Friday, February 04, 2011

Minor characters and Die Hard

Die Hard is indeed one of the finest action films ever made.

Script Shadow wrote an excellent post this week about what made it so fantastic and the lessons we can learn from it about how to write action films. I encourage everyone to read it.

One of the other reasons I love Die Hard that he didn't really bring up is how each individual character gets his own backstory. The terrorists argue with each other about petty shit. That Asian dude wants a candy bar in the middle of a gun fight. The black dude is one cocky son of a bitch - probably made enemies of everyone he went to high school with. And that one Johnson really annoys the shit out of the other Johnson.

Each of these people gets a small amount of screen time but I know something about them besides that they are terrorists or FBI agents. It's usually the part they cut out of the movie when they show it on FX, but it's the very thing I love most about the film. Everybody gets their moment.

Thanks to that film, I always remember to have my "I was in junior high, dickhead!" moment. You know, the scene where the Johnsons are in the helicopter and the older Johnson is all excited and shouts about how it's just like Saigon and the younger Johnsons says "I was in junior high, dickhead!" and right then, right before the unfortunate explosion that pounded them both into bits of dust, you know these guys.

So as I'm working a screenplay, I always try to keep that scene in the back of my head. How can I give this minor character his moment in the helicopter? He's got five seconds; what can he do in that time that will demonstrate his true personality?

I don't know if anybody really cares whether my henchman is a coffee nut or not, but it makes me happy when I give him that little bit of extra love.


  1. You mentioned little moments in Die Hard which are great little moments, look at Predator scene in the chopper each person has something: Billy's got the comics and so on.

    I'd say something visual: reading a romance novel or YA novel or mystery novel something that's easily readable and seeable.

  2. I honestly think that a few of Dwayne T. Robinson's lines are just a shade too dumb, but that's really that only bad thing I have to say about Die Hard. I love that movie.

    A few years ago at an Academy screening of Lethal Weapon (I think it was the 20th anniversary) during the Q&A afterwards Shane Black mentioned that when the movie was coming out a Warner publicity guy asked him in relation to the movie, "So, were you in 'Nam?" apparently not realizing he was only in his early 20s at the time. Then Black added something about how that sort of became a joke in Die Hard. First I'd ever even heard that he worked on the movie, but I guess it wasn't that much of a surprise.

  3. hellresident8:18 PM

    DIE HARD really is one of the best movies ever made. It's why I watch it every Christmas. Fuck IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

    One of the other great character moments among Hans and his crew is when Karl and Theo are placing bets as to whether Takagi will give up the code to Hans. Hans has no idea what they're going on about and just gives them this look like, "What the fuck are you two going on about?" before he finally gets serious and is about to ruin Takagi's suit for good. And when it finally happens, you see Karl giving Theo his money.

    And Other Johnson's actual line is, "I was in junior high, dickhead."

  4. Oh yeah you're right. It was junior high. I'll fix it.

  5. I agree its definitely worth making each character count because it really adds overall entertainment value to the story. It works well in comedies too- who could forget the teacher in Ferris Bueller's famous roll call scene or the secretary in Ghostbusters - "Ghostbusters, whaddya want?". They aren't really important characters but are very memorable nonetheless. The script I'm working on now calls for several TV interviews and I'm making sure to make the TV hosts entertaining as well as the main characters. Every bit helps.

  6. Good post, thanks Emily


Please leave a name, even if it's a fake name. And try not to be an asshole.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.