I was actually hired to write DIE HARD 2 when the original DIE HARD was still in theaters. Like the original, the sequel was to be based on a novel. In DIE HARD 2’s case, the book was 58 MINUTES by Walter Wager. Days later I was parked in first class on my way to New York City. For research, I’d engineered myself a few days in the tower at JFK in order to get a rudimentary grasp of how air traffic controllers navigate thousands of commercial flights in and out of a major airport. This is where I met big Ed Trudeau, a former Air Force pilot, current FAA Chief of the JFK tower, and future holder of a golden lottery ticket.Ed Trudeau. Tall, Texan, and classically laconic. He was funny, gracious, and calm as a bottle of Xanax. Over my days on his watch, I peppered him with hundreds of questions, preposterous and otherwise, and entertainingly war-gamed with him on how movie terrorists might overtake an east coast airport under the siege of a winter snowstorm. In return, I had the pleasure of observing the man perform his very difficult job. At the end of my three-day tour, I felt safer traveling the friendly skies knowing men like Ed Trudeau were at the helm.
Ed Trudeau. Tall, Texan, and classically laconic. He was funny, gracious, and calm as a bottle of Xanax. Over my days on his watch, I peppered him with hundreds of questions, preposterous and otherwise, and entertainingly war-gamed with him on how movie terrorists might overtake an east coast airport under the siege of a winter snowstorm. In return, I had the pleasure of observing the man perform his very difficult job. At the end of my three-day tour, I felt safer traveling the friendly skies knowing men like Ed Trudeau were at the helm.
Six months later I was fired from the movie. Not that it wasn’t expected. Getting fired is, sadly, part of the modern screenwriter’s life. We all get fired on and off of pictures for a variety of right or wrong reasons. In this case, producers Larry and Chuck Gordon expected the draft of the screenplay I was about to deliver to the studio would receive an instant green light to production. This is when Chuck took me to lunch in order to soften me up for the inevitable. The day DIE HARD 2 would get its green light would be the day producer Joel Silver would contractually come on board to complete the process of script-to-screen. Chuck foretold that Joel would repeat his formula for the original DIE HARD. When that picture got the go-ahead to production, he tossed original writer Jeb Stuart overboard and brought on his favorite scribe, Steven de Souza. Chuck told me his big brother Larry had already survived one heart attack that he had jokingly named “Joel Silver.” So even though I deserved to remain on the picture, big brother Larry wouldn’t be expected to battle Joel in order to keep me. It may or may not have been true. But it was a good story. And Chuck paid for lunch.
Cut to ten months later. DIE HARD 2 is maybe a week away from its summer release. I’m in the middle of researching a treasure diving movie for Columbia Pictures when Fox invites me to screen the finished product. After which Joel slaps me on the back and said, “Thank me, kiddo. You just wrote a hit movie.” But it wasn’t pride surging through my brain. It was two words. Ed Trudeau.
You see, in my earlier drafts of DIE HARD 2, I’d written a character based on Ed Trudeau. The character I’d created was Chief of the Dulles tower. I’d built the character as tall, Texan, laconic, and calm as a bottle of Xanax. In my writer’s delight, Joel and director Renny Harlin had cast former attorney (and future U.S. Senator) Fred Thompson in the part. Perfect casting.
Oh. And I’d also named that character… Ed Trudeau.
As a writer, I’m crazy for names. I spend hours, sometimes days, seeking the perfect name to fit the character I’m creating. Normally I don’t name characters after the real people on which they’re based. And on the occasions where I do so, it’s only as a place-holder until the right name comes to me. Such was the case with DIE HARD 2 and the character based on Ed Trudeau. But before I had a chance to execute the name change, Joel Silver sent me packing.
Like most big corporations, big movie studios employ a truckload of lawyers whose sole job is to defend the Hollywood realm. This one must’ve gotten by the lawyers because nobody from the studio ever contacted me to ask if the names in the movie had been cleared as “fictitious.” Whoops.
Days before the movie’s release, I caught up with Ed Trudeau and informed him that the studio had erred and the character I’d based on him bore his actual name. Ed laughed, thinking it was amusing.
I said, “Ed. You don’t understand. The tower captain is an FAA official named Ed Trudeau. He’s big and tall and southern, just like you because I patterned him after you. In the movie, we crash a jet airliner that causes the death of hundreds of innocent civilians. All on Ed Trudeau’s watch. That’s actionable. It’s legally indefensible. You could sue and win millions!”
“Ah, hell,” said Ed. “That’s not me at all. Just tell me is the movie any good?”
“It’s DIE HARD 2, Ed. It’s gonna be a big hit.”
“Well, good for y’all,” said Ed. And that was the end of it.
I’d just handed the man a golden lottery ticket. The former military-man-on-a-civil-servant’s-salary could’ve cashed in and retired to the Gulf Coast. Instead, he saw no actual harm that could come to him or his family because of the error. Which is all it was, by the way. An error. Ed also lived up to the class and character of the man I’d originally observed for those three days in the JFK tower.
I wonder if he ever saw the movie.