Die Hard (1988) / Jan de Bont, ASC

, Episode #70

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SPONSORED BY: ASC Master Class

NYPD cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) communicates with skeptical LAPD officers.

Jan de Bont, ASC connects with AC via Skype to discuss his work on director John McTiernan’s Die Hard, now considered a classic of the action genre. 

Citing an affinity for a proactive, participatory camera, de Bont details how he and McTiernan sought “the right style for the right moment,” and explains how production designer Jackson De Govia and editor Frank Urioste helped them achieve that. 

He also discusses the influence of director John Frankenheimer, his approach to lighting the skyscraper interiors and exteriors (including balancing the two in shot), working with Panavision anamorphic lenses, and lighting the films’s massive “Nakatomi Plaza” atrium set.

Terrorist leader Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, right) schemes with his henchman Karl (Alexander Godunov). De Bont used Panavision’s C-Series anamorphics for close-ups and reserved E-Series lenses for wider shots.

Die Hard 3
McClane witnesses the terrorists’ brutality. “When we built the lighting into the set, we also built in the shadows,” says De Bont.

Karl (Alexander Godunov) prepares for revenge.

Original Trailer

30th Anniversary Trailer
About the Project

While visiting his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) at her company Christmas party in Los Angeles, New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) stumbles onto an elaborate robbery staged as a terrorist attack, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), whose mercenaries take dozens of hostages, including McClane’s wife. During the ensuing standoff between the “terrorists” within the skyscraper and the authorities outside, McClane maneuvers to outsmart Gruber and rescue the hostages.

McClane makes a play in an elevator shaft.
About the Cinematographer

Jan de Bont, ASC (right) sets his camera on star Bruce Willis.

Born in the Netherlands, Jan de Bont, ASC started working behind the camera on Dutch productions in the 1960s. 

Early collaborations with director and fellow Dutchman Paul Verhoeven included short films and features, and it was one of the latter, the stylish thriller The 4th Man, that brought de Bont to the attention of Die Hard director John McTiernan. 

The cinematographer’s feature other credits include The Jewel of the Nile, Black Rain, The Hunt for Red October and Basic Instinct. 

He later transitioned to directing with such projects as the action thrillers Speed, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Twister and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — The Cradle of Life.

American Cinematographer interviews cinematographers, directors and other filmmakers to take you behind the scenes on major studio movies, independent films and popular television series.

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