So here’s the scene. It was a Saturday backyard birthday party and barbeque for a friend’s ten-year-old. The winter afternoon was crisp enough for sweaters. I’d assumed my usual posture, Diet Coke in one hand, enjoying a little adult conversation while keeping one eye on the unheated swimming pool. No kids were swimming. And that’s just the way I planned to keep it. Me and my invisible pal, Hyper D. Vigilance, planned to make certain no children would be dunked or drowned on our watch.

I really couldn’t call this a purely showbiz gathering; it might be more accurate to refer to it as “showbiz-lite.” There were a few actors and directors and industry tradesmen attending with their offspring along with a host of other professionals and homemakers. Otherwise, a pretty darn typical kiddie bash. As the magician warmed up his rabbit act, white wine glasses were being topped off by our gracious hostess while our host leveled off the ice chest with cold beer and soda.

Then came the conversation. Three other grown-ups and myself had somehow veered from age-appropriate TV shows to the trials and tribulations of one woman’s quest to break out of her homemaker rut and hyphenate her way into working mom status. Some years earlier she’d graduated from film school with the usual hopes and dreams but had since been waylaid into marriage and raising a pair of hard-charging children. With both her kids finally ensconced in primary school six hours a day, she’d taken on a script partner and was preparing for a return to her chosen career path—writing movies that mattered.

“Awesome,” I told her in my de facto, always-be-encouraging mode. It’s both my nature and polite. I then asked, “What kind of movies are you working on?”

“Movies that mean something,” she insisted between swigs from a lime-choked bottle of Corona. “I mean, it’s not like I spent all that money on a film education to end up writing crap movies.”

“Crap movies. Yeah. There’s a few too many of those,” I added reflexively.

“I seriously don’t think I could live with myself if I had to support myself writing shit like Die Hard.”

Did she really just say that?

Even more acutely, did she know my credits or even have a clue that I was a working screenwriter? The woman, both pretty, petite, and if I recall, quasi-charming, was not much more than an acquaintance. Our shadows had passed a few times. Most of our encounters had been limited to me holding the preschool gate for her or at events like, well, children’s birthday parties. To date, this had been the most substantive discussion I’d ever had with the woman.

“Of course you can’t,” I responded, assuming either she or I had just been struck by the unlucky stick. After all, she was probably just being honest. And if anyone appreciates clarity and candor over the kiss-ass, candy-coating that permeates showbiz it would be me.

“It’s not like Die Hard or that kinda crap doesn’t have its place in the culture, I suppose,” she continued. “But I can’t imagine the lack of intelligence it takes to put that kinda crap on paper.”

Yeah. She went there. Definitely had my attention now. And I must admit I was really quite amused.

This is when I felt a certain and familiar tug on my shirtsleeve. My six-year-old daughter had snuck up on my blind side.

“Daddy?” asked my baby girl. “Didn’t YOU write Die Hard?”

“No, sweetie. I actually didn’t,” I said.

“Yes, Daddy. You did. I know you did.”

I looked at my daughter directly. Smiled. Careful not to flick my eyes in the direction of the mom who’d—accidentally or not—just pasted me with a sack of rotten tomatoes.

“Sweetie,” I said. “I didn’t write Die Hard. I wrote the sequel and little bits and pieces of the third.”

“Then what’s the movie you’re writing now?”

Die Hard 4, honey.”

Now, I’ve had more than my share of foot-in-mouth moments. Hell, I’ve even chewed and swallowed. So I was hardly cheesed by the mom and hoped that I’d be facile enough to quip something clever to ease her embarrassment. When my gaze finally returned from my adorable daughter to the adult conversation, the quasi-charming mom was…gone. While I wasn’t looking, she’d scratched out a precise one-eighty and applied the gas.

God, I felt bad for her. That and I had to hold onto the emotional Advil I’d strung into words in order to salve the large caliber wound she’d inflicted upon herself.

Glad you said it. It was honest. And fair. And I appreciate it. There are plenty of folks out there who think my movies are crap. In fact, I can personally vouch that one of my pictures is crap. I’ve even had a New York Times reviewer blame me for wasting two hours of his life. So there. We’re all good, right?

Well, at least I thought it was a worthy speech. I regretted being unable to employ it, considering that quasi-charming mom had chosen to hoof it as far as physics would allow.

Now, for those of you reading this who might surmise I’m full of hooey in my hardcore appreciation of the unvarnished truth, try and follow me for a few more paragraphs.

First of all, who doesn’t like a compliment? Especially when it concerns one’s own work. If I deserve it, dammit I want to hear it in a clear, bold font. But I’m not foolish enough to believe that everybody thinks my farts smells like puppy breath. Over my career I’ve found it excruciatingly difficult to get people to tell me the plain truth—at least from those whom you’d expect to give it. Time and time again I’ve begged my reps to keep it real and tell me the honest truth. If they didn’t like me in the meeting, tell me. If the studio hated the pitch, tell me. I’m a big boy. If I can’t handle the truth I have no business suiting up for the game. I’ve even employed classic dialogue from the Godfather as an example of my need for clarity rather than dipping every hard fact in maple syrup before serving it up.

Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.

Of course, there’s the dark side to demanding the cold truth. I recall one agent who finally heeded my instructions, fulfilling my wishes with long steak dinners where he’d proceed to unload every bit of bad news about me, his other clients, and the state of the industry in general. The War Department and I began referring to him as the Grim Reaper. I believe he’d begun to see me as not only a client, but a psychoanalytical vessel for him to deposit his turgid views on the business as a whole. Our conversations had turned so depressing that I eventually had to let the poor man go.

I’m a man of significant faith. But I’m also a writer, which means I’m a natural cynic. So it goes that I’m a believer in both light and dark and that without one we cannot truly understand the other. I prefer laughs in my drama. A little sweet with the salt. And fair and honest criticism with acknowledgements to anything I might have done that worked well on a reader’s palate.

Yet I’ve also come to understand this. The truth about the truth is that few in entertainment want to tell it to your face. That and they’re so accustomed to powdering everything with sugary sweetness that it’s often impossible to know where you truly stand.

It was destiny that I’d bump into Quasi-charming Mom again. That moment of inevitability occurred when I was lunching on Lebanese food with a director pal. The wannabe screenwriter entered the restaurant with one of her SUV-driving friends. We noticed each other, exchanged polite smiles, after which I turned to my lunch date and regaled the tale of the kiddie birthday faux pas.

“So here’s what’s gonna happen,” I later explained to my director friend. “As we leave, I’m gonna introduce you to her.”

“Think she’d recognize you?” asked my friend.

“Already made the connection,” I said.

“Damn,” said my friend. “Cuz if she didn’t, you could remind her you’re the guy who wrote those worthless, shitty Die Hard movies.”

“No need to twist the blade,” I said. “What I wanna do is let her off the hook. Explain that I’d appreciated her candor that day. Maybe that’ll let some air out the balloon.”

“You are wayyyyyyy too nice,” said my friend.

“I’m not that nice. I can be as big an asshole as anyone. But I’m glad you think I have my moments.”

The check came. We promptly paid and pushed back our chairs. Yet as we headed for the exit, I was utterly surprised that the corner two-top once occupied by my writer mom was suddenly empty. Had I missed her as she’d excused herself to the ladies’ room?

“And there she goes,” said my director friend, gesturing toward the window.

That’s when I saw her, hauling ass across the parking lot, climbing into her Euro-built mom-mobile.

“Betcha didn’t see that coming,” said my friend.

Nope. I surely didn’t.

Read my new thriller, BLOOD MONEY, available this Thursday at Amazon.com and other online stores.

Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • Wow. Not only were you being extremely gallant, you were pretty much offering her the opportunity to make a connection…assuming she felt the director worthy enough.

    I wonder if she has ever googled you? Perhaps even read your blog?

    • I’ll leave you to wonder. Think my daughter’s outburst was enough to get her attention. Thanks Kristine.

  • you had me at “farts smells like puppy breath.”

    Once I heard about DH5 I DID say… “Man, I love Die Hard movies… they can make as many shitty sequels as they want- I’ll cosplay and midnight release that shit.”

    But when I say shitty sequel… it’s a compliment. I probably shouldn’t be a reviewer.

    • Stick to writing books, Cara. Leave the reviewing to the palace eunuchs.

  • Who says meaning can’t come wrapped up in an entertaining vessel? Some of the most meaningful films of all time have been so-called ‘genre’ films. That’s the really smart way to get a message across – rolled up in a good old fashioned romp. Pah.

    You’re awfully gracious! Serious cringe for her though – yikes!

    • My feelings exactly, Sarah. But some folks, as you know, need their messages wrapped up some self-important, chest-beating polemic.

  • Doug, I always learn something from your posts. I love that. Most of all, I love the attitude you bring to what you do. You’re a gem.

    • Not a gem. Just your kind of asshole.

      • Doug, this story had me laughing so hard! Then I hit this comment. You’re a hoot! I run Die Hard 2 every Christmas as a “Holiday Film”. This coming December I’ll enjoy it even more now that I know a bit about the writer.

        • Thanks Montana. Read on. There’s some DH stories in the blog archive.

  • I think DIE HARD is actually, in a way, a perfect movie… it’s hard to write a perfect movie, but I think that one is (and I really dug the second and third, too…) but it’s always sort of astounding to me when someone slags on it because while those kinda movies may not be to one’s taste, a person should really appreciate how well it’s put together… I mean, it really holds up well, considering it’s been what, 26 years, right?

    I mean, I’m not really the audience for A ROOM WITH A VIEW, but I thought it was a really well put together movie…

    But to be honest, we’ll all guilty of projecting, to a certain extent, our tastes outward… her mistake was in not apologizing to you and explaining herself… not being responsible for her taste, in a sense…

    • Thanks Joshua. Agree all around. Perhaps we can remake DH one day. Call it A ROOM WITH A VIEW AT NAKATOMI PLAZA.

  • wonder

    Puppy breath! <3

    Loved this post. Poor lady. Whatever version of the story she tells herself about this encounter is way worse than what really happened. Good reminder to face up not only to honest feedback/criticism, but to when you've really stepped in it. 😉

    • Well, Quasi-charming mom. If you’re out there. Your comment would be more than appreciated by both Wonder and myself.

  • paul

    There is indeed a sort of exquisite awkwardness to existing through a situation such as this…, congrats on handling it with a humble approach, Doug. Strangely, I’m reminded of my friend Richie-a music producer of some note in Manhattan. I saw him morph through the fake British accent, a screamin’ dope habit, until finally seeing his life as riding the train in from Queens, working for the day and going home at night. His life philosophy? “Paulie…, my main goal everyday is not to soil myself on the F train”. I loved that.

  • James Hornsby

    Doug, your humility is a given, your approachable which is hard in this business. Some people say they are, and when someone thinks they’ve crossed a line in regards to their work, well they don’t think their Jackson Pollack. I would think that you would have the class to understand her determined hoof in mouth disease.

    Frankly I would kill to write a bad action film with a huge prod budget. What about this perspective,”go write a film that means something and watch it in turnaround for years, OR write a (bad) action film or better yet, get paid to write an action film” hmmmm which one would make my wife, and life, happier?

    Lastly, i think I’d be treating my daughter to a day at Disneyland and a huge Itunes gift card for what your daughter said. Priceless.

    Thanks again for a great read.

    • I would have to erase your comment James if my daughter hadn’t turned down a trip to D-Land just yesterday. That and she’s already way over budget on her iTunes cards.

  • “…what’s the movie you’re writing now?”

    “Die Hard 4, honey.”

    Perhaps it’s best SUV mom ran off. If she couldn’t even face you after that faux pas Hollywood would have eaten her alive.

    The real lesson here? Children go straight for the jugular, every time. They always know where the bodies are buried (or where the nasty magazines are,) are willing to announce it to the world and yet–amazingly–rarely show up in movies to pull off that story function.

    “And there she goes…betcha didn’t see that coming.” I like this director friend of yours. And this post was so much fun, probably the highlight of my day. Thanks Doug.

  • MARK GEORGEFF

    MR. DOUG:

    You got a lot more patience than I would’ve shown.
    Let’s face it…there’s a lot of crap movies, tv, music, art, plays, etc., etc., made all the time. Much of them make the backers a profit.

    The lowest cost, highest profit ratio movie made is a porno. And they’re enjoyed and detested around the world by folks of all kind.

    There’s a lot of cool, good and even great movies made. DIE HARD and the franchise are just really good stuff.

    For me, what it all comes down to…is do I want to tell stories, and how good of stories do I want to tell? Regardless of the budget, those in it, those making it and the genre it’s in…am I seriously trying to respect and reach my audience by doing the best work possible? That’s it. Plain and simple. Because I come from that audience of watchers, readers and fans of genre movies, comics, graphic novels, plays, tv and fiction / non fiction.

    This working Mom may never understand the solid work involved in making the DH movies. But, I do. Thank you Doug. Write on, right on.

  • Thomas Ballard

    Me and my friend were staying at a hotel and saw that Die Hard 2 was coming on, so we decided to watch it because we liked the Die Hards. This however was the edited TV version, and that my friend, may be the funniest movie of all time. I hope you had a hand in writing the edited version. Yippee Ki Yay Mr. Falcon.

    • Thomas. I have no clue who they paid to write the censored dialogue. Perhaps his name was Falcon?

  • Glenn McGee

    For shits and giggles I would have the War Department call SUV mom to arrange a play date for the kids. Have your daughter place in her backpack some DVD’s (guess which ones?) and see where it goes. All done in the spirit of creating a good sequel to a great story that many of us I feel would consider high concept.

    • Thanks Glenn. And sadly, my children are passed the play date age. Now they “hang out.”

  • I would bet that this woman hasn’t even seen Die Hard.

    In 25 years, I have yet to meet a person who didn’t love the first Die Hard. I’ve never even met someone who was indifferent to it, let alone refer to it as crap.

    She probably pulled the name of an action film out of her ass assuming that they are all the same.

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  • Moira Leeper

    Now I want to hunt down the “mommy’sgonnawriteamoviethatmatters.blogspace.com” to get her side of the story. Movies that mean something… mmm… what does that “mean” – movies like Sideways or like Children of a Lesser God? Or does she mean “the kind of movies my demo likes”? Movies mean what you take from them when you stand up out of your seat. The writer can’t control that – but I suppose one can try… anyway, great post again. Thanks for it.

    • Moira. When you find her side of the story, make sure you post it here. I’d love to hear it.

  • And now I know why you’re still around in an industry that chews people up and spits them out – You’re post made me laugh out loud. And when you’ve had “one of those days”, laughing out loud is gold. Which is why I thoroughly enjoyed the die hard movies (and why I suspect others do too) – not for the action…..for the dialogue. Take witty writer, mix in actor who can deliver line with the right amount of wry, shake…guaranteed hit. On a Saturday night after a llooonnnggg week – priceless.

    • Thanks LK. That and I didn’t know why I was still around. I thought it was some sort of disease. Question answered.

      • Well, I’m not a doctor, and sadly, i never played one on TV, so unfortunately, maybe the disease can’t be completely ruled out….

  • Aaron

    I love a deep, thoughtful character drama as much as anyone else, but if you can’t see the brilliance in the original Die Hard, well, I probably don’t want to read your script. The sequels were a lot of fun too, but the original is just indisputably epic.

  • “I seriously don’t think I could live with myself if I had to support myself writing shit like Die Hard.”

    Did she really just say that?

    ***************************

    Haven’t finished the article yet, but feel compelled to comment at this point.

    LMAO.

    Dramatic Irony. Gotta love it. Definitely see this as a scene in a blog-based tv series if you ever decide to do one.

  • action dave

    I love this blog. Totally addicted (thanks Moira!) — david

  • It is funny how the combination of personal preference combined with a hipster reaction to what’s popular to seem cool along with a dash or “goddamnitwhydoesthisshitgetmadewhileI’mburpingbrats!” can combine in a perfect storm in front of just the wrong guy…

    Of course, I would never do anything like that… nope. Not me. I mean… yeah…

    Can’t wait til the next posting!

  • Jeff Turner

    Doug, I know you’ll appreciate this story:

    I was 12 years old and my mom worked in Atlantic City. /With my best friend in tow, we spent one afternoon with her as she headed to work, perusing the boardwalk, taking in all it had to offer. Parked next to a curb was a stretch limo, the driver waiting anxiously for a call. My best friend, the recluse that he was, broke out of his shell that afternoon, approaching the driver to find out who the limo was waiting on. After several minutes of prodding and prying, the limo driver gave the initials B.W. After careful thought, we soon discovered it was Bruce Willis’ limo. He was performing at the Sands casino, doing the tour “The Return of Bruno.” My friend then begged the driver to give us a ride around town and after being hounded to death, he gave in and took us on a trip. There were two televisions, a used condom on the window sill covered in hair with an asthma inhaler tucked securely inside, and a dress jacket with the gold letters “B.W.” on the lapel. The driver turned the TV’s on and a porno popped up. We were in hog heaven. Suddenly, the driver receives a radio call that Bruce’s show ended earlier than expected and he was to be picked up immediately. Needless to say, Bruce jumped in the limo and instantly said, “Who the hell are these kids?” The driver told him the story, he shook our hands, noticed the porn we were watching and said, “Well, sex-ed can’t come soon enough.” Then he looked over on the ledge and commented on the condom, “Speaking of sex ed, let’s just say she left me breathless.” We told him we were a big fan of Die Hard (just recently new to theaters at that time and we had just seen it a few months prior). He went on to tell us that he was preparing to do the second Die Hard film and the only thing he knew about it was that it took place at an airport this time around.

    Eventually we returned to our original place. He was just as cool in person as he was on screen and it is a memory I will soon never forget. I love the franchise and the sequels. I will always be a big fan. Now it’s great, all these years later, I’m getting to chat with the man who wrote the films. Life is good!

  • Jeff Turner

    Oh, and I do have one question…was they yippie-ki-ay motherfucker line an ad-lib, or did you write that in the script?

    • I didn’t write the first picture. And there’s plenty of lore around who wrote the line. Bruce, De Souza, or McTiernan.

  • Milo

    Mr. Richardson,
    I like DH2, very good and all, but for me first one and third are way better. Don’t take me wrong, those two are one of my favorites. I just love John McTiernan’s films (except Nomads and Rollerball). You and he could make such a pair (creatively of course).
    Recent Die Hard flicks shouldn’t carry Die Hard in its title.