Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, the scribes behind the Boston-based hero tale The Fighter and the currently shooting The Finest Hours, tell me after their newly minted CAA reps sold to Fox their feature script Boston Strong that director Daniel Espinosa plans to have his cameras filming at the Boston Marathon next April. That is the site of the infamous 2013 bombing that killed three and injured 264 others. The film will chronicle the heroic efforts of a city which rallied from an unimaginable tragedy to trap the perpetrators after a manhunt, killing one in a shootout and gravely injuring another and finding him after the city was cordoned off.
Most stories about heroic acts in tragedies are told when some time has passed, usually way more than two years. The script by the writers that Disney is now shooting, The Finest Hours, took place in 1952, when the Coast Guard made a daring rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers were destroyed during a blizzard. The writers pondered the “too soon” question seriously for Boston Strong, but said that momentum on this built on its own and that this is no rush job. It has been embraced by Boston’s mayor and Massachusetts’ governor, they said, and they feel it is a fitting tribute to the fighting spirit of a town that rallied from tragedy.
The film is an adaptation of the upcoming book Boston Strong: A City’s Triumph Over Tragedy by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge. That book’s being published by ForeEdge, likely coming out before year’s end after an original February pub date was hastened.
“The truth is, we didn’t initially want any part of this when we were approached by Casey Sherman, who wrote The Finest Hours with us, and we said it was too soon and we didn’t want to appear to be exploiting the situation,” Tamasy told Deadline. “But Casey was determined.” After they wrote it as a TV project, their script was snapped up by eOne, Lifetime, History Channel and A&E, and the plan was to show a four-hour miniseries simultaneously on all three networks. “They loved the script, greenlit it, and then it became very hard for them to shoot what we had written, on the budget they wanted to make it for,” Johnson said. “They asked us to cut an hour and gave us a week, and we did it in four days. Then it was, cut another hour, and when we asked for nine more days for research, an executive called and said, we can’t afford to make this on budget.”
They didn’t view this as a setback.
“I’m not kidding when I tell you that we were absolutely thrilled, because by then it had become clear that this should be a feature that should not be watered down for television,” Johnson said. “We felt that we had a Paul Greengrass-type film by then, and studios went crazy for it and filmmakers began responding. One of the strongest responses came from Daniel Espinosa, who is emerging as that class of filmmaker.”
The Safe House helmer read the script two weeks ago. “Hutch Parker, who’s producing this with Dororthy Aufiero, walked him to his car, came back and said, well, he’s in,” Tamasy told Deadline.
The movie, the writers say, is a ticking clock story reminiscent of Greengrass’ compelling real-time thriller United 93, part crisis management and part police procedural. Like Oliver Stone’s superb World Trade Center, the Oscar-nominated United 93 came out in 2006, and audiences still felt raw seeing it five years after 9/11. This makes the speed at which Boston Strong came together all the more compelling since it will only be two years since the tragedy when Espinosa films the race next April.
“We are aware there might be naysayers worried the wounds are too fresh, but we are also confident they will see we’ve met our responsibility to get this right,” Johnson said. “That starts with the first responders, who reacted with such courage, grace and resilience right after the bombing occurred at the finish line,” he said. “Throughout history, the people of Boston have shown they fight back when things like this happen to them. They get up and carry on. The minute the bomb went off, they did not stop until they got these guys. They persevered through false leads and confusion. We have the luxury to go back and break down a timeline of how things happened, because the authors did such a good job in reporting out how the investigation was conducted. It’s a most compelling narrative, how they tracked those guys down. A big part of the story we are able to tell from the POV of the homicide detectives who were involved in the whole process, and the FBI.”
The scribes said that while there was internal creative conversations about minimizing the roles of terrorist brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, their stories will be part of the tapestry. “Are they faceless individuals, or do we peel the onion on who the men were,” Tamasy asked. “We felt we would be doing a disservice to the film, not exploring who they were and why they did this heinous deed. We felt it was important to try at least to understand what brings people to something like that, because it has become a part of our world.”
Tamasy and Johnson said their futile TV expedition left them with pristine footage from the city’s recovery from the attack, including the emotional speech by Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz at Fenway Park, where he captured the rally cry of a defiant blue collar town in a pre-game speech punctuated by his shout that “This is our f*cking city!”
“We’ve got terrific hi-definition footage of that moment that Daniel will probably use, that great moment that boiled all this down and captured what this city is about, and then the camera pans up to a member of the audience who is holding up a big ‘Boston Strong’ sign,” said Tamasy. “It is a perfect piece of footage from an unforgettable day.”
In one sense it is unusual for Tamasy and Johnson to have become prolific chroniclers of Boston hero stories. Neither is from there. Tamasy was born in England (which historically didn’t always get along with Bostonians), while Johnson is from LA.
“The first time I was there was for The Fighter,” Johnson said. “It was a revelation, a town so filled with a fascinating history and a special spirit that keeps drawing us back.”
The scribes are repped by CAA and The Gotham Group, and Espinosa by UTA and Magnolia. Studio says that the director doesn’t have a deal yet. Our sister publication Daily Variety was first with the news about the director and Fox.