Again this week we bring you something a little different from the norm. There’s been a lot of hype about the new movie cop movie, End of Watch, which has been said to be an attempt at reinventing the genre. So instead of the classic review, we bring part of an edited Time Entertainment interview with the director, David Ayer by Nick Carbone.
What self-respecting director would enlist – nay, entrust – his actors to film their own scenes? Such an idea calls up memories of the nausea-inducing Blair Witch Project. But in seeking a bit of a technological shakeup, David Ayer, writer and director of police drama End of Watch …, strapped cameras to his two main stars and let them guide the story, about the Los Angeles Police Department, through their own eyes and movements as they patrol a particularly seedy section of the City of Angels.
Ayer, a veteran of cop-buddy films, has walked this beat before – he’s best-known for writing 2001’s Training Day starring Denzel Washington, also highlighting the inner workings of the LAPD. His goal was to add a modicum of authenticity and drama to the standard police-chasing-the-bad-guys flick. Which means, Ayer says, that by letting the actors film their own scenes as well as using actual cruiser-camera footage, acclaimed actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena became his “visual collaborators.”
TIME: What’s your fascination with the LAPD?
David Ayer: I grew up in South L.A. and I used to run from the cops during what I call the paleo-LAPD days. Now it’s a much different department than I saw growing up, but it’s always been a cutting-edge organization. It’s always been groundbreaking as far as law enforcement technology: the first air unit, first SWAT team, first guys to do radio dispatch cars, crime labs.
But it’s always been an understaffed agency that patrols a very large, very diverse area. Historically they started off recruiting former Marines, white guys, who had to be a certain height and a certain weight and well, a very similar appearance. And I’ve watched this organization evolve and seeing that evolution has been fascinating. Now it’s a department that reflects the people it polices, so you have this incredible sort of gender and ethnic diversity in its ranks that you didn’t have before. And as a filmmaker, they’ve got the coolest uniforms and they’ve got the coolest cars.
All of your films have portrayed very different sides of police officers. Training Day dealt with a rogue cop; whereas this one underscores the tension and emotion of the patrolling with a partner. Is it important to see so many different angles?
I wanted to take people on the inside. Behind that badge, it’s really a secret society, in the sense that outsiders never understand what it’s like inside that community.
It’s a closed-off culture because a lot of people are wary about cops, yet in dealing with them and knowing them as friends, they’re some of the coolest people I know. I’m comfortable with cops, they’re like children and dogs – they know who likes them. And they just have this amazing life wisdom that comes from what they see on the streets, and as a writer and as a storyteller, those are the kinds of people I’m attracted to. It’s two friends living their lives and getting married and having kids. Ironically, the movie actually tested better with older women than it did with young guys.
But surely that’s not the dominant tone of the movie. What makes this movie particularly gritty?
The streets are the streets. You’ve got bad guys roaming around, you’ve got [Hell’s Angels], you’ve got gangs, you’ve got drugs, all those problems are very real and I think that’s where it comes from. When soldiers deploy, they go into harm’s way for months at a time, but then they can come home and be safe and decompress. A cop will do that every day – go into harm’s way and come home, go into harm’s way and come home. And there’s sort of nobility in the guy that can pick himself up and hit the streets again.