Premise: An aging motorcycle racer decides that before he retires, he wants to race in the most dangerous motorcycle race on the planet, the mysterious “Isle of Man.”
About: Yesterday I was scrolling through Slash-Film and I came upon this bizarre news story of a motorcycle drama starring Matt Damon and Liam Neeson. That made zero sense. First, the “motorcycle drama” part. Hollywood doesn’t make motorcycle dramas. And two, the part about Damon and Neeson acting in the same movie. These two were as movie-starish as movie stars get. They don’t share credit. They are the credit. So I did some digging to figure out how this came together, and that’s when I saw the writer-director, Ben Younger, just came out with this Miles Teller boxing drama that’s been getting a lot of buzz – Bleed For This. When you got buzz, people want to be a part of your shit. This project appears to be a long-time passion for Younger. And I only say that because the script was scanned manually, which means it was written before screenplays went digital in 2007. There is no published date for this draft, though.
Writer: Ben Younger
Details: 154 pages (yikes!)
We haven’t seen a movie about motorcycle racing done on a large scale yet. And you’re always looking for that as a producer – that cool thing that nobody’s figured out how to turn into a film. But there’s a caveat when you find one of these magical missed ideas – what if the reason nobody’s made a movie about it is because the subject matter is stupid? Or boring? Or doesn’t translate to film? I mean, nobody’s made a large scale movie about polka before. Does that mean I should make an 80 million dollar polka movie?
But Younger may have stumbled upon something here. Racing is inherently exciting. Racing is what created one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood at the moment in The Fast and The Furious. And motorcycle racing is like the next level. Unlike car racing, where if you crash, you hop out and yell at your pit crew, a motorcycle driver is very likely to be yelling at God.
Then on top of that you have this mysterious weird race, the Isle of Man, which I’d never heard of before yesterday. Anything that makes your idea unique is a plus. Had this been, say, the motorcycle version of Days of Thunder, I would’ve rolled my eyes. But this bizarre race in the middle of nowhere where only the craziest of the crazy compete? That’s something I can get behind. Let’s see if the script lives up to the potential.
38 year-old Colin McMillan is one of those guys who can’t let the dream go. He’s been trying to break into the top tier of the AMA motorcycle racing circuit forever. But it’s always been out of reach.
And the thing with Colin is that he’s always got an excuse for why he hasn’t made it. If it isn’t the lower-tier motorcycle he’s forced to race with, it’s his day job that takes time away from practice, or the corrupt circuit that favors flashy new riders over highly skilled veterans.
Despite that, Colin finally decides to hang’em up. Before he settles into a life of boring monotony, however, he fulfills a lifelong dream to go see The Isle of Man race, a near mythological motorcycle race on a remote Irish island. The Isle of Man isn’t about flashy cool riders with sponsorships. It’s about crazy amateurs willing to risk their lives on one of the most unpredictable courses in the world.
Colin is on the island no less than two hours and he already knows – he needs to compete in this race before he dies. So Colin gets a job at a local farm, rents out a basement apartment for a few hundred bucks, and uses the next 11 months to train for the race.
Along the way he meets Kathleen, a nurse who’s none-too-fond of motorcycle racers, and Jon, the owner of the farm he works at, who was once a racer himself. He develops a relationship with both, along with everybody else on the island, all of whom’s lives are dictated by this quirky bizarre race known as Isle of Man.
Much like its subject matter, the Isle of Man script doesn’t go according to plan. Here I was ready for this cool-ass story about a retired bike rider who shows up at the Isle of Man and gets a last second bid in the race, and then miraculously wins it somehow, when I read this line: “I want to live here a year and train for the race.”
I’m sorry but wuhhhhhh…?
Yes, Isle of Man eschews the importance of urgency and sits you down with the characters on this island for a full 362 days before we get to our race. Not gonna lie. I was thrown by that. But once I accepted it, I realized it worked. By building up this race for an entire year, we give it the kind of importance it never would’ve achieved had we only known about it for 20 pages.
However, not every writer can pull this off. I’ve seen it go the other way where a writer takes his time and it’s a deadly decision. We’re bored as shit within 30 pages, wondering how we’re going to get through another 80 without ripping our hair out.
What helps in Isle of Man is Younger’s endless knowledge of the race. And when I say knowledge, I mean knowledge with a capital KNOW. This guy knows everything about Isle of Man. He knows everything about motorcycle racing. And I always say, when it’s clear that the writer knows more about the subject matter than you, you’re in good hands. It means they know how to tell a detailed realistic story as opposed to some fantasied assumption of how motorcycle racing works from someone who’s never done it before. Trust me, the reader ALWAYS KNOWS when you’ve never come close to the subject matter you’re writing about.
But it’s not just that. The characters are really strong too. Colin’s a little cliche (the aging rider who’s making one last go of it), but he grows as the script evolves. Younger’s good at being specific with his details and his backstory. Colin doesn’t have some advertising job he hates, for example, which is what 90% of Hollywood writers would’ve written in. He works at a children’s furniture store. I mean, how unique is that? And one of the critical scenes isn’t some cliched shout-off with an evil racing nemesis. It’s when Colin’s forced to help a cow give birth all by himself.
That’s not to say there aren’t tropes. We have the love interest who hates racing because her dad died in The Isle of Man. And yet, even these choices made sense. Everyone on this island lives this race. It’s what the island is known for so it makes sense that they’re all a part of it. For that reason, it isn’t far-fetched to believe her father would die in the race. That’s the thing about tropes. If they’re organic to the story, they can work. It’s when they feel like something a screenwriting teacher told you you have to include that they give you away.
What ultimately works about Isle of Man is that it’s a deep rich character piece wrapped around a motorcycle race as opposed to a motorcycle race wrapped around a group of tiny insignificant characters (known as “the Godzilla treatment”). No doubt that’s what Damon was attracted to. This isn’t a Tom Cruise “I’m a movie star” turn in Days of Thunder 2. It’s a story that allows the actor to embody a character in a unique setting building honest compelling relationships with other characters who have deep interesting backstories. You don’t get that often, which is why this project is finally going to get made.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: The biggest thing I took away from this script was the power of specificity. There wasn’t a single general detail here. From the bikes to the island to the characters on the island – everything here is unique and specific to the world. It’s what sets this apart from your average sports script.