Jamie Guiney Thu 24 Jan 2013 updated: Fri 06 May 2016
I can’t recollect a time when I haven’t loved movies. As I child I would have watched any black & white film on the television – 12 Angry men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tarzan...something with Dirk Bogart in it; but mostly, I remember wandering across to the village video shop, then rushing home with a martial arts or action movie under my arm. Thankfully, during the 1980s in rural Northern Ireland it wasn’t taboo to rent an 18 certificate film out to a kid; so I became well-versed in the adventures of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, JCVD...and the big action heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger...even good old ‘Yippee-Kay-Yay’ Bruce Willis himself.
Although my taste in movies has now broadened, I have always stayed true to my love for the action genre. It is a genre whose flagship theme is undoubtedly the classic hero v villain. My short story ‘The Fight’ not only embraces this theme, but also pays homage to my childhood heroes.
Therefore in choosing an interviewee on screenwriting, I set myself quite the challenge. I wanted to interview not just any screenwriter – but a Hollywood screenwriter - a Hollywood screenwriter who writes action movies! And why stop at that? In fact, I specifically wanted to interview Doug Richardson, writer of Die Hard 2, one of my favourite movies. I was just twelve years old when Die Hard 2 was released and between then and now, I’ve probably seen it 50 times.
Again, thankfully, for me, Doug Richardson is a gentleman. And so, to round off a trilogy of great interviews, I am humbled and honoured to present:
In Conversation with | Hollywood Screenwriter | Doug Richardson
Let’s start at the beginning - were you creative as a child?
What else were you into, besides writing?
I wasn’t so much into writing – though I did a bit of it. I was very much into drawing (my father began as a cartoonist) and then photography, then film.
What movies inspired you back then - have you always favoured the action genre?
Strangely, no. I’m more about suspense, thriller, intrigue. Though I was hooked on Ian Fleming’s James Bond books as a kid. So somewhere inside there I was an action guy.
I’ve read that originally you aspired to become a director - how did this evolve into a career as a screenwriter?
Simple. Best way to get a shot at directing is to write your own screenplay. In doing so, I became a writer.
You are credited as being the first screenwriter in Hollywood to sell a spec script for a million dollars. Can you explain what a spec script is, how the deal was made and what happened to the script?
A spec script is a screenplay that is written on “spec”. Or speculation. Without a deal. After a spec is finished, the options are to package it with a director and/or star. Or put it on the market for auction. In the case of HELL BENT AND BACK, I co-wrote it with my former agent, Rick Jaffa. We sent it to all the studios at once and hoped to get a bite. Disney stepped up and made a preemptive bid for a million dollars. We said yes. Then some time later, they got cold feet about spending forty million (that was expensive then) on a WW2 action comedy.
You also wrote a script for Die Hard 4 that was championed by Bruce Willis, but never got the green-light from the studio. Do you find experiences like that disillusioning or have you, as the cliché states, ‘grown a thick skin to work in Hollywood’?
Thick thick thick thick thick skin. Yet that stuff still stings.
Is Hollywood spurred more by the love of money, than the love of storytelling?
Seriously? If there was the love of storytelling, you’d see more good movies than bad. Nope. It’s bottom line town. It’s up to the filmmakers to try and make something good that’s more than just a box office bonanza.
I find it interesting that most bad guys in movies get caught in the end. Should screenwriters have a moral obligation to give an authentic representation of the world?
No. A screenwriter’s obligation is to tell a compelling story.
Let’s talk about your writing methods. Beyond the initial story idea, what process do you follow when writing a screenplay?
Outline. Write. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite…
Is your writing process much different for novels?
Not the getting up in the morning to write part. My outlines for novels are a bit looser, allowing for more elasticity in the storytelling. Movies are limited to visuals and sound. Books are everything you can possibly imagine that can be described with words.
Do you find adapting a book for screen easier or more difficult than writing an original screenplay?
Neither. Each has their own challenges.
When a script is completed, do you prefer to be on set during production or hand it over and just let them shoot it?
Depends on the circumstances. Sometimes the writer is welcome and an asset. Sometimes he’s a pariah because he wants to see things done his way. I’d prefer them to shoot the and perform my screenplay brilliantly, not touch a line of dialogue, then deliver it to me as if it came directly from my sub-cortex. Then again, I’m a realist.
Do directors always capture your vision for the script on screen?
Out of all the films you have written, which are you most proud of?
Of my produced films, I’m proudest of HOSTAGE because I bled for that movie. And BAD BOYS, because it’s put together with chewing gum and gaffers tape and still works.
As a lifelong action movie fan, I’m interested in some of the other screenplays you have written that didn’t make it into production.
Tooooooooooo many to count.
That’s got to be tough.
Tough yes, but part of the job. Pro screenwriters are like professional baseball batters. They fail more than they succeed.
You’re known as a cigar enthusiast – when did you first get into cigars and which is your favourite?
The late great Tony Scott got me smoking cigars back when we were researching MONEY TRAIN. My favourite smoke is a Sancho Panza Bellicoso.
Does anything else even come close to a Cuban cigar?
There are many non-Cuban cigars that are pretty sublime. Just like there are some California wines that rival the French… just don’t tell the French that.
So your favourite member of the A-Team is Hannibal, right?
Not an A-Team fan. Therefore…
Besides Monroe Cole, who has been your favourite US President in the past 25 years?
President David Palmer.
What are your views on the Oscars?
It’s a really dull TV show.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished my fourth novel, BLOOD MONEY and am starting my fifth, tentatively titled 99% KILL. That and a variety of other movies and TV things in development.
What advice can you give to aspiring screenwriters?
Write. Get constructive critique. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
I'd like to say a massive thank-you to Doug for our conversation and for being so generous with his time.
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