Hotel Mumbai (2018)
For release early 2018 - starring Dev Patel, Jason Isaacs, Armie Hammer, and Nazanin Boniadi. Co-written with director Anthony Maras, and based on a number of survivors' accounts of the 2008 bombing of the Taj Hotel.
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.
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.
Mad Max: Fury Road
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, dramaturge Nico Lathouris did character work with the actors and Eve Ensler gave advice on the feminist subtext.
Walking with Dinosaurs 3D
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 my friend Tim Hill and the Spongebob Squarepants team.
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 comissioned an entirely new version from 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.
Master and Commander
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.
This was my first script, based on my novel of the same name. I spent the next ten years doing other stuff - working as a doctor, writing novels, TV episodes journalism and non-fiction - 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.
The Man who sued God
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
Legend of the Guardians, The Owls of Ga’Hoole
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 I think it was slightly 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.
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 the final polish.
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".
Son of a Gun
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.
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 for six weeks having long lunches and round-table discussion with the Galatee research team, many of whom had worked with Jacques Cousteau.
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.
Miranda is now developing it as a feature.
My adaptation of the lyrical and semi-autobiographical family saga "Bulibasha", by the great Maori novelist Witi Ihimaera - who wrote "Whale Rider".
Robin Scholes is producing and Lee Tamahori directing - the same team responsible for the NZ classic "Once Were warriors".