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Honoring The Past, Building The Future
"‘We Are Marshall' isn't about a plane crash, or the evolution of a football team; it's about what happens to people who are handed a horrific loss and how they deal with it and recover,” says producer Basil Iwanyk. "The restoration of the team and the football program at Marshall, while true, becomes a metaphor for what's happening in this small community where so many lives are inter-connected.”

Barely six months old when the Marshall accident occurred, Iwanyk never felt its headline-making impact and was only marginally aware of it as an adult, as part of sports history. "I knew about the crash but didn't know what happened afterwards,” he says. While researching material for another potential sports-related project for his production company, Thunder Road, he uncovered reports about the Marshall crash. His interest was piqued by accounts of the heroic rebuilding efforts undertaken by the school and the Huntington community following the sudden loss of so many of their loved ones, and realized that's where the real story was.

Discovering that the only film record of the event was a little-known 2000 West Virginia Public Television documentary, "Ashes to Glory,” Iwanyk says he felt strongly that, "This was a story begging to be told.”

Screenwriter Jamie Linden became involved through an indirect connection to Marshall's assistant coach Red Dawson, who missed the fatal flight. Linden attended Florida State University, Dawson's alma mater and the school where the Hall of Fame gridiron star first made a name for himself in the 1960s before becoming a coach. In 2000, on the 30-year anniversary of the plane crash, the FSU student newspaper ran a commemorative article on Dawson, which stirred Linden to delve deeper into the historic event.

"When I read the piece I was struck by the fact that I had never heard about what happened to the Marshall team,” says Linden. "I was born after the crash. People of my parents' generation may remember it, but it seems to have fallen out of public consciousness since then.”

Director Joseph McGinty Nichol, who goes by the moniker McG ("Charlie's Angels” and "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle”), had a similar emotional reaction to the story, which he was also hearing for the first time. "I've always been attracted to dramatic stories and this is one of the most compelling I've ever come across. It's about survival and what's right with the human condition.”

The facts alone hold such natural poignancy and drama, and so many moments of honest inspiration that there was little need for embellishment. Says McG, "So much of what actually happened is so unbelievable that if it wasn't based on a true story you would assume it was pure Hollywood hyperbole.”

One perfect example, near the end of the film, is a climactic last-minute pass in a football game played by the newly formed Thundering Herd against rivals Xavier—only the second game of their comeback season in 1971. "The way that game ends is nothing short of amazing,” says Iwanyk. "It seems like a screenwriter's fantasy, but is, in fact, a faithful reenactment of that historic game. So many people in Huntington remember it, to this day, and for good reason.”

"We Are Marshall” has many such moments. As Linden acknowledges, the hardest part of preparing the script was deciding what to leave out. "We worked hard to tell as many stories as possible. This tragedy affected a whole town: a team, a school, a coaching staff, and their families, friends and neighbors. By far, my toughest challenge was accepting that there were so many individual details we had to omit. It actually kept me up nights. Editing is always hard, but, with this movie, it was particularly painful because it wasn't ‘material' we were dealing with—it was real people, and each of their stories is worthy.”

The screenwrite

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