It was the day we burned the Hostage set. Bruce ambled onto the soundstage and dropped a script onto my lap. The title was DIE HARD 4.0. I could tell by the date it was the most recent writer’s attempt at the fourth installment of the series.

“Do me a favor and read it will ya?” asked Bruce.

“Over the weekend?” I asked. “Or over night?”

“Over lunch if you can do it,” he asked. “Really wanna talk about it.”

Okay. So I bailed out to my office before the morning’s last set-up, ordered a few slices of pizza and locked the door. Two hours later, I was encamped in Bruce’s trailer. He was reclined on the couch, lamenting about how much he loathed the script. I agreed that it didn’t live up to the franchise. But then again, it was number four.

“What would you do?” Bruce asked. “Studio loves this script.”

I reminded Bruce that it wasn’t on me. He was the guy whose name was above the title.

“Do you even wanna see a Die Hard 4?” he asked.

“Not really.”

“So what’s a Die Hard 4 you’d wanna see?”

This is where it happened. Me and big fat mouth. I began to think out loud about a new Die Hard 4. A relevant Die Hard 4. A harder Die Hard 4 that would challenge and surprise both fans and critics. I should’ve just shut my hole and hiked back to the set.

The very next day I was in Fox Chairman Tom Rothman’s office. It was sold to me as just Bruce and me, continuing the “conversation.” All along I could read that look in Tom’s eye. I could tell he really liked the current script. That the present incarnation was something he could market. That he was willing to commit untold millions to it. But in just a single hour of offhanded chatter with Bruce in his trailer, I’d just broken Tom’s script.

Whoops.

In the eight months that followed, I went on to finish Hostage, delivered a first draft of a delayed assignment to Paramount, then finally sat down to pen my relevant version of Die Hard 4.

The studio was more patient than Bruce, who’d call every couple of weeks. Is it good? How close are you? When can I see it? My answer was always the same. I’m happy. You’ll see it soon enough. Any slow going on my part was due to me knowing that expectations were insanely high. It was on me to deliver a Die Hard 4 Bruce Willis was willing to get behind. So I was grinding. Second guessing. Losing sleep. And when I was finally near the end I got sick.

I was at El Torito, a local Mexican franchise, having burritos with my family when Bruce called from Montreal.

“Time’s up, Doug,” said Bruce. “I gotta read it.”

“Not finished,” I told him. “Really close.”

“Well, you can finish it on the plane.”

“What plane?”

“Flying you up to Montreal tomorrow. You can meet Sir Ben and Morgan Freeman.”

“Got a thousand notes I’ve made that I still have to incorporate into—”

But Bruce had already handed the phone off to Stevie, his personal assistant, whose efficiency never failed to astonish. Stevie’d already booked me first class to Montreal where Bruce was currently filming Lucky Number Sleven. A car was picking me up at 7 AM.

I’d run out of refusals. I paid the check, packed a bag, ingested fists full of cold meds before powering through the rest of the night revising the script. I wrote in the car to the airport. Wrote in the lounge. On the aircraft. Wrote while waiting to change planes in Toronto. Wrote on the flight to Montreal. I wrote in the SUV sent to deliver me to Bruce’s hotel. And I shit you not. I wrote “FADE OUT” just as the valet opened my door.

Done. I bagged my laptop, discovered I’d already been checked in, then boarded the private elevator to the hotel’s Presidential Suite. The doors opened and Stevie was there to grab my bags and show me to a large unopened box.

“Brand damn new printer,” he said. “Don’t worry. Couple hours I’ll have it cranking out the script.”

“Where’s El Jefe?” I asked.

“Waiting for you.” Stevie pointed. “Follow the music.”

I’d already been up for something like thirty-six hours. Traveled thousands of miles. I was in Montreal. It was snowing outside. I calculated that pneumonia was just around the corner. Instead, around the corner was a closet. Well, not a closet anymore. At some point, in expanding the prez suite the hotel had pushed through a walk-in closet to another suite in order to make the space, I suppose, more presidential. The closet had since been converted to a tight passage with bookshelves and a built-in desk with doors at either end. The door facing me was shut with a handwritten sign, reading “Doug. Leave the script with Stevie and your cares behind.”

I entered. The cramped space was smaller than the average prison cell, lit with just a couple of scented candles. Bruce was hunched over a MacBook stuffed with seemingly every blues tune ever put down on wax. Hanging out was an acting guru, otherwise known as Irish Jerry, who waved his hands over the makeshift bar. I ordered a scotch on the rocks and, while Irish Jerry kept us served deep into the night, Bruce kept the music spinning.

A note about Bruce Willis. There are few fellahs I’d rather tilt pints with until dawn. It’s as if all the movie star stuff fades into the ether. He becomes the guy from Jersey who loves great tunes, dangerous women, and trading laugh-out-loud stories.

We pickled ourselves until we were crocked. Then sometime around four AM, Bruce decides to call lights out. I don’t recall ever handing Stevie my thumb drive, but he’d succeeded in printing a hot copy of Die Hard 4.

Bruce fanned the pages script, held up in the air, and said that he was off to read it. I may have been drunk, but not stupid.

“Bruce. Please don’t,” I strongly suggested. “Sleep it off. Read it sober.”

“Sober enough,” he said. “Call you when I’m done.”

I found my hotel room, locked the door and flopped on the bed. And though I tried to sleep, I couldn’t get a wink knowing at any second the damn phone was going to ring and the voice at the other end wasn’t going to be cool Bruce, but it’d be a drunken movie star with notes. I’m screwed, I thought. Months of hard work. Flushed.

Two hours later with a headache coming on, the phone hadn’t rung. And as sobriety took hold, I realized Bruce had most likely fallen asleep on page two and, while I was bathing in writer’s paranoia, he was sleeping it off. I showered, slept, and was awoken by the phone around noon.

“Betcha thought I was gonna read it drunk.”

“Naw,” I lied. “I bet Irish Jerry you wouldn’t make it past page two.”

Bruce laughed. Promised he’d read it after we’d visited the Lucky Number Sleven set and he’d introduced me to Sir Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman.

Wrapping up, Bruce read the script and loved it. A few days later, he sent me home with his notes. What happened after? Well, that’s between me and Bruce and a very powerful movie studio. Maybe someday I’ll write about it. But in the end, Tom Rothman convinced Bruce to make that earlier script he’d liked so much. It was released as Live Free or Die Hard. It made a gazillion dollars.

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.
  • Another cool one, man. Loving the loose association between us both!

    • Ben. I sort of understand it. But do you think the comment on its own appears a little creepy?

  • On the plus side, it does appear that you discovered a cure for pneumonia.

  • I love that the retelling of your story is so much like the Die Hard franchise itself. Dogged determination like that separates the men from the boys. What I wouldn’t give (Well, almost!) to read both versions. Thanks for sharing this great story, Doug.

  • Tom Benton

    Mr. Richardson, I’d love to read your take on it. I’m a “Die Hard” die-hard, and I thought “Live Free or Die Hard” was devastatingly dumb. John McClane as an action superhero strips him off all that magical human error that made him so fascinating in the original.

  • Very enjoyable. I found you site through the Stage 32 comments. Keep up the great work.

  • Doug, a friend of mine sent me your missive on “Hostage” yesterday and I read it today as I could get to it throughout the day. Then I had to read your blogs which lead to your website. As it stands you have earned one more fan.

    You are one hilarious man.

    Keep kicking ass.

    • Thanks Pat. If you like the blog you should read my latest book, The Safety Expert. It’s a barn burner.

  • Another tremendously written, insightful tale, my man.

    Since you mentioned along the way that you were still compensation, any chance the script gets revived for the rumored Part V in the series? Or possibly reworked as another film altogether? Or is it a one and done situation based on the compensation?

    RB

    • Well, there’s always that chance that the script gets turned into another Die Hard. But pretty remote. Since Fox owns it, they can pillage it as they want. Bits and pieces were in the last movie. Two scenes and some dialogue. When Andy Vajna owned DH3, he was angry at Bruce after he’d decided not to do the movie before I’d finished my draft. Andy refused to pay me until I turned it into another movie. Fox then lifted a sequence and turned it into the ending of Speed.

  • JWCM

    Doug – I’m enjoying the blog – great insights, witty commentary and it particularly commendable for it’s honesty. Makes me yearn for the day I’m successful enough to tell the truth. Ha.

    • The truth shall set you free… or set you back, depending on how you look at it. Thanks.

  • Mike Frye

    To be a fly on the wall at one of those late night, blues song listening, story-telling, sessions…next time call me. Great story man!

    • Remember. I was sick as a dog, too. So my memories aren’t so pleasant. Thanks Mike.

  • Mike Frye

    Doug, I went to see Die Hard 5 yesterday…What in the world have they done? Is it possible to recall a movie for a do-over? Did they even call you?

    • Sorry Mike. Didn’t get the call. The filmmakers clearly thought they were on the right track. And despite the anemic U.S. receipts, I still expect big numbers from overseas which will be nothing but encouragement to those currently at the wheel of the franchise.

  • Doug,

    I’m hooked on your blog. You are an engaging story-teller…I look forward to more.

  • Johnny Sullivan

    Great story. I think the real challenge in writing a new Die Hard is finding a storyline that hasn’t been co-opted already by other Die Hard rip-offs. That’s probably why Fox couldn’t find a good hook for A Good Day other than ‘Send ‘im to Russia or something’. I’d love to see the DH franchise return to the contained, location-specific elements of the first 3.

    • Please feel free to send your feelings to Twentieth Century Fox. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles.

  • Guest

    Awesome blog Doug! Thank you so much for sharing and writing in a way that I just can’t stop reading!

    I love that you are able to maintain the role of an sharp observer rather than a participant, although you are responsible for the most crucial part of the movies. But I guess that’s the only way you can stay sane in this fuckin’ crazy business…

    Thanks again and all the best!
    Marian

  • Marian-Reinhart Grönwoldt

    Don’t know why it says “Guest” now, it was me… I just want to add: If you want to make some money (and everybody knows how you poor hollywood scribes are starving) please make a book out of these blog entries! That would sell like sliced bread, I promise! Now I have to check out your fiction books of course!

  • Brian King

    Any chance of rewriting the characters in your unproduced DIE HARD 4 script and getting it going at Fox as an original action movie?

    I’m guessing probably not, but I’d be interested in seeing it if they ever went that route.

    Cheers,

    • Doug Richardson

      Unfortunately, no. They’ve already cherry picked stuff out of it for other parts of the franchise.

  • What an exciting read. Fascinating. Glad I found you. Keep up the great work. ‘Appreciate you sharing all this with us…