Screen talks to End Of Watch director and producer ahead of its world premiere in Toronto.
David Ayer’s fascination with law enforcement and the South Los Angeles milieu has resulted in arguably his most kinetic work yet as director in the form of End Of Watch. Exclusive Media committed to the project at script stage and financed, produced and handled international sales before Emmett/Furla Films came on board to finance a portion. Open Road acquired US rights in February and will release on Sept 21. Producers are John Lesher, Ayer and Exclusive Media’s Nigel Sinclair and Matt Jackson.
Why were you drawn to writing this story and how did you write it?
David Ayer: I’ve got a lot of friends in law enforcement and as a dramatist there are always enhanced stakes in policing – it’s life and death and there’s the potential for violence. You have the power to take someone’s freedom away for the rest of their lives. There’s a closeness with partners that you don’t see except for in the military: it’s closer than brothers.
I wrote it in December 2010. In its original conception it started out as a found footage movie. I wrote the script in six days; it sort of exploded out of me. I fell in love with these characters. We did it in the independent space, which kept the integrity of it. Within a couple of months of writing it, Jake was on board. We had to find the right partner for him and that started a large search. We got Mike Pena – he’s so gifted and the next thing you know I was shooting it. By September the movie was in the can.
You shot the film in 25 days in August 2011 using special cameras.
DA: I modified the SI-2K camera system to create the intense POV shots of the protagonists. I wanted to put the camera where you could normally put a cell phone camera but not a traditional camera. I asked people to build a small camera housing and they rose to the challenge. All told it was size of a pack of smokes, so we could mount the camera on these vests that a friend designed. The camera goes on to the vest or is held on a fishing rod or stick and dangles between the actors. It’s only limited by your imagination.
Some describe this as a found footage movie but there are certain parameters with that genre
DA: There are rules about found footage like who’s holding the camera but it doesn’t matter and I did it the way I wanted. I just want it to be real. Everything that’s happened in that movie is based on things that have actually happened. I have always been fascinated with the idea of basically going to war and then going home to your family. It’s that cycle that fascinated me and I wanted to show two young, good guys wrestling with this.
How did Gyllenhaal and Pena prepare?
DA: They went on ride-alongs with several different police divisions. They spent a lot of time on the street and in South Los Angeles and saw how the police deal with [the area]. They didn’t want to be two actors in a police car: they learned the law, use of force, firearms training, tactics. We trained them in emergency driving tactics on an LAPD driving track. It was five months of prep and training but it’s that familiarity that makes the movie.
What was it like filming in South Los Angeles?
DA: We shot the movie in Newton. It’s a very intense part of the city and there are believed to be around 300 gangs operating in the area. But we had no problems there. My wife comes from there and I know the area well.
How were Exclusive as partners?
DA: They’re fantastic. I told them I wanted to break the rules about storytelling and shoot it in the neighbourhood and do it on a ridiculously low budget and they said, “We’re in.”
What’s next for you?
DA: I’ve really found my voice and have found my place to make films [the indie world] where you can take risks. Ten starts shooting on Oct 15 and I’m going to reinvent Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m going to drop jaws with that one.
David has a very intense vision. How did you deal with that?
Nigel Sinclair: It was clear David had a singular vision. It was clear to me we interfered at our peril, so we made a policy decision not to interfere. End Of Watch was a very intense tale with what was, no doubt, quite a dark ending; as the creative team came together David, working with his actors, developed it to make it richer and more fulfilling, without losing any of the intensity. Very impressive to watch the story fill out and grow.
How did the international buyers respond?
NS: Jake has an international following and he’s very good at promoting his films. He’s very popular with the buyers. We said this was a post-American cop movie. It transcends genre. It has all the excitement but it has a human story that will translate into other countries.
How did Open Road get involved?
NS: They are a young company and everyone who is there has made a choice to be at a new company. When we screened it there were various bidders at the reception afterwards and Tom Ortenberg stayed there and didn’t leave while the bidding was getting heated. I was impressed by that. Right from the beginning it was clear he wanted this movie. We arranged to bring Jake, David and John Lesher [Pena couldn’t make the meeting] into a meeting with them and from that point forward it has been a very open process. They bring more open-mindedness to get talent involved in the marketing. The campaign is cool.”