The Return (2024)
Uberto Pasolini came up with the idea for this : the return of Odysseus to his home island of Ithaca, re-imagined in the tough, uncompromising style of Clint Eastwood's 1992 film "Unforgiven".
Some years later, Uberto commissioned playwright Edward Bond to do a dialogue pass, then Uberto did a pass himself.
The film is now in post-production with Ralph Fiennes in the role of Odysseus, and Juliette Binoche as Penelope
First feature by UAE writer/director Nayla Al Khaja. Original script co-written by Nayla and Ben Williams.
I wrote the medical elements of this tale about demonic possession in the Moslem world.
Some time ago I sat down with George Miller to block out the main beats of this story.
George later wrote the script with his long-time collaborator, Nico Lathouris.
The film will come out in 2024.
Monkey Man. (2024)
This is Dev's acting/ directing debut. After we got to know each other on "Hotel Mumbai", Dev was talking about his love of Bruce Lee movies, and I told him about the Bruce Lee biopic I'd written for Shekhar Kapur ; which got us onto discussing an unfinished revenge movie he had written with his friend Paul Agunawela.
Dev and I set about re-writing in a rented London house to the accompaniment of the sound and fury of the Notting Hill Carnival which was going on directly outside. The film will be released in 2024.
Whale nation (2024)
(French Title : Guardians of the planet)
Writer (English narration)
A magical journey through the worlds oceans, and across the brief lifespan of humankind, narrated by these ancient denizens of the deep. Writer director Jean-Albert Lievre drew his inspiration from Heathcote Williams' poem "Whale Nation".
I used fragments of the poem, together with Jean-Albert's wonderful filmed imagery, to construct the English-language narration - read by Richard E. Grant.
The Convert. (2023)
Uncredited second draft
Story of an English priest who takes on the task of converting a warlike Maori leader to Christianity.
A first Draft by Michael Bennet was based on the novel "Wulf" by Hamish Clayton.
I did a second uncredited draft, Shane Danielson did the final draft with director Lee Tamahori.
The film premiered at the Toronto film festival 2023.
Screenplay by Iain Reid and Garth Davis from the Sci Fi novel by Iain Reid.
I was brought in as script consultant while the film was already in post-production, and made some suggestions about re-organising the story, but I don't believe these ideas were taken up.
The story of Vogue fashion model Lee Miller, who became one of the most significant War photographers of WW2.
An early draft was adapted by Lem Dobbs from the biography by Lee's son Anthony Penrose. I rewrote the script with Kate Winslet's good friend (and former Vogue editor ) Marion Hume. Liz Hannah did the final pass.
Black Site (2022)
First feature by Sophia Banks, written by Jinder Ho, and with a stellar cast.
As sometimes happens there was a mad scramble just before shooting was due to commence to reduce the budget, tidy up dialogue and fix some holes in the plot. So thats when I was called in.
The resulting script was actually pretty good, but not all of it could be shot in the time available and the film suffered as a result.
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Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears (2020)
Written by Deb Cox. I contributed a quick uncredited rewrite, mainly on storyline.
Hotel Mumbai (2019)
I researched and wrote this with director Anthony Maras. Our agent Adam Levine helped pull together the development finance.
Hotel Mumbai tells the true story of the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel. We started off with the accounts of various hotel guests from the documentary "Surviving Mumbai", but while staying at the Taj in the course of our research, we became much more interested in the hotel staff who are, of course, the real heroes of the piece .
The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Uncredited first draft
Commissioned by Jerry Weintraub at Warners with Guillermo del Toro overseeing development and attached to direct. The idea was to create an adult, psychologically real Tarzan in a real African setting (Burroughs had never been there) so my main starting points were Truffaut's "The Wild Child" and Conrad's "Heart of Darkness".
When Guillermo was offered the Hobbit trilogy, the studio rather lost faith in the fantasy elements - such as talking apes - and hired a series of writers to rework it. They kept my Heart of Darkness setting, my Isak Dinesen heroine, and my fastidious military villain, though much was changed.
Mahana aka The Patriarch (2016)
My adaptation of the lyrical and semi-autobiographical family saga "Bulibasha", by the great Maori novelist Witi Ihimaera - who wrote "Whale Rider".
Robin Scholes produced the film with Lee Tamahori directing - the same team responsible for the NZ classic "Once Were warriors".
Bentley Dean and Martin Butler devised this project with the Yakel tribe on Tanna island, Vanuatu. Bentley lived on the island with his family over seven months, with Martin travelling back and forwards from Sydney. By the time I came on board they had decided on a lot of the main story elements and shot quite a lot of footage, but needed a screenplay to pull it all together.
Over a couple of visits I wrote the following script, often based on scenes which the tribe had already improvised, adding material to fill the narrative gaps.
As the tribe spoke no English, we'd explain the broad intention of the scene, get them to act it out, then have the dialogue they used translated, and pare it down to the essentials, so the script grew out of the filming, helped secure the funding, and then became the blueprint for the edit.
Wolf Totem (2015)
Jean Jacques Annaud was asked to direct this adaptation of a popular Chinese novel - something of a surprise to him as he'd been persona non grata in China since making the wonderful, but politically sensitive Seven Years in Tibet.
There was a Chinese draft by Lu Wei. Jean-Jacques wrote a draft in French with his long-time collaborator Alain Godard, then asked me to do this English language rewrite, which secured funding and cast.
Mad Max: Fury Road. (2015)
Script from storyboards
George Miller and Brendan McCarthy devised this as a fantastically detailed storyboard which eventually covered all four walls of George's spacious office with dialogue as captions. The weakness of this system is that if you want to change six wives to five, for example, storyboard maestro Mark Sexton has to redraw five hundred boards
I wrote it out for them in screenplay form over a couple of weeks, largely so that Warner Bros would have a document they could sign off on. The final script had text down one side with storyboards on the facing page.
There being minimal dialogue, dramaturg Nico Lathouris did character work with the actors and Eve Ensler gave advice on the feminist subtext.
Son of a Gun. (2014)
Writer/ Director Julius Avery wrote the first draft of this having won best short film at Cannes for "Jerry Can".
Producer Tim White brought me on board as script consultant, in which capacity, through several drafts, Julius and I added a bit more humour and romance to the story.
Tango Underpants. (2014)
Short film I wrote on a train journey from London to Cannes, for producer Steve Van Mil and first time directors Khrob and Miranda Edmonds.
My daughter Lauren was travelling in South America at the time, so the short story by travel writer Carolyn Swindell had struck a chord.
Emma Booth played the lead role. Miranda is now developing it as a feature.
Walking with Dinosaurs 3D. (2013)
This was proposed to me by Animal Logic - the effects house who made Happy Feet. The BBC wanted a silent movie with minimal voice over, so the dialogue in this script was intended just as a character guide to let the animators know what the animals were feeling.
My preference would have been to keep it as silent animation with a pop music soundtrack, but there was always a bit of tension between the documentary origins of the franchise and requirements of a large scale studio animation.
The live action framing story was added by other writers. Distributors Fox opted for comedy voice over throughout, written by Tim Hill and the Spongebob Squarepants team.
Bel Ami. (2012)
Uncredited first draft
Uberto Pasolini proposed this to me, based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant.
When he left Fox Searchlight, Uberto no longer owned the project so he had the film rewritten by his assistant Rachel Benette, and that's what was filmed. She did a pretty good job, certainly a better ending than my version which you can read here.
Legend of the Guardians, The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
Another one for Animal Logic, with Zack Snyder attached to direct.
John Orloff wrote the draft and Lionel Wigram - with whom I'd previously been brainstorming Sherlock Holmes storylines - asked me to do a quick rewrite.
When he came off filming "Watchmen", Zack was all set to do the John Orloff version and didn't want to start from scratch with a whole new script, so Warners paid me a large fee and put this one in the bin - a shame as this version is much better than the film they shot.
This project was suggested to me by Australian producer Jan Eyman, who had optioned "Annie's Box" by Randal Keynes, a biography focussing on Darwin's domestic life over a period of fifty years.
I conceived it as a ghost story - so as to collapse the long interval between Annie's death and Darwin finally writing "The Origin of Species". The whole story could then take place in the couple of years when he got back to writing his dreaded book after a long hiatus.
Director Jon Amiel and I thrashed out the dramatic structure over a number of games of table tennis. The final draft was written while I lived with my family in the oak forsests of Ardeche, a bit like Darwin and his brood in Down House. My middle daughter, Isla, was Annie's age and looked quite like her, so it has always felt quite personal.
An ambitious documentary series about the state of the world's Oceans by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud.
Canadian co-producer Jake Eberts brought me in to write a draft in which the fabulous natural history footage was linked to three or four intersecting narratives. This all got too expensive so the narrative elements were largely dropped in favour of straight documentary. Nonetheless I had a fabulous time living in Paris having long lunches and round-table discussion with the Galatee research team, many of whom had worked with Jacques Cousteau.
Happy Feet. (2006)
George Miller literally dreamed up this story on a plane flight, inspired partly by David Attenb0rough's "Life in the Freezer".
I wrote the earliest draft with George's input then left it in the care of co-directors Warren Coleman and Judy Morris, who added songs and rewrote some of the dialogue.
After six years of painstaking CGI work plus impro work by Robin Williams and others, George invited me back to do a final rewite.
I was story consultant on this one, based on the touching and horrifying autobiography of former heroin addict Luke Davies.
Stories of addiction are by their nature repetitive, with characters who refuse to change, so I think my main contribution was to help design a plot that had some forward momentum.
Luke went on to write films such as the upcoming "Lion". Emile Sherman who co-produced with Margaret Fink had a huge success with his next film "The King's Speech".
Master and Commander. (2003)
This was great fun to write, and also the film I'll be remembered for, which is both a blessing and a curse.
I wrote it with director Peter Weir, based on the novels of Patrick O'Brien.
There are 21 novels in the Aubrey/ Maturin series. We took the title of the first and the basic plot of the tenth "The Far Side of the World" which describes a single pursuit from the Atlantic around Cape Horn to the Galapagos.
The book is substantially different from the movie but the Aubrey-Maturin relationship which runs through all the novels, is something we managed to capture.
The Man who sued God (2001)
Uncredited final draft
Mark Joffe directed this story by John Clarke, which was rewritten by Don Watson, then rewritten by me, during a holiday driving round Tasmania with my father.
I've always thought that the best scripts are stories you can tell aloud. So I'd drive and recount scenes to my Dad and he'd write them down. Then I'd type them up that evening on my laptop, at whatever hotel we happened to be staying.
We got all the way round Tassie in this manner laughing hilariously and drinking whiskey. We stopped once at an ostrich farm. I still have the eggs. On another occasion he brought out his fiddle and entertained the public bar with Scottish folk tunes. A few of my scenes made it into the film. Many didn't, but the secret of screenwriting - I discovered then - is that you have to enjoy the process of writing. Or find some way to make it enjoyable. If you didn't enjoy doing it, it usually shows in the writing
Paper Mask. (1990)
This was my first script, adapted from my novel of the same name. I spent the next ten years as a doctor and medical journalist - before finally returning to screenwriting.
It's a weird carreer trajectory but there's quite a lot to be said for gaining experience of the world before immersing yourself in film - which can be a bit of an echo-chamber. There's a whole community of screenwriters - the majority perhaps - whose output is a pastiche of stuff they've seen elsewhere, rather than drawn from lived experience.