our high school had a gorgeous 1,600 seat auditorium. I would go in there when nobody else was around and there was one little light on the stage. I'd pull a ladder into the middle of the stage and stand there and create stories and dramas on that empty stage. I would just find my imagination going crazy and I loved it.

Then I turned 16. And Ingmar Bergman made these movies called The Magician, and Wild Strawberries. And Truffaut did Jules and Jim, and Antonioni did L'avventura. Everything I thought about theatre was now happening in film. People were writing intimate films. They weren't Doris Day and Rock Hudson. They were real films that had such elegance and such brilliant creative juice that I thought this is where I should be. I don't want to stand on an empty stage. I want to create using the whole world as a canvas. And so I moved toward film.

When I got to NYU Film School, I was home. I loved film and the possibilities of it. I loved working on the short films I made. But then this very difficult thing happens: you finish college and there's nobody waiting for you, nobody. There's no open door, nothing. You can't send a script to Hollywood because nobody will look at it, so I had to figure out how do I get a door open, and it took a very, very long time as it does for many people.

TCR: What was that journey like?

I wrote my first movie with a friend. We'd started talking about a second movie but then my friend died. And I needed to write it myself, and it became this film Brainstorm, with Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood. Brainstorm is the story of somebody who experiences that there's no death, or that death isn't what we think it is. Every script I've ever written has been an exploration of this. But when I wrote Brainstorm I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have a sense of craft. But I started to realize that if you just keep writing, you will learn.

So twice, while I was living in an ashram with no money, wanting to find a way into a Hollywood career, I sat down in a hotel room, closed the door, took all the photographs off of the wall, put the television in the closet and said, 'You're not coming out of this room until you have a screenplay.' I had my typewriter with me—we had no computers then—and I just started to write. I didn't even know what I was going to write about.

Eight days later—based on not having enough money to pay for the hotel room—I'd written a screenplay. It's like climbing a mountain, and every time you do it, it's a little bit easier. I learned from doing it, locking myself in a room and just doing it.

Later I started writing down ideas, trying to think which would be a good movie. I had drawers full of ideas, and slowly, out of that process, Jacob's Ladder arose and Ghost arose. I still have files of ideas.

I learned what happens when you show the universe that you're really serious. They do this thing that is really remarkable. When I say they, I don't know who I'm referring to but it's the unconscious somehow. It delivers you something, your best moments of writing. You know you have nothing to do with it. It's just happening. And it's a gift.

TCR: Did Brainstorm end up being your big break?

Bruce: Well, I thought Brainstorm was my big break. I really did. I got the script to a friend of mine, Joel Freedman, who got it to Doug Trumbull, who was fresh off of Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey and he loved the idea. Then I discovered he wanted to change everything. So I abandoned it—I just couldn't do it the way they wanted it. They brought in another friend of ours, Phil Messina, who did a really great draft. And even that got rewritten. So, in the end, I didn't get screenplay credit. I got story credit. Then I discovered that story doesn't mean a thing in Hollywood.

The film didn't make any money. And Natalie Wood died near the end of shooting and we had to keep going. So, afterward, when I was trying to get a new agent, and I would say, Brainstorm, it was like mentioning that I had a baby that died. Nobody wanted to hear about it. So the big break was gone.

But when Blanche and I went to Hollywood for the premiere of Brainstorm, Brian De Palma, who is a very successful director and an old friend, said "Bruce, if you want this career, you've got to move here." We went back to Illinois, and Blanche, who was unbelievably heroic, went into her boss's office—she was a professor at the university—and said "I'm quitting. I'm moving to Hollywood." And she took pictures of our house and put it up for sale.

I knew we needed to do this, but I was traumatized by the idea of being in Hollywood without any money. We had two kids, and we had nothing, but we did it. We went to L.A. And everything changed. I got an agent as soon as I arrived there. Blanche got a great job working for the Getty Trust. My agent had me working in a week, and I never stopped until just a year ago when I started doing the musical full time. I haven't done any Hollywood since because I just... I've done my time.

Ghost was very successful and won an Oscar. They call that a big break. But the big break was the risk we took in heading off to Hollywood. That was literally a break with everything that was secure for something that was insecure and impossible, and yet the minute we arrived, we knew we were in the right soil. The roots went down deep and the tree grew. It happened.

TCR: It was intention.

Bruce: Hmmm... Intention—on Blanche's part more than mine, but you know, it takes total bravery.

"I always tell kids when they get out of college to travel. Go somewhere. Don't jump into the job world. Don't jump into security. Take a risk. Then you'll have a life."

TCR: And then your next job was writing Deadly Friend. Was that what it was?

Bruce: It was a film I wrote for Wes Craven.

TCR: I was thinking when you wrote Brainstorm, you might have been pegged as the guy that knows about brains and technology. And with Deadly Friend we have this film where a boy implants a microchip into his friend's brain. Maybe that's how you got that job?

Bruce: That may have been part of it, but I really didn't want to do that movie. I didn't want to do a horror film. And I had said to myself and to my family that I did not come to Hollywood to write these kinds of movies. I wanted to maintain my integrity.

I sat down the next morning to meditate, as I did every morning, with a picture of Rudi, my spiritual teacher, in front of me. All of a sudden, I hear his voice coming from the ether (he'd been dead many years). He was pretty direct and he said, "Schmuck, there's more integrity in providing for your family than in turning down jobs." Well, how do you not listen to a voice from the other side that starts out saying "Schmuck?" And I did what he said. I went for the phone and called the producer. It was 7am and I woke Bob Sherman, and I said "Bob, I can do this movie if it's still available." And he said, "Great!" It turned out to be one of the most extraordinary experiences.

It was a horror film with a lot of elements that are not things I wanted on my resume. And it didn't do very good business, but it was total fun. My kids were on the set every night. My five-year-old Ari was totally in love with Kristy Swanson, who was the lead. She later became Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the movie. She was really sweet to him and even took him on a date.

And then the movie came out and it didn't do well critically or financially. Soon afterward the Writer's Guild went on strike for four months, and we were nearly broke. My son Joshua was about to have a Bar Mitzvah and I had no money to pay for it. I kept saying to everybody, "This is going to be the first peanut butter and jelly Bar Mitzvah in Jewish history." All the family was flying out, and I had $400 in the bank. Then, out of the blue, I get a residual check for Deadly Friend. I see $3,600. And I think, Oh my God, this is great. And Blanche said "No no no. Look closer". And I looked closer and there was an extra zero. It was $36,000. And that saved my life and gave us a wonderful Bar Mitzvah with chicken and salmon and everybody was happy. We pulled it out of the hat.

It was Rudi who came through the ether to tell me to do this job that saved my life. And it was a great lesson about perceived integrity. My advice to every writer I speak to these days is, "Don't turn down jobs... period. It's called putting food on the table. You want to eat? Work."

TCR: Is that what you meant when you said that Hollywood is the best place for spiritual development?

Bruce: Nothing tests egos quite as dramatically as Hollywood. It takes you in as a creative entity, chews you up and spits out whatever it wants. But if you can detach from that, if you can learn all life is a process of growing, Hollywood really puts you through the ringer and allows you to grow very fast. I have no regrets at having been in Hollywood for 25 years. I'm grateful. It really has helped me develop as a human being and certainly as a spiritual being.

TCR: Speaking of spiritual beings... so much of your work deals with 'the other side,' the unseen. In some films it is portrayed as good, a source of life, and in other films it is a source of fear, or misused (such as the horror films). Can you talk about that?

Bruce: There is a material world we all inhabit as human beings, and most of us think that's all there is, that's the whole world. For me, though, the world is mostly unseen with a small part of it being what we are aware of—and even then most of us aren't even aware of what is in front of us. We perceive so little really. I've been around magicians, and I can tell you most people don't even see what's right in front of their eyes. That's how magic works. So we can be fooled continually.

I think most of us live in a fooled state. But, bracketing the life we are in is this before life and after life. And that unseen world is very essential in a way to explain this world. You can't understand one without the other. Life doesn't mean anything without the appearance of death because death informs life. It makes life meaningful. It gives it value.

I think that, in a lot of the films I write, there's an exploration of both. You see it as light and dark—Jacob's Ladder being the best example, where the main character really doesn't know if what he's seeing is angelic or demonic. It's a journey. It's the human journey.

TCR: This journey you talk about sounds like the steps you would tell a writer that their character must go through in a screenplay.

Bruce: You know, it's very interesting—that human journey and the journey of any character in a movie share a mythic commonality. Joseph Campbell called it the hero's journey. And in truth, we're all on that journey. And we celebrate the ones who do it well because a lot of people get lost in the mire of life. A lot of lives don't end well or aren't lived well. But really, the lives that are lived well are great stories. They inspire us. They inform us of what life can be if we're willing to take the risk of living in the realm of adventure and exploration.

I always tell kids when they get out of college to travel. Go somewhere. Don't jump into the job world. Don't jump into security. Take a risk. Then you'll have a life. I sometimes question the whole idea of going to college. I think often you'd be better off taking that money and traveling around the world. But the world's not safe. And so a lot of people are afraid to venture beyond the known and the familiar. But I think because the world's not safe is exactly the reason to do it.

The journey of a hero in any movie takes them somewhere they aren't prepared to go. The hero of most movies—and most human lives—is called a reluctant hero. Not the hero who goes out saying. "I'm going to conquer the world." The best heroes are terrified of the journey, but they go anyway. And when they do it, major things happen. It's pure courage.

TCR: And belief. I'm thinking about the tagline on the movie poster for Ghost, which says 'Believe.'

Bruce: When I first saw the word 'Believe' across the whole top of that poster, I was very taken by that. I didn't expect that. It's not in the script. It's really an advertising ploy and it's had incredible impact. Look anywhere today and everybody's using it now, 20 years later.

TCR: Why do you think we need so much to believe?

Bruce: To believe is an injunction to walk away from your trust in mind and trust, instead, something deeper. It's like when Luke Skywalker hears the voice of Obi Wan telling him to "use the force." Luke puts aside his computer assisted goggles and listens to something deep within. And it works. He destroys an evil world. One of the things that happens in a movie like Ghost is that you are asked to suspend your own belief system and believe in life after death, in ghosts, in help from the unknown and unseen. And even if you don't believe it, you want Molly to. You root for her to believe in Sam. People who are cynical, can't do that, and they will dismiss Ghost.

I think belief is the leap we all have to take, the leap of faith, really, to get to a higher life, a better life. The mind in the end cannot and does not know all. And there is something in us that has great wisdom and great insight and great truth. But the mind can't access it. It comes through, though, in spite of mind. People know it deeply in their hearts, people of great connection to a certain sense of self. People like that gravitate towards Ghost dramatically. It's one of the reasons it was the top-grossing film in 1990. It spoke to every culture in the world because many, many cultures are based on belief systems as opposed to knowledge systems. And so I think that's why the word Believe had such power. Believe.

TCR: What do you believe?

Bruce: My belief system is that death is an unraveling of the story of your life. That's what Jacob's Ladder is about. It is about freeing yourself from your own narrative.

I teach meditation and what I say to people is that you can do that now. You can free yourself of drama, your suffering. You can let go of all that stuff now rather than have it occur at the end of your life. If that occurs now, you will have a whole different experience of being alive.

TCR: Is that the moment in My Life when Michael Keaton is on the roller coaster?

Bruce: Yes, absolutely. In My Life, the roller coaster is the thing he's most afraid of. The first time he rides a roller coaster to test out his fear, he can't let go. His hands are almost frozen to the bar. But after he dies and he's going down the big drop, he lifts his hands into the air. And that's what it's all about, learning to do that. He learned it in the last instant of his life. But he could have done it at any time.

So much of our lives are caught up in grasping at who we are and who we think we are and all we want and all we don't want and what we're afraid of and what we're running toward. If you let go of all that—that's the same thing that happens when you die—only you, in fact, die now. And what you discover at that moment is a liberation, freedom from your story, freedom from you. Buddha called it awakening or enlightenment. It is the death of the ego mind, the death of the separate self.

TCR: That idea is definitely the common thread in your films.

Bruce: My whole career has been an attempt to bring people closer and closer to this realization or awareness, and give them some sense that there's more to life than we imagine. And I think that's a good thing. And I'm happy to have had this opportunity. I think most of my films represent a singular voice even though some of them are adaptations and some of them are original. They're all trying to do the same thing.

TCR: I heard you say that the most thrilling moment is when you discover what your story is about. Tell me about that.

Bruce: You don't always know when you set out to write something what the movie is trying to say. You think you know. You have an idea of what it is. Then somewhere in the writing process, you go, 'Oh my God! That's what this is.' It can happen at any point along the way. I had been trying to find a way to make My Life deeper, and I couldn't find it. I was so frustrated that I was going to cancel the script. I gave myself one week to find the ending and if it didn't work, I was going to throw it out because I couldn't go forward with the script I had.

I went to sleep that night and I had a dream in which the healer, Mr. Ho appeared. Every night for a week he appeared in another scene. He promised to heal Michael Keaton's character and we are rooting for him to succeed. But in the end, he failed. Michael's character dies. But we realize that in truth he saved him. He saved his soul. The minute I realized what Mr. Ho was doing and what he added to the movie, I knew the movie worked. Everyone else did too. He was the missing ingredient, and his appearance in my dream saved the movie. So, there are 'Wow' moments that come. And if Mr. Ho had not come into my dream, that movie would've been abandoned.

When I was writing Ghost, I was writing the last scene with Sam and Molly together, and Sam said to Molly, "I love you, Molly. I've always loved you," and she looked at him and said, "Ditto." I was so surprised by that line, I broke out sobbing. It was completely unexpected that Molly would say that, and yet it seemed totally appropriate at that moment.

TCR: It must be great to watch an entire audience experience those amazing moments that you discovered in the writing process.

Bruce: You know, I can never get enough of the audience reaction. I don't know how to explain what that's about. I watch these people engage so deeply in what's happening on stage and I am filled with joy. And what happens every night, which I find to be very thrilling in theatre, is that at the end of the show when the curtain comes down, there's a roar that comes out of the auditorium—a roar of approval, of cheering and clapping and screaming and stomping. And then the actors come out and the whole auditorium surges to their feet applauding. And I think, we did something, you know?

TCR: And that wonderful moment in the end where Molly is dancing with Oda Mae and suddenly it's Sam—

Bruce: Yeah. Sam enters Oda Mae's body and begins to dance with Molly. In the film we cut away, and we see that, in her own mind, she's really dancing with Sam. Well, on stage you can't cut away. On stage you have to do it. And we had Paul Kieve, one of the great illusionists in the world, come up with a way where Molly and Oda Mae are dancing, and then all of the sudden, before your eyes, it's Sam dancing with Molly. It's an extraordinary illusion. I can't tell you how it is done but I can tell you the emotional impact on stage is even greater than it was in the film, because it happens before your eyes. You see one person, Oda Mae, standing there... and then it's Sam. And you have no idea how they became one and then the other.

And then after Sam and Molly have their last moment and kiss, he walks away and just...disappears. There's no way the mind can explain it.

David Copperfield came to see the show, and Penn and Teller. David Blaine was there the other night. All of them admitted they had no idea how the illusions were done. Copperfield said it was the first time he felt wonder since he was a kid. That was really very touching. We had created wonder for one of the world's greatest magicians.

I just stand in the back of the auditorium and a little part of me knows I had something to do with it. Somewhere, twenty-some years ago, I wrote that story, I wrote those lines.

TCR: Were the illusions part of the original plan for the show?

Bruce: The magic was never part of my plan for how this would work, but Matthew Warchus, the director, had been a magician as a kid, and he hired one of the great illusionists in London to devise a way to have these extraordinary things happen. They designed the entire set around this ability to move through the door and disappear and re-appear. Rob Howell, one of the great geniuses of production design, built the entire set around the illusion, and the illusion we're using is from the 1800's—from Victoria, London. It hadn't been done in a hundred years. Even the patent for it had disappeared. Then about ten years ago, they re-discovered it. Our illusionist, Paul Kieve. said, "I can do that." And Rob Howell found a way to put it together. And it works brilliantly.

TCR: So I guess you're very happy you finally did decide to make it into a musical?

Bruce: Yes. The making of the musical is the happiest experience I've had creatively, probably in my whole life.

TCR: What's next for you Bruce, now that you're officially retired?

Bruce: Let me put it this way. I've retired from writing scripts for hire. I may still write my own scripts if that's what arises. I chose to retire because, honestly, Hollywood is not all that hospitable to the kinds of movies I want to write. I recently completed two scripts I was hired to write for major producers. They gave me endless notes and I bent over backward to give them what they were asking for. I sent the scripts off and then I never heard from them again. No thank you. No sense of what they liked or didn't like. Nothing. It seemed to typify Hollywood's horrible disrespect for the profession of writing. A year's work for somebody and no response. I told my agent I didn't want to do this anymore.

TCR: What do you think about young filmmakers today taking those jobs, and the technological revolution that has allowed anyone with a pocket camera or smartphone to become an instant filmmaker?

Bruce: Things have changed. It's an extraordinary thing to have all the equipment and all the skills you need to put a movie together. The only thing people don't have—which is really interesting and universal—is the ability to tell stories. And that hasn't changed. From day one, you need to know how to make a character people care about. How do you take them on a journey that is worth two hours of somebody's life? And how do you make all the pieces come together so that people are laughing and crying and hungry for the next moment?

You've got to learn that, and it took me a long time to realize the only possible door that would open for me was to write a great script. I still think in some way that's the key to getting into any of the creative industries. You have to produce something. And since making a movie is so costly and difficult, if you can write a great script, you can, entering contests and using everyone you've ever met in your whole life, find a way into that world.

TCR: And having been in that world and now having left that world, do you think you'll ever go back?

Bruce: I don't think writers ever truly retire. I think they can always write. If the universe says, "we've got a project for you," here I am. If no one knocks on the door, I'm going to enjoy walking my dog in the woods. I'm going to sleep late. I'm going to read some of the books I've never read, watch some of the movies I've wanted to watch, love my granddaughter and spend time with people I really care about. It seems like a really good way to live life. And that's the goal.

TCR: Thank you, Bruce.

Bruce: My pleasure.


Bruce Joel Rubin
Meditations on Story


Bruce Joel Rubin
Remembering Rudi