Director and Los Angeles native David Ayer talks about his gritty new film, his amazing cast and upcoming projects
David Ayer has come up from the hard streets of South Central Los Angeles to become a very talented filmmaker. The first two films he wrote, U-571 and The Fast and the Furious were successful, but Ayer's breakthrough came with smash-mouth screenplay, Training Day, a film for which Denzel Washington received his first Academy Award for his ruthless portrayal of Alonzo Harris. From that point on, Ayer continued leading us through the underbelly of Los Angeles in films like Dark Blue and his directorial debut Harsh Times. His latest film, Street Kings, comes to DVD and Blu-Ray on August 19, and I had a chance to chat with the director over the phone. Here's what he had to say.
This is the first time that you haven't done any writing on a film. Was it kind of odd not being in on that process for this film?
David Ayer: Yeah. They did a lot of the writing but I also had the opportunity to work with (co-writer) Jamie Moss a lot and Kurt Wimmer. It' s like, you're the director, you want to get your views enshrined in the script and a script is always a moving target anyway. You're never really done working on the script until the whole movie is in the can.
The script was originally written in the mid-90s, in the wake of the O.J. Simpson trial. Did it go through a pretty extensive process and were you involved in modernizing it for this movie?
David Ayer: Yeah. I think Kurt Wimmer really brought it into its present form. It was a really interesting story before that, all about the O.J. verdict and it was really about that sort of old breed, Mark Fuhrman-esque sort of L.A.P.D. personality that James (Ellroy) is known for. Through various stages, the script got updated and modernized and we went with sort of a present-day execution.
You have just a huge cast here with Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans, Common, Naomie Harris. I could go on forever. What was the casting process like for this and what did they bring to the roles?
David Ayer: Well, the casting process is like swinging for the outfield. We got lucky because, to get such amazing people together, that was one of the best parts for me, to get the opportunity to work with such great people, personalities and great actors. I really learned a lot from the process.
I really enjoyed the film and it really seemed like it had James Ellroy's brand of noir mixed with your gritty urban feel. Was that the sort of feel you were going for with the whole feel of the film?
David Ayer: Yeah. I mean, it's sort of hard making any movie. You're sort of chasing something and I really wanted to bring in the L.A. I know and understand and, at the same time, the very specific voice James Ellroy has and I tried to preserve that as much as possible. His plots are pretty well-known and I really wanted to preserve that James Ellroy plotting that was in the script.
Do you have a favorite memory from the set of a scene that was the most challenging to film?
David Ayer: Wow (Laughs). You know, directing is like going to war and we didn't have a long schedule and every day had its own sorts of challenges. As far as a particular day, I don't know. It all sort of blends together as combat, but I had some great days. I love the helicopter stuff. I got up in the helicopter and I had never gotten the opportunity to do that before and working with the special effects and gun stuff we did, the splitting, was really interesting to have happen. Maybe some of the split days were heinous because there's so much timing involved and so much preparation and so much turnaround time between shots we rig and rig safely that, when you call 'Action," a lot of moving parts happen that have to mesh perfectly or else you don't have a shot. That sort of nerve-wracking quality can be a little tough.
The film's title was changed kind of quietly from The Night Watchman to Street Kings. Was that something that you guys were pushing for or was it something the studio was going for?
David Ayer: People weren't connecting with the title The Night Watchman at all. We tested the title and it tested really poorly and so we sort of started seeking out something that reflected the spirit of the film and the energy of the film, so we got Street Kings.
So it had nothing to do with Zack Snyder's "Watchmen"?
David Ayer: Like we were trying to clear out of the way? No. At the end of the day, that was the registered title of the script and we could've gone with it, but people's reaction was like, 'Hey, it's about a security car.'
(Laughs) O.K. That makes sense. So, almost all your films are set and filmed in L.A. Do you film in the sorts of neighborhoods that you grew up in and has that community really embraced you and your films?
David Ayer: Yeah. We filmed in South Central and east L.A. and I'm a local. On the set, people could walk through. We're they're guests so it doesn't make sense to sort of be exclusive or lock people out of their own neighborhoods. It's never a problem.
A lot of your films don't paint a pretty picture of the L.A.P.D. Have you gotten any negative backlash from that at all, from any of your movies?
David Ayer: No, because at the end of the day, it's fiction. I could make a movie about the perfect cop but, I guess the question is, is that going have the inherent drama of a policeman with questionable morals, and they understand that. It's a genre. It's fiction. It's just a movie.
Is there anything you can tell us about the new Fast and Furious project you're on?
David Ayer: I don't know. I mean, I just wanted to do a little script work, that's all. A little dialogue work, but it's getting really good. I think it's definitely going to be a call back to the original that got everyone so excited in the first place.
So is it basically a sequel to that original? I read that Vin Diesel is directing a prequel to the fourth movie.
David Ayer: Yeah. That's the thing is... I don't know. I'm not authorized to discuss that (Laughs). It's going to be good, though. I guarantee it. It's going to be really good.
I also read that you wanted to remake "The Wild Bunch". Is that anything that's in the works right now or is there anything else you can tell us about?
David Ayer: Um, no. "The Wild Bunch" was something that I was developing and kind of never got off the ground. Plus, it's hallowed ground, you know. Currently, I'm working on a remake of The Wild Geese right now. This guy Rupert Sanders is going to direct it, a British director and that's my current job.
So are you just working on that script right now then?
David Ayer: Yeah, yeah. I'm not directing, I'm just doing the script work.
Most of your films are gritty and violent. Is there any chance of you doing a comedy in the near future, or horror or sci-fi?
David Ayer: Yes. The answer is yes (Laughs).
Any specific ideas for any of those?
David Ayer: None that I can talk about.
Finally, Street Kings, sadly, didn't make a big dent at the box office. Now that it's on DVD, for those who might not have seen it, what would you like to say to those to give it a chance on DVD?
David Ayer: Oh. You're going to be surprised. It's a solid movie and you're going to be very surprised. There's more there than you think.
That's about all I have for you, David. Thanks so much for your time and I'm looking forward to your upcoming projects.
David Ayer: Great. Thank you very much.
Street Kings hits the DVD shelves hard on DVD today, August 19.