Nightcrawler isn't just one of the best movies opening this fall, it's one of the best of the year. It scratches at the underbelly of our relationship with modern media by asking the question just who exactly films all the carnage we see on nightly news, and why is it even on the news in the first place? And as shocking (and darkly comedic) as the movie is to watch, it's a bit unnerving to know it's all based in the real world.
Jake Gyllenhaal's entrepreneurial sociopath who quickly learns the ropes of what makes for good footage is entirely writer-director Dan Gilroy's invention, but nightcrawlers are a very real thing. To better understand what it was like to live the life of someone who did such an unsavory job for a living, naturally Gilroy and Gyllenhaal had to do a bit of nightcrawling themselves.
The results sound utterly horrifying. We'll let Gilroy explain.
Movies.com: What was your first exposure to nightcrawlers as a job?
Dan Gilroy: The first real encounter was when Robert Elswit, our DP, and Jake [Gyllenhaal] and I went out with our technical advisor Howard Raishbrook, who is a real nightcrawler. We went out at night and the first thing he offered us was bulletproof vests before we got in his Crown Victoria.
You're driving around the city at 100 miles per hour with literally 10 scanners going. The first scene we got to was a horrific car accident in which three young girls had been ejected from a car at high speed and were severely injured, and it was very graphic and violent and searing. It was a very disturbing and unique view of life, particularly nocturnal life in Los Angeles. I found it disturbing but fascinating.
Movies.com: And would your technical advisor even remember that scene?
Gilroy: No. At night in Los Angeles it's very busy, particularly on a weekend. They're cherry-picking. They could go off and cover anything, but they're really picking ones that check off the most criteria, which is usually an innocent victim, which is what we used as our map in the movie. Howard has seen thousands of those things. I guess it's like an EMT worker or a veteran soldier. They somehow put up a mental barrier where it doesn't effect the other part of their life when they're not working.
Movies.com: Have you shown Howard the movie?
Gilroy: I did show Howard the movie and he loved it. Howard loved it! And that meant a lot to me, because one, accuracy was important. And two, to have the approval of someone who goes out every night and says "You really caught the spirit of what we do." Any negative light didn't bother him, because he'd never seen it in a movie before. The fact that he had a hand in the shaping of it meant a lot.
After learning about the real nightcrawler that showed them the ropes, we decided to look up Howard Raishbrook and, as expected, the man has been drawn to some truly crazy footage. For example, here's a video that seems like it could have been ripped right out of Nightcrawler. In it, Raishbrook happens to be filming when another car slammed into a stalled car on a freeway. He then rushes to the aid of the crash victim and the whole thing plays out on the surreal edge between life and sudden death.
Thankfully unlike most found-footage movies where you're screaming "Put down the camera!" Raishbrook actually puts down his camera and helps the man-- which is something Jake Gyllenhaal's character in Nightcrawler most definitely would not do (unless it made for some extra money).
Back in 2008 the Los Angeles Times actually did a mini profile on Howard and his brother Austin and it highlights just how close the cinematic world in Nightcrawler is to their real world. You see their competition (represented by Bill Paxton in the movie) go screaming by in their SUVs. There's the talk of how to get the right money shot, you see how they track police scanners and hear stories of how quickly things can become dangerous.
Nightcrawler hits theaters on October 31, 2014. Do not miss it.
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