Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Rules of Action

Kenji Fujishima, contributor to The House Next Door film blog, wrote a great piece on Die Hard and observed that it was actually three movies in one. And ya know, he may have unintentionally offered us screenwriters three very simple golden rules of great action movies:

Movie No. 1: Action spectacle

…the film manages to wring many convincing sequences out of such a claustrophobic setting, from one-on-one fights to an explosive last-act rooftop setpiece… In fact, the entire film is less about escalating bouts of violence than about seeing who outthinks the other.

Movie No. 2: Character drama

Screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. De Souza differentiate their hero from the other macho men of the era by making McClane fallible and vulnerable while being undeniably heroic.

Movie No. 3: Light Satire

—the entire movie has a mild satirical undercurrent that criticizes the very genre conventions it satisfies. McClane's “Yippee-kayyay, motherfucker!” is such a resonant, funny punchline because of its context: the conversation that leads up to McClane’s first utterance of that catchphrase, in which Gruber accuses McClane of being “another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne, Rambo, or Marshal Dillon.” McClane never directly engages this point—indeed, he seems to proudly affirm the truth of Gruber's taunts. But his response--that he was always partial to Roy Rogers--becomes a running gag throughout the film.


LeperColony said...

I have always wanted to try my hand at screen writing. Not to break into the industry or anything, but just to explore the art form.

Do you have any advice for someeone that just can't seem to get past the starting block?

Mickey Lee said...

I've always said Die Hard is a landmark film. I saw the movie in the theaters when I was 13 (yes, my mom took me) and I knew even then that I was seeing something special, that was different than anything that came before it.

The fact that it inspired pretty much every action film of the 90s (until The Matrix came along) speaks volumes about how great it is.

Great post, and very helpful

Mystery Man said...

Mickey, I couldn't agree more!

Lepercolony, I would recommend reading Robert McKee's book, "Story," and then David Trottier's "Screenwriter's Bible." Believe me, that'll get you going.

Mickey Lee said...


Those two books are great, I'd also like to suggest "How NOT to Write a Screenplay" as a good way to help you avoid some of the potholes that many newbies, such as myself, drive into.