20 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
‘The Journey’ Screenwriter Colin Bateman chats to IFTN on going from Concept to Script to Screen
05 May 2017 :
The political drama directed by Nick Hamm releases to cinemas today May 5th starring Irish actor Colm Meaney as Martin McGuinness and Timothy Spall as Ian Paisley.

Hamm directs a script penned by Colin Bateman, whose re-entry into the film industry has already achieved a tremendous amount, such as screening at the Toronto Film Festival and earning Meaney an IFTA for Best Lead Actor in Film.

IFTN: Talk to me about the origin of the story, what inspired you to write the script? Is it something you'd been thinking about for quite a while?

No, not at all. Well I'll give you the short version of it. I made three or four movies the best part of twenty years ago and it was quite hard for a while I think. But as the business goes suddenly it becomes very cold when they don't do Star Wars-like business. The last real contact I had with the movie business was when I wrote a book called ‘Empire State’.

“Anyway, I got a call from Hollywood from the director who had actually read the book and called me back and said, ‘This will never win in a million years it's so politically incorrect. Hollywood will not touch this.’

“This made Hollywood dreams ruined. Fast forward in seventeen years, the film business has not troubled me since. Obviously I've written other books and I've written for TV and things like that but no movies. My agent contacts me and says, ‘There's a director, Hollywood director had an idea for a movie about Paisley and McGuinness and we think it'd be perfect for us.’

“But without letting me know--well I found out that she had approached every other writer she represented and then they all turned it down. As soon as the director heard my name he knew it would be a very good match, because the same director had ruined my Hollywood dreams seventeen years ago, Nick Hamm. Things have a way of coming full circle.

“The actual origin of it as I understand it was actually a mistake. Nick was on a drunken night out with some of his media chums in London. One of them told them their story about Paisley and McGuinness in making this journey together. As it turns out, because there was much drink taken, he had misremembered it.

“And when he came to check up on it later he discovered it wasn't Paisley and McGuinness, it was Paisley and Jerry Fitz. That happened throughout the years; previously it was a different year and meant nothing historically at all. He was betting by the bug of this, what he thought then was a fake, a false story.

“When we actually started to look into it we discovered that Paisley and McGuinness had made this journey together, it just wasn't well monitored. It wasn't a car journey. It was on a private jet back from the peace talks in Scotland. From a dramatic point of view it would have been very hard to set up on a small private jet and also this journey only takes twenty minutes honestly. It really did happen on that plane.

“They met for the first time. They spoke for the first time. Let's see if we can recreate or do a fictional version of that journey, but we'll set it in a car so it gives them more opportunity to stop and get out and discuss and take longer to see how the relationship developed.

“Then to continue on from that, I wrote the script and it seemed to go down extremely well. As you know, in movies, in theatres, where you've got five years to make towards production, but they were happy to be moving on this quickly. When the script was written and we are getting quite close to filming, we thought it would be the right thing to do, to go and meet both parties, or close to both parties as we could manage given that Mr. Paisley had passed on by this stage.

“We went to meet Martin McGuinness up in Sinn Fein Headquarters, in Derry. We didn't show him the script and he didn't ask to see the script. We just explained what we were doing and the script already being written and locked more or less.

“We just wanted to get his views or his memories of what happened at the historic first meeting. We said to him, ‘Well, what are your memories of it?’ and he said, ‘Well, nothing really happened, we just said hello.’ That was a bit of an anticlimax. Then the next day, or two days later, we met with the Ian Paisley Junior, Mr. Paisley son, who was on the flight.

“It was a small private jet but they each had a couple of people with them. We said the same thing to him, ‘What are your memories of this historic first meeting?’ And he said, ‘Well, they got along like a house on fire, they were laughing and joking.’ We'd two completely different versions of it, but in a strange way it justified my approach to it. If they can't agree on what happened then it leaves me up to give my version of what happened.”

IFTN: That's it. It's an inspired script in terms of how it's broken down and how Martin McGuinness just chips away at the conversation. Timothy Spall's performance is just extraordinary.

Yes. Certainly I saw it three times at the Toronto Film Festival. You know the point in the movie where Ian finally makes a big speech in the petrol station?

“At each of those showings, immediately after that speech, there was spontaneous applause in the audience and I've never seen that in a movie before. Absolutely shocking. The same thing happened, and I wasn't at Toronto, but I'm told the same thing happened at the same place, at the Toronto Film Festival. It's certainly an amazing performance from both of them.”

IFTN: What was the timeline? The script was locked when you met with Mr McGuinness and Ian Paisley Junior. Did the script change at all between then and when the shooting started?

The first meeting I had with Nick Hamm, was in London in August 2014. I delivered the first draft in December of that year. I delivered the second draft in April 2015 and they were filming by October 2015.”

IFTN: Wow. That is incredibly quick. You obviously loved the idea and what you could do with it within the constraints of their personalities and their politics?

 “It absolutely spoils me for doing other projects now, because you expect them just to happen. Unfortunately that may be a one-off.

Within the restrains of their personalities, and the restrains of the budget that we have, the first draft of the script was much bigger and it was like 50% was the journey in the car and 50% was flashbacks to the major events of the troubles, which wasn't what I was asked to write. In a sense, I nearly had to write it because I had done all the research and had all the stuff in my head and I had to get it out of me in some way.

“There was only one thing I could have done on paper that we realized that actually that doesn't work at all. A, it doesn't work at all and B, we couldn't afford to do it, even if it did work. I really had to concentrate on what the story we wanted to tell really was.

“In some way, the script, to some extent, lies in the theatre's film wisdom, which is usually, show, don't tell, where we're telling, not showing. But it works, I think. It just shows that it doesn't have to be a huge canvas, if the drama is compelling enough, then people are going to be intrigued and pass that about.”

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