Doug Richardson’s first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder.Visit Doug’s site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels. Follow Doug on Twitter @byDougRich.
I discovered a sixth installment of the Die Hard series was in development by both reading about it in various news blurbs and the plethora of communication I invariably received from friends and fans with ardent hopes I’d find it either interesting or they’d hear back from me that I was somehow involved. My response was pretty simple, Tweeting and Facebook-posting with a link to the deadline.com story. My words were something like so:
“As a day one #DieHard fan this is a real boner killer. But as a stockholder? I say “yippee-ki-yay-motherf***ers!”
I thought I was being snarky and amusing. The retweets, I reckoned, confirmed as much. But what followed on Facebook were a few comments following the negative vein of my bi-polar remark. Not entirely unfounded. After all, I had started by more than inferring that the mere thought of DH6 was akin to losing an erection. My follow-up line, a zinger meant to square my debt and appreciation for the continuing series—and in doing so, further remunerating me—was pretty much left flat-faced at the starting line. Nobody seemed to give a rip about my contrasting qualifier.
After a few FB friends’ remarks that pretty much agreed with my fanboy feelings, an old friend and colleague climbed into the fray and knocked me down a few pegs. Simply put, my old friend called me out for pre-judging a product that hadn’t yet been formed. A catty kind of behavior that I’ve not only railed against more than once but also been the victim of. And despite the zippy qualifier I’d added at the end of my negative post, I’m still the ass-clown who struck the match.
Now some of you will look at what I did as pretty damn innocent. I’d read something that caused a spark in me, made up some witty commentary-slash-opinion, and merely shared. Fair enough. But like I said in the post, I’m a stockholder. I share in the franchise. Imagine Apple was coming out with a new iPhone. And I, as a stockholder and someone who’d been involved in the building of the iPhone 2, 3, and 4, publicly remarked that I was disappointed by the announcement alone that Apple was endeavoring to devise and manufacture an even newer iPhone.
Yes. I would be a douche-nozzle.
Agreed that movies and tech are not exactly alike. As a general rule, the sixth incarnation of a movie franchise is going to pale to the original. Comparisons to the sixth–and often bettered–generation of the iPhone doesn’t quite work out. Yet that still doesn’t excuse me, the shareholder, from starting or accelerating some kind of public conflagration. It’s as constructive as gossip.
And in this information age, a little bad gossip can go a long way towards sinking something that might have been otherwise worthwhile.
Let me rewind twenty-five years. Before Twitter and Facebook. The Internet was in its public infancy. The best place for research and general information was either the local library or updated volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
One afternoon while walking a dog I’d bumped into a neighbor of mine who’d attended the same film school as I. He’d already directed a couple of movies. And as it turned out, he’d just returned from shooting second unit for a famous actor pal who was directing his first feature film.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Was alright,” he said. “I spent weeks shooting random wildlife.”
“And the movie?”
“Who the hell knows?” said my neighbor. “All I saw was the animals I put on film.”
The actor’s movie, if rumors were to be believed, was overlong and over budget. Hell, it was common knowledge that no studio would fund it, requiring the actor to find his own financing. A classic vanity project for which a poor distributor would be on the hook to release, only to endure horrible reviews and middling box office.
As awards season loomed, talk was that the movie was a dog. Despite which, the studio was being coerced by the movie star to enter the sure-to-be-an-epic-fail into the Academy derby, complete with advertising, screenings, and a big Christmas launch date. It’s rare when it’s the movie studio receiving sympathy from everyone in the front row to the cheap seats. But if the gossip was even close to true, the egg was going to be distributed across a mile of angry faces.
It was just before Halloween when I received a phone call from a producer pal.
“Got plans tonight?” he asked.
“Nothin’ concrete,” I said.
“Got invited to a closed screening,” said my producer pal.
“What is it?”
“Dances with Wolves,” he said. “I know, I know. Supposed to suck. But I’m in business at Orion and I’m an asshole if I say no.”
“So you want me to come and we can watch it suck together?”
“Supposed to be really long, too.”
“Whatever. Buy me dinner and you got a date,” I joked.
Now, before you go back and read the name of the movie again, I’ll just say it for you here. Dances with Wolves. The advance word or, more accurately, rumor on the movie, was that it was three hiccups short of awful. I’m absolutely serious. I recall walking into the screening, glad-handing with agents and what-have-you, many already panning the picture based entirely on the lousy rap it had gotten on the showbiz street.
More importantly, I recall exiting the screening and walking across the Disney parking lot. My producer pal and I were both in a daze, stupefied by what we’d just witnessed… or maybe better described as experienced. And no. It wasn’t just that Dances with Wolves was that good. In my opinion, both then and now, it’s a wonderful, old-fashioned motion picture melodrama that works on nearly every cylinder. What was practically religious about this particular cinematic event was that it was such a polar encounter to what had been advertised in all the rank, small-minded speculation that had surrounded it. How obviously wrong the buzz had been. And how on earth could anybody have prejudged it with such negative verve?
Imagine that same movie facing a release in this day and age. It’s a guarantee that so much negative chatter would not have been confined to small-town Hollywood. Would the trolls have killed it before its first public flicker? Who knows? It’s a lesson worth learning. And remembering.
That said, who’s to say the next installment in the Die Hard legacy won’t be the best of them all? Certainly not me.
- Read more articles by Doug Richardson
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Get Doug's volume of Hollywood war stories in his new book
The Smoking Gun: True Tales from Hollywood's Screenwriting Trenches