Die Hard in a football stadium
An independently funded British action movie with the production value and spectacle to rival Hollywood’s behemoths, Final Score was the brainchild of producer Marc Goldberg, who, in late-2015, spied a unique opportunity.
“I’d made a few British movies and have a distribution company and my business partner is David Sullivan, who owns West Ham [United Football Club],” he explains. “During the final season at Upton Park [West Ham’s home since 1904 – for the 2016-17 season, they moved to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford], I asked him ‘What’s happening to the stadium once you leave?’ and he mentioned it was being reconfigured to be apartments. So I got in touch with Barratt Homes, the property company who had bought the land, to see if there was a way to use the stadium before they knocked it down.”
At this point, there was not even an idea for a story, just the sure knowledge that to be allowed access to such an arena – and to be allowed to blow parts of it up – was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“We had to start somewhere, and we felt that making a movie about sport or a movie about West Ham would not be widely appealing,” continues Goldberg. “So we thought, ‘How about making an action movie?’ We started with ‘Die Hard in a football stadium’. That was the nuts and bolts of the idea. I then got in touch with the guys at The Fyzz Facility, who obviously have been involved in the making and financing of lots of films [Silence, Wind River and 47 Meters Down are just three recent examples], and they came on board to produce it with me.”
“Marc text me as I was getting on a plane to LA,” says Wayne Marc Godfrey, CEO, co-founder and co-owner of The Fyzz Facility. “So we had dinner in LA the next night. He said, ‘We’re all Brits and we all know about football and that West Ham are leaving Upton Park; I can get the stadium for four to six weeks after the end of the season. Let’s make a movie there.’ I was like, ‘You are absolutely nuts! But we are in.’ The concept was ‘Die Hard in a football stadium’ – we’d figure the rest out later. It felt like an amazing challenge as this was November  and we were talking about shooting the next May. We had no script, no writer, no director, no cast, and no money! But we had this unique opportunity.”
Believing his traitorous brother Dimitri (Pierce Brosnan) is somewhere in the stadium, Arkady (Ray Stevenson), the former leader of a revolution in the Russian state of Sukovia, locks down the Boleyn Ground during the European semi-final between West Ham United and Dynamo FCC. In the crowd with his niece, Danni (Lara Peake), is US-veteran Mike Knox (Dave Bautista), who stumbles upon the plot and goes about taking out Arkady’s heavily armed team. Can he get to Arkady before Arkady gets to Dimitri? The fate of 35,000 people inside the stadium – and many more in Russia – depends on it…
Final Score is directed by Scott Mann from a screenplay by Jonathan Frank, David T. Lynch and Keith Lynch
Given the movie had to shoot in the summer of 2016, between the football season ending in May and Barratt Homes beginning the demolition of the stadium in September, Goldberg and Fyzz were able to map out a clear timeline as to what needed to be done by when.
A brief was sent out to writers, attracting a flood of submissions that ranged from single-paragraph treatments to, as Godfrey puts it, “10-page epics”, and from these a shortlist of 10 was drawn up – it was like Pop Idol for film. Each participant was paid to develop their ideas over the next few days. This, in turn, resulted in a hot list of three, with the Lynch Brothers (David T. and Keith) winning out after various rounds of meetings and interviews. They were commissioned to write and deliver script by January 3.
“It was good; a great start,” says Godfrey, who pocketed the manuscript and flew to LA with Goldberg and fellow producer Robert Jones for a week of meetings. “People were very accepting that this was a unique project and the location was a one-off,” says Goldberg, while Godfrey notes, “Out of 10 meetings, we got nine offers.”
It was also during that week in LA that the producers netted their director, Scott Mann. “I had previously worked with Scott on a film called Heist, and he did a great job on it,” says Godfrey. “He was in LA at the time, so we had him read it and met him for breakfast that same week. He got engaged immediately. He had ideas on the story and script and wanted to put some of his magic into it. We all saw eye to eye and we had a director.”
Goldberg nods. “He was first choice. Heist wasn’t a wide theatrical film but seeing what he was able to achieve on a relatively low budget and a short amount of days, and the type of talent he was able to work with on that film… We needed someone who got action and could work in a relatively unconventional way, and we met and instantly got on. He loved the project and came on and, to his credit, he and his writing team made some changes to the script and it worked.”
“The script had me intrigued,” says Mann. “I read it and it was really good – far beyond my expectations [given the rushed time schedule]. Working closely with the producers, we went hell for leather to get it ready to go out to actors.”
Men Of Action
While the concept and the promise of unprecedented access to a major sporting arena had been enough to excite financiers in the LA meetings and to ensure a raft of distribution deals were secured at the Cannes Film Festival in May, it was essential that Scott and his producers find the right actors for the key roles.
Pierce Brosnan was the first to sign on as Dimitri, the Russian who, along with his brother Arkady (Ray Stevenson), once lead a revolution to overthrow the government. Long thought dead, it is Dimitri’s presence in the football stadium during the semi-final of the European Cup that has triggered Arkady’s terrorist plot.
“I’d done The Foreigner with Wayne [Marc Godfrey] and we’d become friends,” says Brosnan. “He sent me the script. I thought it was rather fascinating that they’d wrapped the whole story around the football stadium. I said, ‘Sure, let me see if I can fit in a week. I’m here in Texas shooting [TV series] The Son. And it just worked out. It was a lovely job to do. Playing a Russian felt like a bit of a hoot.”
Not that it was all fun and games for Brosnan. A committed professional, he was not about to cut any corners or be content with offering a cardboard cut-out characterisation. “You respect the material,” he insists. “You don’t walk through it. I gave it my full attention. I got my dialect coach, Brendan Gunn, who’ve I worked with many times now, and we talked about the Russian accent and I worked on the Russian accent, and you try to make it as believable as possible within the proscenium arch of the film.”
Casting an international star who had four times played James Bond was a smart move. But equally smart was securing the man-mountain ex-WWE wrestler Dave Bautista – at the time best-known for playing Drax in the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies and henchman Hinx in Bond film, Spectre – as the lead.
“I cast Dave in Heist and he surprised me by how good he was and how seriously he took the work,” says Mann. “Wrestling had instilled a sense of discipline [in him], and it is also about performance. So I had a lot of faith in Dave. But we originally talked about him playing Arkady because the lead was, at that time, a Brit. But Dave wanted to play Knox. I talked to the writers about changing the dynamic, making it an American at a ‘soccer’ match, and what you could do with that. The process was so alive.”
“I was looking for more leading roles,” says Bautista. “It’s easy for me to step into the role of villain, I wanted to play the hero for a change so people could see me in a different light; I’m still trying to prove myself as an actor.”
Neither Mann nor the producers were against the idea. Noting that Bautista is, in real life, a joyful, hugely likeable guy with a big personality, they saw an opportunity to show a different side of him on screen.
“We all worked very closely on the character of Michael Knox,” says Bautista. “We had to alter a lot. We had to make him American because me trying to pull off a Brit accent or any knowledge of football would just be insulting to our audience! And I didn’t want to make Mike a generic character, like the cold-blooded assassin, ex-Navy Seal type guy that we’ve seen a million times before. I wanted people to care about these characters.”
“When we cast Dave he was one of the Guardians but Blade Runner 2049 was yet to come out, Guardians 2 was yet to come out… he was still a bit of an unknown quantity,” notes Goldberg. “But he really delivered and we feel it couldn’t have been anyone else playing that character.”
Brosnan, who knows a star performance when he sees one, was certainly impressed: “He’s passionate, he’s got the commitment, he’s got the strength physically and emotionally, and he wants it,” he says. “I wish him every success. He’s a good bloke. A top man.”
While ‘Die Hard in a football stadium’ makes for a catchy pitch, it also captures exactly what Final Score set out to do: deliver a throwback action movie that recalls the genre’s halcyon days of the 1980s and ‘90s, when the likes of Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage kicked ass and had fun doing it. Nowadays, action movies are dominated by superheroes overcoming inter-planetary threats. Final Score puts an ordinary (if highly skilled) guy in an extraordinary but believable position.
“It makes you think, ‘What would I do if I was in that position?’ rather than it being a global zombie outbreak or Armageddon-type movie,” says Goldberg. “Don’t get me wrong – those films are spectacle and people want to be entertained. But what I like about Final Score is that there aren’t movies like this. It happened more so in the ‘90s and early 2000s where you used to get real action heroes. There’s a gap in the market.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Godfrey, who says, “Final Score is great fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously; there is definitely a world for action films that are set a bit more in reality” and by Mann: “I much prefer the kinds of movies that I grew up with, where you have a more relatable threat and it’s a more personal film,” he says. “I was really interested to do a British action movie, and not a low-rent one but a real one. Making the lead American just allowed us to explore the British sensibilities even more as you’ve got someone who can observe and reflect against them. You can have fun with those things.”
Bautista, who’s just finished shooting the biggest action movie ever made, as Drax and the Guardians team up with the Avengers and more in Infinity War, has no doubt that the market is hungry for movies like Final Score. “When I’m changing the channel and I see Die Hard is on, I stop and I watch it,” he says. “It’s fun and exciting and I feel connected to it. I really hope people get the same sense of feeling from this film. I’m sure they’ll have a great time watching it.”