Hard to believe, but it was 20 years ago that the action movie Die Hard was released. It grossed $138M worldwide – not bad for a movie with a production budget of just $28M. People forget, but Bruce Willis was not a huge movie star when Die Hard came out. Fresh off his success in the TV series “Moonlighting,” Willis had had only one starring movie role in the underwhelming Blind Date (1987). So it was a huge gamble for 20th Century Fox to go after Willis, especially for an action movie, when he had made a name for himself as a light romantic-comedy lead. But to his credit, producer Larry Gordon finagled a $5M offer to Willis, he bit, and the rest is history.
The scene here is taken from the shooting script – note the scene numbers – but still retains some great action-writing. Note the use of intercuts between various characters and sub-locations within the primary setting — those quick bits of business help to sustain the action. Also, the writers use CAPS on key words to highlight not only sound but also movement — that is one way to ‘direct’ a script without using directing lingo (e.g., ZOOM IN, TILT UP, PAN ACROSS) as the capped words naturally draw the reader’s attention. Caps can be overdone, but used judiciously, they can help break up scene description and punch certain key actions for readers.
348 THE ROOF 348 McClane herds the last of the hostages inside, starts for the door himself, when with a ROAR and a CHATTER of rotors, the lead chopper zooms overhead! McClane throws himself down on the ground, looks up as the chopper banks in a tight turn and then from the open side GUNFIRE erupts! Shocked, McClane DIVES out of the way of the bullets that stitch across the door. 349 HOSTAGES - ON LOWER FLOORS (OR IN STAIRWELL) 349 descending, SCREAMING and HOWLING as a chopper SWEEPS past a window on a loop back towards the roof. 350 IN THE CHOPPER 350 Both Johnsons FIRE AWAY BIG JOHNSON Bank and we'll nail him! 351 THE VAULT ROOM 351 Hans whirls towards Kristoff. HANS Blow the roof. Now! KRISTOFF But Karl and Uli are up there -- CAMERA ADJUSTS to show the remote detonator on a table. Hans goes to it. 352 THE ROOF 352 McClane DIVES away from another burst. MCCLANE You assholes, I'm on your side -- ! They come in on another pass. Desperate, he looks around, see a fire hose. Makes up his mind. With the chopper LOOMING UP behind him, he slings Uli's weapon, runs to the fire hose, unreels three yards, loops it around his back and under his legs. He looks over the edge, hesitates: MCCLANE Fuck this... Bullets HIT all around him. He JUMPS: 353 THE VAULT ROOM 353 Hans extends the antenna...HITS the button. 354 LONG SHOT - THE ROOF 354 The helipad EXPLODES! A FIREBALL rolls into the sky. 355 THE HOSTAGES 355 lose their footing on the floor. Dust and debris fall down, but they're okay. 356 JOHNSON AND JOHNSON'S CHOPPER 356 STRAINS to avoid the rising fireball...can't! It's CAUGHT in the explosion! It tips over, a rotor hits the roof -- it CRASHES, EXPLODES, tumbles down the side of the building! 357 MCCLANE 357 Dangling against the side of the building, he DUCKS and winces as FLAMING DEBRIS soar past him. 358 THE ROOF - HOSE WHEEL DEVICE 358 Flame ROARS TOWARDS it, engulfs it. It JERKS on its foundation PIVOTS 180 degrees as several bolts slip: 359 MCCLANE 359 DROPS several more feet. He swallows, then KICKS against the side of the building, his bloody feet leaving smears. The shatterproof glass doesn't budge! Wincing as more FLAMING DEBRIS sizzles by, McClane levels the machine gun, KICKS off from the building, SWINGS back ten feet -- reaches the zenith of his arc -- FIRES the gun and sails back in: 360 INSIDE THE BUILDING 360 McClane SMASHES through the shattered glass, SAILS inside, rolls onto the floor, PLOWING through furniture and decor. Finally he STOPS, catches his breath with relief...rises to one knee: 361 UP ON THE ROOF 361 The fire hose mounting is BLASTED off the roof, SAILS past the CAMERA: 362 OUTSIDE THE BUILDING 362 The hose mechanism tumbles downward! 363 INSIDE 363 McClane is YANKED off his feet, dragged towards the window! 364 THE HOSE WHEEL - OUTSIDE 364 It SLIDES down the side of the building! The hose PLAYS OUT on the edge of the windowsill, dragging McClane towards his death! 365 MCCLANE 365 CLAWS at the floor...no help. Inches from the shattered window, he braces his legs against the sill, groans as he fights the weight of the hose and the reel. One foot SLIPS. Only his already wounded foot keeps him indoors. He scrambles to untie his improvised rappeling rig -- gets free just before the hose nozzle CRASHES out and into the great beyond! Winded, strength ebbing, he staggers to his feet -- just in time for: 366 THE ROOF 366 to RECOIL from another staggering explosion! 367 THE HOSTAGES 367 They scream, cry out: 368 IN THE VAULT ROOM 368 As Holly covers her head from falling plaster, the men work like automatons, piling up the bonds. 369 MCCLANE 369 recovers from another AFTERSHOCK, runs up the steps -- is momentarily amazed to HEAR a "ding" from the elevator -- he looks at: 370 THE SHAFT 370 where suddenly the WALL EXPLODES OUTWARD as an ENTIRE ELEVATOR CRASHES THROUGH THE WALL, swinging on its cable like a demolition ball on a crane! 371 BACK TO SCENE 371 McClane runs up the steps as brickwork flies past his head like schrapnel: 372 THE ELEVATOR 372 reaches the apex of its swing, drops down in an arcing turn: 373 WIDE SHOT 373 the elevator CRASHES into the stairs! The section McClane in on SNAPS LOOSE! At the last minute McClane LEAPS towards: 374 THE VAULT FLOOR BALCONY 374 and catches it as stairs and elevator CRUMBLE behind and beneath him! With his last effort, he hauls himself onto the balcony and them moves off! CUT TO:
A paradigmatic action movie set of scenes.
[Originally posted Aug. 8, 2008]