A young screenwriter, desperate to break into the business, finds himself in an elevator with a powerful Hollywood executive, who grants him two minutes to make his movie pitch. This is the moment he’s been dreaming about, so he launches into Act 1 as the elevator doors close.
He launches into the true story of a young kid, born into abject poverty who falls in love with the game of rugby as a young child when the Springboks win the 1995 World Cup. Beating all the odds, he earns himself a place at an elite rugby school, graduates and gets signed by the team he supports, and marries the girl of his dreams.
“Not bad,” says the producer warily. “A little too ‘on-the-nose’, as we say in the biz, but it could fly. So what happens next?”
Encouraged, the writer launches into Act 2. In a few short years, the main protagonist has become a firm crowd favourite, is named as captain of his provincial team, and earns his first cap for his country. He struggles to break into the starting lineup for the national team but after a string of solid performances, he manages to solidify his place in the team.
“This is too much of a fairytale, kid. Where are the obstacles, the setbacks?” says the mogul, chewing on his fat cigar and running short of patience.
“Injuries, sir,” says the writer, desperately. “Lots of them. Thumbs, knees, ankles, muggings. Almost every time there’s a career-defining game, our hero seems to miss it due to injury. But he keeps bouncing back.”
“Not bad. I can work with that. Got any supporting characters to flesh it out?”
So the writer tells the story of a pair of young siblings, lost to the hero when their mother died. He spends years looking for them until one day, he catches a lucky break and finds them, shuttered away in an orphanage, a few miles from where he grew up. There and then, he makes a commitment to adopt the kids, provide a family and a home and utterly change the course of their lives.
“That’s beautiful. Heart-warming. Now let’s take it back to the action,” the producer says.
The writer launches into Act 3. The national team is falling apart, losing to nations like Italy and Japan, games they would previously have won without breaking a sweat. Morale collapses, the public turns on them and they slide down the world rankings
“Interesting twist,” says the producer. “How do we build it back up?”
The final act begins with a new coach. A new vision. With the World Cup looming, it’s back to basics for the team.
“A training sequence?” asks the producer and the writer nods. “Great. I love a good training sequence.”
It’s all happening now. Our hero is named as the first black captain of South Africa and in his first game, the team comes back from 20 points down in the first 15 minutes to narrowly beat a resurgent England team, before going on to beat New Zealand and win the tri-nations tournament.
“OK this is working, kid. But tell me you have a big finish to the fairytale. You do, don’t you?”
“The biggest,” he replies. But first…another twist. Another injury, late in the season, and our hero may miss the World Cup in Japan, the biggest tournament of them all. As the nation holds its breath, the captain works his way back into match-winning form and into the World Cup squad, where the team performs brilliantly and make it all the way into the World Cup finals.
The elevator comes to a stop but the producer doesn’t move. As the doors open, he stands there. “So how does it end?” he asks. “Heartbreak or fairytale?”
Siya Kolisi: Against All Odds available now in all good bookstores and online.