THREE VISIONARY SCREENPLAYS BY BRUCE JOEL RUBIN
INTRODUCTION (from the book)
In 1965, when I was 23 years old, I mistakenly took a massive overdose of pure LSD from a bottle making its way to Timothy Leary from its creator, Albert Hoffman, in Sandoz Laboratories, Switzerland. Needless to say, my life was radically changed.
Everything I knew up to that moment was dramatically altered by an expansive awareness that couldn’t be explained in any conceptual reality I had known up to that moment. The experience was timeless, although it seemed to last billions of years. In the end I was certain that I was dead. And then my oceanic unborn self felt suddenly impregnated by an unseen force, and without explanation my long forgotten body rematerialized, molecule by molecule, along with the room I had been lying in. I was back.
I began roaring with laughter and asked out loud why I had been brought back to life. To my amazement, a Voice answered as if the entirety of space was speaking to me. “To tell people what you saw,” it said. Those were my marching orders. There was one core problem: I had no idea what I had seen. I had somehow touched the Infinite, but I was clueless.
Gradually I began to find words for what had happened to me, often defined in spiritual realms as a mystical experience. I still had no idea how to contextualize or even understand it, so I began a journey lasting a year and a half, hitchhiking around the world, trying to find a teacher or guru who might help me grasp the ungraspable. I did eventually find that teacher, but only after I returned to America.
As I began to intuit the massive and infinite depth of what I had seen, I started to experience an enormous sense of obligation to share that vision with others, still with little idea of actually how to do it. I had gone to film school at New York University and had become a film editor at NBC News in New York City and then a film curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where I co-ran a program called The New American Filmmakers Series with a dear friend, David Bienstock, who had created the series. David knew I wanted to be a screenwriter but that I was struggling to find my voice, so he offered to help. I had come up with the idea for a film I called Quasar, about an astronomer who discovers what he thinks is a massive black hole and then comes to realize that he has in fact found the original Big Bang itself, the very creation of the universe. The story is an attempt to see how his discovery anticipates a total transformation of the human race as his mind/body experience undergoes much of what I had witnessed on LSD.
David and I worked hard on the script during our time at the Whitney. It was a steep learning curve for me. In truth, neither of us knew much about storytelling and screenwriting. Over two years and many failed drafts, we arrived at a version of the script that we felt was presentable. When Ingo Preminger, fresh from producing M*A*S*H, read our script and wanted to buy a two-year option on it, we were elated. Naively, I said he could have it for only three months. During that period, he had time to show Quasar to only one studio, Warner Bros., which turned it down because they didn’t understand the ending. David and I offered to do a re-write, but Warners’ response was a fatal blow. We were innocent and unable to get anyone else interested, so the script went onto a shelf, where it has sat for fifty years. When I read it again recently, I was surprised to see how relevant the film is today, its unproduceable ending more impactful and enduring than I had imagined. Does it need work? Sure. But it contains the seeds of a remarkable movie that suggests the drama of many of my produced movies that followed.
A few years later, when I was living in an ashram with my wife and young son in Bloomington, Indiana, and working a full-time job, I had a desperate need to jump-start my screenwriting career. I decided to take a week, lock myself in a hotel room, put the TV in the closet, and not leave until I had a finished script sitting beside me. I had read something in the newspaper about a strange form of cancer called a “teratoma,” a bizarre tumor that mimicks body parts – fingernails and eyeballs – and grows inside the human body. Somehow I thought there was a horror film in that. My wife and son brought meals to the room and I worked day and night. In the end, the horror aspect evolved into something shockingly unexpected, and I couldn’t type fast enough. Somehow I walked out of that room eleven days later with Teratoma. Scary as it was, it turned out not to be a horror film, and the fact that it somehow transcended genres made it hard to sell. It joined Quasar on my bookshelf. Not long ago I read Teratoma for the first time in decades. With its sense of a pandemic universe, I was bowled over by its prescience. I wonder if the time for this story hasn’t finally arrived.
I wrote Secrets of the Astral Plane before Ghost, and in many ways it paved the road for the film that won me an Oscar. For several years after my LSD journey, I had a series of episodes known as “astral projections.” I had never heard of them before. Finding myself lying paralyzed in my bed, my body would begin shaking. I was suddenly propelled out of my body and found myself floating above it. I didn’t know such things were possible. At first it was terrifying, but eventually I was able to tell when it was about to happen and I gradually relaxed into the experience. I learned how to hover, float and fly around the room. I even learned how to fly out the window (it didn’t even need to be open) and soar over Manhattan. One night I decided to fly toward the moon and arrived faster than I could even imagine. In seconds I was flying through the universe. The Earth and the Moon dwindled into a massive galactic vision and I lost sight of my home planet. At that moment of terror I shot back into my body and sat up panting uncontrollably. I somehow managed to resist ever taking another astral flight after that. I did once attend a class of astral projectors, a bizarre group of people. I found them all confused, unable to put their experiences into context, and many with god complexes who wanted to take control of the universe. Secrets of the Astral Plane is about a small group, a kind of Dirty Dozen of gifted psychics, on a mission to save the world. A number of Hollywood executives embraced the script, but no one was willing to shell out the vast budget that such an effects-laden film required.
There are, as you can imagine, many unproduced screenplays on my shelves, along with a collection of scripts that were filmed and made it into theaters worldwide. The stories in this book are a look into the early stages of what would follow. I think they are entertaining, inspiring, terrifying and fun – and who knows, one day they may even show up in a theater near you.
Bruce Joel Rubin
Red Hook, New York May 2023