Dan Gilroy has had a successful career as a screenwriter starting with Freejack in 1992 and going on to include films like The Fall (2006), Real Steel (2011), and Kong: Skull Island (2017). His latest film, Velvet Buzzsaw, premieres at Sundance later this month and is Gilroy’s third effort as director too. His second, 2017’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. was something of a misfire, but his debut as director remains a stunner.
That debut, of course, is 2014’s Nightcrawler. The film is a darkly humorous blast of honesty exploring the world of late-night news stringers in Los Angeles racing throughout the city to capture the most eye-catching footage for carnage-thirty news channels and audiences. It runs nearly two hours but remains as tight as a drum in its singular focus on its lead character, and it’s as fantastic a debut as Gilroy could have hoped for.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
Commentators: Dan Gilroy (writer/director), Tony Gilroy (producer), John Gilroy (editor)
1. The idea came to Dan after he heard about a crime reporter in the 1930s who was the first to put a “police scanner” in his car, take photos of crime and accident scenes, and then sell them to the papers. “I thought it was a very interesting intersection between commerce and crime. Before I could do anything with it Joe Pesci made a film called The Public Eye” which effectively killed that specific idea. He moved to LA afterward and learned about the present-day “nightcrawlers” which became the basis for the story.
2. Dan knew he wanted to direct the film after writing it, and as it would be his directorial debut he turned to his brother Tony for help. He sent the script to Tony who thought Dan wanted him to direct, and Tony reluctantly began convincing himself to do so as he was on a break from filmmaking, but a call to Dan cleared up the confusion and Tony happily supported his brother’s move into directing.
3. Dan’s first meeting with Jake Gyllenhaal saw the actor ask the writer how he saw this character. “I see it as a success story,” said Dan, and Gyllenhaal burst out laughing as he agreed 100%. They both loved the idea of “eliminating any of the classic moral labels” that would typically define a character.
4. Tony points out that the character of Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a lead with no back story. “I’ve never been involved in anything where the character came from nowhere.”
5. Gyllenhaal lost 28 pounds for the role, and it wasn’t something the filmmakers were immediately on board with. “He saw the character as a coyote so there was a symbolic element.” He had done something similar on his preceding film, Prisoners, by adding an eye-tic to his character — a choice those filmmakers were initially at odds with too — but Dan felt since Gyllenhaal trusted his script he should trust the actor.
6. Paparazzi caught a photo of Gyllenhaal in his man-bun and the photo appeared in People magazine along with a poll showing that most Americans did not approve.
7. The film was shot over 28 nights.
8. Dan wrote the part of news producer Nina Romina for Rene Russo who coincidentally enough is his wife.
9. They filmed the early newsroom scenes at Los Angeles’ KTLA studios. “They were going to kick us out if a big story broke.”
10. Cinematographer Robert Elswit is Gyllenhaal’s godfather.
11. The scene where Lou sells the fridge footage to Nina over Frank’s (Kevin Rahm) sweater-vested objection was filmed on sound stages owned by the Scientology Center. It’s one of the oldest sound stages in LA dating back to 1919.
12. Dan’s note to Gyllenhaal for the scene where Lou reveals his grand career plan to Nina was to do it as if he was proposing to her. “That’s a really good note.”
13. The shot of Lou on the studio’s camera monitor sitting at the anchor desk was Elswit’s suggestion.
14. The plant that Lou waters in his apartment was originally a dog in the script. Both were meant solely to keep Lou from being too unlikable, but they switched it as the dog kept getting in the way.
15. Apparently Riz Ahmed, who plays Rick, was unfamiliar with Bed Bath & Beyond and pronounces it oddly at the red light stop at 39:54. “Someone corrected him and every take that he did it the right way and wasn’t nearly as good,” so they stuck with the first take.
16. The “burn” is the amount over budget you spend in a day, and they had a $40k burn the night they filmed the Mexican restaurant scene between Lou and Nina as the pair was doing such great work they just kept going.
17. The scene where Lou yells into the mirror and slams it closed wasn’t supposed to end with the mirror shattering. “And two seconds after he walked out of the shot it was apparent that he sliced open a good two inches of his palm.”
18. Tony doesn’t like the part of the home invasion scene where Lou enters the nursery because there’s no baby anywhere.
19. A fourth Gilroy appears at 1:08:30 when John’s daughter Carolyn Gilroy appears as Nina’s assistant Jenny.
20. They compare the news sequence where Lou’s home invasion footage is broadcast with news anchor commentary guided by Nina’s voice in their ear to the similar scene — producer in the ear piece — in James L.Brook’s masterpiece Broadcast News.
21. Several actors auditioned for the character of Rick, but while most played him as a laid-back, pot-smoking surfer dude Dan loved how Ahmed’s audition played him far sadder.
22. It was Tony’s suggestion to have Rick point out while following the killers in the SUV that Lou’s car is red and therefore not great for following so closely.
23. The diner scene with the two shooters eating within saw competing opinions from the film’s technical police advisers. One said the police would wait for backup and then enter in a line, shotguns at the ready, but another recalled that when he was a street cop he and his partner would enter the establishment and order at the counter as a way of vetting the veracity of the call. They went with the latter as it aided the suspense better.
24. They closed down ten blocks of Laurel Blvd for a few nights to capture the police chase.
25. The choice to have the shooter exit the crashed SUV after shooting Rick, only to see Lou and not shoot him, was viewed as questionable by some. Dan defends it saying he saw it as “professional courtesy… one animal looks at another and goes ‘you’re not worth it.'”
26. Lou’s interview with the detective after the police chase saw Gyllenhaal staying in character and challenging Michael Hyatt‘s Det. Frontieri. “There was definitely tension while they were doing this scene because he was very in character, like go ahead, try to get it out of me.”
27. The crane shot that ends the film is meant to suggest that Lou is a virus “and that he was now going to spread and infect the rest of us.”
28. Some filmmakers stay through the end credits to continue talking or to thank the people listed, but Dan cannot wait to end the commentary and wraps it up quickly as soon as the credits start.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“We’re going to alternate between diminishing their work and taking credit for it throughout the film.”
“We didn’t need John Gilroy to get the movie made.”
“I loved the bun.”
“This is a primer if you ever want to ask a woman on a date.”
“I don’t usually use language like that, but Bill’s dropping the dick in there and it’s a good choice on Bill’s part.”
“This scene is still going on. I’m sick of this scene.”
“It goes on a beat more than you think.”
“There’s Ted Bundy.”
Nightcrawler remains a fantastically dark look at our voyeuristic impulses, and it pulls zero punches in its condemnation. It’s also very, very funny, so make of that what you will. The commentary offers up a solid insight into Dan Gilroy’s intentions alongside interesting contributions from his brothers Tony and John. A terrific film, and a very good listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.