BEHIND THE LINES WITH DR: Writer On Set – One-Figured Gesture, Part 2

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.

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BEHIND THE LINES WITH DR: Writer On Set - One-Figured Gesture, Part 2 by Doug Richardson | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwritingIn retrospect, it might’ve been the slightest official revision I’d ever penned: a single line of dialogue accompanied by a line of action containing a simple, but universal gesture. It would speak volumes about a tragic moment that had transpired between a father and a daughter.

Already lost as to where this is going? Then I strongly suggest you take a moment or two to read Part 1 before the story’s conclusion contained herein. If you’re all caught up, by all means continue on.

I’d been reading my own little girl to sleep when Hawk Koch called to inform me that scene change I’d delivered hours earlier was not to be filmed. The orders had come from up high. Otherwise known as Mark Gordon, our big-time movie producer who, during most shooting days, was ensconced in his Santa Monica offices. Why there, you ask, instead of on our Inland Empire set? Because he’s Mark Gordon, big-time movie producer. His credits were and still are endless. He’d certainly done his duty on countless sets. He didn’t need to be there. He had Hawk Koch for that.

After my daughter had fallen asleep, I phoned Mark at his home.

“Hey Buddy,” said Mark in his trademark hello.

“I don’t see what the problem is.” I was cutting to the chase, hoping to crawl into my own bed after a belt of Johnny Walker. “It’s just a gesture.”

“It’s what it says,” warned Mark. “Wayyyy to dark.”

“Have you read the script?” I asked with rhetoric only in mind.

“Yes, I know,” Mark said. “It’s a dark movie. We don’t need to go out of our way to make it darker.”

“Not exactly going out of our way,” I said before launching into the genesis of the scene revision we’d planned to film the next day with Bruce and Rumer Willis. I explained the questions asked by our star, my answers, and our agreed conclusion with Rumer making the gun-to-the-head gesture.

“She’s indicating that Bruce’s character attempted suicide,” said Mark.

“Contemplated,” I corrected.

“Bruce Willis,” argued Mark. “John McClane.”

“We’re not making Die Hard,” I’d said for I think the millionth time in the process of making Hostage. “It’s the anti-John McClane movie.”

“Audiences won’t like it,” said Mark. “They don’t want to see it.”

“Mel Gibson stuck a pistol in his mouth in Lethal Weapon,” I fought back. “No. He didn’t pull the trigger but he got awful close.”

“Mel’s crazy,” said Mark, who’d worked with Mel in The Patriot, before correcting himself with, “I mean the Lethal Weapon character was crazy. That was the point.”

“Bruce’s character has a nervous breakdown,” I said. “Sure. It’s off-screen. But didn’t we film the run-up some six weeks ago?”

“It’s a turn-off,” said Mark. “I don’t like it.”

“I respect that,” I said with all seriousness.

I’d worked with Mark on other projects prior to Hostage. I’d differed with him before, but overall we’d agreed far more than not. And Mark’s long and storied work on films – and since then, even more success in TV – says more about his competency as a producer than my credits do – or did – as a writer. Not that I’m necessarily measuring. What I am is reinforcing the aforementioned respect I have – and still do – for Mr. Mark.

“Just do me a favor,” said Mark. “And just cut it.”

“Look,” I gave it one more try. “It’s laid out so if it doesn’t play the way we want it, it comes out in the edit. No harm, no foul.”

No harm, no foul?

In theory, the answer is yes. But what Mark was arguing for – or defending against – was that if the offending gesture ended up in a cut of the picture and either the director or movie star or both liked it, it would be far more difficult to excise it from the film than were we to never shoot it in the first place.

“Doug,” said Mark, tone softer and more pointed. “I love you, and I love what you’re doing for the movie. And you know me. Normally, I’m with you and Florent. But this time I’ve gotta say no. You can’t shoot it. Just the way it is. Sorry.”

“Final answer?” I joked.

“Get some sleep,” said Mark. “Kiss your kids goodnight.”

It was the break of dawn the next morning when I climbed the steps into Bruce’s make-up trailer.

“Anybody talked to you?” I asked.

“Anybody who?” returned the movie star.

That was all I needed to hear. The word had gone out from the AD’s to the script supervisor to the director that Mark Gordon had nixed the revised scene. As was the usual modus operandi on the film, it was on me to deliver the star the bad news. I shrugged and told Bruce about my conversation with Mark from the night before.

“So what?” said Bruce.

“He was pretty emphatic,” I said. “Mark’s pretty reasonable. Can’t say I’ve ever had him put his foot down like this.”

“Is Mark the only producer on this movie?” Bruce asked. Of course, I already knew the answer. “Am I producing this movie with Mark?”

“Yup.”

“Did Mark call me?”

“No. Hawk called me. I called Mark. And nobody calls you because they expect me to either bring the bad news or convince you that you’re wrong.”

“Am I wrong about the scene?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You better not think so. It was your idea.”

“It was.”

“Do you still think it’s the way to go.”

“If I was in charge, yeah. But I’m only –“

“- the writer, blah blah blah. I hate that excuse. You may as well be producing this movie, too.”

“I know.”

“So we keep on keepin’ on,” decided the movie star – err – producer-hyphenate-eight-hundred-pound gorilla. “We shoot it the way you wrote it.”

“I’ll pass it along.”

“And if Mark has a problem with it, he can get in whatever the fuck he drives and come on out here to Azusa and put his foot down on the fucking set.”

Not long after I’d informed the AD’s, Florent, and Hawk Koch that we were shooting the scene as I’d revised, a weird buzz of excitement came over the set – as if they were all teenagers about to tap the keg they’d been told in no uncertain terms were they not allowed to behold – let alone drink some foamies from.

I wasn’t as chirpy. This is because I knew, no matter how the day rolled out, there’d be some recompense that would most likely land on me.

Around mid-day, Florent was setting the camera while Bruce and Rumer walked through the scene in question. Dear French Florent, having already received an earful of no-you-don’t from Hawk, was happy to let me block and rehearse what I had wrought, err… written.

The camera rolled. The scene was captured in three or so takes before the director moved in for some closer angles. At one point, I recall Hawk standing behind me and offering this friendly growl:

“Never gonna end up in the movie,” he said. I was about to turn and defend myself when the old pro continued, “I know. Was Bruce’s call. And we’re shooting it. But I think Mark’s right. The scene is just wrong.”

Wrong or right, I’d never find out. Nor would Bruce for that matter. Florent, when assembling his first cut never included the line of dialogue or gesture. He didn’t care for it, preferring the subtext of my original intention. And Bruce? He never brought the subject up, perhaps because there were bigger battles to be fought, from cutting the picture to Miramax’s releasable length to discovering we were seriously under-financed when it came to hiring an orchestra to record Alexandre Desplat’s outstanding score.

Looking back, this reads like a lot of kicked up dust over something so small. And so it may have been. Yet that’s making movies. Every one contains a thousand and one such pinpricks to be managed.

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