Nightcrawler marks the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy and the film has already made quite an impact – both with the public and with critics. On the eve of the film’s release here in Australia, I spoke with Dan about his background and the film itself. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.
Matt: Your older brother is an Academy Award nominated director and your twin brother is an editor who worked on this film. How is it that all of you decided to pursue a career in the film industry?
Dan: Our father is a playwright and we all wanted to make independent films when we were growing up. After college, my brothers became bartenders and I was a waiter. We eventually decided that if we wanted to find a professional career, the movie business seemed as good a place as any given what we knew.
Matt: This is a film that has something to say about the public’s fascination with certain types of news stories and the way networks use fear to boost ratings. Was there a particular event that inspired the screenplay?
Dan: There wasn’t a specific event. What inspired the screenplay was hearing about people who did this job. When I researched the world of nightcrawlers, it led me into this other world of local television news which then becomes a more detailed analysis of the idea of selling fear. I became fascinated by the entire system.
Matt: Can you tell us about the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s a fantastic actor but was there something about him that made you think he was suited to the role of Lou Bloom?
Dan: I, like many people, have been a fan of Jake going back to Brokeback Mountain. Five years ago, he came out publicly and said that he was turning his back on Hollywood mainstream films to do things that were more personal and had more meaning to him. I had written this script as a very personal film and not only do I love Jake as an actor, I’d become very intrigued with him as an artist and someone who wanted to push himself into places where you don’t normally see such a high profile actor.
He was right at the top of my list. His agent read the script and sent it to him. I flew to Atlanta while he was filming Prisoners and we had a very productive 5 hour dinner where it became apparent that we were creatively in tune and wanted to work together.
Matt: Where did you come up with some of this dialogue? Lou speaks in such a robotic like manner and he’s continually using phrases that feel like they’re straight out of a self-help book.
Dan: You’re right. He’s a character who I don’t give you too much information about. I knew that he had an implied story of abandonment and abuse. He was probably raised alone, unschooled and with a computer nearby. I just imagined that he had gone online and with a photographic memory, he started learning a corporate / human resources way of speaking. It became his bible, his mantra.
Matt: I saw a comment on Twitter just yesterday (Myke Bartlett) from someone who said that “Nightcrawler is a film that implicates the viewer, not just for our taste in news but by making us cheer on its hero.” I’m curious about your thoughts on that? Is Lou a bad guy? Or just a slave to the corporate news system like so many others?
Dan: Lou is a dangerously maladjusted individual who is dangerous to society. Jake and I approached him with love because we wanted to find a more human landscape rather than make him a simple psychopath. We also approached it as a success story and that’s what makes it so unnerving for the viewer.
We’re not celebrating what he did but we want people at the end of the film to say to themselves “hey, wait a minute, maybe the problem isn’t Lou… maybe the problem is the world that creates and rewards Lou, and hey, I’m of that world.” The audience needs to ask themselves if they do watch these images and they do drive these ratings up. Are the part of this entire system and this problem? It’s an indictment on society.
Matt: The relationship between Lou and Nina is the film is interesting. There’s an implication that the pair have been romantic but we don’t see any of that on screen. Was there a deliberate reason for that?
Dan: Yeah, it came from the idea that the Lou had no backstory. I always felt that anything I showed you that was of a personal nature was going to have tremendous resonance. I didn’t want to specifically define what is sexual desires were and I couldn’t imagine writing any scene that would compete with whatever the audience imagined was going on. I think each person would imagine something different in some horrible way.
Matt: I thought the use of music in the film was interesting. It felt quite light, upbeat in places given the heavy nature of the material. Is it a contrast you were asking for from composer James Newton Howard?
Dan: Yeah, that’s a great comment and a lot of people don’t pick up on it. The score is utterly counterpoint from a moral standpoint to what’s going on in the film. Every cue is a celebration. What James and I talked about is that it’s really the music in Lou’s deranged head that you’re hearing. If it was an objective score, it would have had much darker undertones. We don’t do that. It’s a subversive score in the sense that we’re trying to connect the audience to Jake’s character and follow this journey and become involved with it.
We have NOT allowed the audience to say “oh, this is like American Psycho where he’s just a psychopath. “ Once you say it’s just a character study about a deranged person who “came out the factory defective”, you lose a lot of thematic relevance. I like taking the audience to the very end of the film and leaving them asking questions like “who was he?” and “why was I still involved in it?” and “what does this say about the world?” That was very much the design.
Matt: So much of the film is shot at night in Los Angeles. How easy was it to find great locations and capture the action so clearly?
Dan: I think Los Angeles is a great place to find locations because it’s so big and so spread out. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t shooting here right now. The other advance of shooting in Los Angeles at night is that there’s no traffic! Everyone in Los Angeles goes to bed very early and the streets are almost empty by 10pm in most places. It allows you to move around with a freedom that is very unusual. You can’t do it in New York, Philadelphia or Chicago – these are cities that are open 24 hours a day.
Matt: The awards season is about to kick off in Hollywood and Nightcrawler just earned 5 nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards including best first feature. What do you make of the whole awards season race? Is it something you take a lot of satisfaction from to see the film recognised in that way?
Dan: It’s tremendously satisfying and gratifying to see people nominating us for awards. I think there’s a danger if you get too caught up in it at this early stage because it’s a legitimate horse race and you don’t know what the twists and turns are going to be. I think some people are more invested in it than I am.
For me, as a first time filmmaker who made a film for $8.5m and has gotten a very positive response, I feel that I’ve won already. It sounds like a bit of a cliché but if nothing else positive happens for this film, I’ll still feel gratified.
Matt: This is your first feature so I’ll finish up by asking what have you got in the works as a follow up?
Dan: I’m currently writing another script for me to direct. It’s set in Los Angeles and it’s got another strong character in the middle of it. It’s another world and I’d like to make it for an even lower budget. I’m at the early stages of research so I’ve got 4-5 months of research ahead of me and then another couple of months of writing after that. It’ll be a while before it’s done but I’d like to do that next.