Terminal Lance exclusive interview with David Ayer on “End of Watch”

September 21, 2012

Director/Writer/Badass David Ayer was kind enough to talk with me a bit about his new film “End of Watch,” which opens today. I worked closely with David over the summer on his current project, he’s a down-to-earth guy that you wouldn’t expect to be such an auteur filmmaker at first glance. However, he’s a very real and demanding director with clear vision, he knows what works and isn’t afraid to ask for it.

David Ayer

David Ayer probably best known for being the writer behind Training Day, End of Watch being his 3rd directorial debut.
Max: You’re former Navy, can you talk briefly about your MOS and service?

David: In the Navy we have NEC’s (Naval Enlisted Classification)  I was an 0412 which was an AN/BQQ-5B Victor 2 Submarine Sonar Operator.  (Sorry you asked.)  In simple terms I tracked bad guys underwater.

Max: How did you manage to go from the Navy to being  a screenwriter/director?

David: Transitioning from the service to Hollywood was unplanned.  I was a construction guy after I got out and got lucky and found a mentor.  I didn’t go to college or anything like that.  I got lucky but had the skills and discipline to back it up.

Max: How has your military experience informed your filmmaking?

David: The closest to a deployed unit I have seen since the Navy is a film crew.  It’s three AM and you go from talking about girls and football to full blown shit hitting the fan mode.  But there’s less lifers bitching about your boot shine and gig line.  The biggest thing I missed from the military was the sense of mission, the camaraderie and the willingness to get the job done.  In a way I’ve found a new home.

Max: Was it an inside joke that Jake Gyllenhaal is seen here playing an ex-Marine? (Referring of course to his performance in Jarhead; Jake also strangely played the brother of a Marine in “Brothers”)

David: Jarhead was a different kind of movie.  That’s all I’ll say about that.  But a lot of former Devildogs go into Law Enforcement.  There’s definitely a Marine Mafia in several departments.  One of my tech advisors, Nick Chacon was a former Marine who got hit pretty bad downrange and transitioned into LAPD.

Max: End of Watch definitely takes advantage of the found-footage aesthetic. This seems largely appropriate for a cop film of this nature, but is this something you plan to use in the future?

David: The found footage thing can be overused sometimes.  It worked in this case, but if I do it again the critics might cut up my Director’s Guild card.

Max: The cinematography in End of Watch is very chaotic, yet the film is structured and told in a way that is controlled and makes sense. Is there ever a struggle between maintaining this chaotic aesthetic and control over the film?

David: I think chaos is beauty.  A good story always begins with structure.  There’s a beginning and middle and an end.  Even in the craziest moments there is order and it’s there for a purpose.  I wanted to show the madness and confusion of contact with the “enemy”.

Max: I think one of the things that makes this film so enduring is the chemistry between the two main characters. How much of the dialog in the film is scripted and how much were the actors allowed to improv the performance?

David: The movie is about those friendships that only seem to occur in uniformed service in harm’s way.  I wanted to show the closeness and trust that forms even between people from very different worlds.  Mike and Jake just killed it.  They trained for months to get that relationship as natural and believable as it is.  It feels natural and unscripted but most of the shit-talking is scripted.

Max: How much was the actual LAPD involved in making this film?

David: LAPD was a big help.  From the line officers who helped us get the details right to the training cadre who help get my actors locked on.  We even shot in an active LAPD station.  I don’t know if that’s happened before.  At the end of the day it’s a hugely positive depiction of LAPD and they recognized that the public needs a different and honest take on police officers.

Max: How does it feel to see the film getting such a great response? (Currently 85% on Rotten Tomatoes)

David: It’s weird.  I’m a bit of a pessimist by nature, I like to manage my expectations.  I’m glad people get it and it shows you can do something different and still be successful.

Max: What’s your favorite military movie?

David: Apocalypse Now.  Then Dr. Strangelove is number 2.

Max: What’s your favorite Terminal Lance comic?

David: The “Welcome to the Fleet comic.”  The difference between POGs and grunts.  It reminded me of hitting the fleet as a shiny new sonarman.  You’re pretty useless and thereby hated when you report to your first boat.  They call you a “NUB” — A non-useful body.  But it’s like the Lion King, newer guys show up with their seabags and you become the old lion.

Max: Waffles or pancakes?

David: Really?  Pancakes, dude.  No question.

Max: Can you talk at all about your current project, “Ten”?

David: Arnold Scharzenegger and Sam Worthington play federal agents on a high-speed tactical team.  Kind of like Band of Brothers meets SWAT.  It’s going to crazy so stand-the-fuck-by!

Max: Thank you for your time, you’re fucking awesome and I love you.

Make sure you check out End of Watch, opening tonight! David and his crew are a great bunch of guys, Jake and Michael give an amazing performance and I think it’s the kind of movie that most veterans would appreciate. It’s as real as it gets.

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