CHARLES Cumming’s origin story for Plane really couldn’t be any simpler.

“I was flying to Egypt with my children in spring 2015. It was the height of Daesh taking over northern Iraq and Syria. After we landed in Hurghada, I just had the thought, ‘What would have happened if our plane had been diverted or hijacked and we had been forced to land in one of those countries,” Cumming tells The National.

That spark of imagination was more than enough to inspire the Scottish-born writer to expand the idea into a more detailed story and outline. Especially since the Malaysia 370 plane had vanished in March 2014 and Russian forces had shot down another Malaysian Airlines flight in the Donbas in July of the same year.

Nearly eight years later, Plane is about to be released, and it stars fellow Scot Gerard Butler as pilot Brodie Torrance. He lands the titular aircraft on a war-torn island after it is struck by lightning. When dangerous rebels take the passengers hostage, Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), an accused murderer being transported by the FBI, is the only person Torrance can turn to for help.

While Cumming was primarily known as a novelist of spy fiction, having scribed the likes of A Spy By Nature, The Spanish Game, and Typhoon, in the years before he dreamt up Plane he’d been working more and more on Hollywood projects.

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“I’d adapted my novel The Trinity Six for Universal around three years before coming up with Plane. That got me an agent and manager. Then I wrote a spy story for the producers of Liam Neeson movie Non-Stop.”

Armed with his nifty aviation idea and some impressive connections, Cumming flew out to Los Angeles for 10 days of pitching The Plane, as it was known then, around the city. It only took four for Cumming to land a hugely impressive star, as Will Smith attached himself to the project.

Suddenly, because of Smith’s involvement, Cumming and The Plane became “quite hot properties”.

“I was getting meetings at Sony, Dreamworks, Lionsgate. Everybody wanted to hear my pitch because if they could get Smith attached to their studio then it would be a huge money-making exercise for them.”

Less than a week later, as Cumming flew out of Los Angeles back to London, he was certain he was going to be writing the film. But then, on November 13, 2015, 130 people were killed across Paris by Daesh terrorists. “Suddenly the entire community didn’t want to do an ISIS story anymore,” explains Cumming.

All except for DiBonaventura Pictures. Producer Mark Vahradian bought the pitch and Cumming spent most of the next two years working on the script, during which time it changed dramatically. In 2018, an American writer-director became attached to the film, and Cumming’s services were no longer required.

This was fine for Cumming, who was then able to return to the medium where he had made his name. Born in Ayr in 1971, Cumming spent the first eight years of his life in the village of Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, where his parents owned a bed and breakfast.

“Then I was sent away to boarding school in England, so didn’t come back to Scotland until I was 18,” says Cumming, who at that point returned to the country to study at the University of Edinburgh.

Even though he now lives in West London, Cumming still clearly harbours a great love for his homeland.

“I actually now come back to Scotland two or three times a year which is lovely, because there was a long period of my life in my sort of 20s and 30s when again I wasn’t in Scotland very much.”

Cumming had a good reason for his absence. It was during this time that he was working on the first of his novels. Cumming was also tapped up by Mi6 to work for them, which he then used as inspiration.

“I always had a talent for writing in the way that some people have a talent for maths or playing the piano or kicking a football. Then the movie bug hit me just when I was leaving school. I was introduced to The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Mean Streets, Goodfellas. I actually became more interested in movies than books to be honest.”

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Working on Plane really allowed Cumming to witness how the proverbial sausage was made. Unfortunately, the American filmmaker that was previously attached to it left the project. But only after bringing Butler onboard. Butler decided to stay involved, he was joined by Colter, and French director Jean-Francois Richet.

By this point, though, two new writers were required in the shape of JP Davis and Matt Cook. “They did rewrites and set it in the Philippines. They changed some of the dialogue. My involvement in the film really ended in about 2020. It’s been a long old journey.”

Cumming couldn’t be happier with the result, though. “I think it’s a really exciting, old-fashioned action thriller, which is credible and realistic. Both Mike and Gerry are fantastic. There’s really well-executed action scenes.”

“I just want it to give people a really great night at the movies and some escapism in the mould of the action movies I grew up with, like Die Hard and Con Air.”

Audiences can see if Plane does just that – with the film now available at cinemas across Scotland.