Declan O’Dwyer is a U.K-based TV director (Robin Hood, Wire in the Blood, Merlin) who wrote and sold the spec script “Broken Cove” to Thunder Road Pictures.
Recently I had a terrific conversation with Declan about his unusual path into the entertainment business and how he has added “screenwriter” to his resume.
Today in Part 3, Declan digs more deeply into the writing of “Broken Cove”:
Scott: Let’s talk about some of the challenges that faced you in writing this script. There’s a sense of inevitability, like from the very first page, that there’s going to be violence. How much of a challenge was that for you write a story, in which you’re building toward that, playing to that, but sustaining that sort of growth toward a final struggle, final resolution?
Declan: It was never really about where it was going to end up. It was really about the journey itself. It’s inevitable in a genre piece. Cinematic language tells us there’s going to be showdown at high-noon. Not always the case, but it’s a fair assumption. So really, the interesting bit, though, is how they got there and the journey.
Every step of the way, Smith discovers something. It might not seem important at the time, but it’s definitely important later. And the same for Moira, the same for Ma, the same for every character. There is some change in some way, shape or form. It’s just that journey. The journey is the good bit.
Scott: That’s something you did that I thought was quite interesting, and you did very well. You’ve got this mystery dynamic at play, and it works at two levels. One is, Smith is trying to figure out what happened with his brother, and who is responsible for his death. So basic kind of clue‑gathering thing. But then there’s another level of mystery. You basically start this story in the middle. We know nothing about this guy Smith when he shows up. So what you’re revealing on a second level, in terms of mystery, is the back story of his relationship to this place, his relationship to his family, his relationship to all these characters. Were you conscious about doing that and working at those two levels? And if so, how did you manage to do that as well as you did in the script?
Declan: Well, thank you. I worked on a show — this is a long‑winded way to explain, bear with me – but I worked on a show a little while back called “Wire in the Blood” which is a fantastic, fantastic kind of Nordic‑noir thriller. It was a massive success over here and it was kind of doing the Nordic‑noir thing long before the Nords were, ha. The protagonist always found stuff out and he had flashbacks to how the crime was perpetrated or solved. And whereas I absolutely loved the flashback vibe, in this, I didn’t want flashbacks. I did not want to explore it in retrospect like that. I just wanted it to be feelings we all have. We all remember stuff. You touch something somewhere and it triggers a memory and I kind of wanted it to be that without being a visual clue.
I wanted to never break away from Smith’s journey and that’s in his eyes. His eyes and his reaction and his lack of reaction much of the time. When people are saying some pretty heinous things to him at certain points and there’s nothing, nothing coming back.
This is this man’s journey, it is that. He’s trying to find his way in life and he’s sticking to a code that he understands because he’s grasping at straws. Violence is his religion. Whereas Pascal is using religion to save him, Smith doesn’t have that. As I think Ricky Gervais said recently, “Atheism is a religion,” a belief system, a lack‑of‑belief system.
Scott: Speaking of the Coen brothers, you’ve got this big drama, I mean it’s a little scope but I mean there’s a lot of drama in it. You’ve got a lot of violence in it. Very graphic violence and yet there’s a lot of humor in it like the Coen brothers. Like there’s a moment when Moira swings a bottle of bitter liquor and it cracks across a guy’s face, the bottle doesn’t break. She looks at the bottle slightly surprised, Joan, “A bit harder, sweetheart,” she hits him again, this time it breaks. So you have these little moments of humor in there and obviously lots of great dialogue. What was your thought about combining humor and the drama and the violence?
Declan: I think if any, there’s always humor, the dark humor. Apart from the young characters in “Broken Cove,” the humor is never intentional. You’ve got jaded people, they live a life that is pretty fucking shit, and so any little bright spark from it they latch onto and they’re not belly laughs, I don’t think. They’re more just little wry smiles. And it’s not trying to be funny, it just happens to be situational funny. Yeah, man, because two seconds before, he’s just talked about raping her again so you flip from saying that because Joan has been in that, she’s worked in that bar or a bar her whole life. She’s in her 60s, Joan, she’s lived her life, she’s lived several lives I think in there. And she’s going to find the humor in stuff like that because that’s the only way to survive. It’s a survival mechanism, which humor is anyway.
Scott: What I hear you saying is the humor is grounded in the characters and their specific circumstances.
Declan: Yes, absolutely. Red Jacks, I think he’s hysterical because he’s so pompous. He doesn’t say anything intentionally funny but I think him and Joan are two of my favorite characters in it. They’re old and they’re worn, they’re old and worn and they know the cycle of events. They’ve seen this cyclical motion before so they know it ain’t going to end well.
Scott: You have a line in the movie, in the script, “Look at you now, broken like the rest of this fucking cove.” I’m imagining that the name of the place is in part tied to some thematic stuff going on.
Declan: Yes, that’s absolutely right. It was originally going to be called “Smiths Town” set in 1957 and set against the turbulent English/Irish divide.
But it got modernized. I didn’t quite believe it would work in a modern setting as well as it would in a period setting but I actually think it’s stronger. It was kind of one of the biggest shocks to me actually. I was pretty convinced I knew what this world was and as it evolved, I modernized it, then I took it back, then I modernized it again, took it back.
I really couldn’t find where it sat most comfortable. There was only five or six specific references but there was a massive shift tonally. If you’re coming out of a post‑war depression, there is a different sensibility than there is to a modern‑day town. You know what I’m saying, with all the new technology and stuff?
Declan: But at the same time it could be small‑town America, it could be Australia, it could be any one of the small towns, it could even have been Wales which was another consideration. It meant something to me. The “Broken Cove” bit came from my partner, – she came up with the title, so whatever she says goes basically, I’m not stupid.
Scott: [laughs] Well, the broken aspect fits, it’s like every single character in some ways is a broken character. The community in a way is a broken community.
Declan: Absolutely, part of that comes down to the mines closing, the mills closing. All that stuff that’s hit middle America at certain points in time. In every culture, small town places always suffer as soon as the big town economy kicks off. And I wanted that to be there, of course that shapes a community doesn’t it? If the mill closes and the mill was where everybody worked, there’s a desperation that kicks in and they can either move out or get on with it and they have to find their way through. And the fishing villages, especially in Ireland, and all round the world, have been hit massively, massively by the big trawlers coming in from overseas and raping all the fishing grounds so the local trawlers can’t survive.
Tomorrow in Part 4, Declan discusses the sale of “Broken Cove” and how it’s impacted his life.
For Part 1, go here.
Part 2, go here.
Please stop by comments to thank Declan and ask any questions you may have.
Declan is repped by WME and Energy Entertainment.