Die Hardest Screenwriter Ben Trebilcook Exclusive Interview – Everything You Need To Know About Die Hard 6!
Not long after A Good Day to Die Hard made more money than most can imagine, word spread that a...
Not long after A Good Day to Die Hard made more money than most can imagine, word spread that a Mr. Ben Trebilcook was working on a script for a sixth and final Die Hard for one of A Good Day‘s producers. Since Die Hard is basically the greatest movie ever and there didn’t seem to be much official out there with Mr. Trebilcook and his script, I decided to reach out to the man and see what was what (and admittedly try and get some Easter eggs. After all, I am little more than a desperate fan).
Trebilcook’s twitter suggests that the film has been moving forward and, considering the strange history of the scripts to Die Hard movies, Trebilcook’s script to screen story would be rather conventional.
Mr. Trebilcook had some surprising things to say about his script as well as the rest of his headline making career. He even dropped a few hints about Die Hardest, so if you’re a fan of the franchise I suggest you read this two part interview.
John McClane is a character that will forever inspire men and women alike and live in the minds of film fanatics everywhere. He’s a New York cop that doesn’t come equipped with the typical heroics of a regular “hero.” He saves the day because there just ain’t no one else around to do it and boy do we like watching him do it even as he bitches and moans about having a bad day…or about being on vacation.
How did you first get involved with writing the screenplay for Die Hardest?
Ha, being in the same knitting club helped a treat. Well, this could be a lengthy one for me to answer really. There’s probably only a handful of people who know that I’ve been wanting a piece of Die Hard action since around 1993. Of course I saw the first one when it came out in ’88. My friends and I used to rent it every week on VHS; make our own short films and all that, but it wasn’t until I had left school and knew that I wanted to write movies. I trained to direct, as much as it’s – well, film school is another conversation all together – but writing was where I felt the most comfortable. It’s been well documented that McClane reminds me in ways of my own Dad. Not in a smoking cigarettes, watching Captain Kangaroo and swearing way, though certainly in a ‘man alone in an ordinary everyday situation but suddenly takes on a ton of bad guys’ kind of way. Dad did cop work and a whole lot more besides. I keep telling him to write a book. Maybe he’s waiting for people to die first.
Where was I? Right, so, I’m not only a fan-love of Die Hard, sorry Bruce, but have a sentimental feeling towards it, too. Only because my Dad is bad-ass. So, yeah, I’ve had this long-life love of Die Harding. I first tried my hand at penning a story for a third, which didn’t last long as the third movie was already in development, with Jonathan Hensleigh’s script, which I’m sure was a former Brandon Lee project at one stage. Poor Brandon. What an action legend he would have become. Anyway, my concept ended up becoming a spec for an Under Siege 3, bizarrely, then a few years later, I just had to up my game. I did a couple more McClane stories. This was during my working in a supermarket era. I had called Fox in a late-shift, when cell phones weren’t heard of and London telephone boxes were typically red, let alone visible. I said I had written a script that would make a definitive Die Hard movie, which excited them. They became keen for it, but wanted me to have an agent. I acquired a manager, who went to law school with Bruce’s lawyer, Skip – and so a game of ‘fax-tag and hoop jumping commenced. I gained a few high profile jobs out of it. A draft of Mission Impossible 3 and some touch-up bits and pieces, but no Die Hard. Back in the day, Bruce used to have his own website, with a chat room. He’d come online and talk to fans. How cool is that?
He’d treat them really well and arrange meet and greets. I was advised by those close to him to get on it with a recognizable username. I love 12 Monkeys, so I was referred to as ’12’ or ‘Monkey’ and Bruce was ‘King B’. After an incredibly bizarre, failed trip to Paris for an eventual non-meeting with Bruce, when he was promoting Hostage, by Die Harder’s Doug Richardson; the fourth movie in the franchise, was taking off. So many writers were linked to that. I’d written a couple of different scripts. A Caribbean-set one, in particular, got a great deal of publicity. Lots of water, lots of jungle, lots of jet skis and guns and had McClane on an exchange visit. I won’t divulge too much about that plot as there’s a reignited interest in the script from another company for it to be a stand-alone action vehicle called Cop Down.
OK, fast-forward a few years. I started to produce a few projects, most recently a martial arts venture called Knockout. Interest in that came from Larry Webster who not only worked on a string of cool films from Grand Torino, Pelham 1, 2, 3, but also A Good Day To Die Hard. Larry came on board to work with me on Knockout and it was inevitable that the subject of Die Hard would crop up.
I said to Larry I had written a really cool proposal and 22 episodes for a Die Hard TV show called McClane (Trebilcook revealed to me that this television series was also known as Die Hard 24/7. At one point, sites were falsely reporting it as the title of the fifth film and suggesting the title meant a team up between McClane and 24’s Jack Bauer. This was never true according to Trebilcook) and something else Die Hard related. I lived in New York for a bit. Have family in the NYPD. Like anywhere, but New York in particular, in the 80’s had a very different feel to how it is now. Crime, police, the streets, drugs, extreme sudden wealth, race.. yes, all these issues are still incredibly prominent in every society, but to be a police officer in the 80’s there was.. something else. I digress. I’m passionate about it. Think I mentioned too much about that! Oh, man. So, talk moved on to a concept I had for a sixth and possibly final Die Hard movie. The Treatment I did was well received and a great deal of fellow writer pals said “Ben, just write the script.” When you’ve got cool talents like RoboCop and Starship Trooper Ed Neumeier and some members of the Wolf Pack telling you to.. OK, I was egged on and supported by a few undisclosed high profile folks who fly my flag, saying “Crazier things have happened. The unknown British guy, Drew Pearce, wrote Iron Man 3, so why can’t you write Die Hard 6?”
Where is Die Hardest at in terms of production and moving forward?
This one I’m afraid I can’t say. It’s in some very cool people’s hands and the talent who has read it so far is a boost enough, but saying the positive comments about my script is something else. Who knows? This business is exactly that, a business. Businesses are fickle, so positive thinking and a great deal of Trebilcook flag waving is still called for.
What details can you reveal about your story for the final Die Hard?
Hmm, what can I say? What can I say? What am I allowed to say? OK, without spoiling too much, I can say that McClane is invited to Tokyo by the Nakatomi Corporation to be commended for his bravery and efforts in saving 36 lives, celebrating this on the 30th anniversary of the Naktatomi Hostage Crisis. It’s by no means Black Rain. Perhaps has a slight Rising Sun type tone. It’s also not a double-act buddy-buddy story. McClane began on his own and should end on his own. Of course he’s had assistance in various guises, aiding him in his ventures; but it’s not Lethal Weapon or a Jackie Chan film.
McClane is a gunslinger. A now retired, worn-out, tired, busted and broken cowboy. Everything he’s been through has to be taken into account. Yes, it’s a movie, but he isn’t invincible. He was never Bond. That’s what was so appealing to me with Bruce’s character. He got hurt. I see the first one as a drama with elements of action. It took its time to set up the story and unfold great characters. I believe I got that and also what I call ‘the hose-reel moment’. You know, when McClane, in the first Die Hard leaped off the building with a fire hose, before it went kaboom; in the second, he ejects himself from the plane when he’s surrounded by grenades and in the third, he’s shot out the tunnel, through the air with a gush of water. I’ve got that ‘hose-reel moment’, as well as that cringing ‘glass pulling from the feet’ type scene. Man, that gets me every time. Pursued by bad guys; does he face them and die, or retreat, barefoot, across broken glass? THEN picks out itty bitty shards from his cut feet. Great acting, too. Bruce has done some neat films: Twelve Monkeys, Unbreakable, Last Boy Scout, Mortal Thoughts, Pulp Fiction. He may regret turning down Swayze’s role in Ghost, but.. anyway, Die Hard 6…
My story, being set in Japan, obviously has Nakatomi playing an extremely significant role; in a way that.. well, it’s John McClane in Japan and if you’ve seen any Japanese movies or at least know anything about their culture at all, you know it would have a lot of potential to be nuts. It’s not Ichi The Killer, but it is crazy and as real as you can get in these realms. It’s violent, but not over the top nor unnecessarily Loony Tune like Olympus. It’s well researched, faithful to the franchise, yet giving a possible audience such a refreshing punch to the face, they’ll be saying ‘Wow. I really wasn’t expecting that.’ You want a nugget, don’t you? I’m pretty sure it’s out there. A few Japanese fans on Twitter put two and two together when I uploaded a picture of a Katana (Samurai Sword) with some kanji reading ‘Zeus’. Yes, I’ve written Zeus Carver in for Samuel L Jackson.
Like I said before, it’s not a buddy-buddy script, but you can’t ignore him. Zeus played a major part in McClane’s life. They went through a lot together. They would certainly, without a doubt, still be in contact. A guy I know, Stel, wrote the 51st State (aka Formula 51) with Sam the Man. I put the idea to him and he said Sam would probably love to have a sword in a movie; that’s how you could woo him. Let’s say I have a Better Tomorrow 2 vibe. Have you seen that film? Tell you what else? Probably the best ‘Yippie Ki Yay’ one could ever hope for.
What makes you excited as a Die Hard fan about your Die Hard movie?
As a fan? A well known Hollywood director pal of mine is a massive Die Hard fan. Huge. He read it and adored it. Having him alone read it and say he liked it was good enough, but saying it ticked so many fan-boxes for him and made him smile and was a keen page-turner, well, if the script doesn’t go anywhere, his comments were winter fuel on these cold, dark, London nights. For me, as a fan, familiarity. I’d be saying ‘Yes!’ throughout particular scenes and smiling fondly with certain lines of dialogue. Some insane action. I’ve tied a lot of things together.
I’ve heard some stuff about other movies you wrote like Knockout and Bollywood Dragon. Can you tell me about these briefly and when or if people will be able to see them?
Both are martial arts movies, but with a difference. Knockout has a lot of real-life fight talents from the world of MMA and UFC. Miesha Tate, Kyle Kingsbury, with a few ring card girls like Natasha Wicks. Mischa Barton is in there and my Die Hard Larry Webster will make his directorial debut. It’s about a girl who taught herself a new fighting style by playing video games. Some have said ‘oh, so it’s Scott Pilgrim?’ Er, no. Zara Phythian is my lead. She’s an amazing talent. Like myself, she teaches kids – but where I deal with them on an emotional level and behavior disciplines, Zara teaches a martial arts discipline and with absolute grace. Of course you have to have your obligatory revenge element, but it’s set in this world of gritty glamor. Zara’s character is taken in by Mischa’s character but is used by Mischa’s boyfriend who owes a lot of money.
With Bollywood Dragon, this was going to be just a script and not for me to produce, but it’s suddenly gained a huge amount of interest in India. Once again, I wrote with Zara Phythian in mind. It’s set in Mumbai and fuses together the colorful world of Bollywood dance and music with martial artistry. It’s hard work to produce. I’m not patting myself on the back when I say that to write a script is one thing, but to go here, there and everywhere with a producing hat on is something else. I may not like some movies, but I will never bring down people within this industry who form and put together a production, whatever the budget size. It’s tough and exhausting and takes a lot of time. They’re both small projects, but for a reason. They’re for me to work myself up to the big, passion project.
How did you feel about the latest Die Hard movie, A Good Day to Die Hard?
Put me on the spot there. It made a lot of money. The people involved got a lot of unfair, personal flak. Oddly, I received – and still do – a lot of messages from so-called Die Hard fans curiously asking if I am really Skip Woods. Well, I can tell you now, I’m not. With A Good Day, actually, with all films, you have a script and during various stages, that script will most certainly change. It could be dialogue on the page that doesn’t sound right when read out loud or a scene that the director wants to elaborate on. Now with a studio franchise such as this, as I said before, it’s not just a movie, it’s a business and there’s a lot riding on it.
Bruce Willis doesn’t have to worry about his career if a fan or a critic doesn’t like it. Nobody knows John McClane more so than him. He IS John McClane. He’s not Batman or Bond who you can replace. OK, I’m deflecting the question somewhat. Let me answer it like this; with the fourth one, I went into the cinema with a great deal of angst and mixed emotion. I wanted it to be MY movie. With the fifth, I went in feeling ‘OK, let’s have fun and see what McClane is going to do today.’ I was relaxed. I smiled a lot. I saw some great action sequences. Maybe the word ‘vacation’ was overused as McClane wasn’t really on vacation and a few inexplicable things here and there, but on the whole, the production was great! It looked good.
You also mentioned you just finished your first novel. What’s it called and what’s it about? Also, when can people look forward to seeing that?
Thanks for asking about that, mate. Appreciate it. The book is finished. Just going through an edit. It’s called My Name Is Not Jacob Ramsay. An odd title, I know. It’s about a teacher who is kidnapped by one of his students and his father, a retired MI6 officer setting out to rescue him. I balance film work by mentoring and counseling disaffected children in South London. Gang members, abused, fostered, teenage dads, mums, angry kids, the vulnerable. It’s tough at times. I feel I’m the one being educated. It’s cliche, I know, but write what you know really came into full effect here. I merged the worlds of education and espionage together. Think Taken meets Welcome Back, Kotter. Another acknowledgement to my Dad, once again. Wow, a lot of hero-worship going on in this interview! Ha-ha. It’s an odd world, book world. I feel I’m starting all over again. A few agencies have liked it, but didn’t take it or me on. Maybe it’s the Screenwriter badge I come with. A few author friends are telling me to whack it online, so maybe early next year I’ll do that.
While I have you in an interview, it’d probably be good to ask about where the Lara Croft situation is at. Man people aren’t even aware of this (I wasn’t). Are you still planning on continuing to fight this case or are you at a point where you’re moving on?
Wow, you’ve done your homework. A few newspapers here in the UK told some of the story this Summer. Let me check on what I can say on that. Hold on. – So, a fairly brief version. In 1994 I was working in a Safeway Foodstore. There was this girl I liked, Lorna, who worked there, too, in between going to Uni. I’d put out my bottles of wine and cans of beer and scribble scripts on pieces of cardboard or staff rotas. I was obsessed with Hong Kong cinema as well. John Woo movies. Two-fisted gunplay. Lorna used to pretend to shoot me with her two gun-fingers as she walked down various aisles. She turned up for work in shorts, boots, her ponytail dancing this way and that and she’d shoot me. I was in geek-heaven to be honest. I thought of a female character, who studies antiques and history and collects ancient artifacts around the world, shooting people with her two guns in her little shorts. Various incarnations had her by the name of ‘Lorna-Cruise’ and ‘Daisy Norton-Hall’. I replied to a magazine ad, from a video game company called Core Design. They were asking for screenwriters to send in samples that could be possible video games. See where this is going?
I sent in a sample booklet of various screenwriting material, including my two-gun toting ‘female Indiana Jones’. They thanked me for my material and rejected it. I wasn’t a fan of video games, so continued with my filmmaking and whatnot. A few years later the Tomb Raider movie came out and I noticed more than a passing resemblance to work I sent the company behind the game it was based on. I wrote to the head of the company and he said it was coincidence. People have commented on the amount of money it’s cost me so far; “why does it cost 80 grand?” etc. Well, good lawyers, Queen’s Counsel, Barristers and don’t come cheap. Anyway, the case has now gone to the States. The evidence is good, but getting it to court would be extremely costly. I’ve never said I created Lara Croft, but it’s believed that a substantial part of what I created was used to form her. Not one person was named in any legal papers as the creator of that character. You can’t let it eat you up, but when something like that has made billions, it’s difficult to just let it go.
Are you writing Die Hardest as the final Die Hard? If so, what other movies are you looking to for inspiration?
Yes, I’ve written it as the last John McClane Die Hard adventure. Inspiration? Well, none more so than the first Die Hard movie. Sure many other talents contributed well, but the combined talents of Bruce, Steven (E. de Souza), Jeb (Stuart), John McTiernan and Joel Silver.. what they delivered was a template for many others to imitate and over the nearly 30 years, people are still doing it! Speed, Con-Air, Air Force One, Van Damme’s Sudden Death, Under Siege of course to name a few, and today we have the flat-out carbon copies White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen and its soon-to-be sequel London Has Fallen, but at the end of the day, nobody can out-McClane more than McClane himself and only Bruce Willis can play him.
So, yeah, I looked to the first one. I know that film inside out and the last time I watched it, a question entered my mind and one that took center stage for the basis of my story. I toyed with a few other ideas, pulling from a couple of previous Die Hard specs I did. One, not the Caribbean one, centered around the bridge project in Indonesia, that Takagi spoke of when Hans was eying up his model. Two hours on a bridge was just a little boring and had that ‘we have seen it all before’ factor, but there was something else niggling at me. I had a brain-wave and went with it. I tell you what material helped me out. I’ve a friend in Jake Adelstein. He’s an American journalist who’s been based in Tokyo for goodness knows how long. He wrote a terrific book called Tokyo Vice. Actually, Jake’s gained Daniel Radcliffe to play a him in the movie version. That’ll be fun. His book and his website is a real eye opener and was a great insight into the Japan that I had McClane visit. My Die Hardest script is very much like 1, 2 and 3.
Die Hard movies have complicated histories when it comes to story. Do you feel Die Hardest will become a reality?
I really, truly hope so. I haven’t done so bad already. News of me writing a script for a sixth film went global pretty quick, but I’m a realist. I wouldn’t be heartbroken if it didn’t come off, but I’d be damn well disappointed. The script will end up on the net. I’m not being cocky to think a lot of people would say ‘why didn’t this make it!’ I think it’s well worth a shot. Whether it’s Nothing Lasts Forever, 58 Minutes, the Simon Says spec, a magazine article or a script by that Brit with a funny last name. Story has to come from somewhere, so why not from me? That Brit with the funny last name.
Who would be the ideal director for Die Hardest? Do you want to see a director return to the franchise like McTiernan or Len Wiseman?
In an ideal world, having John McTiernan return to end the series which he began, as well as delivering an incredibly well-balanced, thoroughly satisfying sequel that still holds up, would be a no-brainer. He’s a fabulous director, but it’s by no means an ideal world. There are particular issues I won’t comment on, judge or get involved with. So, with that aside, I wouldn’t mind seeing Renny (Harlin) return. He’s great, too. The Long Kiss Goodnight was an extremely underrated movie. You get some people saying ‘he tried to make his wife, or then wife, Geena Davis, an action star, twice and failed.’ I thought she was cool and Sam Jackson was brilliant in that.
I think Renny and him wanted to get a sequel off the ground. I’d pen a that in a heartbeat for those two guys. Renny’s Die Harder has taken some flak over the years, too. I don’t know why. It had all the elements of the first. John Moore. If I was in Fantasty-Land and I was allowed a say; as my script is set in the East, I would consider an Asian director. I love John Woo. He’d make a great Die Hard. Ringo Lam even Beat Takeshi Kitano or Takashi Miike. They’d make it very, real. If we’re looking at Western directors, I’d list Martin Campbell, Paul Verhoeven, or my pal, Louis Leterrier.
Are you writing Die Hardest as a hard R? Would there be room for it to be PG-13 like Live Free or Die Hard?
There are people out there who are obsessed with certification. The first Bourne film was a 12. That got away with a lot. Jaws was a PG for goodness sake. We’re not renting video cassettes from a local video store anymore where back in the day everything was slapped with a certificate 18. If the first Die Hard was released today, I’m sure it’d be a 15. With a Vengeance was classified 15 in 1995, here in the UK. I think that got away with far more than the first one. Society changes. Our attitudes towards certain things change, be it violence, sex or swearing. You see worse things on the news or on MTV. I’d whack an 18 certificate on a Rhianna or a Miley pop promo. Reservoir Dogs was an eighteen as people in high-up places said ‘because a policeman’s ear was cut off’, which you didn’t actually see! I’ve written a two-hour screenplay that contains a lot of violence and some people swear. If I’m fortunate to have it taken on, it depends how the directing talent films all that.
Something doesn’t have to be a hard R or an 18 for it to make an impact. It’s what you don’t see and what your own imagination conjures up that is far more stirring and emotional. I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to see people get shot or sliced up with Samurai swords or not hear the famous ‘Yippie Ki Yay’ line in full. I do, but littering something with swearing or seeing heads explode or ripping someone’s organs out just for the gory sake of it doesn’t make it more realistic. To me it turns your movie into a video game. OK, how about this; you could make a violent, R-rated Die Hard and because by saying it’s the last Die Hard, it could make a billion Dollars. If there was instant hit fairy dust, the majors would be sprinkling it on everything. Like I said before, too, this is a business. It’s bums-on-seats. Cinemas make money from selling food and drink and packing their picture houses with as many screenings as they can. Ha! Now we’re talking running-times.
You mention that this is mostly a solo McClane adventure. The last two features have introduced his son and daughter as adults. Does your script acknowledge them or add them into the mix?
By saying solo, I don’t mean he isn’t helped out along the way. He’s certainly given a hand or two, but I haven’t written McClane running alongside Chris Rock, with them shooting and yelling ‘no!’ It’s more in tone to the third film and yes, I do indeed acknowledge Jack and Lucy. I’m totally satisfied with how, too.
The first two Die Hards are essentially love stories. Everybody misses Bonnie Bedelia. Please tell me she’s back in your script.
McClane is of retirement age and his ex-wife would definitely be retired, but hang on. Didn’t Holly work for Nakatomi? Yippie ki yay, Zach.
P.S. – Back in May, I wrote an article detailing the five things Die Hard 6 must do to save the dying franchise. One of those reasons? Bringing back Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus!
Click “next” below to read the other guidelines the movie should follow…