Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Screenplay Extract

Below is an extract from a screenplay I've been writing about Dynamite Johnny's life. For anyone that thinks I've lost the plot (so to speak), this is not "A Captain Unafraid" the documentary, but rather a movie screenplay I've been toying with for fun the last few years. Extracts from the screenplay will form part of the book perk - "An Illustrated Miscellany Concerning 'Dynamite' Johnny O' Brien." To order your copy of that perk and help me set the "A Captain Unafraid" boat afloat, go to  -


               INT. A STUDY IN HAVANA, CUBA, 1912 -  EVENING
               The shutters are open, on the street voices converse and laugh. We look onto 
               the rooftops of Havana.

                                   JOHNNY (O.S.)
                         After all, what is bravery, if not an inborn
                         quality–the heritage of clean lives, of
                         fighting blood and un-weakened nerves?
                         The world is full of it. And if some portion
                         of this heritage has been mine I am
                         grateful, for in my warring days (and there
                         were many of them) I should many times
                         have found myself without delay in Davy's

               "DYNAMITE" JOHNNY O' BRIEN, a small, stocky sea-captain, 72, and the
               ghost writer of his autobiography, HORACE SMITH, 67, are in Johnny's
               study. Johnny is standing up, Horace sits down, pen in hand, writing
               down Johnny's spoken word. 

                                   JOHNNY (CONT'D)
                         Bravery is confined to no longitude or
                         latitude, and knows no race. I have found
                         brave men everywhere, as will presently be
                         told and it was my fortune to be intimately
                         associated with some of the best of them.

                         And what of the beginnings of your time
                         on Gods green earth?

               Johnny pauses, strokes his beard slowly and sips his coffee.

                         Well it wasn't so much green, as gray,
                         black, and coal, with a flash of blue. 

                                                                                                              FADE TO:

               EXT. NEW YORKS DOCKSIDE, 1837  - DAY

               A view of New York's docks with seagulls crying and industry all about.
               We gradually move in on one abode on a residential street. We see the
               spars and masts of boats docked in the distance, the sound of an infant
               crying mixes with the cry of seagulls.

                                   JOHNNY (V.O.)
                         I myself, was born in the old "Dry Dock"
                         section of New York, almost on the bank of
                         the East river, on April 20, 1837. My
                         parents though, came from County
                         Longford, Ireland. In Ireland, my father
                         was a farmer, in America he became a
                         machinist. I was born in a cradle of
                         shipyards: Webb's, Browns, Westervelt's,
                         they were clustered all about. Amid such
                         surroundings I was predisposed to a life on
                         the sea, and a love of salt water and ships
                         came naturally. All around me was echoes of
                         the ocean, near by my childhood home was the
                         Morgan iron-works, where boilers were
                         built. But there were few steamships in
                         those days; sailors were sailors then, and
                         machinists stayed ashore. Tapering spars
                         crisscrossed the skyline, and romance was
                         in the air. The first thing I saw, when I
                         opened my eyes was a vessel, and almost
                         the next thing the sea. Maybe, I saw other
                         things too, but none of them held my
                         interest; ships and the sea impressed my
                         infantile mind as the most beautiful things
                         in the world, and my opinion has never


               Johnny's Mother BRIDGET lies in her bed, exhausted from childbirth. The
               bed faces a window which looks out onto masts of ships in the distance,
               and the sea beyond. ELIZABETH SHERIDAN, the midwife, is a close friend
               of BRIDGET'S. After washing him, Elizabeth brings Johnny into the arms
               of his mother, he stops crying. PETER, Johnny's father, waits outside.

                         He's a fine and healthy child Bridget. 

               Bridget cradles her child fondly. Peter enters the room and goes to pick up
               his son from Bridget.

                             Let me see my son, show him
                              here to me.

               Johnny begins crying once in his fathers arms.

                                   PETER (CONT'D)
                         He's letting us know he's arrived. There's
                         no fear on him, he's a fine set of lungs. 

               EXT. JOHNNY'S CHILDHOOD HOME, 1838  - DAY

               Johnny's mother is hanging washing, she is singing the song-  "An Raibh
               TĂș i gCill Alla?" Johnny's older brother PETER JR. waltzes about with a
               paper boat-pretending to float it on the sea-he weaves in and out of the
               drying clothes. Johnny as an infant is hanging in a cradle attached to the 
               clothes line. We move with the washing on the line, like a boat bobbing on the
               ocean. We change to Johnny's perspective-a vision of blue sky and
               washing on the line. The blue sky: like an ocean, to-ing and fro-ing.

                                   JOHNNY (V.O.)
                         And the ocean to's and fro's as the child's
                         cradle rocks. The sky too is like a blue
                         ocean, a strange mirror of the sea. I was
                         always entranced by the unhemmed
                         vastness of the sea, and the skies are much
                         the same, for who knows what lies just
                         beyond our vision in that wild blue yonder.
                         I was surely bewitched from an early age
                         by that wily siren they call the sea. And my
                         brothers too heard her call.

               I/E. BOATHOUSE, GREENPOINT, 1851 - DAY

               From the pier we can see the doors to a small secluded boathouse are
               open. PETER JR. (Johnny's brother) and Johnny are working on a little
               sailing boat. It is summer, the scene is pastoral and verdant. We move
               inside to the boathouse.

                                   PETER JR.
                             (wiping his brow)
                         Pass me that hammer John.

               Johnny passes Peter the hammer.

                         Did you ever want to sail home to Ireland?

                                   PETER JR.
                         No John, I'm lucky out with my lot here. 
                             (smiling at John)
                         Both yourself and myself. Hell this is our

                         I'd like to go over the ocean, maybe see
                         where we came from. 

                                   PETER JR.
                         I seen enough of the damned place, I was
                         just about your age when we left. 

                         Was just thinking.

                                   PETER JR.
                         Think away boy. You want to know why
                         we came to New York?

                         I've heard Pete, I'm his son too. 
                             (in a droll mocking tone)
                         Us and the Sheridans were fighting the
                         Redcoats, and after we all lost, 
                             (smiling starting to laugh)
                         Dad had enough of it and said let's
                         skedaddle, let's go off to America. There
                         ain't no Redcoats there!

                                   PETER JR.
                         You're all in the know now.

               They work for a while, but Johnny gets more restless.

                         Can I take a break Pete, I'm getting a bit
                         stir crazy here, not to mention beat.

                                   PETER JR.
                             (smiling and sweating)
                         Alright, we've been working long enough,
                         let's both of us take a rest. You're like an
                         old fella aren't you? Whatever happened to  
                         vigour of youth and the like. You'll be
                         complaining of back ache and old bones
                         next. We might manage another hour in a
                         while, what do you say?

               Peter hits the side of the boat.

                                   PETER JR. (CONT'D)
                         I'd love to have her up an running soon
                         enough. We were lucky to get the
                         use of this boathouse, best we use it as we
                         have it.

               They both walk outside the small boathouse and into the summer
               sunshine. Peter Jr. and Johnny sit down on the small dock by the
               boathouse. After a few seconds Johnny gets up and wanders off to the
               right of the boathouse, up a small overgrown incline. 

                                   PETER JR. (CONT'D)
                         No faffing around Johnny, we've got work
                         to do.

                             (as he walks off)
                         Alright Pete.

                                                                                                                    FADE TO:


               Johnny wanders along, lost in a daze, he mumbles to himself
               intermittently and low; sometimes it sounds like the beat of a song. Then
               the tune "Caniad Marwnad Ifan Ab y Gof" (played by Paul Dooley) starts to play, as
               the trees sway with the wind. Johnny walks lazily along for a while.

                                   PETER JR. 

               The music gradually starts to fade out after Peter roars, he has noticed an
               old mine shaft in the ground right in front of Johnny. Johnny stops in his
               track and looks behind at his brother, he then turns around and looks
               down-seeing the opening of an abandoned mining shaft, he almost slips
               into a 50 foot chasm. Taking a few steps back, shocked, he sits down in
               the tall grass. Peter Jr. jogs up to him. 

                                   PETER JR. (CONT'D)
                             (upset and angry)
                         I told you not to go wandering off. God
                         damn John. If I hadn't followed you.
                             (looking at the mine shaft)
                         Christ, trust you to find one of those. Come
                         on, let's go home, we've enough done for
                         today. I've to work tomorrow and you've
                         school, whatever good that is to you.

               Johnny gets up, he is visibly shaken, he says nothing. They walk off back
               the way they came. 

                                                                                                                     FADE TO:


               Johnny is still silent. 

                                   PETER JR.
                         Cat got your tongue? That's unlike you for
                         sure. Well, we might have finally knocked
                         some sense into you. 

               Peter pokes Johnny playfully.

                                   PETER JR. (CONT'D)
                         What do think John? Have we knocked
                         some sense into you.

               Johnny grunts at first, then starts to smile, then to laugh.

                                   PETER JR. (CONT'D)
                             (more serious but with a slight
                              hint of a smile)
                         Right, enough of that, or we may have a
                         watery grave to contend with rather than
                         a hole in the ground for one.                                                                  

               IN A TRAM - WEEKS LATER

               Johnny ambles down the street he is lost in his own thoughts as the
               world goes on around him. 

                                   JOHNNY (V.O.)
                         In those early days, a love of adventure
                         (and the verve that engendered), was my
                         one concern. I was constantly on the move,
                         and often drove my family to distraction
                         with my machinations.

               Johnny hums the air of the song "Bowery Gals." He starts walking faster
               and whistling more intently; until he starts singing the song. He runs
               down the street, singing. 

                                   JOHNNY (CONT'D)
                             (Singing and running)
                         As I was walking down the street down the
                         street, down the street, pretty little gal I
                         chanced to meet, and we danced by the
                         light of the moon. Bowery girls are sweet
                         and swell, sweet and swell...

               Four kids hang out at the side of the street. Johnny is running by. TALL KID #1
               stops Johnny in his tracks. 

                                   TALL KID #1
                         Hey, Where you running to? You running
                         from something? What you running from?


                                   TALL KID #1
                             (squaring off to Johnny)
                         Whats the rush with you.

               Johnny kicks the kid in the shins, throws a punch at his right flank and
               scarpers. Johnny runs off down the street, all four kids race after him,
               shouting. He turns a corner the kids are still tailing him. Johnny jumps on
               a horse drawn tram that he sees just moving off, the kids count their
               losses and are left behind. Johnny sits down opposite JACK
               MONTGOMERY- a bearded sailor. Johnny stares at him for a while, Jack
               smiles back. People wait around in relative silence. Johnny stares at the
               sailor, after a time Jack speaks.

                         Were you ever out on the open sea?                                                               

                             (more dourly)
                         No sir. But I've been on the boats in the
                         harbour; my brother Peter works the ferry
                         boats, I know my way around his one sail
                         ferry boat. My father works as a machinist
                         on the docks, so I've barely seen a day
                         without a boat in it, though I've never been
                         out on the wide ocean. 

                                   JOHNNY (CONT'D)
                         You're a sailor I guess?

                         Indeed I am.

               They pause, and the streets roll jauntily by. It is evening and the
               passengers are slightly lethargic, Jack talks to Johnny to relieve his
               boredom, there is a small hint of some other motive.

                                   JACK (CONT'D)
                             (light-heartedly smiling)
                         I am lately returned from Callao, Peru, on
                         the steamship Canton and intend to ship
                         out directly for that country again - 
                             (wide eyed)
                         a wild and wonderful place if I do say so
                         myself. I bet you've never seen such sights? 

                             (jokingly but with enthusiasm)
                         No, but I'm only 14. I work in the
                         shipyards after school, tend pitch pots,
                         wedge tree nails. I often wondered what
                         places those boats I work on end up in,
                         though I'm sure none ended up in Peru!
                         Once, one did sail to California though.
                         What sort of things did you see when you
                         travelled to Peru?

                         We sailed to Peru from the South China
                         coast; but as for Callao, the port there is
                         teeming with all kinds of life, countless
                         tribes of people meet there. The colours seen
                         on the streets are as plentiful as the
                         languages been spoken. Besides the many
                         tongues of the natives; you can hear
                         Spanish, Chinese, German, Dutch. Oh! it's a
                         veritable tower of babel there. I suppose it's
                         like our own New York, but with more of
                         the Indian kind. And that's where I docked
                         my vessel, just a month past, while
                         transporting guano for the company of
                         Wetmore and Cryder. I met a man there
                         who had sailed up the Amazon, he
                         encountered a tribe that practiced
                         cannibalism, he was lucky to escape with
                         his life. And his own spared hide he owed,
                         on account that he had brought a shiny
                         mirror with him which they were quite
                         taken with. The sailor managed to escape
                         from his bonds, while they stared wide
                         eyed into it, and he ran down to the river
                         bank to where his recently sequestered
                         boat was still waiting.

                         So you captain your own ship?

                         Indeed I do. I am captain and sailor,
                         warden and jailor. 

               They pause again, looking out at the streets rolling by and the evening rolling in.

                                   JACK (CONT'D)
                         So what's your name boy?

                         Johnny O' Brien, Sir. Pleased to meet you.

                             (smiling wide-eyed)
                         And Pleased to meet you too. My own name
                         is Jack Montgomery.

                         How did you come to be a sailor?

                         When the sea calls you must obey. It's a
                         calling of sorts, If I do say so. But, the
                         freedom that blue ocean engenders, and
                         the far-flung ports it carries you to, more
                         than makes up for the hard graft.
                         Even as a lowly cabin boy, I escaped the
                         drudgery of my station by imagining what
                         the next port of call might bring, or what
                         strangeness and wonder lay right under
                         our feet in the wide wild ocean. Once, while
                         sailing on a fishing vessel in the North
                         Sea, we netted a giant squid as big as that
                         there house.

              Jack points to a terraced Georgian house. Johnny stare follows the house fixedly as
              the tram passes by it. A lady sitting next to Jack turns her head a little towards the      

                             (pointing, incredulous)
                         That house there, with the red curtains in
                         the window. A giant squid, how did you net
                         the thing?

                         With trouble boy, with trouble.

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