Like Han Solo: Skip Woods on A Good Day to Die Hard
Screenwriter Skip Woods wasn’t part of the press junket for A Good Day to Die Hard, but we were able to connect with him after the film’s opening weekend by phone. Woods has been a screenwriter on major franchise films like The A-Team, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Hitman, as well as developing projects like the Kane & Lynch movie (to star Bruce Willis and Jamie Foxx) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger drama Ten. Woods shared some secrets of the original A Good Day to Die Hard script so some spoilers for the movie follow.
CraveOnline: When you get the assignment to write a Die Hard movie, what are the rules and parameters they give you?
Skip Woods: Well, this was different. I actually worked on Die Hard 4. They brought me in to do a bunch of the dialogue for Bruce and Bruce and I became friends. So when he had this idea for this, he actually called me up and said, “I have this idea about his son, rescuing his son.” That was his whole idea and I kind of went back and forth on it and it just kind of sprang to life. Die Hard was always my favorite action film growing up so I guess I had the rules kind of at least somewhat inked in my mind.
If Bruce wanted it to be about his son, did you come up with Moscow or was that Fox?
No, I came up with Moscow. Originally, the very, very original script, in the original idea his son was dead. His son died and he goes over to find out what happened. That made it a little too dark for us and we wanted to keep him alive. Originally it was in Afghanistan and Moscow. That was a little dark. I think the more it evolved, Moscow seemed like the right choice to do the whole thing in, and it worked.
What is it like to get notes from Bruce Willis on John McClane?
I mean, Bruce is John McClane so he has a very specific thing. You can say, “What do you think about this line?” “Mm, no, no.” Or you tell him, “Oh, how about this one?” And we’ll work on it back and forth. More than any other thing I’ve ever worked on, it’s like sitting there with John McClane, not with Bruce Willis so he knows what he would say.
He told us at the press conference there was more of the son’s backstory that was omitted. What was that and where would it have gone in the film?
Honestly, for the running time that Fox wanted, there’s lots of story that kind of got left out. Not in a bad way, just that happens when you’re making a movie. His son and him, he obviously had a tumultuous relationship. They didn’t get along. They haven’t spoken in years. He thought his son was a screw-up and that was the idea of the initial concept when we were talking about it. He thinks his son’s a screw up, finds out that he’s dead, goes over to find out what happened to him and find out he really is working for the government. So that was always intact, but the nuances of their relationship and how he thought his son was a screw up and really, his son is just like he is. And I think we preserve that in the final film.
We hear they were still making story changes weeks into the movie. Were you still involved on the set like you were on Live Free or Die Hard?
I wasn’t involved on the set of this one. Bruce and I spoke on the phone a lot but not as much as I was [on 4]. I think John and I tried to work in the past together, John Moore, and Bruce and I obviously are close so they’d call me and we’d try to figure out ways to make it make sense. You know how big budget movies work though. Sometimes unfortunately everything doesn’t follow along the road map of the original script.
Were there some noteworthy things that really work in the movie that were added later?
Oh, I think the core of the movie was still there. The relationship with John and Jack was great. I think some of the set pieces blow me away. They actually turned out much better than I ever thought they were going to. That chase sequence and the helicopter sequence in the end are just mind-blowing. Interesting things, one of the small things, the building where they escape down the construction shoot, originally I did some research. In the Soviet system they had these tubes so if the place caught fire they’d pull the alarm and all these tubes would shoot out the side of the building that people could evacuate on, almost like a 747 aircraft. And it didn’t actually end up working like it was supposed to work. It didn’t look exactly like it was supposed to and they don’t have those systems in place anymore, so when we went to Moscow to do the shoot, we tried to find actual examples of them and we couldn’t. That’s why that got pared back to just construction tubes but the idea was still there.
Did you come up with the action sequences, like the car chase and helicopter finale?
They were definitely in the script. I think John did a wonderful job taking that initial idea and turning it into something really special. I think it’s one of the best car chases I’ve ever seen. There’s something about this huge armored vehicle tearing its way through Moscow. I think it’s something we’ve never seen before.
Is it true that “Yippee Ki-yay” is not in the script until Bruce decides where to say it?
Well, look, Bruce is going to decide where to say it. We made a very conscious decision, even in the last movie, especially on this one not to just throw it in there. If you look at the trailer, there’s a throwaway “Yippee ki-yay” in there that was actually in the script originally. We need the soundbite obviously but the last thing we wanted was to have a “Yippee ki-yay” that fans rolled their eyes at and went, “Okay, here we go again.” Even though it’s a signature line, it can’t be silly.
I like that when he finally says it, he’s doing it for his kid.
Right, and there was an idea Bruce had, maybe Jack should say it. But Bruce knew that when we figured it out, he would figure it out and we did. It was a great collaboration between John Moore, Bruce, myself and the studio when to say that line. I’m sure you know that he never says “Yippee ki-yay, Mother Russia” in the film. That was just a great piece of marketing which I think really worked, but I think if he had said it, it would’ve been too much.
I was wondering if they were really going to go there.
You were hoping they wouldn’t, right?
I don’t know, I think I would have gone with it.
[Laughs] I’ll tell you what. Bruce could say a line that you don’t think can be said and vice versa. He’ll throw it out there and like wow, that actually worked. It’s pretty impressive. He’s lived this character for 25 years. I think more than any other cinematic character I can think of, he definitely embodies this character. He actually is this character and vice versa.
Was there more of the carrot eating, tap dancing villain?
Originally, in the idea of the script, Irina and Alik were brother and sister. It just didn’t work out but there was a lot more of their relationship. She was a lot bigger character in it and he was a lot crazier. As they shot the movie, I think they were afraid of it being too much or spending too much time with the characters, so they pulled away from it. I think it works at the end of the day, and the actor’s great, isn’t he?
Yeah, that’s why I wanted to see more of him.
Right? It’s a shame, I’d love to see him come back.
Since the film is a lean 90 minutes, how many pages was the script?
Well, the script fluctuated from 120 pages plus. There are definitely things that didn’t make the movie that were in the script that explained some things you initially might think “I don’t understand.” It was in the script, but sometimes the velocity of the movie takes over and you just don’t have time for those things. I personally like to explain everything so you don’t go, “Wait, wait, wait, I don’t understand. Where’d that come from? How’d that happen? I don’t understand the relationship.” But I had to trust the director, Fox and everyone else that the momentum of the movie, we had to let some of that stuff go.
What were some of the things you were worried needed to be explained?
I think ultimately it works so I don’t want to say they did anything wrong because they definitely didn’t, but I think the relationship between Jack and John, that was always paramount in my mind. I thought it was really important that their relationship be the one thing that drives this movie forward, because that’s what’s most important here. It’s a man saving his son, which you go back to the very beginning movie, it’s about a man saving his family. Not just his wife, although that’s what he was doing, but he was also trying to save his family. So there were two things going on. There was the physical danger she was in but he was out there to save his family. So I think that’s part of what, in this one, it may not come across 100% but it’s really about a failed relationship between a father and a son. He has to go deal with his son on an action level too which definitely works still. I think in the initial script there was some more of that in there.
I feel like Die Hard means so many different things to different people, and in each sequel we see what it meant to that filmmaker. You mentioned it was your favorite action film, so what did Die Hard mean to you?
I think the great thing about Die Hard, besides it being an everyman who has to step up and save everyone there, the great thing I’ve always loved about Die Hard, and you see it now so much, is insurmountable odds, somebody using their wits. But also at the same time, John McClane is a very clever guy. No matter how desperate a guy, he never let it bring him down. I think that character for me, not to go back to another movie, but it always seemed almost like Han Solo.
Here’s a guy who never gets beaten down. He’s always going to keep pushing and I always loved that about him. It was like you were on the ride with him. If you think about the movie, you had never seen a movie where a guy got beat up that much before the first Die Hard. I mean, he is bloody and beaten and broken and he still keeps moving and pushing and pushing and pushing. You just can’t keep him down. His feet are cut up and he still keeps pushing. In the original one too, the Bill Clay sequence where Hans is acting like someone in the building and he gives him the gun. Now audiences are so savvy they might see that coming, but back then it’s a pretty cool move.
When you hear some fans complain that he’s become too invulnerable, what’s your response to that?
I try not to read too much of the critical analysis of it. I don’t know, he looks pretty beat up in the movie to me. In the script we pushed it a little farther, but you want him to still be able to fight. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, he looks pretty battered, bruised and bloody to me at the end of the movie. They both do. That was one of the fun things we had to do with the script. Jack is supposed to be the younger John McClane. It was fun beating them both up and having them bloody and limping by the end of the movie.
The other thing about the first one I really loved which I tried to do in this one and hopefully we achieved it was the villain. Hans Gruber is the best villain on film I think ever, maybe outside Darth Vader or something like that. For me, Hans Gruber’s an amazing villain. He’ll talk about a Time article he read which is a throwaway line, but you know the guy’s really smart.
Were some of the callbacks to the original Die Hard your idea, like shooting the glass ceiling and the free fall at the end?
Look, I really tried to stay away from too many. One homage is fine. Two homages is a little much. It’s almost piracy. We wanted to do something in it that echoed the first movie. Shooting the glass, and actually John says, “Shoot the glass” at one point in the script, but that was the only one I wanted to do. It goes back and forth. As you’re making a movie, some homages come and some leave. Hopefully we picked the right one.
So they took out the overt line of saying “Shoot the glass.”
Yeah, which I think was too much, which I think was the right move.
Are you still working on Kane & Lynch with Bruce?
I don’t know actually. It’s been over a year since we did that. I’m not sure if Bruce is even attached to that anymore. I’m not sure what happened with that. He called me up one day and he said, “I’m doing this project and I’d like you to be involved.” So I wrote two drafts for him. I’m not sure what’s going on with that right now.
Yeah, I saw a poster that said 2011 and it had different writers and directors attached.
[Laughs] That’s exactly right. What a great poster that is too. Did you see the one with the two guys in the silhouette walking forward with guns? That one?
I saw the yellow one.
It’s awesome, right? It’s a great marketing piece.
There were several writers on that. Where in the process did you fall?
I was late in the process. They had a director on it. Simon Crane was going to direct it, who’s a big second unit guy, did Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Anyway, he was going to do it, Bruce was involved, that’s right when I came in. I wrote the script and basically kind of started over and gave it a different spin. Then I’m not really sure what happened after that.
You’ve had experience with video game movies, Hitman, so did it seem like they were getting the video game right?
The great thing and the bad thing about it is it’s kind of simplistic. The relationship is great in the video game, but you’re going to have to find a way that it works in the real world, especially when one of the guys is truly crazy. He’s truly a psychopath and insane. That was the thing we really had fun with in the movie was how to make him insane and still be a character that we can all get behind and not have to kill him off at the end, because usually you can do horrible things and redeem yourself at the end of the movie if you die, right? But we didn’t want to do that because we liked these characters. So the tricky part was how to make his character crazy and still be likable, and that was tough because he’s a psychopath.
How did Ten change when Arnold Schwarzenegger became attached?
I’m not sure. I don’t have anything to do with Ten anymore. For me, Ten was about, I had read Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and thought this would be an amazing idea with a SWAT team. The great thing about it, I don’t want to give anything away here, but if you read Agatha Christie, you know who the bad guy is and that was the awesome thing about it for me. I was like, that’s just never been done before. And then the bad guy dies and four more people die from the machinations in the kind of Rube Goldberg-esque stuff he did to make them all die, so basically he kills them even after he’s dead which is awesome. So I tried to find a way to keep that. When David came on board, it got pulled back a little bit, but David rewrote the script so I wasn’t involved in that at all. David’s a great director and he’s a great writer so I’m sure it’ll be fantastic.
Are you doing another Hitman movie, Agent 47?
I wrote a draft but I don’t think my draft’s going to make it to the screen, but I definitely know that they’re making it, start shooting in June/July. For me, if you read the version of Hitman that I wrote and the version on the screen, they’re very different. My Hitman was very much a character movie about a guy who doesn’t know how to be human and how this girl kind of teaches him how to be human at the end. He saves them both. That’s kind of in the movie, kind of not but it was really a character movie with lots of violence in it. I think out of all my movies, it was the one that really didn’t live up to the original script.
That happens quite often too. So was Agent 47 a chance to go back to that idea, if they decide to use your script?
Well, originally they just wanted to reboot the whole franchise and start over. We had already done, even though it didn’t make it to the screen, the whole “I’m not human, what does it mean to be human, I don’t know how to exist in this society, I’m a killer…” We already did that and so this was a lot more fun and I think taking it to a lot more fun place than we did before. I’m quite fond of the director, Aleksander Bach. I spent a lot of time with him. He’s a really nice guy and I’m hoping it’ll be good.
What’s Unknown Soldier?
It’s on IMDB.
Is that maybe not one of yours?
I don’t know. My next thing, I’ve written and I’m directing a movie for Chuck Roven, who did the Batman movies, called Hyper Real. I’m really excited about that.
Now that, I didn’t find in my research. What’s that about?
I don’t know how to pitch it to you. It’s a hard one to pitch but we’ll talk about it when I get further around. It’s really exciting. It’s a thriller, there’s science-fiction elements to it and I’m really excited about it. It’s the thing I’m most excited about that I’ve done lately.
Have you been building up to directing?
Well no, I directed the first thing I ever did in Hollywood and I just tried to find the right vehicle for me to do next. I kept writing things. I only want to direct what I write, so I directed a movie called Thursday years ago and I’m just trying to find the next movie that fits into my directing lexicon of ideas. This was definitely it. Luckily, Chuck really liked the script and so hopefully it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Was it fun falling into the franchise screenwriting world?
It’s definitely been an experience. I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot of stuff. I will tell you, it’s one of the hardest things to do because you set yourself up for failure. If you don’t do an amazing job, [they’ll think] you’re just trying to use a franchise to make money and that’s usually not the case. It’s not really about greed or anything else. Mostly for me it’s always been about I love this character and I want to see him do more.
So what were the rules and parameters of Wolverine and The A-Team when you got to write those?
The A-Team movie that I wrote was really dark and they changed it quite a bit. It’s a different movie than I was involved with, a different movie than I wrote. It’s a good movie but it’s not the movie that I did. The A-Team movie I did, I wanted it to be really grounded, really realistic.
No tanks falling out of the sky?
[Laughs] Right. But Wolverine at its core was a revenge story and I really liked that about it. We set out to do a ‘70s type revenge movie with this iconic character. Again, it’s a difficult thing to do but it was a lot of fun because you’re taking a character that people know really well and you put him on a journey that people don’t know, and that was tough. The great thing was Hugh [Jackman] was really behind it, the studio was behind it. It probably wasn’t as dark as we intended it to be, but obviously it can’t be, right?
That seems like a common theme, you wanted to do the dark version and somewhere along the line someone decides it can’t go that far.
I think that’s part of the Hollywood thing, isn’t it? Look, we all want to make something that’s awesome. We all want to make something that means something to us. At the same time, studios are still making movies that need to make money to support the budgets they have right now and stuff like that. If they take it too dark, we begin to compartmentalize our audience.
With Wolverine, did they tell you which supporting characters could be in it?
When I came on board, there were two writers – well, there were a lot more than that – but two of us who really spent a lot of time on it. When I came onboard, there was no bad guy really. My idea was to put Deadpool in it. I wanted it to be a revenge story where ultimately Wolverine and Deadpool square off with each other which they kept in the movie, so I was really excited about that.
Will you be involved in Die Hard 6?
I don’t know, I haven’t gotten the call yet so you’ll probably know before I know. We hope so. It’s doing really well so I hope I am.
Well, Bruce said that he wants to.
That’s good news. Hopefully after this weekend, he’ll want to even more, right?