Doug Richardson’s movie credits include Die Hard: Die Harder, Bad Boys, and Hostage. As a novelist, he’s penned five suspense thrillers, his most recent are The Safety Expert, Blood Money, and the recently published 99 Percent Kill.
Doug also posts a weekly blog, the first published collection titled The Smoking Gun.
Loren Kleinman (LK): I’m a Bad Boys and Die Hard fan. Can you talk about where the idea came from to write those screenplays?
Doug Richardson (DR): Both those screenplays were based on previous works. Bad Boys was a script called Bulletproof Hearts by the very talented George Gallo. Over the eleven years of development – yes, I said ELEVEN YEARS – the screenplay had gone through many rewrites by many more screenwriters. Just before I came aboard, it was slated as a vehicle for SNL alums Dana Carvey and John Lovitz. I was the last official writer and jumped in only five weeks prior to production. I temporarily moved my life to Miami and, during the first few weeks of photography, was often writing on Wednesday what we’d be shooting on Friday. It was a crazy, all-hands-on-deck gig that miraculously worked out.
My work on the first Die Hard sequel was a hired gig. That time I was adapting the novel 58 Minutes (by Walter Wager) to become a suitable follow up to the original.
LK: What’s different about writing for the screen versus writing a novel? What’s the same? And which one do you like writing more?
DR: The basic differences in writing for the screen – aside from format and length – is that movies are primarily relegated to sight and sound only. So as a screenwriter, I must tell the story utilizing only those two senses. What the audience can see and hear. Any additional descriptions, such as what a character might be thinking, must be somehow slipped into the action and/or dialogue, otherwise they become off camera notes for the actors. Screenwriting is extremely disciplined and a challenge. Comparatively, writing novels is like scribbling with no boundaries whatsoever. Language can be used to tell the story in unlimited ways. It’s very freeing. But can be a terrible trap if I don’t discipline myself to keeping the reader always interested. And there is where both screenwriting and novel writing are very much alike. The reader, no matter what format, must be engaged. It’s my job to tell a story that makes them want to turn the page.
To which practice I would prefer, I lean towards writing books. That’s because of the audience. Book lovers read to enjoy and be entertained. Movie and TV people read in the always-difficult attempt to quantify what’s on the page into something that MIGHT eventually become a movie or television series. This makes for unhappy readers. As if writing for the meanest, most sleep-deprived critics.
I don’t fault any writer for limiting themselves to a single genre. It might be all they care to write about. Or a place to work from where they feel the most comfortable or prolific. Myself as example, I’m currently limiting myself to the LA crime noir sub-genre and my franchise character, Lucky Dey. I love living in his world and exploring it on every page. In screenwriting though, writers don’t so much limit themselves to genre as much as movie studios, agents, and producers do. They like to put writers in a box from which they need to break out if they are going to have a longer career.
LK: How do you create conflict effectively? What are some mistakes that new authors make regarding creating conflict?
DR: As I’m so busy writing my own stuff that I’m not familiar with other new authors. I have served on many panels and taught a few classes. And my take is, just like in life, people tend to avoid conflict. It’s human nature. So often, the new writers I’ve been engaged with tend to tiptoe around conflict as if trying to be polite. I tell them there’s nothing polite about storytelling.
How I create conflict effectively is to seek conflict everywhere in every circumstance. My characters are always in conflict with themselves as well their moral circumstances. They are also in conflict with those they encounter on a moment-by-moment basis. I’m also keen on creating people with agendas that naturally butt up against the powerful motives of others. This not only creates conflict but suspense – like watching two trains hurtling toward each other. There will be a collision. How things spin out and who will survive is always interesting.
LK: Talk about breaking out in your industry, in your career. What was that like?
DR: Breaking out or breaking in? Let’s start with the latter. Breaking in. Everybody has their own tale. And most are different but for the commonality of sweat equity, unchecked ambition, creating opportunities to succeed, and some plain old fashioned luck.
As for getting out, I call it going over the wall. Some try and fail. Some succeed in getting to the other side, but often come crawling back because showbiz is what’s familiar to them, there are already relationships in place, and/or they’d discovered starting over is hard. There’s this too: Getting into the movie game is so terribly difficult – let alone remaining relevant – that conducting an exit feels antithetical to the original purpose which was success in movies. My perspective is that it’s another challenge. Though I can’t say I exactly conquered the movies, I’m satisfied enough with my accomplishments that I’m sanguine about shifting my focus to my novels.
DR: It was on Bad Boys. The script was still half-baked. I’d had just three days of improvised rehearsals with Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and Teá Leoni and had little more than a weekend to turn those notes into readable scenes. The late Don Simpson (Jerry Bruckheimer’s famed and troubled former partner) had just arrived in Miami after eight weeks of spa and detox in Arizona and he’d ordered the table read. My nerves were wrecked. Thankfully, the cast rallied, picking up where we’d left off from our days of improvisation. There were lots of laughs and, after we turned the last page, reams of new notes from genius Don.
LK: What’s your writing schedule like? How long does it take you to write a script? How about a novel?
DR: The night before I write (which is usually six days a week), I take some time to go over in my head what I hope to accomplish the following day. I will start sometime in the morning either at my desk or wherever I may find a place to park myself, then it’s ready set go. From there I’ll stop and start through the afternoon and sometimes into the evening. If I don’t finish what I’d planned to write that day, I add what’s left over to my head hopper when I prepare what to write the next day.
Movie scripts take about eight to twelve weeks to finish a first draft. Revisions, of course, depend entirely on deadlines and the volumes of notes I might receive. A finished draft of a novel will take me five to six months if I’m not too uninterrupted by other writing commitments.
LK: What excites you about writing action/tech books and films?
DR: Ah. The other Doug Richardson. In fact, there are many out there, one of which writes technical books on weaponry and warfare. He is not me. I should contact him and see if he gets any inquiries meant for me.
What excites me about writing action is that it’s the release of energy. Usually it’s the combining of multiple forces into a cataclysm of danger. To me it’s not much different than the near-lethal love of roller coasters.
LK: Your books also delve into the dark side of life, the contrasts and criminal behavior. How do you write violence? How do you show the human side of a criminal?
DR: I’ve always been attracted to reading and writing about the dark side of man. The idea that somewhere beneath our skin we’re a hairs breadth away from crossing a moral barrier excites me. It also worries me. In the end, I seek to celebrate the heroics in man’s fight against both the evil within as well the evil that’s often faced on the surface. The violence which sometimes follows is hopefully an outcropping from the conflict. Real and not without pain or consequence.
My criminals are just like my heroes. Flawed. Often misguided. With feelings and wants and needs. Be they evil or otherwise, they have a broken moral compass that points them in the wrong direction.
LK: Why did you make the shift to self-publishing? What’s your experience been like so far? Are your characters indie? Why or why not?
DR: Are my characters indie? What is that? Like hipsters in Silverlake wearing shaggy beards and laughing only at jokes from somebody under forty years old? I have no idea. My characters are my characters whether they’re self-pubbed or residing at Random House. As for why? It seems that’s where the business is heading. At least when it comes to genre fiction. And I’d rather go there myself instead being shown the door. Not to mention that I like it indie side of things. It’s quicker, far less cumbersome, and a much more direct link to the reader. Not unlike my blog, the immediate feedback is addictive.