An excerpt from my script review for Die Hard (1988) which will be available 11/06/23:
4.) Dialogue and Description
Here’s where I was most impressed.
We’re constantly arguing to make your description memorable, using subtext and saying in a single line or two what a whole paragraph is trying to convey in other scripts.
This script did that really well.
Her name is HOLLY GENNARO MCCLANE, though the nameplate on
her door stops after the first two.
This introduces us to the character and lets us know that things aren’t great between Holly and John.
Fucking great line right there.
…and carrying the biggest
stuffed animal FAO Schwartz had in stock…
This is a creative way to imply the size and style of the teddy bear.
It may be one of those dated references, but as a kid I remember getting the FAO Schwartz catalog each Christmas and circling what I wanted from Santa.
If you’re like me, you know exactly what that teddy bear looked like that John was carrying.
My single word of caution here is that the description later makes the same comparison, probably something that was missed in a rewrite.
But for our writing, don’t do this. Do your best with a creative comparison, but don’t beat the reader over the head with it.
CLOSE ON THE SLING
It was designed to carry a gun on a man, not vice versa.
Probably my favorite line in the description. John is trying to hide from Karl in an air shaft, using the strap of the machine gun as a harness to hold him up.
It wasn’t meant to, and this creative line gives us the perfect visual of it slowly and painfully giving way.
in a parking lot
which is destined to become police H.Q. a few pages from now.
This one was just a cool foreshadowing teaser. Not something to overdo, but I enjoyed it.
(Again though, something similar was said later on about the parking lot and HQ. If you’re rewriting, using some of the same material, make sure you edit the later instance out or else you lose creative points later.)
My main point here is that this script easily stacks up with scripts written today.
There’s a reason writers, books, teachers, etc. recommend reading it.
However, the one thing in the description to avoid emulating was the lengthy blocks of description.
We’ve said it numerous times, and will continue into the future, but keep paragraphs of description to single visuals.
Sometimes this can be a single word or line, but can take up to four lines if needed. Anything over that though and the lack of whitespace becomes intimidating to a reader.
On the dialogue, there are some fun lines, aside from the obvious catch phrase.
Ellis is in charge of International
(shaking hands with Ellis)
That explains the recent deal with
Ha! Cocaine in an 80s movie!
McClane looks down at Powell and grins.
Welcome to the party, pal.
Powell was convinced nothing was wrong at Nakatomi Plaza…John relieves him of that notion via a dead body on the hood of Powell’s police car.
Page 83 and throughout…
I really enjoyed the McClane and Hans banter, especially when Hans didn’t know who he was up against.
He was trying to feel John out, but realized John was too smart for that creating an admiration of sorts.
Lastly, and I don’t think it’s in the final film, but there’s a derogatory word for gay men used in a line on page 114.
This wouldn’t fly today, so avoid cheap shock value tricks like this and simply write an engaging story.
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