Research! Research! Research! We’ve all heard it since our first history or research paper in high school. The teacher gave you that dreaded homework assignment. You were told to back up your facts by using research, which meant the dreaded ibid, which included the book you got the fact from, the page it was on and if it was a quote, who quoted it. If the research is was not correct you get marked down, or accused of falsification.
The important thing to remember is that research is just as important for a script writer as it is for someone who writes fiction. If the research is not correct, then someone is going to doubt your credibility as a writer.
This brings me to the next important question, is the golden rule correct? Must you always write about something you know? I don’t always feel that is the case. However, we since school that notion has been pounded in our heads. I don’t necessarily always write what I know. I write what interests me. If a writer always writes a topic they are knowledgeable about, then they could stagnate or get blocked. Writing about something you don’t know, allows you to learn something new and it gives you the perfect opportunity to stretch the bounds of your imagination. However; once again if you are going to write about something you don’t know, (here’s that word again) research.
Here’s an example of what I am talking about. The first screenplay I wrote was a sports action adventure drama called “Derby Double” about English Soccer. This was an idea that germinated in my head since I was a little kid living in England.
Every night The BBC nightly news was filled with stories about the conflict in Northern Ireland and I would see it constantly. I was horrified with stories about the bombings in Birmingham, and angered about the injustice of The Guildford Four, falsely accused of terrorism. The war in Northern Ireland was England’s Vietnam. And even though I watched all these events unfold on British television, I must admit I never understood what it was all about. The only thing I knew was that it had to do with Protestants and Catholics and in the eyes of the English, the Catholics were the bad guys and in the British press that’s exactly how they were portrayed. Years later, I would learn a whole lot about what was known as the troubles. I would learn that it was Northern Ireland’s civil rights issue, filled with politics being influenced by an imperial country that had lost it’s footing in the world. A conflict that had it’s roots all the way back to Henry VIII.
I think I was about 13 when I was watching “Match of The Day,” I am not sure of the match, but one team had a heavy predominance of Northern Irish players on the club and a few of them Catholic. I posed the question to myself, “What is it like to be a Catholic Northern Irish Footballer playing in England? Do the crowd get on them?(And English crowds could be very brutal back them.) Do opposing English players or their own teammates give them, as the English would say stick? It was a similar question that is asked now about racism in the English game. I kept that question in my head for many years.
After college, I read a biography of soccer greats. The last biography in the book was George Best, the greatest Football player to ever don the green and white of Northern Ireland. He was considered the Northern Irish Pele, because of the way he could jinked a defender with his magical dribbling skills. The passion this man had for the game was like none other than I ever saw and when you watched Manchester United play, you were riveted to him, because you had no idea what he was going to conjure.
With the question still in my mind and having read the George Best bio and idea came into my head. Now George was the son of a Protestant Belfast dock worker, not Catholic. I knew I wanted to create a character just like him, whose passion was the game and not the sectarian violence. I decided to change my Protagonist to the son of a Catholic Fisherman whose passion was the game of Football. Instead of Manchester United, he supported the enemy, Manchester City. His name was Seamus O’Brien and he lived his dream of playing for his favorite Football club, but there was a cost. The cost was a career ending injury and the assassination of his fiance Hannah Loughlan at the hands of the IRA. Hannah’s dream had always been peace in Belfast. Her vision was to bring Protestants and Catholics together in a sign of unity against the factions of armed destruction, the UVF(Protestant) and the IRA. She wanted a real future for Belfast, without war, Belfast’s economy would improve. Hannah wanted to be a member of the Northern Irish Parliament to bring about that change. She was the next Bernadette Devlin. It was the big Christmas boxing day fixtures in England. Seamus is in an FA Cup tie against Arsenal, performing his magic, while Hannah is the main speaker at a large peace rally in Belfast with Catholics and Protestants in attendance. That same day, Colm Rourke, the leader of the IRA Political wing, Sein Fein meets an IRA Lieutenant named Paddy Cleary to receive his backing with a peace proposal. The meeting was a set up from the start. Paddy was part of the hard line faction that wanted nothing more than English soldiers out of their country for good. There were IRA all over on rooftops and in trucks ready to pounce.
Hannah gives a rousing speech and leads the crowd into the street with signs and chants about taking Belfast back from years of sectarian violence. As she reaches the top of the street, the attack is set into motion and both Hannah and Colm are gunned down, by gun fire coming in all directions.
At the same exact moment, Seamus challenges an Arsenal defender for a ball in the air. He wins the header but his knee gives way and shatters into pieces. Seamus’ career is over and when he returns back to Belfast, he discovers his future with Hannah is over too.
Bitter and angry about the sectarian violence, Seamus vows revenge. Others would rather he seek justice. A documentary film maker from the American Television show Front Line, was filming a documentary on Hannah and he offers Seamus the tape of the attack. Seamus is shocked to discover that his best friend Roary Riordan was the getaway driver. Now Seamus wants more than revenge he wants justice. He joins Interpol. Interpol train Seamus and then they utilize him in many undercover operations. Eventually Seamus’ life comes full circle and he is brought a case that will put him in the path of the man who ordered the assassination on Hannah Loughlan and Colm Rourke, the catch is that to bring the man down, he has to play Football again.
The opening scene of the movie, we see the attack happen at the same time as Seamus’ injury and I started this scene with a narrative from Seamus, explaining his situation and the history of how the troubles began.
In order to make sure my script was authentic, I had to do a whole lot of research on The Troubles. I started by reading a fictional account of the IRA by Leon Uris, called “Trinity.” Then I hopped off to Borders and bought two books on the subject and read them cover to cover. “The Troubles” by Tim Pat Coogan and “A Secret History Of the IRA” by Ed Moloney. I scoured the internet. Google search after google search brought me to names and events I had heard about but never read. I learned about the history of the Easter Uprising and some history long ago which went back to the 1700’s.
I learned about the O’Neill Clan, Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, Tom Barry and moved on to names more recent that were prominent in the eventual peace that was brought about in Northern Ireland. I learned about names that were more recent, Gerry Adams, Bernadette Devlin, Bobby Sands and Martin McGuinness.
Once I got as much information as I could, I was ready to put together the first quarter of the movie, which all took place in Belfast. Because of all the research I had done, Seamus’ narrative flowed like poetry. I could hear his voice and I could visualize a particular actor I had in my head playing him.
In the opening we see Paddy Cleary preparing the assassination. We see Roary waiting out in the car. We see the tension and sense Roary does not want to be there. He grips the steering wheel as if he is choking a chicken and he smokes one cigarette after another. His only distraction is Seamus’ cup tie. Anytime Seamus creates some magic, Roary is in his corner, screaming at the top of his lungs. We see Hannah give her speech, we watch Seamus in the match. We watch Hannah march down the street. There’s a cutaway to Roary, he recognizes Hannah and he panics. He tears out of the car, determined to take her out of there. He ends up being too late. The whole scene culminates in the attack and Seamus’ injury at the same time. We watch Colm Rourke go down, Hannah goes down and Roary tries to save her, and pleads for her to hang on until he can get help. Seamus is stretchered off the pitch down the tunnel screaming for Hannah. Hannah dies in Roary’s arms. The last shot in the scene is an intercut shot with Roary screaming Hannah’s name in anguish and Seamus doing the same as he is carried off the pitch. This opening scene is an example of what good research can do to enhance the plot of your movie.
The value of research is that it makes the dialogue and the action believable. It doesn’t matter whether you know a subject matter or not. If you don’t research it. By adding some touches of realism through research, your script is apt to be read by someone. If I hadn’t spent a few months doing research about the conflict in Northern Ireland, I don’t believe I would have have as strong an opening in my movie. I would rather have a strong opening filled with research than a weak one without it. Research! Research! Research! A valuable tool for any script writer.