This week we will be analyzing the screenplay for the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, story by Danny Rubin. The movie received the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay.
You may download a copy of the script here.
Today we discuss the script’s themes. There are several of them. Which ones do you see at work in the story?
Our schedule for discussion:
Monday, January 28: General comments
Tuesday, January 29: Structure
Wednesday, January 30: Characters
Thursday, January 31: Themes
Friday, February 1: Dialogue
Here is an excerpt from a Big Think interview with Danny Rubin:
Question: How did the film change from the original script?
Danny Rubin: One thing that occurred to me is I wanted to do something fun with the movie and the first thing I thought was, “You know what? I don’t want to have to deal with how he got into this situation. I don’t want to deal with some kind of supernatural reason that he was stuck in the same day because then the movie becomes about the plot of his getting out from under it instead of about that existential quality of how does he just deal with it.”
And so, I thought, “Well, I know how I can avoid that. I’ll start in the middle. The first things that happens is you hear the clock radio come on with the “I Got You Babe” and then the DJs come on doing their little shtick and Phil is able to sort of mouth the words to what they’re saying when he wakes up before he even knows what they’re saying and the audience is thinking, “Huh, that’s strange. How does he know what’s playing on the radio?” And then he goes downstairs and he knows what Mr. Lancaster is going to say before she says it, so he’s anticipating and the audience is thinking, “Wow, this is weird. How does this guy know what’s going to happen before it happens?”
Then he goes outside and this geeky goes, “Phil?” and Phil goes up to him and takes off his glove and he slugs him and we have no idea why that happened. And so, I set it up by beginning in the middle with this mystery. How does this guy have this supernatural ability and we go through meeting, you know, going through the Groundhog report and setting up the day and then he repeats the day and that’s when we know how the movie is set up and we understand how he knows what he knows.
That was the way I set it up and from the very beginning, they were – the studio was a little antsy about that. Harold Ramis, the director, said that he liked that. He tried to keep it, but eventually there was just this weight of convention where they really wanted to just establish who he is, set it up and then have this thing happen when he starts repeating the day. And so, I’d say that was the biggest thing that changed, was when the movie opened, the beginning of it.
And also, as part of having the movie start in the middle, I had a voice-over. Phil had a voice-over sort of leading the audience along so they wouldn’t feel too disrupted or too disoriented and kind of helping them bond with Phil and as soon as we straightened out the timeline to where it began a little sooner, that became unnecessary. So, on the face of it, the very two biggest changes were that it began soon, before the repetition and that there’s no voice-over.
Remember: Reading scripts is one of the most important single things you can do to enhance your understanding of the craft of screenwriting. So download Groundhog Day, read it, and join in the conversation.
For Part 1, a general discussion of the script, go here.
For Part 2 on structure, go here.
For Part 3 on characters, go here.
For all of the other screenplays and commentary in the GITS Script Reading & Analysis series, go here.
NOTE: THE USE OF THESE SCREENPLAYS IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.