Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A writer’s journey turns into “Traveler’s” tale

BruceJoel Rubin is sympathetic to the plight of the writer. Not just the screenwriter, but any writer. Consider the stance he takes on his movie adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 best seller, “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” opening Friday nationwide.
“I don’t know that Audrey has seen the film, and I don’t know that she would want to,” Rubin tells correspondent Stan Urankar. “It cannot be easy for authors to see their work turned into a movie unless you put every line and every scene directly onto the screen.” In the case of Niffenegger’s debut novel, that would’ve entailed translating 546 pages. “Then,” Rubin adds, “it’d have to be a miniseries.”
Neither was Rubin’s path to penning the Eric Bana-Rachel McAdams romantic drama routine. “I actually got a copy of Audrey’s manuscript after I saw an item in Variety about the book being optioned (by the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston Plan B Entertainment company, affiliated with New Line Pictures),” he remembers, “I read it and said to myself, ‘I have to write this movie.’ ”
Niffenegger’s book journeys along the unique relationship between Henry (Bana), a time traveler who drops in and out of moments in his life, and Clare (McAdams), the young woman he most frequently encounters. “I met with all the producers and begged to do the movie,” Rubin says. “I started working on it, imagining how it all would play out, and it was so exciting — and then another writer (Jeffrey Leven), who also was doing a big movie (“The Notebook”) at New Line at the time, got the job. It was totally devastating to me.”
Time-travel four years forward, when Rubin and wife Blanche are spending the Christmas holidays in Costa Rica. “My agent calls and says that ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ has a new director (Robert Schwentke, “Flightplan”), and that he wants me to write it. Well, I’ve never had that experience in my life.” Rubin says he and Schwentke both envisioned a love story within a mild sci-fi arc. Four weeks later, Rubin’s script was delivered. “I just sat down and got into the writing, scene to scene, knowing exactly what it had to be. That does not happen very often.”
Don’t forget the final product, which Rubin acknowledges bears Schwentke’s imprint. “I had the privilege of adapting a wonderful book into a script I thought was worthy,” Rubin says, “and it got made into a movie that is still worthy. Though it is in some ways different, it retains the integrity of what I wrote, which is the most important thing to me.”
Rubin tried his hand at writing and directing once: “My Life,” a highly emotional journal of a husband/father’s final year before dying from cancer, starring Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman. “I looked at it for the first time in what’s called an ‘assembly,’ where every scene is put in together,” Rubin (pictured below) remembers, “and I wanted to kill myself. I kept thinking, ‘How could you write something so horrible?’ Then, the director of photography, Peter James, turned to me and said, ‘OK, Bruce, now you make your movie,’ and he was right. It’s the images and the performances on the screen that become the movie, and you go from there.”
Rubin, 66, has stuck to writing since. “ ‘My Life’ was an OK movie that made me realize I was a mediocre director. It certainly alerted me to the fact that I was able to destroy my work as well as anybody else.” His focus now is toward the stage with a musical adaptation of “Ghost,” the 1990 Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore blockbuster that won Rubin an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (as well as Whoopi Goldberg for Best Supporting Actress). “I wrote 20 songs and about three remain,” Rubin says, deferring to the tuneful teaming of former Eurythmics front-man Dave Stewart and writer/producer Glen Ballard. “What I love about this is working in a medium where everyone has to come up and say, ‘Can I change a line?’ ”
By the way, Bruce, where do you keep the Oscar? “On the nightstand next to my bed,” he says, smiling. “I put it there when I came home and it’s been there ever since.”

Read more from Stan about “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” including his review, in Thursday’s Sun News. My reviews of “Ponyo,” “Paper Heart” and “In the Loop” should be there, too.

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