Genre: Action
Premise: When his family gets stuck in Hong Kong’s newest super-scraper during a fire, a former FBI agent must figure out a way to save them.
About: The Rock is big. Therefore, it makes sense that he only goes big. Big monsters (Rampage). Big earthquakes (San Andreas). And now, Big Buildings. Rawson Marshall Thurber is writing and directing. Thurber directed two movies that over-performed beyond everyone’s expectations (We’re the Millers and Central Intelligence), and is therefore moving up to the big leagues – Summer Tentpole Action. This is actually a smart path for directors wanting to get into action. Direct a comedy (cheap to make). Use your comedic success to pitch an action-comedy. Use that film’s success to go straight action.
Writer: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Details: 117 pages – 3/10/17 draft (Revised)

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There’s a story in Hollywood that goes like this. Die Hard comes out. It becomes a smash hit. Everyone in town loves this movie so much that a pitch trend is born: “Die Hard on a…” If you weren’t pitching your script with those four words at the beginning of it, you were out of touch. “Die Hard on a boat.” “Die Hard on a bus.” “Die Hard on a space shuttle.”

This pitch trend goes on for YEARS, with “Die Hard on a…” eventually becoming the single most popular way to pitch a movie ever. It went on for so long, in fact, that young execs a decade later who’d never even seen the film, were now pitching “Die Hard in a…” to their bosses. One cocky exec hushed the room, as he felt like he had the Die Hard pitch of all Die Hard pitches. “Are you ready for this?” He says to his boss, adding a dramatic pause for effect. “What about… Die Hard in a building?”

In many ways, this story was bigger than just the joke, as it was a commentary on how ignorant studio execs had become – these bean counters with zero artistic ability were making major decisions about what made it to the big screen. And they didn’t even know they were pitching the original Die Hard. But maybe – JUST MAYBE – that infamous studio exec was ahead of his time. Because guess what? 20 years later. We finally have it. Die Hard in a building.

Will Ford is a former FBI agent who specialized in hostage situations. After one of those situations goes bad enough that Will loses a leg, we cut to ten years later, where Will is now looking for a job. Luckily, his old friend from his unit, Horace, gets him set up with one. In Hong Kong.

The billionaire owner of a new skyscraper, Zhao, needs a security and safety evaluation of his building in order to get the insurance people to sign off on it. The building is called The Pearl, and it’s the tallest building in the world. In fact, it’s its own little city, with a mall and a garden and elevators without cables. Shit, I think there’s even a zoo in it somewhere.

Will’s staying on the 98th floor with his family while in town. The floor is bare, as everything above the 95th floor needs Will’s ‘okay’ before they can start renting it out. When Will heads outside to take a quick breather, his laptop, which contains the only copy of the building’s secret security system, is stolen.

This starts a chain reaction of events across the city where Will must get his laptop back. However, back at the Pearl, someone sets fire to the 96th floor, just a couple of floors underneath where Will’s family is staying. He will now have to get back inside the Pearl somehow, entering the building above the level of the fire, and figure out a way to rescue his family. I, for one, hope he succeeds.

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I really liked this script for 40 pages. Then it started crumble, like a past due Pepperidge Farm cookie. I take that back. Those cookies crumble regardless of if they’re past due. But you get what I’m saying.

This building was so damned cool. And I liked that Thurber didn’t throw some generic bland description at us like: “It’s a rad technologically advanced building with cool gadgets in it!” Just like we discussed with Club Lavender the other day, there’s a ton of specificity built into this skyscraper, and that’s what kept my suspension of disbelief suspended. Thurber’s description was so specific, in fact, I even looked up the building online, assuming it had to be real.

Thurber also did a good job of conveying how big and impressive this thing was. When size matters in your screenplay (if your script follows a giant monster, a huge spaceship, an enormous skyscraper), it helps if you VISUALIZE that size for the reader. Just saying, “It’s really big” or “It’s 3000 feet tall,” isn’t a visual. Thurber includes this line in the video demo of the building: “It’s so tall, you could fit the entire Empire State Building in it twice.” Aha! Now that I can visualize.

Unfortunately, the plotting in this script is very clumsy. We have these weirdly specific setups, such as the family being placed on a deserted 98th floor. Or that the bottom half of the building is filled up but the top half is empty. And we also have this deal where an insurance company needs to okay the top 100 floors before Zhao can rent them out. Each of these setups were so blunt in their conception, it made it blatantly obvious that a writer had shoehorned them in there.

Remember that your job as a writer isn’t just to plot. It’s to make that plot invisible. That’s one of the primary skills of a screenwriter. Anybody can write big obvious plots. It takes a skilled hand to mask the exposition or place a sheet over the plot gears, not unlike a top-flight real estate agent steering potential buyers eyes away from the house’s weaknesses during a showing.

But the biggest problem with the plotting is that the main character spends almost half the movie OUTSIDE THE BUILDING. The building is your strange attractor. Plot-wise I sort of understand this decision. It creates an action-movie-friendly scenario by which the main character must do the impossible and find a way into the building through one of its upper floors to save his family.

But when you have a toy everyone wants to play with at the party, you don’t toss it in the closet and lock the key. 90% of this story needed to take place inside the strange attractor, which is the building! That’s the big ticket item we paid for. We don’t want to see your hero running around the streets of Hong Kong. We can get that in any cheap Hong Kong B-Action movie. We want the building, baby.

With that said, once Will does get in the building, things get fun. There’s a lot of cat-and-mousing around the unique super-structure as Will’s family attempts to escape the bad guys, all while the fire continues to grow. And there are plenty of twists and turns, with allies turning into foes, and a growing plot that may or may not lead back to Zhao. I could see all of this being entertaining if they nail the production of the The Pearl.

But the makers of the film would’ve done well to study why Die Hard was so successful – it had a simple yet powerful plot. This plot was too messy for its own good.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I never understand why writers do this. Stay with your strange attractor. You have a cool ass super-building unlike anything we’ve seen on film before. Why is our main character outside of it for half the movie? Spend every second of the film playing with your toy.

  • Doug

    First to post. Suck it up bitches!

    There’s only one problem with this script – it’s set in Hong Kong. Any movie set in Hong Kong (or indeed any other Asian country) is guaranteed to fail. It’s like the Curse of Mars.

    • Avatar

      I think Carson is keeping us guessing on when he’ll post. It was like 11 pm last night…Today, it’s 4:40 a.m.

    • Paul Clarke

      Because The Martian was such a failure? I’d like to see some stats to back up your outrageous claims.

      I mean it’s solid logic. Who would possibly want to risk opening their potential box office to another billion or so people. Crazy.

      • Doug

        The Martian wasn’t a failure because it didn’t have the word “Mars” in its title. Every other movie with “Mars” in its title flopped.

        Re the Asian thing – it’s true. Occasionally you get an outlier, but basically movies with Asian city titles or that are wholly set in Asia bomb in the west.

  • Andy M (formerly andyjaxfl)

    Anyone (old enough) to remember VERTICAL RUN? It was a hot script about twenty years ago based on a book about an executive who escapes an assassination attempt inside his office building, escapes, and later has to sneak back in the building to save his family (I think) and recover a MacGuffin hard disk drive (ahhhhh, the 90s). I believe

  • Avatar

    Anyone have an idea what the Thursday article’s going to be? Gosh, I hope it’s something industry related–maybe a continuation of the Mish Mash monday article that was a bit overshadowed by the tragedy that day.

    • carsonreeves1

      I have a couple of topics but if anyone wants a specific article, let me know. And if you also want that article, upvote it!

      • tac

        Any buzz on Club Lavender?

      • Avatar

        God, please do an expanded version of the Mish Mash monday article (yesterday)… It was so interesting. Who knows when you’d revisit that topic–I checked the archives and it’s been a long time. Maybe get further into specifics about the different levels of breaking in and staying in. I know the conventional advice is to write a great script–but usually, writers take many swings–getting closer and closer each time (getting consider in coverage, placing in contests, winning contest, getting a manager, getting optioned) before writing that golden script. What happens to writers that write Flatliners and gets a 0% on Rottnetomatoes? The writers you imdb’ed might have had success in terms of options–I see a lot of those blacklisters on tracking boards with new projects all the time—only a few actually get their movies made–but they are still in the game. I think we were all so distracted by what happened in Las Vegas, most of the comments steered towards that, than the actual topic at hand.

      • Jarrean

        An update on the Shorts Contest, perhaps a blurb. lol

        • carsonreeves1

          it’d be a short post.

          • klmn

            Zero length?

          • Avatar

            ..

      • ripleyy

        An interview with Kathleen Kennedy?

      • Erica

        Maybe something on writing for mainstream. What I mean is the next Goonies or ET, Stand By Me, That style of movies. How Spielberg uses the every day person as a main character so the audience can connect.

  • brenkilco

    The best movie exec ignorance story I’ve read.

    After the debacle of Ryan’s Daughter, David Lean didn’t make another film for fourteen years. When he finally did regroup he had to go through the ignominy of studio pitching. He recalled meeting one young exec. So said the ignorant suit, tell me what you’ve done. You first, replied the legendary director.

    • Andy M (formerly andyjaxfl)

      Fourteen years in between films… what a frigging shame. We missed out on 2-3 David Lean films in that time that never panned out for one reason or another, all because of one disappointment (unfair to call it a financial flop, in my opinion, but semantics)…

      • brenkilco

        Ryan is overscaled and overlong. But it’s also stunning. And who today would be capable of anything like it? Too bad.

    • Scott Crawford

      I can beat that…

      Lindsay Anderson wrote various companies asking if he could do a Chekhov adaptation and got back one reply “Dear Mr Chekhov…..”

  • tac

    I love that it’s called the Skyscraper and ends up spending half the movie outside of it…

    • carsonreeves1

      In the script’s defense, we do cut back to the family inside at times, as well as the owner, who’s also in the building. But yeah, my issue was that the main character wasn’t there.

  • Oscar

    So it’s THE TOWERING INFERNO meets DIE HARD?

    Sounds like there must be all kinds of leaps of logic to make this premise work. Why would anyone set a fire in a skyscraper just to target one family? Isn’t that going to draw a helluva lot of attention? Why not just shoot them? And do we really live in an age where the only copy of anything can be kept on one laptop?

    But hey, it’s The Rock in a summer action movie. Just go with it, I guess.

    • brenkilco

      Already remade Earthquake so this was probably inevitable. In his next one he and his talking dolphin sidekick voiced by Josh Gad right a capsized ocean liner.

  • Scott Crawford

    Bloody hell, it’s taken my an HOUR to ge5 this page t9 load! Not much commenting from m3 today. Maybe later… I’ll reserve my place.

  • brenkilco

    OK I’ll bite. He’s on the ground and there’s a raging fire between him and his family. How’s he get to them? Helicopter, crane attached to side of building, window washer rig? Some peculiarity of the building that’s been painstakingly set up? I’m assuming the solution is a big moment. Like Mcclane and his fire hose. So tell.

  • Taylor

    Ah, the old Empire-State-Building-meme to denote enormity.

  • Andrea Moss

    Talking about the Empire State Building… Has anyone read Breaking the Empire State, from S. Craig Zohler? It was sold like “Die Hard in you-know-where”. Of all the Die Hard clones I’ve read I think the best are Suspension, by Joss Whedon, and The Siege of Man, by Sun-kyu Park. Pretty good stuff.

  • ripleyy

    Imagine Jurassic Park… but we spend half the screenplay in a yacht in the South Pacific. Yuck. I can understand WHY Rawsom had Will outside, but it just screams “More plot!”

  • Earnest Concern

    “Die Hard … in a building.” lol. You recounted that same joke with an Amateur Friday script in 2014 — NERVE AND SINEW — http://scriptshadow.net/amateur-friday-nerve-and-sinew/ . . . except it got a WORTH THE READ!

  • ChadStuart

    Since we’re discussing Die Hard and trends, how long do you think it will be before the next sequel to Die Hard is announced, but that the story will ignore all of the previous sequels?

    • Andrea Moss

      They did it. It’s called A Good Day to Die Hard. It’s so disconnected of the franchise and the character that it looks like Bruce Willis was hired like a nod to the fans.