Nightcrawler explores the world of L.A. crime journalism, as an amoral man, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), driven to get headliner stories for a ratings-obsessed news director, Nina Romina (Renee Russo), blurs the line between observer and participant. Helmed by his fraternal twin, writer/director Dan Gilroy, editor John Gilroy was tasked with putting the film together.
“I think I share a sensibility with him,” said Gilroy. “When you’re working with a director for the first film, you have to get to know him. It takes a little while before you get the feel and tune in to who he is. With Danny, it was straight off the bat. It was like we had done three or four films together.”
The short five-week production schedule and the modest budget of the independent film challenged the filmmakers on a daily basis. “Danny had a great team,” said Gilroy. “On a bigger film you give yourself more choices in the cutting room. There were fewer choices presented to me, but the good news is that people did their homework so, hopefully when you see the movie, you don’t feel any of that.”
A number of scenes in the film take place in Bloom’s apartment. The company was shooting those scenes over the course of a couple of days, when an accident provided Gilroy with some unexpected footage that added to the dramatic story arc.
“The mirror was not supposed to break,” Gilroy revealed. “It certainly was not supposed to cut his hand, but once we got that footage, it worked perfectly where it is in the movie right now – after he gets yelled at by Nina and before he decides to do something to Joe (Bill Paxton). It quickly occurred to me that it would go there. It took no time to put it in and once it was in place, we couldn’t imagine the film without it. His anger in that scene is incredibly intense. It really gives you a great idea of what’s about to happen in the following minutes.”
The editing capitalizes on the strong interactions between Lou and Nina, particularly during the restaurant dinner. Taking time to let the drama develop, the scene keeps its grip on the interest of the audience despite a long running time of six minutes. “It builds on itself and I am very proud of the tension in there,” commented Gilroy. “That was really Jake and Renee, but I cut it nonetheless.”
The brothers had many discussions about shaping the performances in the film. Encouraged by the director, Gyllenhaal gave a variety of performances, until he was able to hone into the character over the course of the production.
“Jake was still trying to find the voice of that character,” Gilroy noted about the beginning of the shoot. “We quickly realized that we wanted to be able to identify with the character of Lou even though he is a sociopath. Maybe not likeable, maybe likeable, but watchable. We were going for the takes that led you there.”
During the editing process, Gilroy tries to make the cut footage feel like a movie as quickly as possible. He does a lot of sound design. He does not cut to music, but will sketch in some temp tracks. “These days there are so many tools available to editors,” stated Gilroy. “I try to bring all those new things to my cut as early as possible to make it feel like a movie. That helps me know how things play out, how it connects together.”
Gilroy credited the screenplay for much of the success of the film, “The script was incredibly well written,” he said. “That is why it got going so quickly. People that read it wanted to be a part of it. That made it easier for me to put it together because when you have a very good map, you don’t have to do as much editing room rewriting.”