Best Scene ACTION Screenplay – VOLUNTEER, by Janine Cobain & Gary McElkerney

What starts as a humanitarian mission, for a university student from Belfast, descends into a fight for survival after his search for adventure takes him off the beaten track to the frontline of the Ethiopian conflict. Chris Johnston faces his fears and battles with his own darkness on this emotive journey, which will leave you asking yourself, if faced the horrors of war, what would you do?

Genre: Action, Drama, Biography



Narrator: Laura Kyswaty
Michael: Cory Bertrand
Chris: Jim Canale
Odette: Regan Brown

 Get to know the writer:

What is your screenplay about?

Volunteer is based on the novel of the same name written by me (Gary McElkerney).

What starts as a humanitarian mission, for a university student from Belfast, descends into a fight for survival after his search for adventure takes him off the beaten track to the frontline of the Ethiopian conflict. Chris Johnston faces his fears, and battles with his own darkness, on this emotive journey, which will leave you with a question; if faced with such horrors, what are you capable of doing in order to survive?

What genres does your screenplay fall under?

It falls into Action/Adventure most comfortably, but also has elements of drama, and even thriller.

Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

There has never been a film about humanitarians in conflict zones: we have the soldiers’ stories, and the victims’ stories, but never the volunteers. In times of war and tragedy, I always say to people ‘look out for the helpers’; the people lifting others to safety, and giving hope that people care. It is an insight into a closed community – we don’t often talk about it and in turn are left to deal with our own emotional trauma – but what are the humanitarian’s stories, their backgrounds, in a time when the world seems to be falling apart, who are the people holding it together?

I hope Volunteer show even in the worst times there is always a hand to pick you up, and people who risk their lives – and often lose them – to save others.

How would you describe this script in two words?

Beautifully horrifying

What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

For me it’s Forrest Gump, for Janine it’s a tough call between The Holiday and Cocktail.

How long have you been working on this screenplay?

2 years to complete the novel and further 2 on the script, so far.

How many stories have you written?

For me it’s a novel, a couple of short stories, this feature script and around 5 short films, for Janine also a novel (How Will You Remember Me?) and the screenplay adaptation of it, Volunteer’s script, and numerous scripts for short films, TV drama, and comedy; she won the Northern Ireland Comedy Writers programme last year.

What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

For me, Foo Fighters – Best of You (U2 – With or Without You would be up there too), Janine struggled to pick one but Iris – Goo Goo Dolls would be up there or anything by Walking on Cars.

What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

Initially, learning how to write a screenplay! After completing the novel, and looking in to getting the script written for us, Janine decided to take it upon herself, and has spent hours and hours learning all she could about the craft. After laying down a first draft, we took the time to re-write it based on new learnings and notes, and on feedback received. Learning the importance of reshaping the screenplay to make it flow better, it’s hard to have scenes cut out and stripped back when in real life they were personal moments in history but it is necessary otherwise I’d talk forever.

For me, while writing the novel and the screenplay was therapeutic, you have to relive the experiences and it would often trigger my PTSD.

Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Well I suppose I have to say Lighting Design since it’s my full time job, in truth anything creative – music, film, art, writing, acting. For Janine it’s film production.

You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

So simple, being able to search for competitions and store projects makes the process very easy.

What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

Janine chose the festival based on its Action/Adventure specification and because of the opportunity of feedback. The report we received was excellent – it was great to actually be assured that someone had taken the time to read and provide good quality notes that we could work on. After a revision, a local producer commented on the quality of the script, which the notes received undoubtedly influenced.


Producer: Matthew Toffolo

Director: Kierston Drier
Casting Director: Sean Ballantyne
Editor: John Johnson

Camera Operator: Mary Cox

By actionadventurefestival

Get your short film showcased at the FEEDBACK Film Festival. Get your screenplay showcased at the Writing Festival.

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