I’m just gonna say it: my brother wrote “Groundhog Day”
It’s no secret I’ve got a little-brother thing for my big brother. When I was in first grade, he was captain of the 6th grade crossing guards at our school. It was cool when I’d see him working in the uniform. I felt protected on the bus. When he was a senior in high school and I was 11, he had a satire column in the school paper. I remember him reading drafts at dinner, everyone laughing, and me thinking “He’s so cool.” In the 75-year history of GHS, students did not give graduation speeches, but he was popular enough that the administration relented when he offered, and even though he wasn’t valedictorian (I think he was runner up), he delivered a totally amusing speech that was so good they decided to let a student do one the following year, (but then stopped the practice, immediately thereafter). But I sat in the audience and memorized his speech. It was funny. I still laugh about it today.
I always knew he was a great writer. But every little brother thinks his big brother is great like that.
When I got to Hollywood he was still in Chicago writing funny things, but it felt to me like he should be famous and he wasn’t trying hard enough. I was working on “The Twilight Zone” TV series and tried to convince him to submit some of his creepy short stories to the show, but by the time he finally did it, the show was canceled.
Long story short: instead he wrote Groundhog Day.
I loved the script (although I thought the title was weak) and when he finally sold it, and it looked like it might get made by Columbia Pictures and Harold Ramis, I was angling to be the editor on the movie. Needlesstosay, that didn’t happen. The success of the film, more than anything else, vindicated me for my little brother thing. I always knew he’d do something fantastic.
When the film released on his birthday in 1993, I felt the perfect birthday present would be to take my huge 1980s-VHS camcorder down to the Hollywood Cineramadome, where the film was opening, and interview people coming out of the theater about the experience. I cut it together as best I could and gave it to him as a gift:
A few years later, as technology evolved and the web was invented, something else happened: the term “groundhog day” started getting used outside of the reference to the holiday. My roommate in college, Gregory K., used to quip that the real sign of success in life was being the answer to a New York Times crossword puzzle. Danny was crushing it.
My family took endless joy watching the expression get said on TV and online, a constant source of amusement. Of course, the term is actually quite bleak. It’s used to describe an eternal hell. It was bittersweet that term found a home in despair. The Iraq war saw the term get appropriated for the soldiers, and politicians began using it to make their points.
For my brother’s birthday (again) in 2010 I made a new video, aggregating the use of this term when I found it.
I was running out of Groundhog Day gift ideas, feeling like I had pretty much covered my bases here. But when he mentioned that he wanted to write a book answering all the questions everyone had about the story, and have a text he could use to teach screenwriting, I volunteered to help.
I had just converted my book Droidmaker into an eBook, and felt that if he wanted the same, I’d make him a book too. So for his birthday in 2012 I published “How to Write Groundhog Day” — and co-designed a super cool cover. The book contains the original screenplay and he explains how it moved from idea, to script, to movie, with endless hyperlinks and fun facts. I have a favorite fact: after the film released Danny got letters from a range of spiritual leaders around the world, each explaining how they felt the film poignantly described aspects of their belief— Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Existentialists…
It’s hard to know how to follow all this up. I did manage to gavel him at the Groundhog Day Musical opening in London in 2018. But the bar gets raised each year. Maybe I should enroll Bill Murray in helping with the next one. Or all of you? So I’m enrolling all of you this holiday season, in the year that was Groundhog Day more than any other. We have a little time now, your ideas are welcome. Just don’t tell him we’re working on this.
“You just keep thinking, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.” —Sundance