Everyone has a favourite quote from 'Die Hard', be it something from Alan Rickman or Bruce Willis - or even from Argyle, the smooth-talking limo driver out the back.
For Jeb Stuart, however, 'Die Hard' was just another job. When we talked to him before his masterclass on action screenwriting at the IFI, the man behind one of the greatest action movies ever made had one thing on his mind - getting a round of golf in when he's here. "Since I've been here for 'Valhalla'," the new Netflix spin-off series to 'Vikings' that he's now working on as executive producer, "I haven't had a chance to play, so hopefully I'll get some time soon."
It seems odd to think of the person who brought movies like 'The Fugitive', 'Another 48. Hrs', and 'Die Hard' into being with such life-or-death scenarios wants to spend his free time knocking a ball around a course, but there it is. For all the gruff one-liners uttered by action icons like Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis or Nick Nolte, Stuart's voice is warm, friendly and not at all what you'd expect. When he talks about writing up the climax for 'Die Hard', or how they staged some of the action setpieces on page, there's a sense of calm and order to it that betrays what comes out on screen.
"I tend to lean toward more character-driven action, as opposed to, say, Marvel where it's all about how many tens of thousands of people we can get on the field," Stuart explains. "That's when it becomes a mind-numbing game. I'd never written an action movie before 'Die Hard', and even though I grew up a fan of Clint Eastwood movies, those movies are all really character-driven. It's putting a character into a situation that you feel suspense for, those are suspense elements. It doesn't work unless you care about the character. That's why you care about Harrison Ford in 'The Fugitive'. What we were able to do in 'Die Hard' is to ground it in a human experience."
This is something that is missing from action movies in recent years, and it's telling that action movies like these are still referenced to this day. "Over the years, I've gravitated to new types of action, but really, it's the character," Jeb reiterates. "I mean, yes, fine, the Marvel movies are great," he concedes, "but there's no stakes. I'm not worried about those people."
"I do like a 'John Wick' project. 'The Matrix', for me, was a brilliant serialised piece. Again, I like those characters - and I'm not a sci-fi guy at all! It's really hard to work in any of the major genres today because, y'know, my daughter is a major horror aficionado, she can tell you everything about Japanese horror movies. I wouldn't dare go into the horror world without having some guide like that, and with social media, movies just get killed before they even get to a theatre or streaming platform."
"Horror," he concludes, "affects us differently. Suspense is the same."