Suspenseful chases and arrests, intriguing cases and close partners who would do anything to protect each other are some of the most important elements that contribute to successful police crime thrillers. The new film ‘End of Watch,’ which opened at number one last weekend during its first three days in theaters, has garnered praise from critics and audiences nationwide, for skillfully featuring all of those aspects. Most surprisingly was that the movie’s writer and director, David Ayer, brilliantly captured the intense action and chases, as well as the close personal and professional bonds between the main police officers, through the found footage format.
‘End of Watch’ follows two Los Angeles police officers, partners Brian Taylor (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (portrayed by Michael Pena), as they’re sent to patrol a new dangerous zone in South Central after being cleared for a lawful shooting. Brian, who is going back to school for pre-law, is videotaping their arrests and other daily duties for a filmmaking class he’s taking as an elective. Through hand-held equipment and dash cameras in their cruiser, the two officers capture the illegal happenings on the city’s toughest corners.
Brian and Mike’s lives as they know them are severely altered after they confiscate money and firearms from the members of a notorious cartel during a routine traffic stop. The officers know they’ve unintentionally encountered a dangerous case, but don’t realize how much danger their lives are truly in when the cartel plots its revenge. The two are too busy enjoy their friendship and personal lives, including Brian’s new serious relationship with Janet (played by Anna Kendrick) and Mike’s new child with his wife, Gabby (portrayed by Natalie Martinez), to realize the harm the gang sets out to put them in.
Ayer generously took the time to speak with us over the phone recently about filming ‘End of Watch.’ Among other things, the filmmaker discussed where he came up with the idea for the movie, why he decided to film in the found footage format and what the casting process for the main characters of the film, including Brian and Mike, was like.
ShockYa (SY): You wrote the screenplay for the new crime drama ‘End of Watch,’ Where did you come up with the idea for the story, and what kind of research did you do while you were writing the script?
David Ayer (DA): Well, I have a lot of friends who are cops, and they told me their stories and lives. I looked around at the cop program, and cop movies out there, and I felt like there’s a whole side of law enforcement that hadn’t really been talked about. So really, the inspiration for this came from my friends.
SY: Besides writing the screenplay for ‘End of Watch,’ you also served as the director. Why did you want to helm the film as well? Did you feel that writing the script helped you in your directorial duties once you began shooting the movie?
DA: I wrote the script fully intending that I was going to direct it. So I really wrote it for me. Due to that, I took chances with it that I probably normally wouldn’t as a writer.
When you go in and direct, you want the best possible script that you can get. I feel that’s what I got in this case.
SY: Before working on ‘End of Watch,’ you previously written and/or directed several crime dramas, including ‘Training Day,’ ‘S.W.A.T.’ and ‘Harsh Times.’ What is it about the genre that you enjoy so much, and did you draw on your experience from your previous films while you were making ‘End of Watch?’
DA: Yeah, I’ve done a lot of cop movies, and I hate getting typecast. But for me, it’s about telling better and better stories. I feel ‘End of Watch’ is the next evolution of storytelling. I can take what I learned there, and take it to any genre.
But when you’re telling with cops it’s inherently dramatic. They’re armed, they can take your freedom away. They go into danger and harm’s way every single day. The dram’s built in. I’m sure I can make a fantastic movie about accountants, but I don’t know if it would have the same impact.
SY: ‘End of Watch’ was made in the found footage format, which has primarily been used, and found success, in the horror genre. Why did you decide to film in the found footage format for ‘End of Watch’-did you feel that it would add to, and benefit, the story?
DA: Well, it’s sort of a hybrid, partial found footage and partial not. I don’t know if there are rules about that, but I wanted to shoot the movie the best way to tell the story. Sometimes it made more sense for the cameras to be held the actors, so they can tell their own stories as these characters. But what it does is put the audience inside the world, and makes it a very experiential experience for the audience.
SY: Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play the two main characters in ‘End of Watch,’ police officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zaval, respectively. What was the casting process like for the two characters, and why did you decide to hire Jake and Michael?
DA: Well, Jake really chased the project. He read the script, and I think he really connected with it. He was ready to do something different. It was an easy choice to make-he’s really talented, and he has a great heart. Jake’s not your typical action guy that you would see in these kinds of movies. I wanted to find someone with a little more soul.
Then we had to find the right partner for him for the movie, and it all came down to Michael Pena. It’s hard to think of anyone else playing that role.
SY: Jake and Michael seemed to have a close working relationship while filming ‘End of Watch.’ Do you think that helped the film, and what was their working relationship like while you were shooting?
DA: Yeah, for me, the movie from the start was always going to be about that bond that partners have, and that friendship that’s really unique to military and law enforcement. I knew the movie would only work if these guys became best friends and true partners.
A lot went into making that happen, and it took months and months of prep, about five months of prep. We spent a lot of time with the police and learned the tactics.
SY: Like you said, Jake and Michael rode with real Los Angeles police officers for five months before you began shooting, in order to prepare for their roles. Why did you feel it was so important for them to do such extensive research, and do you think it helped with their acting?
DA: Yeah, it was absolutely crucial. We wanted it to be the most realistic cop movie ever. These guys did an incredible amount of work, and they really felt like cops. I didn’t want them to feel like actors in costume, I really wanted it to feel like real L.A. police officers.
We had a lot of support from the department, and great tech advisers. They did a fantastic job.
SY: What was the casting process like for the rest of the cast, like Anna Kendrick and America Ferrera, who played Officer Orozco, since they were the supporting characters?
DA: With America, it was the same as Jake, she had gotten the script, and wanted to meet about it. I assumed she would want the bigger role of Mike’s wife, but she actually wanted to play this female cop. That was a very easy decision, I think she’s a fantastic actress. I was honored that she wanted to come onto the project like that.
Then with Anna Kendrick, I did a music video (LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Pow Pow’) with her. She’s so much fun to work with, and I wanted to cast her against type a little bit, and have her play a more dramatic role. She’s just unbelievably talented.
SY: One of the main themes in ‘End of Watch’ is the difference in the lives of several races, including Brian being Caucasian and Michael being Mexican. Was it important to you to highlight those differences, and do you think it helped drive the plot forward?
DA: Well, I grew up in a Mexican-American neighborhood, and my wife’s Mexican, so it’s a world I know really well. I wanted a positive Mexican-American guy who’s just a normal, good guy. You don’t see it with that specificity.
So it was always my intention to have that as part of the friendship. They’re so different, but those differences don’t really mean anything.
SY: ‘End of Watch’ has been garnering positive reviews from critics, and was number one at the box office during its opening weekend. What’s the feeling like, knowing that critics and fans are both embracing the film?
DA: It’s exciting. It’s basically an independent movie, but any movie’s a gamble. With every movie, you hope people want to see it, and it finds an audience. In this case, it did. It’s nice people are drawn to good characters. That’s what this movie is, it’s Jake and Mike.
SY: What kind of feedback have you been getting from people who have seen the film so far?
DA: It’s been really positive. The cops in general are very happy with the movie. They feel like they can show the people their lives, and a little bit of what their world is like. I think people really enjoy the relationships and the friendships that are depicted.
SY: Like you mentioned, the movie was more of an independent film. Did that pose any difficulties or challenges while you were filming?
DA: Just money. In that world, you get less resources, and you have to be a lot smarter about how you put the movie together.
SY: If you could have received more money, would there be anything you would have wanted to add while you were filming?
DA: No, no. If I had more money, I just would have wanted a little more time here and there for the action. But the movie as it stands is something I’m very, very proud of.
SY: Do you have any upcoming projects lined up, whether writing or directing, lined up that you can discuss?
DA: Yeah, I’m directing a film, ‘Breacher,’ with Arnold Schwarzenegger. We start shooting in a couple weeks. He plays a DEA supervisor who is not on the best path in life.
Written by: Karen Benardello