A Good Day to Die Hard‘s director John Moore has a reputation for enthusiasm for the tiniest details in his films. He makes big movies, with big bangs, that come from geo-politically accurate weaponry. In the latest Die Hard, John McClane is going to Moscow and within minutes is in the middle of another bad day. But with his fastidious attention to detail, Moore is making sure McClane’s bad day is one hell of a ride. We caught up with John to talk about his huge action set pieces, Easter Eggs buried in the film’s arsenal and how he almost left a military short on ammo. Read the full interview below and check out our exclusive look at A Good Day to Die Hard‘s Gun Bible.
(WARNING: Rough language and guns ahead)
Nerdist: Pardon my language, but there were so many great “Oh, shit!” moments in this film. You played those very well. When you got the script, where did your brain go in how big you wanted to make these action set pieces?
John Moore: Now, that’s interesting. I think kind of interesting is the …. On the page, I was like, “Fuck, this is well written”. I mean, Skip Woods, I’ve done a lot of work with Skip on films that didn’t come to fruition, but we’ve been in each other’s lives for a while. He writes action where you smell the fucking gunpowder on the page.
Some of these sequences were like, Jesus, this is good writing, because action can be so fucking boring on the page. Really, yes, and then you actually get a little bit ticked off as a director when writers overwrite action. It’s fine with me if somebody writes “car chase,” and then a car chase begins and then it ends.
This action was really descriptively written, beautifully written; the end sequence, the Chernobyl sequences, and then I started to think, okay, big isn’t the thing here. It’s visceral and a little bit crazy. I re-watched Die Hard, and, actually, the stunts aren’t that huge. It’s actually, “He’s really not going to do that, is he?” That’s what’s huge. It’s only a fire hose, really, but it’s what he’s going to do. It’s the audacity. I thought audacious. Everyone got an audacious tattoo. I’ll make the stunts audacious. It’s not about big, it’s not about collapsing entire city blocks, things like that. It’s the, “Really? Okay,” as opposed to scale. It was about the audacity of a couple of things.
My favorite stunt, I better not use your recording device. I don’t know if you remember it, but in the car chase, (there’s) a little blue car, and there’s a big gray tank. He pushes them, he clips them, and he pushes them. He swings around and you can clearly see the driver has no protection, and it looks like what it is, which is a real civilian getting caught in the middle of [all the action].
It’s the audacity of that rather than blowing up shiny, chrome oil tankers. That’s what we tried to go for.
N: Now, I was actually going to say, great job showing the collateral damage.
JM: Thank you. Moscow is so big. The fun of it was you could probably do that in Moscow, and by the time the cops caught up with it, you can’t go full Blues Brothers but you could go that big without… because it is, it’s fucking huge. It’s the biggest city in the world.
N: In the Behind Enemy Lines DVD, you gave a lot of detail in the bonus featurettes. Your dedication to military hardware, realism, why a specific military wouldn’t use a gun they don’t have access to, gun dealers that have that gun don’t deal with that sect, etc. You’re energetic about it. You had to be a kid in a candy store this time around.
JM: (laughs) Yes. Yes, if you like that, you’re going to love…. Yes, on Die Hard, yes. I’m going to send you one of our first run DVDs because there are features… I think anybody who spends money on a DVD now, people should come to their house and shake their hand and give them a cake. If there’s anyone who buys, who puts time and money and effort, they put some time into their home theater systems, and all that, they should get a fucking medal. What I try and do is gather as much of that material as possible and tell people those stories and say, “We did this, we took care of that, and we made sure that was right”. It’s saying we respect the time you took to watch the movie, so we got everything else right as we could get it. There’s a lot of that in Die Hard, and there’s a lot, even from a technical weaponry point of view.
For example, the bad guy, Alik, the tall good-looking Radivoje, his weapon of choice is the Austrian made Steyr AUG A1. Now, if you look closely at Die Hard, Alexander Godunov, the blond, his weapon is the prototype of that gun. It’s the first version of it. It’s the Steyr AUG. Look closely, you’ll see it’s basically the same gun 25 years later. Little touches like that are all over the movie. I’m sure that’s an Easter egg.
There’s little touches like that everywhere. We produced it, myself and Mike Papik DeArmara, who’s in all the Die Hard movies, we produced the Die Hard Bible of weapons, which is 40 pages thick.
Nerdist: I would buy a copy. [Laughs]
JM: I’ll send you one. Give me your email. I will email you the Bible. (Editor’s Note: He totally did. And we’re sharing a few pages from it at the bottom of the article.)
It’s full of Jack’s weapon choices, John’s weapon choices, Irena’s weapon choices, and, some of which made it to the movie, some of which were so outlandishly expensive they didn’t. Stuff like that is good fun. Movies are meant to be fun. People get a kick out of that.
N: There is something to be said, and personally, I’m all for gun control, but there’s….
JM: Me, too.
Nerdist: …There’s something sexy and fun about them in the right film.
JM: I know, take all the guns away. Keep the guns on the movie screen. Nobody should own one. Keep them on the fucking movie screen. That’s where they fucking belong.
Nerdist: You also had two really impressive Russian choppers as big parts of the action. The MI-26 and the 24 right?
JM: The 26 is at the end, and the 24 is in the middle. The MI-26 is a big cargo helicopter. It’s unarmed. We took some license there, and we put a GSH KKK 30mm Canon, which we borrowed from the MI-24. The MI-24 (Hind-A), there are something like 30 variants of that helicopter in the Eastern Block. Most of them have a nose gun or a chin gun, which is a four-barreled Yak-B 12.7mm, which is basically a 50-caliber. It is a Russian Gatling Gun. It’s only got four barrels, whereas something like the Avenger from an A-10 Warthog, or the Gatling Guns that would be on helicopters in movies like Enemy Lines, which are the N104s, Miniguns. This is the Russian Minigun.
Here we are, we’ve got this helicopter with what would normally have a Russian Minigun on its chin. This thing puts so much lead down range, we thought, all right. They’re not going to survive, even for a Die Hard, it’s fucking ridiculous. We searched and searched and found this 30mm. There’s a rare variant of the helicopter where they did away with the chin gun and they hard-mounted the 30mm Twin Barrel Canon.
What they wanted to do was take out hardened targets, like armor on the ground. This is all Afghanistan era, the Russians in Afghanistan. The thing about this weapon is, it’s got a slower rate of fire: boom, boom, boom, instead of brmm. Now the McClanes have a chance. Also, it’s non-articulated. The chin gun moves wherever you want it to go. This thing’s fixed so you have to fly the aircraft. Now the McClanes have another advantage. We used technicalities to just increase their chances of survival.
Nerdist: That’s amazing.
JM: It’s fun stuff, it’s fun.
Nerdist: That actually… the big bass broom, broom, broom brings up another thing I wanted to talk to you about. We have the joy of seeing the movie in Atmos.
JM: It’s the future.
N: Sitting down with sound designers, how many new recordings did they have to make of these weapons and things like that? How much extra effort did you put in the movie because of that sound design?
JM: A huge amount. Atmos, if supported is the future. Where 3-D is faltering, visual 3-D will probably become the purview of a few live action, and mostly animated films. Atmos sound, 3-D sound, is the future. You got to be aware of that. That’s what you are going to be mixing to. Yes, we went out to firing ranges. We fired the helicopter for real, with live ammunition on a firing range in Hungary. It was funny because the Hungarian Air Force were getting nervous because they were running out of ammunition.
They were like, “Can you leave this stuff to defend the nation?” I was like yes, yes. Just hook him up. Yes, it’s a very big process. Atmos exponentially increases the amount of work you have to do. Whereas, a seven to one, a normal mix would be seven to one, which is LCR left center right, three speakers behind the screen, and then left surround, right surround, two and two, so that’s seven points of sound. Atmos is 47.
Nerdist: That’s getting you from the entire….
JM: Everywhere. It’s a box. It’s a whole box around your head, and it’s a fascinating way to mix movies, and it’s the future. It is.
N: You’re really pursuing stuff that fits you. Where do you see yourself going next? Are you going to try to approach another sequel or adaptation, or do you want to find something for yourself?
JM: It’s funny, I don’t really have a style. I think style is can be a little arrogant. What I try and do is serve the story. If the story calls for me to shoot it in a certain way, then that’s the way I’ll shoot it. I won’t be so arrogant as to say, “No, this is the way it’s going to be no matter what.” I find a piece of material I’ll adapt the way I want to shoot it, to suit the material. I could just as easily turn out up doing a 18th century period piece.
I’ve taken a lot of heat for that. People are like, wow. Nah, fuck it. It just means you’re just so fucking arrogant. I don’t give a shit. Yes, I get paid. My point is I enjoy delivering. I enjoy taking something, and saying to my team, “All right guys, someone’s going to pay to see this. I’d like we do a really good job, making it look and sound so they can get their money’s worth.” It means something to them to pay their money and go and see it, and now come out saying, “That sucked.”
In terms of what’s next and how do I approach material? With a fucking open mind, man.
A Good Day to Die Hard is in theaters Thursday, February 14th.