attitude is it can always be improved."
was very serious about having some fun with it!"
did you get involved in the project?
had met Dolph through the efforts of another producer named Andrew
Stevens. Dolph had been prepping a film in which he was writing,
starring in and directing called Missionary Man. He was
looking for another writer to polish the project. Thanks to Andrew
I was asked to come in and work on the script, a modern day western.
I love westerns, so the idea of working on it was very exciting.
But when I finished reading the piece I really couldnt
see what I could possibly add to it. It was good. Very good.
I turned in my notes and moved on.
weeks later I was contacted by Dolph. Sure enough, theyd
gone in another direction and were proceeding as is. I wished
them luck. And then, a couple of months later I was contacted
again by Dolph. He said, Im sorry we didnt
get to work on this other project but Id have some other
ideas Id like to discuss with you. So we sat down
and met. We talked mostly about westerns. Now, I know my westerns
but I was stopped cold when, at one point, we were discussing
John Ford, great dialog, Clint Eastwood and Unforgiven.
He quoted darned near every Eastwood line verbatim from the film.
I lost that particular contest.
hes a very big Clint Eastwood fan
I am too and I was impressed. So we sat and we talked, and he
pulled out three different stories, they were action adventure
stories, and he says: Im going to be doing a project
in Eastern Europe, probably some or part of it, perhaps all of
it in Russia, and Id like to collaborate with you.
Now, the weird thing about collaborating with an actor/director,
collaboration isn't always collaboration, it's simply them saying
here, I wrote a couple of paragraphs. Turn it into a script.
You do most of the heavy lifting and they share the credit. But
that was not the case here. Dolph handed me three extremely detailed
original stories that he had written, and by detailed I'm saying
he had written three beautifully constructed action adventure
pieces. They were very well done, with clearly defined characters
and situations, beginnings, middles and ends. They were all very
for me it was not a decision of what would be the one that's
most developed and ready to turn into a script. It was simply,
which one got me the most excited. And the one that really resonated
with me was, Command Performance.
were the stories in the form of long treatments?
it was a very long, unusually long treatment. My favorite period
of filmmaking would be the forties, fifties, and sixties studio
era. In those days before you went to script, you prepared a
rather lengthy treatment containing all the beats of the film,
all the details, a solid story with a lot of the bugs worked
out. And that's what Dolph had handed me. It wasn't a two-page
synopsis. It was I think as I recall, between a 25 and 30 page
treatment, extremely detailed and extremely polished, and a great
starting point for a script.
Image wasn't involved yet when you got on board?
don't believe Nu Image was involved at the early stages. This
was a project Dolph wanted to develop himself and he shopped
it around. We both did our work on spec, believing it was good
material and would find a good home. And Nu Image was a very
good place to land. I wrote a film a few years ago for Danny
Lerner and greatly enjoyed my experience working for the company.
how did the process begin, what was your working method?
as I'm sure you know, is on the move a lot. I jumped into the
first draft myself based on his detailed treatment. I followed
his treatment to the letter, and I felt initially it was my job
to get this down as a screenplay with dialog. I made changes
and added things whenever I felt I had a great idea or improvement.
Dolph was interested in what I could bring to the table and told
me to have at it, write it based on what worked for me. And then
I emailed that first draft to Dolph. He read it, and then did
the next draft himself. And his draft wasn't just a polish of
mine. He went back in there and turned it inside out. The best
stuff that I added he retained but he polished my changes and
additions, added some great stuff of his own, and took the characters
a step further in terms of who they were in the film, their entire
his second draft really increased the emotional resonance and
depth of the characters and situations, better defining who they
were, what they wanted and how they related to each other. He
also trimmed it. My first draft was 120 pages, and I think the
second draft that Dolph did was 95 pages. Everything was still
there, just tightened up and polished. He really put a tremendous
amount of work in that second draft.
it was really an effort of going back and forth between you two
and going further and further with each draft...
He would do a second draft and then he'd get in town, he'd say
OK, I'm over at the hotel, let's meet, and we'd meet,
we have lunch and wed discuss his draft. Hed have
some minor notes
mor of this, less of that, etc., build
this part up, and then hed say, go nuts, have at
it. And then wed talk about movies and Id go
home, jump in and do the third draft. Id make changes,
make improvements, polish, polish, polish, and then turn it back
to Dolph. Hed work on it for a while, and suddenly wed
have great fourth draft. And that's how the process went. I'd
do a draft and he'd do a draft. And gradually, these characters
really started to come to life, and we went places with them
we hadn't thought about before. It was all still very true to
the original, very strong, solid, action outline that he had
created, the treatment he'd created, but the characters really
got filled up through that process. Dolph's attitude is it can
always be improved, it can always be better. So working with
him you always do due diligence, always work hard to make it
better before it gets to the set. He's very serious about story.
months into the process he called me from Europe. He said,
a documentary playing on TV, it's about the terrorist takeover
of the Moscow theater. This was a terrible tragedy that
occurred a few years back.
says, It's a beautifully done documentary. I just saw it,
take a look at it. When youve seen it, call me.
I viewed the piece, we talked. Dolph said, We've created
a good fantasy movie up to this point, but this documentary,
this terrible tragedy is the reality of these hostage situations.
It shows the very real pain that the victims go through when
they're held hostage, the harsh emotions at play as government
anti-terrorist teams try to figure out how to rescue them. We
see the emotion and the exhaustion that plays on the terrorists
as they're trying to make their decisions, the terrible and difficult
decisions that the country's leaders have to make to try to end
the stalemate, that's all reality. How much of this can you put
into our script?
As much as I can. So we did another pass on the script,
to try to make it as real as we could possible make it.
add more layers in terms of the emotional journey of the characters...
And then I think towards the end, in the last few months before
pre-production started, toward the end of the revision process,
after wed shored up the foundation with a strong dose of
reality, we ladled on a little more fun movie type stuff, honing
and tweaking the lines and characters, playing with them a bit.
That was the fun part; the icing on the cake. Early on, Dolph
had liked one of my lines, Dying is easy. Rock and roll
is now used in the teaser trailer...
I may posthumously apologize to British actor Sir Donald Wolfit.
He was a very famous Shakespearian actor active in the forties,
fifties and sixties. They made a movie about him called The
Dresser. On his death bed someone asked him how he was feeling
and as he lay there dying he said: dying is easy, comedy
is hard. I couldnt resist doing a variation on it
for this film. And like I said, Dolph liked that line and towards
the end of the polish process he wanted more,
up with some more lines like that. But that was fun. The
whole project was fun. I've done probably 35 movies over the
past 15 years, and this was one of the most enjoyable experiences
I've ever had.
seems like it, because it doesn't always sound as ideal as this?
all kinds of different writing. I did a movie few years back
called Militia. It was a spec script that I had written.
I took it to a particular company, they liked it and bought it.
Sometime you work on assignment, where a producer has pre-sold
a title, and a concept, a four or five paragraphs concept, and
pre-sold it to various territories, and you're writing a script
on assignment based on that concept. This one was a genuine collaboration
where Dolph had a detailed treatment, with the two of us collaborating
on the screenplay. So it was a different way of working. Collaboration
isnt always easy, but this was very pleasant, very enjoyable.
Even so, you have to keep on your toes with Dolph. He's all about
it can always be better! As soon as you get lazy
hes back with a fresh, new spin on the material.
interesting because you wrote quite a bit of scripts we could
qualify as Die
Hard rip-offs, but this seems different...
would disagree with the phrase Die Hard ripoff.
I have written a number of films using the concept of an ordinary
man under extraordinary circumstances being forced to rescue
himself and other innocent civilians from nefarious villains.
Its a well-worn formula, dating back to the silent era.
In one major set piece, Red River features ordinary man
Montgomery Clift forced to save innocent civilians from a surprise
attack when no one else can help. Sound like a Die Hard
ripoff? Red River was released in 1948. And it was a western
version of Mutiny on the Bounty! As someone once said,
in Hollywood films arent made, theyre re-made. And
they've always said it about westerns, which are the template
for action adventure films. In westerns there are only seven
basic plots. Conceptually, this is a hero journey film, as I
said, an ordinary man under extraordinary circumstances. A man
who has a past that enables him to rescue these people, to try
to make things right.
course stories is a never ending pattern that goes back and forth,
all forms of creativity are always inspired by...
you go back to Shakespeare. Shakespeare plays and sonnets were
the prime time, network TV of its day, the C.S.I. and
reality shows, plenty of violence and sex, action, adventure,
good guys and bad guys, same sort of things, all mixed into one.
The language was different, the subtext as a whole might have
been different. Its all about the way the story is told,
like when you take a standard quest story and make
un-standard, classic film like The Searchers.
much has changed from the first draft to the production script?
think in terms of the visible things you might see, very little
has changed in terms of the basic structure of the story. I think
we probably put some elements in that have to do more with historical
fact, in these kinds of hostages crisis, we certainly added some
of that. I think the characters are much more multidimensional..
I mean you can't make characters really multifaceted and multidimensional
in a screen treatment, because in the screen treatment they're
there to carry the story beats. I think we certainly got in the
characters from the first draft to now, much deeper, much better
arcs, the relationships are more real, how they relate to each
other as people as opposed to characters in a film. Those are
subtle things, I think the basic story structure is the same,
it's better, much, much better, than certainly the first draft
I turned in. And that's due to Dolph saying, make it better,
we can do this, it has a lot of potential, let's push the envelope.
seems he wanted to come across as a different type of character,
in an early draft he was supposed to be an ex-military, which
has been omitted?
an early draft he was ex-military, There was a subplot and some
flashbacks involving his experiences in war that had shaped him
into the character he is today. But Dolph decided to go a different
direction with his character. Hes been known as a a movie
star and a leading man for a number of years, and as a writer
you're always somewhat hesitant to tell someone of that stature
what direction to go with a leading character. You feel compelled,
at least first, to kind have to let them let you know where they
wanna go, and what they're comfortable with. In Dolph's case
it wasn't about protecting an image, it was about how can we
make this guy interesting and different. And I think that was
the issue that Dolph had with the military background of the
guy. His feeling was this has been done to death.
ex military turned cook or whatever.
But by gosh, when the bad guys show up he picks up that six shooter
one more time
this time its personal
and all that. Dolph's initial thought was, well, if we're
going to make him ex military, how do we make it interesting
and different. Dolph did come up the idea that his character
wasnt real comfortable around weapons.. But gradually,
I think Dolph felt the ex-military thing it had been too much,
and he went with a different direction. And I think the different
direction works better because now his character is even more
of a real person.
it's probably gonna surprise people and be more fun...
think so. And that's one thing, even at the beginning, and that's
one of the things that really excited me about the project when
I first met with Dolph is that he was very serious, even at that
time, about I want to do something different, I want this
guy to have a sense of humor, I want him laid back... From
the get go, he wanted the guy to be a rocker, he wanted the guy
to be light, not this heavy, scary dude. And he was serious,
very serious about having some fun with it in that way. And I
think yes it's really going to surprise people, the way he's
going with this character. I mean you're still going to get what
you want of his work but in a new, fun, rock and roll, way! Some
of the scenes hes got in this are really quite funny...
I can't wait for people to see it.
you talk about collaborating again?
haven't had the pleasure of that conservation with him. I know
he's been extraordinarily busy because he was doing post on Missionary
Man, and he immediately jumped into this. I'd love to work
with him again, I'd do it in a heartbeat. It was an extraordinarily
fulfilling collaboration. It's been a very fun ride to say the
least, I've learned a lot.
do you have coming up?
a disaster movie for Regent, is shooting in the fall. The next
project for me is a family adventure film I'm very excited about,
with theatrical potential.