“Isn’t every love story about the obstacle?” – screenwriter Ronald Bass
Tom Cruise (Charlie) deals with his brother Dustin Hoffman (Raymond) as he refuses to fly, forcing a cross-country road trip in “Rain Man”. Written by Ronald Bass & Barry Morrow. Winner of “Best Original Screenplay” at the 1989 Academy Awards ceremony.
“Isn’t every love story about the obstacle?”, “Rain Man” screenwriter Ronald Bass discusses advice from Steven Spielberg back when the legendary director was attached to helm the future “Best Picture” Oscar winner. The film would eventually be directed by Barry Levinson.
Bass, Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman, and Tom Cruise developed the script together over the course of many months. In screenwriter Barry Morrow’s original draft, Raymond Babbitt was sculpted as an affectionate, “hugable”, and “lovable” mentally challenged savant. However, with Spielberg’s advice, affirmed by the film’s leading man Dustin Hoffman, Bass crafted Raymond as an autistic savant who was not capable of emotionally connecting with his estranged brother Charlie played by Tom Cruise. Raymond was trapped in an insulated world controlled by habits and rituals that could only be interrupted at the expense of the character’s sanity. This was accentuated by Raymond’s refusal to be hugged let alone even be touched by a single hand on his shoulder. As the wheeling-dealing, self-absorbed opportunist Charlie became more loving and empathetic toward his brother Raymond, the “obstacle” of the two estranged brothers developing a connected fraternal relationship pushed the film against a climactic and dramatic conclusion.
This incredible episode of The Road to Cinema Podcast features Oscar winning screenwriter Ronald Bass. Mr. Bass is extremely articulate when he discusses his writing process. Having accomplished over four decades of screenwriting prowess in this business, he still maintains the same steadfast writing routine. You will hear more in the podcast but a few interesting highlights are how he begins his work day at 3 AM, working on multiple projects in one day, a detailed brainstorming and outline session with his creative team, and handwriting every script page with a pencil.
Ronald Bass was a successful entertainment lawyer before becoming a screenwriter. One of his clients was director Francis Ford Coppola who he helped with essential production legal work on “Apocalypse Now”. However, writing was always a passion for the accomplished attorney who worked on a novel in his off hours at the firm. He retired from law with many screenwriting assignments waiting in the wings, including an adaptation of his novel “The Emerald Illusion”. In the late 1980s, he collaborated with directors Bob Rafelson (“Black Widow”) and former client Francis Ford Coppola (“Gardens of Stone”). In the early 1990s, Bass adapted Amy Tan’s acclaimed novel “The Joy Luck Club” which earned him an Oscar nomination for “Best Adapted Screenplay”.
Our interview delves into the fascinating development process of “Rain Man” and Bass’s screenplay of the classic Julia Roberts romantic comedy “My Best Friend’s Wedding”. Collaboration is a key theme to this episode; collaboration with directors and even actors such as the late Robin Williams who starred in Mr. Bass’s screenplay of “What Dreams May Come”.
Among his writing credits: “Sleeping with the Enemy,” “Stepmom”, “Dangerous Minds”, “Waiting to Exhale”, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”, and “When a Man Loves a Woman”. Bass’s latest script is actor Chris Evans’ directorial debut “Before We Go” which he co-wrote with Jen Smolka.
Listen to episode #4 of The Road to Cinema Podcast with Oscar winning screenwriter Ronald Bass.