Screenwriting 101: Declan O’Dwyer

May 13th, 2014 by

screenplay“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.”

– Declan O’Dwyer (GITS interview, August 7, 2013)

Screenwriting 101: Declan O’Dwyer

November 5th, 2013 by

“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.”

– Declan O’Dwyer (GITS Interview, August 7, 2013)

Interview: Declan O’Dwyer

August 11th, 2013 by

U.K.-based TV director Declan O’Dwyer (Robin Hood, Wire in the Blood, Merlin) wrote and sold the spec script “Broken Cove” to Thunder Road Pictures in April 2013.

Declan O'Dwyer

Here are inks to the six installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: “It’s trite – but my only escape from that shit was film and TV. That was it – they were gods to me up on those screens. When I’m working I still go to the cinema nearly every other night.”

Part 2: “There are no goodies. It’s intentional. There are no white hats in my film. They are all black hats, all of them. But just because one person falls on a particular side of the moral compass, it doesn’t necessarily make them evil, just because they’re not sticking to the law.”

Part 3: “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.”

Part 4: “I kept clinging to the point that I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it, then it was like, you know what, I’m going to put it on the Black List and see what happens.”

Part 5: “I do things in photographs. I collect lots and lots of imagery. I find it much easier to write in pictures than I do in words because I don’t enjoy the writing process.”

Part 6: “If your script is good, it gets noticed. If it doesn’t, write another fucking script.”

Declan is repped by WME and Energy Entertainment.

Twitter: @thelastsouthpaw.

Interview: Declan O’Dwyer — Part 6

August 10th, 2013 by

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 6, Declan goes deeper into his approach to the craft of screenwriting:

Scott:  How about when you’re writing a scene? Do you have any specific goals in mind or approaches that you take when you’re approaching writing a scene?

Declan:  Yes, how does this move the story along? Does it need to be in it? Why am I doing this? Why is this character doing this? What is the objection in this scene to get them over? Does it move the character along? If it moves the character along, it will move the plot along. If it moves the story forward, it stays. If it doesn’t, I’m quite harsh. I edit quite heavily, even stuff I like.

Tarantino’s a master at it, an absolute master at this stuff. He writes what the scene is not about. I just admire how he can do that. All the stuff that you would get told to take out in a pre‑Tarantino era.

It’s crafting character by not talking about the story. If two hit men are going to kill someone, they don’t talk about it all the way to there. They don’t talk about, “We’re going to kill him and then we’re going to do this to him.” They talk about going to McDonald’s or Burger King. Their job is already afoot.

Scott:  Your scene description is quite entertaining. A couple of lines I pulled out as examples. “Joan, a strangled cigarette under her lip hacks at a block of ice with an ice pick, splintering shards.” You describe a sex scene here. “The couple in climatic vinegar strokes of passionate sex.” What keys do you have in your mind when you’re writing scene description to make it entertaining?

Declan:  It’s got to entertain me. I’m the first audience. At the same time, I want it to be entertaining for the reader because the audience is never going to see my entertaining introduction to a scene. They’re never going to hear that stuff, so it’s almost like ‘producer prose’ to a certain point.

Scott:  You said you had written maybe 19 drafts of “Broken Cove.” What’s the re‑write process for you? How do you go about figuring out what needs to be saved or what needs to be changed?

Declan:  That was one of the best things about putting it on the Black List. It’s one of the first times that I’d ever exposed myself to such criticism. I don’t agree with paying £500, $600 and often more, whatever, to one of those industry script reading services to get a generic script editor, ONE script editor, to go through my script and tell me what was wrong with it structurally and thematically and dialogue‑wise? I don’t agree with that – smacks to me as a fucking rip-off – preying on peoples hopes and aspirations. Many (not all) are just looking to tick certain boxes, to hand it to certain people who would like certain things. That’s not what I want.

The Black List is different. I put it up there and I paid for a couple ‘reads’. It’s a very small fee – especially when you think you’re getting people that do this for a living, reading your script, breaking it down, analyzing it, and putting up a review. Whether you like the feedback or not, that’s irrelevant – you learn much more from criticism that you do from praise.

I had some great, great reads for “Broken Cove.” First, a couple of 8’s and then I had a couple 9’s for dialogue n’stuff. Then I had a 4, man, from the dialogue. I was just like, “What? What kinda drugs are you on?”

Yeah man, I used the Black List as my script editor. I found when I got bad feedback and things, I was really honest with myself, really brutally honest, after having that initial, “What the fuck are they talking about?” moment. It was the, “Oh right, yeah, that’s what they’re talking about.” If I agree, I change it. If I didn’t, I didn’t. You’ve got to have faith in your story. I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t have faith in it because my attention spans’ too short.

Scott:  Speaking of that, what’s your actual writing process?

Declan:  It varies, it varies. It varies madly. It’s been hard with the baby, to be honest. In the midst of school run, nappy changes, and all that stuff, it’s been a bit crazy just to try and get any time to write at all.

And now, I’m knee‑deep into directing this new epic TV show, so writing has kind of gone out the window a little bit.

Yet, often enough, you find yourself sitting there at two o’clock in the morning going, “I really need to go to bed. I’ve got a 5:30 call.” Those are the days that get you. You know, more than anybody, what it’s like. Two o’clock in the morning, you’re still sitting there -and suddenly, you’ve got a great idea, you write it. The following morning, you read it, it’s shit.

That’s the process. The thing is, it’s all good, man. I’ve got a good work ethic. I work constantly.

Scott:  So let’s say you had a stretch of free time to write, what’s your single best excuse not to write?

Declan:  Oh, man. Twitter. It’s evil. Twitter has been put on Earth by the Devil. No, do you know what? My excuse not to write is to go to the cinema, or watch a DVD. That’s my absolute flaw. The worst thing I can do is get back to the hotel room and not write. If I turn the television on, I’m screwed. Because on one of those bastard channels, I’ll find something that’ll probably be shit. It will be something that was made in 1982 and was terrible then. I’ll sit and watch it to the end. I’ll watch until the final credit goes up and go that was rubbish. But until that point, I’ll be lapping that shit up. I’m addicted. I’m a proper cinephile. The amount of movies I watch is my education. It’s always been my education.

Scott:  That’s what’s so tough about it. You can always justify watching a movie, right? You can always say, no, no, no, that’s all part of the process of… [laughs]

Declan:  Research, man.

Scott:  Yeah, research. [laughs] What do you love most about writing?

Declan:  When I find the voice. When I find it, and I have that moment of clarity. It doesn’t come often, but when it’s there, it’s like a tuning fork. That’s the beauty. It’s the clarity. Most of the time when I write, it’s a fog, and I’m trying to clear the fog away. The same as I would when I’m directing something. I just work at making it. Do I believe the story? Is this true? I’m the worst critic. I’m the first audience. That’s always my thing. Do I find this entertaining? Do I believe it?

I wrote a zombie film a little while back. Up until the point the zombie came through the door, I thought it was fantastic. The moment the zombie turned up, I was like, dude, seriously, this is a fucking zombie film. I’m trying to find the truth in this zombie film, and I’m struggling. I’m 40 pages in, and it’s gonna stay at 41 pages in. Ha! That should be my epitaph ‘The fucking zombie turned up, and all my reality just went out the window.’

Scott:  Finally, what advice can you offer to an aspiring filmmaker, a screenwriter, a director, about learning the craft and breaking into the business?

Declan:  I still feel like I’m an outsider. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’m part of the business. Work hard. Learn the craft. Work hard. Learn your craft. You will break in. The Black List has been a joy for me, because it’s a level playing field, man. It doesn’t matter what your background is. It takes you on face value. If your script is good, it gets noticed. If it doesn’t, write another fucking script.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, go here.

Part 3, go here.

Part 4, go here.

Part 5, go here.

Please stop by comments to thank Declan and ask any questions you may have.

Declan is repped by WME and Energy Entertainment.

Twitter: @thelastsouthpaw.

Interview: Declan O’Dwyer — Part 5

August 9th, 2013 by

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 5, Declan shares his thoughts about some aspects of the screenwriting craft:

Scott:  I’d like to delve into some craft questions here in terms of your writing. Let’s start off with this, how do you come up with story ideas?

Declan:  They gestate for a long time. They gestate for a very, very long time. I still find the process difficult. It’s part the dyslexia, it’s part laziness. So I do things in photographs. I collect lots and lots of imagery. I find it much easier to write in pictures than I do in words because I don’t enjoy the writing process.

Scott:  How much time do you spend in what we call prep writing, like brainstorming, character development, plotting, research, outlining?

Declan:  It varies per project because a lot of the time I’m trying to find the character. For someone like Smith from “Broken Cove” I didn’t always know where he was going to go. I always knew what his journey was. I tend to write my end first as well. I try and write my baddest character first, my nemesis first. I try to make that nemesis as human as possible and understand their decision‑making process. Just so they don’t suddenly start giving the whole exposition back‑story just before they kill, you know, the big set piece at the end. So I try and get their story sorted, so they’re so strong that they are a proper nemesis, not someone that you don’t fully believe. I just want to make them as real as possible, and that doesn’t have to be a person. I’ve just written something about a volcano which is the same thing. I had to get in and understand the workings of this volcano, because nature is the worst nemesis – you can’t fight that. It’s the same principle, so I found myself applying the same logic. Get my nemesis sorted, or my nemesis’ arc sorted, and where I want the story to end.

When I started writing “Numb,” -  my story actually started where my prep work finished.  Well, what I thought was going to be my end point became my script start point, which kind of undone the couple of months work that I’d put into it. I suppose, in a sense, it hasn’t. That’s all just research I guess eh?

Scott:  How about characters. What sort of tools do you use in developing your characters?

Declan:  They’re nearly always somebody I know or knew or something somebody has said to me. I find old people fascinating. I’m a people watcher. A voyeur. Mannerisms, ticks, tells – anything.

Ever made a decision or behaved in a way you’re not really proud of? Ever threatened at times to become one of those people that you despise? I explore all those, what that does to people physically and emotionally.  It’s taken 44 years, but I’m slowly getting there.

My wife is an annoyingly talented actress, (Zita Sattar) and she’s fricking forensic about character stuff like that. Forensic. Which in turn has made me the same.  If I can answer a  question truthfully to something about a character – then I know that I’m on the right line.

So, characters, find a trait and truth. It could be the way someone picks up a cup of tea. It could be anything. It could be anything at all, and that will stay in my mind, spinning.

Scott:  It could be a penny whistle.

Declan:  That’s a prime example. That penny whistle. There is truth in that penny whistle. There is truth in that penny whistle.

Scott:   What about dialogue? How do you go about finding their voices?

Declan:  I say all my dialogue out loud. I don’t speak the Queen’s English. I’m very slovenly in the way I speak. My dialogue reads well, for me, because I work with scripts every day, and actors every day, having to deal with scripts. We’re constantly trimming dialogue that doesn’t work. It’s overwritten. Nearly always dialogue is overwritten. I’m surprised the computer actually lets them type it.

You know what it’s like. It’s hard to find a voice for every character that doesn’t run into the voice you’re already writing. It’s kind of a long‑winded way, but I do tend to do a pass on every character in the script, as well, when I’ve finished. When I think it’s finished I go back. I do different voices. I say them. Every character, I say out loud. I say it in a different way, and if they start to sound like the other guy, I need to nudge that a little bit, just to tweak it. Everybody should be identifiable.

I work quite hard on the individuality. Sometimes I overcook it. I’ve just finished a script. I read through one of the characters because I wanted him to be very well spoken, and very, very clear. It reads so badly. It reads like I’d had a seizure at some point. They used too many words in every sentence. Part of me is praying someone ‘gets’ what I’m doing, but the other part of me is like, “Man, that reads like a badly written scene.”

Scott:  Speaking of “getting it,” what about the idea of theme. Do you think about that much, and if you do, do you start with the theme in mind? Is that something that evolves over times as you’re writing the story?

Declan:  It varies. “Broken Cove” is a prime example of it. There are so many themes running though that. The theme of salvation, there’s a theme of revenge. “Broken Cove” started as ‘A prodigal son returns home to avenge the death of his brother story.’

But I’ve seen that story so many times, so many times, so what makes my version of that story different? Is it the world building, or is it the characters? Again, it’s an old theme isn’t it? It’s any western. It’s “Get Carter,” I suppose. Not the Stallone version, the ‘71 Caine version. And “Payback,” I suppose. “Point Blank,” the same things. It’s about revenge with a moral code, some kind of amoral code.

Thematically, I try to be governed by what my character is telling me it should be and not what I’m deciding it is on the outset, because it will grow and it will change as they grow and change.

Tomorrow in Part 6, Declan goes deeper into his approach to the craft of screenwriting.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, go here.

Part 3, go here.

Part 4, go here.

Please stop by comments to thank Declan and ask any questions you may have.

Declan is repped by WME and Energy Entertainment.

Twitter: @thelastsouthpaw.

Interview: Declan O’Dwyer — Part 4

August 8th, 2013 by

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 4, Declan discusses the sale of “Broken Cove” and how it’s impacted his life:

Scott:  You mentioned that originally you set “Broken Cove” in 1957, which suggests the story has been through quite a transition. How many drafts of the script did you write before you finally finished it and sent it out?

Declan:  I must be on probably the 19th draft, something like that.

Scott:  19th, wow.

Declan:  Yeah, maybe because it was a grower. We got to one point where I was going to be directing it and we were going out to cast. I’m not going to tell you who they were but I had a great cast, man, a fucking great cast, I just couldn’t raise the money. Could not get the bastard to fly in the UK. I kept clinging to the point that I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it, then it was like, you know what, I’m going to put it on the Black List and see what happens. It was on the Black List a couple of weeks and Brooklyn Weaver found it.

Scott:  Right, so let’s get into that. You’re an established director in the UK, you’ve got plenty of contacts over there I’m sure. You write this script, now I find out, you try to raise the money, get the cast and that doesn’t work. Then the next step is to say, I’m going to put this on the Black List, so what was your thinking there as opposed to going the traditional route with agents or whatnot in the UK?

Declan:  Filmmaking in the UK, for the most part is a cottage industry. In fact my agent in the UK dropped me because he didn’t believe in my writing. He was a top bloke but just didn’t believe my writing. So we parted ways.

I’ve now got very cool reps indeed, man, in the UK, Paul Pearson @London Theatrical and in the US I’m with the WME holy trinity of Donnelly, Esola and Schuit and of course, Brooklyn Weaver @ Energy Entertainment.

I did actually get offered the money to make it – if could make it for under $500,000, basically is what they were saying to me. I said, “Are you fucking kidding me, the opening sequence is going to cost that.” The cast I had attached were really strong, no stars. I say no stars, shit, I had two people that had two Oscar nominations, and three others that have been in three of the biggest films of all time. Ha! They’re all fantastic actors, not a single dud amongst them. I did not want a star cast, I left Smith and Moira open for the money people to have their say on. So we had some negotiation, but I wasn’t going to cut any mustard on the rest, it was going to be made my way. That was it. Of course it didn’t work out, so they were right, obviously. Ha!

I’ve known about the Black List for years, I knew it had gone online. And all our DVD collections would look a lot different if it wasn’t for Franklin and that list. Let’s be honest. So, I thought well, you know what, it levels the playing field. That was the thing for me.

It doesn’t matter what I’ve done in the past, this is the here and now. If it goes up and someone likes it, that’s great. If they don’t like it then you stand and fall by your words, don’t you. It was just the idea of a level playing field and the fact it opens the world up to me sitting writing this in my bedroom to suddenly people overseas reading it and going, “We like this or we don’t like it.” It’s kind of irrelevant, it’s just the fact that everybody has an equal chance now.

Scott:  And as it turns out, someone did like it. That was Brooklyn Weaver at Energy Entertainment who read it and responded to you.

Declan:  Yes, he’s like a beautiful force of nature that man. It was great, he was very straight talking – he actually suggested to contemporize – which galvanized my earlier doubts.  The next call was like Thunder Road are interested. Shit! They made “The Town”.

Scott:  So what’s the status of the project then?

Declan:  They are looking for a director at the moment. I might have to apply for the director’s job on that.

Scott:  Will you be pursuing writing assignments now or will you just be writing your own material?

Declan:  I’m not really interested in the writing assignment world. I’ve had a couple since this all kicked off which have been pretty high‑profile and pretty cool. So I’ve pursued those and they’ve gone pretty well, I have to be honest. But I’m not going to be actively pursuing it.  We’ve got stuff placed at the moment which we’re waiting for people to come back on. It’s been a busy three/four months and I had, the same week that this all started kicking off, I had a baby boy as well. So it’s just been the craziest 14 weeks I suppose.

Scott:  Oh, that’s great, congratulations.

Declan:  Thank you man, thank you, it’s just been the craziest time.

Scott:   Good crazy.

Declan:  Yes, great crazy, but it’s something like, you’re getting an email from LA at 2:00am in the morning and you’re actually awake because you’ve been feeding the baby. I’ve been actually able to have semi-coherent conversations in real‑time with people on different time zones.

Scott:  So the baby’s like your personal assistant?

Declan:  Yes, it’s quite unusual. I was doing a call, I can’t remember who it was with now – and just before the call, the baby was sick all over me. Just before it was due, a fucking Skype call just as it was coming online, I was just covered in it. It was just like, “Oh man.”

Scott:  [laughs] You can use that in a movie.

Declan:  Yes, I’m going to have to. And it was the full nine yards, proper.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Declan shares his thoughts about some aspects of the screenwriting craft.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, go here.

Part 3, go here.

Please stop by comments to thank Declan and ask any questions you may have.

Declan is repped by WME and Energy Entertainment.

Twitter: @thelastsouthpaw.

Interview: Declan O’Dwyer — Part 3

August 7th, 2013 by

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?

Scott:  Yes.

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.

Twitter: @thelastsouthpaw.

Interview: Declan O’Dwyer — Part 2

August 6th, 2013 by

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 2, Declan talks about how he started writing scripts and the inspiration for “Broken Cove.”

Scott:  Why did you decide to take up screenwriting in addition to directing?

Declan:  My reason was that I wasn’t getting the scripts that I wanted to see. I only want to write stuff that I want to see. Like I said, I’ve got a very commercial sensibility. I want to go to the cinema to be entertained. First and foremost, I want to be entertained. I want to see a great story. I want to see great acting. I don’t want to see great directing, because directing shouldn’t be visible. Directing should be invisible. It should be honest performances and great storytelling. If you give good actors a good story, man, they are going to give you bottled lightning. That’s kind of what made me start writing, out of frustration, more than anything else.

So I wrote “Broken Cove” in order to make the transition into directing movies basically. I kept it low. I kept it a personal, close story, still cinematic, still, you know, Coen brothers, man. Anything the Cohen brothers do is, I’m gonna pay good money to go and see it.

But even so, it wasn’t sort of, “I’m going to write a Coen brothers film.” Nah, I’m gonna write a film that is completely part of my heritage, part of my background. Some of the things that are in it are true. Some of them are exaggerated. But the core of it, the emotion in it is completely true. And I’ve felt and fought that emotion enough times. So I thought, I understand this, and this story deserves to be told. That was kind of where I’d gotten to.

Scott:  And how did you go about learning the craft of screenwriting?

Declan:  I don’t think I’ll ever learn the craft of screenwriting. When I first went to college I was given a computer by Apple. Well, they didn’t, personally, but the college gave me a Macintosh computer. Remember those? They gave me one because I was dyslexic. So I learned to type. As soon as I could type, it was like a freedom. I didn’t have to form letters. I didn’t have to do any of that. It was muscle memory. And there was this little thing called spellchecker, which corrected everything.

Scott:  Let’s talk about your script “Broken Cove.” Here’s the logline on IMDb. “A man living in London moves back to Ireland when he finds out his brother’s been killed.” I see it described at noir western. Does that work for you, and why?

Declan:  Because it’s lawless, the way the Wild West was. This small town in Ireland is the same as a small border town in Texas, I suppose. It’s a lawless society governed by the matriarchs and the patriarchs, rather than the law. That was kind of the environment I wanted to create, and have fun within that. You know, films like Unforgiven. They’re damaged people. I want to explore these damaged people. There are no goodies. It’s intentional. There are no white hats in my film. They are all black hats, all of them. But just because one person falls on a particular side of the moral compass, it doesn’t necessarily make them evil, just because they’re not sticking to the law.

Scott:   You mentioned the Coen brothers, which I picked up quite a bit in reading “Broken Cove”. One of the things that’s pretty common in a Coen brothers movie is they create a morally complex universe. There’s a line in “Broken Cove” where one of the characters says, “There are no innocents in this. We’re all guilty to a greater or lesser extent.” You just mentioned that idea that there are no goodies in this story. Could you delve into that a little bit more?

Declan:  Well, it’s a difficult one, isn’t it? It’s a difficult one to explore truthfully, because we all project a certain opinion of ourselves.

In “Broken Cove” I set up a generational matriarchal society – where a son is judged on his fathers honor, his family honor. They would do anything for their brother. You know? And it’s like, OK, that’s cool. But your brother’s an asshole mate. Why are you sticking up for your brother? Your brother is an prize a-hole. He’s doing something wrong.

It doesn’t matter. He’s my brother, I’ve got to stick up for him.

Well, that’s interesting. That suddenly, to me, makes it an interesting character. And we all have that inherent mechanism, there is a line you cannot cross don’t we?  The interesting part, though, is what’s that pivot? What is that point when you will go that one step further, or where you won’t. You’ll falter. That’s the stuff that fascinates me.

So with “Broken Cove”, every character is either at that point, or has been through that point and come out the other side. It doesn’t matter if it’s an alcoholic priest. If the priest is hiding, using the priesthood to hide the crimes committed in the past, he’s just trying to find his way, like everybody else. It’s never clear‑cut.

I always write my villains first, as well. I always try and find the right side of the line so that my villains ask, what makes them a villain? Normally when someone makes it, it’s because we have a perception of what villainy is.

The villain never thinks they’re being a villain. They always think they’re just sticking to their moral code. That just fascinates me. So “Broken Cove” became an exploration of that, really. The word exploration just frightens me, because I start to sound like one of my teachers.

Scott:  You create that scenario in the script where the protagonist, named Smith, returns home to seek revenge for his brother’s death. He probably knew that his brother was not an angel, but along the way he finds out some more stuff about him. It really suggests that his brother has a very checkered past. At the same time, I guess what you’d call the Nemesis character is also doing something, motivated out of his commitment to a family member as well. It’s like you’ve got both of these sides, and both of them doing something out of their commitment to their family. Is that right?

Declan:  Absolutely. Absolutely. The thing is, in any other world, when Smith comes into our world, he’s our hero, just because of our viewpoint and the way he handles himself. But Smith is a murderer. If we told the story from anybody else’s point of view, Smith is a bad guy. He comes into town, we know what he is. We find out, well, we don’t know what he is when he arrives, but we know everybody is nervous of this man. We know, his reputation precedes him, and we see how he handles himself. He is not a nice man.

At the same time, if we told the story from any other characters point of view in the movie, it would be like, the villain’s coming to town, and he’s gonna mess the town up. You know?

But naturally, just because it’s our viewpoint, we’re influenced by his moral code. I never wanted to make it clear. I just wanted that there was doubt in his mind, and that was enough for me to explore here.Scott:  So even in the midst of this morally ambiguous world you created in “Broken Cove,” and given the fact that Smith is essentially a killer, there’s a certain kind of nobility to what he’s doing in honoring his brother’s memory, even though his brother was, as I said, not an angel.

Declan:  Oh, completely. Completely. His Ma is our divining rod in this. She holds a strong hand. Despite the fact that she’s old and frail now, he’s scared shitless of her. It’s the only person in the world that Smith is scared of. It’s a misplaced honor. The thing is, you get the feeling that it’s generational. You know, you felt like the same thing happened to the father, and the mother had to live through it once before with the dad’s misbehavior and who he got involved with. So, yeah, man. It just makes for interesting playing for an actor, to get into those people that are ambiguous. It’s good, man. I think it’s good cinema. I can talk about it all day, but it’s good cinema, to see these people. It’s the sort of film that I would pay good money to go and see.

Scott:  Hopefully, soon, you will be able to see it.

Declan:  Yeah, man. I really trust Basil’s [Iwanyk] instincts on it, as well. I’m really stoked that Thunder Road is doing it, because The Town is a cracking movie. Again, a morally ambiguous film. I loved that movie. Basil, Affleck and Renner absolutely nailed that!

Tomorrow in Part 3, Declan digs more deeply into the writing of “Broken Cove”.

For Part 1, go here.

Please stop by comments to thank Declan and ask any questions you may have.

Declan is repped by WME and Energy Entertainment.

Twitter: @thelastsouthpaw.

Interview: Declan O’Dwyer — Part 1

August 5th, 2013 by

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 1, Declan describes his background and how he transitioned into TV directing:

Scott: Where did you grow up and how did you become interested in movies and TV?

Declan:   I got shipped around as a kid. This sounds so Rikki Lake, I know – but I had a very broken childhood. I got bounced around from pillar to post. It was very disjointed. A bit in Ireland, then England. All over the place. My dad was in and out of prison and I got taken off my Mum. That whole white Irish trailer trash kinda vibe, that’s my background, I suppose.

It’s trite – but my only escape from that shit was film and TV. That was it – they were gods to me up on those screens. When I’m working I still go to the cinema nearly every other night. When I’m at home with the kids – it’s slightly different, you know.

Then I bought a Super-8 camera at a jumble sale and started making my own films. And finally, at age 26, I’d been married, divorced, I jacked it all and I got into film school.

Scott:  Let’s talk about that. You attended Oxford School of Speech and Drama and then Bournemouth Film School, so how did that evolve?

Declan:  I tried acting. I didn’t want to be an actor, I wanted to be a movie star, big difference. Then the film school thing happened.  Left school with no qualifications, nothing to speak of anyway – and I was told that I had to have ‘qualifications’ to go to film school. And because I didn’t know anybody in the industry I took everything that ANYBODY said to me as gospel. We didn’t have resources like your blog and stuff like that back then, man. I had no way of finding this information out. I suppose I did in hindsight – but at the time it didn’t feel like I did. And I got it into my head that film school was the only way and so that was it. I slept on people’s floors for years and just blagged my way into college basically to get a qualification in order to go to film school.

Scott:  I read a quote from you in an article where you said, “I hate to misquote the Reverend King, but I had a dream  – to make movies. Spent too many fucking years sleeping on the people’s floor not to.” So what is that dream?

Declan:  To direct feature films. My day job now is actually a director, so I’ve kind of achieved what I set out to achieve to a certain extent. I’m fortunate enough to be directing some pretty cool high‑end stuff. But it’s still not the movies. That’s where I think my story skills lie. Although the screens have joined now, the big screen is no longer that much bigger than the small screen, you know. I think things like HBO have blurred the lines, very much so.

My dream is still to make feature films. There is something beautiful and fantastic about going into a dark room with strangers, strangely enough. That does sound odd!

Scott:  You’ve got dozens of credits as a TV director with such series as “Robin Hood,” “Merlin,” “Being Human,” and “Wolfblood.” How did you get from film school into directing?

Declan:  I didn’t for a long long time. I struggled.

I’d gotten very lucky at film school. I directed a short film – and the writer (fellow Black Lister Julian Unthank) managed to talk movie star Charles Dance into starring in it. It won a couple of audience prizes at a few decent film festivals. From that, there was a little bit of buzz, you know. I got a little bit of exposure. Then nothing. So I didn’t come out of film school and go straight into the business. I went on the dole (Welfare) for a bit before I got back to doing shitty day jobs, just trying to get by, hustle you know? Trying to earn some money.  But I just kept writing. Just kept writing stuff, and people just kept saying, this is rubbish, this, that, and the other.

Then, there was a brilliant director, a guy called Baz Taylor, who has done some just outstanding television stuff over here – it’s embarrassing how long his CV is. He was attached to a film that a friend of a friend of a friend of my friend’s 3rd cousins, aunties brother’s sister, twice removed (exaggerated) had co-written. You know the score. It was fucking terrible. The script was just awful, and they said, “Well, what would you do to it?” I couldn’t really say ‘burn it’ so I said, “Listen, I wouldn’t do blah. I would do blah and blah.”

I basically did a polish on the script for them, and Baz, this director, he read it and said, “This is great. What do you do for a living?”

“Well, I’m a director.” I wasn’t at the time. I was working, driving kids with disabilities to school in the morning and picking them up at home time, and during the middle of the day, I was working shifting washing machines for a company called John Lewis.

Ha! When I say polish, it was a page one re‑write. It got a bit of interest, and then it went quiet, as it does. I kept trying to send Baz my reel. It was old VHS tapes, and I was going, “Please have a look at my show-reel, because I’m a director. I’ve been to film school.”

To his credit, Baz rang me up one day out of the blue – probably 18 months later, I was actually working in the café, earning £2.92 an hour, plus tips. And he rang me up and said, “I’ve seen your reel. Would you like to come and direct an episode of “The Bill”? One of our directors has dropped out unexpectedly. ‘Can you start Monday? The Bill’ was a very successful cop show at the time.

So I went from earning £2.92 an hour – to earning £1,550 a week. So that’s like $2,000 a week, directing one of the UK’s hit primetime cop shows. I got long-listed by BAFTA in the best newcomer category and from that point on, I just started bouncing off all the long‑running shows in the UK.

Scott:   It’s always like that, right? Some “overnight success” that takes years and years.

Declan:  Well, you know, that’s the thing, man. I got very lucky. Or did I create my own luck? Dunno.

Scott:  Are there specific filmmakers who are especially strong influences on you?

Declan:  This is a difficult one, because I love The Apartment, Billy Wilder. But it’s people like Fincher. What Fincher does with his storytelling skills. I love Se7en. Fight Club is such a fantastic movie. That film is special.  Big fan of Mann. (that should be a T-Shirt) Then, you know, it’s people like Spielberg. Some people don’t like the saccharine gene that he’s got, but I love it. He’s a master storyteller and Abrams is going the same route at the moment, you know. I could go on about directors – but it just ends up sounding like a pile of pretentious wank.

I like commercial films. That’s kinda my core. I like intelligent films, and that can be intelligently stupid, like Airplane, for instance. One of the most stupid films that I’ve ever seen, but it’s absolutely brilliant in its stupidity.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Declan talks about how he started writing scripts and the inspiration for “Broken Cove.”

Please stop by comments to thank Declan and ask any questions you may have.

Declan is repped by WME and Energy Entertainment.

Twitter: @thelastsouthpaw.

Spec Script Sale: “Broken Cove”

April 3rd, 2013 by

Thunder Road acquires thriller spec script “Broken Cove” written by Declan O’Dwyer. From TheWrap:

The crime thriller follows a half-Irish half-British man who lives in London but moves back home after discovering his brother has been killed.

The writer was discovered on the Black List website. Note: O’Dwyer lives in Ireland, proof that with new digital avenues, you can write anywhere and gain access to Hollywood.

All you need is a great script.

O’Dwyer is repped by Energy Entertainment.

By my count, this is the 23rd spec script sale in 2013.

There were 34 spec script sales year-to-date in 2012.