Interview with Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy

Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. The film marks Dan Gilroy’s debut as a director. His previous credits as a writer include Freejack, The Fall, Two For The Money, Real Steel and The Bourne Legacy.

Find out more about Nightcrawler in the below interview with Gilroy.

Where did you first get this idea?

Dan Gilroy:  A number of years ago I was very interested in a crime photographer from the 1930s and 40s named Weegee (the pseudonym for Ascher Fellig). He’s actually become collectable among people who collect photography. He was the first guy to put a police scanner in his car, in New York City. This was like 1940. He would drive around and get to crime scenes before anyone. He was a wonderful photographer, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do a period film, and so I put the idea aside and I moved to Los Angeles. A few years ago I heard about these people called ‘night-crawlers’ who drive around Los Angeles at night at 100mph, with these scanners going. As a screenwriter, I thought, ‘That’s a really interesting world,’ but I didn’t exactly know what to do with it. It was part of an idea. For me, ideas come piecemeal; they don’t come fully formed. That was a part of the idea, and I didn’t know what to do with until I thought of the character to plug into it, which was Lou. Once that character plugged into the world, it was like two parts of an atom that fit together, and suddenly it just made total sense to me, and I knew what I wanted to do with the world and the character.

Did you meet some of the real night-crawlers?

Dan Gilroy: Yes, Jake and I and Robert Elswit, our DP, went out a couple of nights with a guy named Howard Raishbrook, who was our technical advisor, and it was bloodcurdling. The first call we went to was a horrific car crash, in which three girls had been ejected from a car after hitting a wall head on. I’ve got to be honest: I don’t think I’ll ever get that image out of my head. I think Jake and Robert and I were rather stunned, watching it, but the gentleman who filmed it very professionally got out of the car, shot the footage, edited the footage within five minutes, downloaded it, and sold it to four television stations.

Gilroy:: How did you create the specific language that Lou uses?

Dan Gilroy:  Once I came up with the idea that he was socially maladjusted – probably somewhere on the spectrum of Asperger’s or autism, if you were going to diagnose him – and abandoned, and that he didn’t have any emotional support, I thought that the internet was really his family, and so everything he says is off the internet. It’s all things he’s memorizerod and recites back when he thinks it’s appropriate, but it often isn’t.  Everything comes out just a couple of degrees wrong, which is ultimately where the humour comes from, because half the stuff he says is absurd. There’s one line in there at the end, when Rick is demanding more money, and it’s all getting very tense. Rick uses a curse word, he says ‘f***’, and Lou says, ‘Do you know I’ve never once cursed in front of an employer?’ It makes no sense. It’s just absurd. He’s going back to some sort of respectable corporate behaviour that doesn’t have any bearing on what’s going on. He’s disconnected.

Gilroy:: At the station, are those real newscasters?

Dan Gilroy: Every newscaster in our film is an actual newscaster. These are the stars of LA local news.

Q: Did any of them hesitate to participate?

Dan Gilroy:  I asked them, ‘Have you read the script? Do you want to be involved in this?’ They all said, ‘Yeah!’ I think all of them were like, ‘That’s not our station – the other stations do that.’

Have the real night-crawlers seen the film yet?

Dan Gilroy:  Oh yeah, Howard saw it with his brothers – he works with his two brothers – and they loved it. They loved it because it was accurate. It was very important to them that it was accurate. They’ll say, ‘We don’t do that kind of stuff,’ but they wanted the police codes to be right, they wanted their jargon to be right. They said, ‘If we’re involved, it has to be real. You have to really show them what it’s like.’ It is utterly real. Everything we show, Bill Paxton’s character, people like that – I encountered them. This is the world they live in. Tonight they’ll go out. They’ll go out seven days a week.

How do you feel about the Oscar buzz that’s surrounding your film?

Dan Gilroy:It’s very heartening that people put us in that sort of category, but it’s nothing I think about or really try to pursue. I think it’s dangerous to step out and wave your hand and go, ‘Hey, here we are, look at us.’ I think once you try to put yourself into the spotlight, it could backfire. I just want people to find the film, and see what develops from it. If it develops into that then it would be wonderful, but it’s too early for me to think about it.

Nightcrawler is out in NZ cinemas on 27 November.