Nightcrawler: How Dan Gilroy Made The Most Original Film Of The Year

'Nightcrawler' director Dan Gilroy takes us inside the Oscar-nominated crime classic

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Dan Gilroy, 55, is the man behind last year's creepiest neo-noir, Nightcrawler – the story of an obsessive and disturbed video newsman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who uses LA's headline-worthy tragedies to claw his way to the top.

With an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay under his belt, Gilroy explains exactly how the film was put together and why he chose that Challenger SRT8 392. 


What was it like making the film?
I knew that as a first-time director, the budget would have to be under $10 million. Actors get movies made, in terms of financing, so I decided to write what I thought was a strong character study. Jake Gyllenhaal read it and responded to it, and we had a very strong collaborative relationship.

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Where did the idea come from for the character?
It came from hearing about these people who do this job, at night in Los Angeles. I became interested in the world and I kept trying to write about it over a number of years, trying out conspiracies or murder mysteries, and I kept going very plot-heavy, so I thought: 'I’m gonna zero in on a character'. Then I was watching King of Comedy and it occured to me: ‘Wow, an anti-hero is a very interesting equation'. That’s when it all made sense and came together.

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There’s nothing about Lou Bloom that’s redeemable. Why is that?
It’s a cautionary tale. I never wanted to punish Lou. I wanted to reward him in the way I feel people like Lou are being rewarded right now. I wanted the audience to think, ‘Wait a minute, maybe the problem isn’t Lou, maybe the problem is the world that creates the Lou, or rewards this character.’

I believe the socioeconomic disparity between wealthy and impoverished has grown to such a point that it’s unconscionable, and I believe it’s because there are people like Lou, who are leaving their humanity behind, and taking advantage of people who they can exploit. If you came back 10 years after the movie ended, I believe Lou would be running a major company.

What was it about shooting in L.A. at night that appealed to you?
I think Los Angeles is a very beautiful city. Shooting at night in Los Angeles is amazing. The city shuts down at 10pm every night and a whole different cast of characters comes out. To me it’s magical and my cinematographer [Robert Elswit] and I wanted to capture this raw, wild, sort of untamed spirit, that I found to be relevant to the film.

Which films did you take inspiration from?
Films that had anti-heroes. King of Comedy, To Die For, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ace in the Hole. In terms of the cinematic style of the film, the only thing that I tried to reference was the chase scenes from films like Bullitt and The French Connection.

I think what you’ll see is the camera stays in the hero's car, with the hero, as much as possible. What that does is put the viewer in the car and creates more tension.

How important was Lou’s Challenger SRT8 392? Why did you give him a red sports car?
I imagine Lou picked the red Challenger because it was like a Hot Wheels car. It was supposed to be an indication, subconsciously, that he’s suffering from arrested development. If you really look in Lou’s apartment, there are a couple of brief moments where he has little dinosaur toys on his desk. It never came through as much as I wanted it to in the script, but the idea was that he is a bit of a child.

What was the thinking in leaving out Lou’s backstory?
By not knowing anything about the character, I felt the audience again was leaning forward, trying to pick up any grain of information that might get passed on. ‘What did he just say? He used to be a male hooker?’.

How did you choose the soundtrack?
The first thing I said to our composer James Newton Howard was, ‘the music in this film is the music in Lou’s head. It’s his internal soundtrack.’ We never wanted to pass moral judgment on his character, so we had this uplifting, soaring score that is playing inside Lou’s head, because that’s how disconnected he is with the world.

Which scene was the most difficult to shoot?
From a creative standpoint, the Mexican restaurant, because it’s such a pivotal scene. We shot all day and partially into the night, and it was just a question of finding all the tonal shadings that were going on. There’s an enormous power shift that happens in the course of that scene where facades get stripped down, and things get revealed in an odd way.

You and Jake rehearsed before you started shooting. What came out of those sessions?
A big part of it was the suggestion that Lou often seems very affable and engaging. He’s so smart that he understands smiling is a much wiser way to go through life than wearing any sort of scowling, angry expression that would indicate that he was a dangerous person. Often, it’s the scenes where you think the character would be yelling or angry that he actually gets very quiet and is utterly disarming. That’s where we found him to be the most dangerous.

Nightcrawler is available to own on DVD and Blu-ray from 2nd March,

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