Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler is intense and impeccable, showcasing a peak performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as he trolls the streets of Los Angeles looking to capture the latest salacious images for an insatiable media audience.
A long time screenwriter, including work on his brother Tony's film The Bourne Legacy, this is Gilroy's directorial debut, bringing with it intensity and intelligence that's all too rare for films these days.
ScreenAnarchy spoke to Gilroy during the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie was warmly received.
Did it help the film in going a bit crazy shooting at night all the time?
Shooting at night was actually I think better than shooting during the day because there was no traffic!
We had eighty locations and there were many nights that we had double moves - that's talking about moving 150 people with the caravan of trucks that stretches a quarter of a mile. During the day, you're always fighting traffic, we had the night time to ourselves, there was nobody around.
The only thing [up] is the helicopters chasing God knows what and stray dogs, but it was pretty much us. It was a pretty odd feeling.
When the sun starts to go down on most shoots during the day you start to have a heart attack, for us it was when the birds started chirping. The scene where Jake runs down the driveway with Riz, the birds were chirping, papers were being delivered, I'm going like "oh my God, it's over!", and the homeowners were going to kick us out because we spread blood all over their white carpet.
The most remarkable thing about the film is keeping the tone, deciding about him going too far vs. not going far enough
I never wanted to put any moral label on the character because I feel any morality that I imprint limits that ability of the audience to decide what they feel the character should be.
Lou is a cog in a much larger world that has a much more complex problem. We just wanted the acts to speak for themselves.
These are reprehensible things that he does and we felt they'd speak for themselves.
It's reprehensible, but it's never irredeemable, he doesn't get away with murder in a literal sense.
He does get away with murder.
The person dies, but he doesn't necessarily murder the person.
Well, that's a grey area, though I agree, yes, Lou never directly touches the button. It's a good question, I never thought about it before, would Lou pick up the gun? I don't know if he would ever directly kill somebody, but I think he has no issue whatsoever indirectly killing somebody.
Which makes it, of course, an even more clear element of contemporary media
Yeah, ultimately the media becomes the instrument that destroys.
Both your brothers are filmmakers how did they help with your directorial debut?
Tony directed Michael Clayton and I used to go on the set and duplicity watch him direct. I worked on Bourne Legacy, so I can talk to him about lenses and working with actors and dealing with navigating producers and financial situations. He was a producer of the film. This movie does not exist in this form if Tony doesn't get me final cut.
John, he's just a wonderful editor and he's my fraternal twin brother, so we're very close. It was very easy for me to sit in a room with him and have a creative dialogue.
Of course you also had the help of your wife, Rene Russo
I creatively collaborate with her often because when I write scripts, I'll give her a page that she can look at as an actor so she can improve my dialogue.
I'm one of those people who if someone has a good idea, I'll take it, I'm not one of those people who says I have the answer to everything, I'm going to do it my way.
I'm a little bit like Lou, like that's a good idea, I'll take that.
What inspired this idea?
I was really interested a few years back in a photographer named Weegee. He was a crime photographer in New York City in the 30s and 40s and 50s. He's actually now become collectible. There's actually books out about his wonderfully stark, almost chiaroscuro, black and white photographs. He also had a social conscience, but he had an interesting social commentary in the photographs he did. I couldn't think about a way to do that movie.
Then I moved to L.A. and I realized this was the modern equivalent, these people who drive around at much higher speeds. I just thought it was a great world to explore.
You've been around L.A. for a long time now, so you've seen the evolution of it becoming the we're going to film a car chase capital of the world to the TMZ climate that there is now. Do you think it's getting better or it's just getting worse?
As somebody who was a journalist, I'm interested and educated in the history of broadcast news, and I don't know what it's like in Canada, but in the United States, at some point several decades ago, maybe 3 or 4 decades ago, networks decided that news departments suddenly had to make a profit. And there was a long time when news departments didn't have to make a profit, it was considered almost a service. And I'm very aware that once news is generated to make a profit it becomes entertainment in a lot of ways, so I think that for me, being aware of that is the genesis. If I was going to point to a specific moment, 3 years ago, 2 years ago it might have been,
The local L.A. news have in the midst of the car chase capital, because they will, they will preempt a presidential debate to watch a little Tercel putter around Ventura for 4 hours and you're like it's the third goddamned hour. But you know what they're waiting for, they're keeping their fingers crossed that somebody's going to get killed or shot or something horrible is going to happen.
They have this system in place where they have a delay, so theoretically these executions are not supposed to be shown, but I think in the last three years, maybe 2 times, oops, we missed a delay and suddenly you're watching somebody get killed live on television. Ratings go through the roof and you start to ask yourself, where does this go?
I'm not going to use a term like worse because I really do want to avoid, I want somebody else to make that decision.
Jake was on a pretty strict diet to give him a very gaunt look
Two months before the shooting started Jake was talking about what the character looked like and we had the idea of a symbolic image of a coyote. In Los Angeles coyotes have a perpetually lean look, it's like they can never be satiated.
It took eight weeks and he started losing weight and he finally got to 20 pounds down. I loved it. It was a bit of a political football. The dailies looked bizarre and frightening to some people, but once we shot the first two days, we were committed, we were locked in.
What was amazing for me is that in order to keep the weight down he would ride or run 10-15 miles to the set. Then he would eat kale and he would work for 15 hours. I didn't know how he was sustaining himself and getting through it.
You see it in the context of the film and it all makes sense. You start watching these dailies that are coming in, these fragments, and it's like oh my god, all you see is eyes, he looks like a ghost, what the hell are you doing?
T hat speaks to Jake's fearlessness. I just feel that Jake is in a place right now where he wants to push himself into areas where it's not about succeeding or failing. It's about trying. That's something that I just love about him as an actor because I very much believe that.
I think the thing that Jake is most terrified of is mediocrity. I think he's just terrified of doing something that's doesn't challenge him.
He's also a producer on this film - how did you two first meet?
Jake came in a few months after the script was written. He was at the top of our list from the beginning, but he was unavailable and then he became available and I flew to Atlanta and met with him.
We had this long four-hour dinner and one of the things that we quickly established is that I wanted to collaborate and create with him and that he was going to be a producer.
He wasn't a producer in the sense of developing the script, he was a producer in the sense of when we started to ramp up and hire department heads. I would always tell him who we were hiring and if he had an objection I would listen to him. He was intimately involved in the casting of characters, particularly Riz's part. We auditioned over 70 actors before we found Riz and Jake was there for many of those auditions.
Did you look at specific films for inspiration?
Taxi Driver has relevance in the degree that it's a similar character study of somebody who drives around in a car at night. I thought a really interesting formula is when you're writing the hero and antihero at the same time. I started to look at To Die For with Nicole Kidman, it's really interesting as she's the hero and the villain at the same time. A big one for me is The King of Comedy. Rupert Pupkin is such a personable, funny, likeable guy, but comes close to murdering poor Jerry Lewis with Sandra Bernhard. Heroes who are antiheroes - it's such a great, scary formula, studios would never touch it.
One of the creepier parts of his character are all the affirmations Jake's character spouts
I think people who have a goal are blessed. I think there's so many people in the world who don't have a goal. They think I don't have a goal, what am I doing, why am I doing this? I think that's a terrible place to be.
Lou wants to be the guy down at the station who has a camera. And I think if you have a goal, if you have your top of Mount Everest that you're climbing, then you always wake up in the morning and know where you're going, what a joyful, wonderful place to be. The aphorisms that he spouts and the things that he says are really just always in support of I am moving forward.
If you can convince yourself and believe that what you're pursuing has relevance, what a great place to be. It's amazing.
So, then, what's your goal?
God, that is a great question. What is my goal? Not to hurt anybody.
What's your goal with this film?
For people to find some personal meaning that's relevant to them.