The acclaimed author and filmmaker, Julian Doyle, stands against a wall with the words 'How I research my books or film scripts' for a publishing blog for Palamedes PR

How I Research my Books and Film Scripts | By Julian Doyle


Julian Doyle is a celebrated British filmmaker with an outstanding, multi-award-winning career in the film industry. He is widely recognised for his long-standing collaboration with Monty Python, where he worked on their most celebrated films including Monty Python and the Holy GrailLife of Brian, and The Meaning of Life.

In addition to his work with Monty Python, Julian has directed several acclaimed feature films including Love Potion (1987) and Chemical Wedding (2008), a supernatural thriller co-written with Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. His directorial credits also include music videos for iconic artists such as Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting and Iron Maiden’s Can I Play with Madness. His critically acclaimed Sherlock Holmes-esque novel, The Jericho Manuscript, was described by a journalist at the Daily Express as “Sherlock Holmes meets the Da Vinci Code in a gripping murder mystery.” And a journalist at The Sun said, “Is this the most extraordinary Sherlock Holmes adventure ever written? The answer is, of course, ‘elementary’.” You can read more about the media coverage it generated over on our Case Studies page.

In this, the absolutely fascinating second in a series of genuinely exclusive insights (and never-before-seen images) for PRscribe, the PR and publishing blog from Palamedes, Julian reveals his tried and tested tips about research for books and TV scripts.

Julian Doyle, the celebrated author and British filmmaker, discusses his top 10 tips for writing screenplays and books for the book PR and marketing agency, Palamedes PR and its publishing blog, PRscribe.

I should start by saying my books tend to be about real subjects but my film scripts tend to be fiction.

And I should also add that generally I will write about subjects (both fiction and non fiction) because I have something new or different to say about the subject. You may ask how can us normal human beings think we can add to the sum of human knowledge about subjects that have been covered by philosophers and academics for centuries.  Don’t put yourself down, we have brains and academics are not the only ones who can see through to a truth. Surely everything has been said ad nauseam about virtually every subject on earth? Absolutely not – and it’s our task as creatives to offer our own contribution.

Let me start with a play I wrote called ‘Twilight of the Gods’ about the tumultuous relationship between Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche. I was reading a book on the subject and suddenly realised I understood Wagner because the way he functioned was a lot like my brother. I could see exactly where he was coming from.  First of all I needed a way for them to discuss in an interesting format. So I placed it in the Turin Lunatic Asylum where Nietzsche was taken after his collapse. And there the ghost of Wagner – who was dead by that time – visits him. I then grabbed all their books and writings and read avidly. Luckily Nietzsche had actually written a book attacking Wagner so that was a great addition. But I think a look at any of the back pages of these books I studied will show you more than I can say:

This is Nietzsche’s autobiography, ‘Ecce Homo’ (behold the man) – Pilate’s words when the flagellated Christ was brought before the rabble. You see, as I read I mark interesting statements or events. So once I start writing and perhaps I write Wagner accusing Nietzsche of being rude, I look at the books and find here – 14 Rudeness (top right) and insert it into the writing to make Nietzsche reply, “Rudeness should not be undervalued, it is the most humane form of contradiction.”

We put the play on in Edinburgh and the official Review wrote  ‘How anyone could write such an intelligent, seem-less script analysing the complex ideas of the composer Richard Wagner and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is beyond me. “ But the thing is, it is beyond me too – I have shown you the mechanism but I still don’t quite know how it all came together, it just seemed to happen. Performing it was both scary and exciting as it has music section that synch with the dialogue. The ending was tremendous as it used the 2001 theme that Straus wrote for Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Sprake Zarathustra” while Nietzsche goes mad on stage. As most of the play takes place in the Turin Lunatic asylum, we were able to film it cheaply. An American Philosophy magazine wrote glowingly saying it was ‘Masterful’ and now it is used in US Universities as a teaching aid. –

Obviously the internet is the fastest method of confirming facts and dates. One of the first books I wrote was about the making of ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian.’

I not only wanted to describe the difficulties of editing comedy and tell interesting anecdotes from how the film came about (George Harrison putting up the money) to events on the set and finally how it was received, being banned in many countries. (Norway banned it so the Swedes put out an advert saying, “This film is so funny it was banned in Norway.”)

As the film was attacked by many, I also wanted to show that it was the most accurate Biblical film ever made. I already had a lot of background knowledge as when I was young I became fascinated by the Pyramids and the knowledge of the ancient priests. This led me to the Pythagoreans, which led to the Knights Templar and on to Freemasonry and their influence on the formation of America (as witnessed by the Dollar bill). Freemasons trace their knowledge back to Enoch and Solomon and the building of his Temple. That led me to studying the Old Testament, even trying to understand what exactly was going on in the New Testament.  So using my usual method I read my Bible, which now has the usual back pages covered with page notes. The same with the works of Josephus the historian writing at the time.

As you will see in the top right of this picture, my Gideon Bible in pieces. The bottom two are the two books of Josephus, again in pieces. And top left, a second translation of Josephus just in case I need to check the translation I am using is accurate.

My aim to show it was the most accurate Biblical film ever was confirmed when I was asked to attend a conference held at Kings College London, for Professors of Theology, from round the world, to discuss the importance of the ‘Life of Brian’ to Biblical research.

Prof. Joan Taylor introduced me (top left) and me in discussion with Prof. Goodman of Oxford (top right).

I think we can say that the second aim I had when writing was achieved when I was invited over to Limerick to introduce the movie to an audience for the first public showing in Ireland of ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’. It had been banned for over 30 years. Coming out of all this research was my book, ‘The Monumental Secret of the Crucifixion’ If you look at my copy of Josephus below, you will see each page from around the time of Jesus is labelled with a general heading so that I can spot the subject covered on that page quickly. And then down the page, specific points which are numbered at the back:

One of the key bits of research for this book I am afraid none of you can or should copy. It was crucifying the Monty Python team for the musical ending of the film, where they sing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. I learnt a lot about the process from making crosses, to carrying them (we made small ones to carry.) Then thinking about what happened to the crosses once the person is dead? Do they dig them out and take them down for the next victim to carry back up. Even to where did all the trees come from for the 1,000 crucified by the Romans during the Jewish War. (In Tunisia where we shot the film, we imported ours.) And of course dealing with actors who want to go to the toilet while they are up on their crosses. Think about it!  But don’t try it at home.

The Jericho Manuscript

Filmmaker Julian Doyle has worked on some of the UK’s most cherished movies, including being a long-time collaborator on the films of Monty Python and Terry Gilliam. He has also written and directed a number of well-received films and music videos.

His books, including The Jericho Manuscript, pictured left, can all be found on Amazon.

For further information about Julian, his incredible legacy, and his books, visit

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