Thirteen Lives: Read The Screenplay Behind Ron Howards Harrowing Tale Of Survival

Editors note: Deadline’s Read the Screenplay series debuts and celebrates the scripts of films that will be factors in this year’s movie awards race.

On June 23, 2018, a young Thai soccer team and their coach became trapped in a cave when an early monsoon hit. Director Ron Howard became entranced by the harrowing 18-day ordeal to rescue them, and decided that he needed to tell the story on film.

“I honestly felt that this was a movie for this moment,” Howard said during a panel for the Amazon Studios movie at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Los Angeles event. “I thought it was an object lesson on what is possible, that you could cross these cultural barriers and make something really remarkable happen. If you tried to write this, no one would ever believe it, and yet it happened.”

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Written by William Nicholson, Thirteen Lives tells the story of the 12 boys and their coach who were exploring the Tham Luang cave when an early monsoon hit and trapped them in a flooded cave system. As the entire country of Thailand rallies to help out, a group of the world’s best divers are brought in to traverse miles of dangerous cave networks, but they soon discover that finding the boys is only half the battle. The film stars Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Tom Bateman as the rescue divers.

Howard shot the film in Australia and Thailand, with production designer Molly Hughes in charge of re-creating the cave systems in a way that could be filmed. The actors surprised Howard when they insisted on doing the dives themselves, rather than stunt doubles.

“I didn’t think they should do it for safety reasons and production-wise where there was no way to make it fit,” Howard said, “but they were so insistent upon it. And once we determined that they were competent enough that they can safely do it…they would just show up and you know, every hour that they weren’t in front of the cameras doing dialogue, they were there doing the diving and it made all the difference in the world.”

Click below to read the script written by Nicholson, a double Oscar nominee for writing the screenplays for Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and Shadowlands.

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