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Behind the Lines with DR: Live Free or Die of Pneumonia

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 overnight?”

“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.

Willis and Richardson on set of 'Hostage'

Willis and Richardson on set of 'Hostage'

“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 harderDie 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.


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.