Nuke the Fridge continues its interview series from the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills for the upcoming crime/drama/thriller “Nightcrawler.” Writer and director Dan Gilroy discussed details about the script, some of the acting and technical aspects of filming and more. Check out the interview and go see the film!
Referring to Gyllenhaal’s comments made at an earlier roundtable interview.
Dan Gilroy: Jake said I had a lot of energy?
Comment from another news outlet: Yeah, when you talk with your hands, you made me think you’re Latino.
Gilroy: I do a lot of stuff with my hands and I do speak too fast, but I’m going to make an effort to speak more slowly.
Question: So, how did you come up with the idea for the movie?
Gilroy: I came up with the idea for the movie in pieces. The first piece, I heard about a guy named Weegee, a crime photographer in New York. The first guy to put a police scanner in a car and drive around in the 1930s and he took still photographs and sold them to newspapers. And then, Joe Pesci did a movie about that called, “The Public Eye.” Then I moved out here and I heard about the modern equivalent, these stringers/nightcrawlers who drive around at a hundred miles an hour with a dozen scanners going. I got interested in the world. Because, it’s night time. It’s L.A. It’s crime. It’s all that stuff, but I really didn’t know what to do with it. Your instinct is to sort of make it like a thriller or a plot heavy story, put a conspiracy on it and I didn’t want to do that. I held onto it. And then one day, I sat down and the character of Lou started to come out. I started to think about Lou’s character. When he plugged into that world, it became a very personal story. In the sense that I could not only tell a story that I thought engaging, but was relevant to me in terms of ideas that are presented and thoughts that maybe it provoked. So I just sat down and wrote it for myself and then everything came from there.
Q: Jake referenced Paddy Chayefsky, I was just wondering if you were a fan of his writing? Also, did you love that movie, “Ace in the Hole” by Billy Wilder?
Gilroy: “Ace in the Hole” is a phenomenal movie. One of the all time dark movies about a journalist who comes upon a minor whose trapped and makes a story and kills the guy. It’s a beautiful, horrible movie. Yeah, Paddy Chayefsky is one of the all-time great writers. I’m certainly aware of “Network” because it’s such a brilliant film. I think there’s a similarity in our film because it’s about journalism to some degree. There’s also some similarity in the sense that there’s a lot of humor in “Network,” because I knew what Paddy was going for at the time was true and people knew it was true, but it was so horrible that it was funny. I feel like what were showing in this movie, though’ it’s 40 years on, I think you’re watching it but you sense it’s true, and it’s so extreme that it’s almost absurd. So, you’re laughing, you’re almost laughing on, “Oh my God! It’s true, but it’s horrible!” Kind of doing that laughter that kind of dwindles off and has no end.
Q: Dan, can you talk a little bit about your collaboration with Elswit, the D.P. (director of photography,) just on the look and vibe of the film?
Gilroy: Yeah, Robert is a friend. I knew Robert before through Tony (Gilroy) because he shot my brother Tony’s movies. And when I sat down with Robert, he read the script. He found it to be very subversive, was the word he used, which he loved. He lives in Venice and we started talking about Los Angeles and you look out the window it’s all trees and mountains and how often you see in Los Angeles films you see cement and freeways and downtown and how we wanted to capture more the wild aspect of L.A. and more of the natural beauty. And going up like on top of the hill and looking down and seeing far or looking up at a mountain and seeing like Mt. Wilson those shots of those antennas. And, we wanted to capture a wild, untamed energy. In the sense of the character like Lou almost like a coyote roaming through this wilderness, this landscape, that had a physical beauty to it. We shot a lot of really wide angle lenses. It’s such a cool view out there and try to capture as much of that as possible and to see as far as you can see that sort of deep focus and not shallow focus.
Q: Lou is also a character that just picks things up as he goes along, and it feels that he can go in any direction at the start of the movie. If he doesn’t drive past that car crash, where do you think he goes?
Gilroy: I firmly believe that he wanted the salvage yard job. If that guy gave him a job, the movie is over. He wanted that job. If you look at him as an animal, a coyote, I was actually looking at him as a larger predator like a leopard or tiger or something. Animals don’t kill out of any emotional pleasure. They kill out of necessity. So Lou, I think, would have taken those earlier jobs not because he’s drawn to violence. Violence is just a function to an end. It just gets him to where he wants to go. I always saw Lou as a very hard working earnest guy whose respectful, in a lot of ways, who wants to work hard. And he expects the people to work for him to work hard. And Rick doesn’t work hard enough. I guess that’s the moral of that story.
Request: Dan, talk about that spectacular car chase scene, the climatic one. It is dazzling. I mean it’s really amazing, and it’s one of the finest practical stunts.
Gilroy: I should say that we have a second unit director, as most films do these days for action, a guy named Mike Smith, who is extraordinarily talented, who brought an incredible team of stunt drivers and riggers and car manufacturers to the table. That said, Robert Elswit and I and my brother Tony actually, which was involved with that, in crafting the look and what we wanted to make it compressed and compact and to really focus in on the quality of what you’re watching rather than drawing it out for long periods of time. I think visually, one of the things that came out, when I started working with Robert and we started to go location scouting with like the cameras that Lou’s character uses… the little viewfinder, you know, that he looks at. Robert started to go, you know, the viewfinders are interesting. You know we can start to show the action through the viewfinder rather than showing the action in large scale. And that became a really important idea, because when we had the shootout at the restaurant, that’s all coming through the viewfinders. If you go back and look at it, everything is in soft focus, it’s really your eye is drawn to this little viewfinder until we finally pull back to the very end. And the chase… so, we’re keeping the action close in the chase to the characters. And then the chase… we’re staying in the car as much as possible. So, when like the car gets hit in the intersection, you see that through the windshield. Where in movies that have a chase they would jump ahead a hundred yards into a wide angle, they take you out of the action to show the spectacle of it. We wanted to show it from a point of view of what was going on in the car. And I thought that made it more visceral and more personal.
Q: Was Jake the one using the camera on the shots or was it somebody else?
Gilroy: There were many times what Jake shot and what Riz (Ahmed) shot are what we used. And there were other times what they shot was slightly defocused and it didn’t work, but there were definitely times, not all the time, we used Jake’s footage and Riz’s footage. Sometimes that was the only footage we had, because we’re moving so fast, it’s like, “Wait, we didn’t get that!” And we wind up looking in their cameras and find it. That happened more than once.
Q: Did he (Gyllenhaal) receive any kind of training?
Gilroy: He practiced. He took the camera home a week before and he practiced with it. Yeah, he knew how to use the camera. He carried it around all the time.
Q: Do you explore the current state of the ‘American dream?’ Because we have these kind of needs, “the self made man,” “the go-getter” and right now there are people questioning that. Even with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” people were empowered by seeing this kind of “psycho” going around making money despite anything else.
Gilroy: It’s a very big part of the movie. And my point of view, and this is where I get him on the personal ideas or themes, I believe that the ‘American Dream’ is increasingly gained by people like Lou that the less humanity you have, the more you look at the bottom line, the less respect you have for the human spirit, the greater the chances are that you’re going to climb this bloody ladder that leads to extraordinary wealth on a scale of disparity that’s never really existed before.
Q: So, Nina’s admiration for him at the end is genuine? Or, maybe a genuine reflection of what you think of that kind of behavior?
Gilroy: We approach it as a success story, but I only did that to get the affect that people stay connected to the character. The real aim was that at the end of the film hopefully people will go in, but the problem isn’t Lou, the problem is the world that creates Lou’s and rewards Lou’s. That was really where I was trying to go that people will look at it and be horrified by the fact that he succeeds, and be horrified by the fact that now he has three employees and he’s gonna have 12 employees in four months. He’s like a virus. See, in the end when the cars go off in two directions, I always image that it was literally like a virus that infected a body and they were going off into the bloodstream. I very much seen Nina, it’s almost like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” like people are being consumed by a perverted dream. And I feel the world is increasingly that way.
Q: You even have a Kevin McCarthy character in there too, the guy who’s kind of shouting that, “This is crazy!”
Gilroy: Kevin Rahm who is like a moth who gets brushed aside. He’s just utterly inconsequential in today’s discussion on this topic. He has no relevance.
Q: A really interesting character, who is because he shows us the right way and the wrong way to do something is Bill Paxton (Joe Loder.) What led you to Bill, who is like tailor made to fill that role?
Gilroy: I’m such a Bill fan. He did a great movie, A Simple Plan, which has such a great, dark ending. I just love his work. I think Bill’s just a tremendous actor, and so, I felt so fortunate when he signed onboard to do this part. He’s an L.A. guy. and I feel he has an L.A. vibe. You can imagine him as the L.A dude. You know a little bit. I felt he was realistic for the part and the world. And he’s just a great actor.
Q: Was it hard to craft the character of Joe Loder in contrast to Lou Bloom?
Gilroy: Yeah, it was interesting, because Joe Loder is the apex predator before Lou comes in, so you can tell that Joe’s crossing lines to some degree. But Joe has still some level of humanity. There’s things that would be inconceivable to him and Lou comes along an eclipses everything that Joe Loder believed would be possible and ultimately is killed by him. Which I feel is the nature of nature. I feel that a system operates in which you have an alpha predator and usually the new alpha predator who comes in—I hate to be using—but I feel that we are animals that live in a wilderness in a lot of ways. I feel like we can put wallpaper up and carpet, but ultimately we live in a wilderness and we are animals to many degrees and that we carry a lot of animal instincts with us. So, Joe Loder is somebody who can’t conceive of what the next predator is going to be, and just like we can’t conceive of what the next thing that can hurt us, when it shows up, chances are by the time we realize it, it’ll be too late whatever it is.
Comment: Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection…
Gilroy: Absolutely, it’s in full effect. I really do. I feel increasingly like the business world and the American dream is very much becoming much more, it’s Uber capitalism. It’s hyper free market, and hyper free market is wilderness, I think. I feel like we’re going more and more in that direction. It’s like in Where the Wild Things Are when the kid goes to sleep and suddenly his bedroom turns into a jungle. I was always struck by that image. Like suddenly the world evaporated and you were back living in the jungle. I feel like we’re living in that world a little bit.
Q: Did you have to lose a lot of scenes that you loved and was there a bigger cut?
Gilroy: We lost a couple scenes. There was one scene after he goes to the salvage yard. He went on a sexting website and a woman comes and he meets her at a diner. And it was a really cool scene, the woman named Kathleen York, did a great job. And he’s being really nice and respectful to her and she goes, “Did you read my ad?” And he didn’t read her ad and he goes, “No, I don’t think so, I was driving.” And she goes, “I like it rough.” Like, she’s into bondage. And he goes, “Well, I think I can do that.” It was a great, little, strange scene, but it was weird when we were watching the movie, it was a two minute scene and it kind of, from a pacing standpoint, slowed things down a little bit. So we had to cut that scene out. That was the scene that stands out.
Q: Do you think that Jake is underrated as an actor? Because he has done amazing work throughout the years, but you don’t see him consistently rewarded with nominations and he’s in that weird space where, yeah, he’s awesome, but if you ask the critics, “Who are the top ten actors?” Maybe, he’s not there for some reason.
Gilroy: I think he deserves every award in the world for what he’s doing right now. I believe it’s going to come to him. I believe he has almost limitless talent, from what I can see, and his drive and commitment to what he’s doing and the choices he’s making. I feel he’s going to get everything that the world has to offer him in terms of awards. It’s funny, I know everybody likes awards. I think what drives Jake is just, he has this inner drive. He’s just not going to stop for himself, you know. He has this artist’s sensibility and he wants to push himself and he doesn’t want to be mediocre. I don’t think he could be mediocre, but he just always wants to go to that farthest degree. I feel the world is waking up to Jake. I think people were always aware of, I know I was. The world is very much waking up to Jake from what I’m feeling and sensing. Particularly for Prisoners and End of Watch, which I love, but Michael Peña was great in End of Watch as well.
Q: How collaborative was Jake in infusing ideas and whatnot in a producing capacity? Because he wears a producer’s hat too.
Gilroy: He was very active as a producer. There was no hiring of department heads. There was no moves that we made from production’s endpoint that Jake didn’t have a voice in. Jake was at, probably, almost at every audition. Like choosing Rick (Riz), (he) was very active in that. Active on a nightly basis. I say nightly because daily we really didn’t shoot that many days, we shot 24 nights in a row. A very active producer and a very creative producer. Good voice…
Q: Do you have any expectations about meaningful change? Because we had Network 40 years ago and nothing changed. It went in the opposite direction and it’s getting worse. Can you tell me the expectations of this, will it make things better?
Gilroy (long pause) No! I don’t believe things are going to change, but I believe hopefully for the people who see the film, it might stay with them and they’ll be aware of what they’re watching and understand the narrative that’s being sold to them and they might be aware of, “Maybe I don’t need to watch that ISIS beheading.” You know, “Maybe that’s sort of not a good thing. Maybe I can edit myself a little bit.” I mean, what about self-awareness? I’m a big believer in self-awareness. Cognitive therapy that’s what it’s all about.
Here is the synopsis for the film:
Nightcrawler is a pulse-pounding thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film fires, crashes, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling – where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Nina (Rene Russo,) a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou thrives. In the breakneck, ceaseless search for footage, he becomes the star of his own story.
“Nightcrawler” will open in theaters on October 31st. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Anne McDaniels, Ann Cusack, Kathleen York, Marco Rodriguez, Kevin Rahm, Eric Lange, Riz Ahmed, Jamie McShane, Michael Hyatt, Jonny Coyne, Viviana Chavez, Kiff VandenHeuvel, David Dustin Kenyon, Carolyn Gilroy, Emily Dahm, Jason Heymann, Kent Shocknek, Chad Guerrero, Christina de Leon, Tyler Cole, James Huang, Dale Shane, Leah Fredkin, Michael Papajohn, Dig Wayne, Adrian Winther, Kevin Dunigan, Damien Snow, Austin Raishbrook, Bill Seward and Aaron Bledsoe. Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Michel Litvak, David Lancaster and Jake Gyllenhaal are producers, while Gary Michael Walters and Betsy Danbury are executive producers. The film is written and directed by Dan Gilroy.