As a student at Florida State University, Jamie Linden read an article about an aviation catastrophe that turned into a tragedy for Marshall University of Huntington, W.Va. Linden, who was moved by the events of the 35-plus-year-old crash, researched the details and never forgot them.
During his early career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, Linden had been amazed the Marshall story had never been depicted in the cinema. He has remedied that fact, however, by writing the script for the motion picture "We Are Marshall," scheduled for nationwide release on Dec. 22.
Linden, a 2001 graduate of FSU’s College of Communication, already had a two-movie contract with Warner Bros. before deciding on the topic for the project. It has several important FSU connections, including Red Dawson, a former FSU All-American wide receiver who played alongside Fred Biletnikoff and graduated in 1965, and Bobby Bowden, FSU’s head football coach.
The movie tells the story of the 1970 Marshall University football team, which was flying back to West Virginia after playing East Carolina University. The plane crashed just before landing, killing all 75 people on board, including 37 members of Marshall’s football team and coaching staff, as well as supporters.
Linden’s screenplay focuses on the tragedy of the crash, Marshall’s subsequent football season and its struggle to recover and rebuild. The movie stars Matthew McConaughey as Marshall’s new coach, Jack Lengyel, and, from the ABC television show "Lost," Matthew Fox, who plays Red Dawson.
The best-known FSU-Marshall University connection was Dawson, who was an assistant coach at Marshall and recruited many of the players who died in the plane crash. Dawson always drove to the games because he was afraid of flying. He stayed on at Marshall for one more season following the crash.
A lesser-known connection involves Bowden.
"People should also know that Bobby Bowden is featured in ‘We Are Marshall,’ Linden said. "Bowden was the coach at West Virginia University in 1970 when the crash happened. West Virginia and Marshall were recruiting rivals, although they didn’t play each other all that much, and Bowden did something pretty amazing for the ’71 Marshall coaching staff, which we depict in the movie. As soon as I found out about that part of the story during my research, I knew I had to put it into the script.
"Both Red Dawson and Jack Lengyel are friendly with Bobby, and we sent him the script pages he was featured in for his approval. The actor that played Bobby did a great job, although he’s six feet tall or so, so he’s way too big. It’s basically a cameo, but Bowden’s scenes were some of the highest scoring ones in our test screenings. I’ve even had UF fans come up to me and tell me how much they like that section of the movie."
So how did Linden, a media production and marketing major, end up writing screenplays in Hollywood?
"I went to L.A. after graduating because I had no real job opportunities and my friend had four tickets to the ‘Price Is Right,’" he said. "We drove out there, I got on, and I won $5,000 and a Tuscan Wine Server Cart. So I decided to stay. I got a temp job reading screenplays and was fascinated by them. I was hired and fired from a few assistant jobs and so I figured I’d try writing a script myself."
Linden quickly succeeded in getting noticed by a studio.
"The first screenplay I wrote with my friend Cory Helms, a University of Florida grad, unfortunately, was called "Things to Do Before I Die." We got really lucky and Warner Bros. bought it and gave us a blind deal for another script. I pitched them the Marshall story with a producer, Basil Iwanyk, who was also interested in it, and they bought that too."
Linden, who co-produced "We Are Marshall," is keeping busy.
"Next I’m doing a ‘bio-pic’ for Warners Bros. and Basil on Bill Johnson, the gold medalist Olympic downhill skier. I’m also working on a TV pilot called "Flash Back" with McG, who directed "Marshall."
Linden also has adapted a book called "The Dogs of Babel" for Harry Potter producer David Heyman.