Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are standing at the beginning of a driveway in a low income residential neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. Earlier that day, near the film set, there was a gun battle that seriously injured a police officer and shut down dozens of blocks, so tension is high. Dressed in Police Blues, Gyllenhaal has his weapon drawn and starts to make his way down the alley with Pena flanking his rear. As he walks, Gyllenhaal’s eyes are constantly taking in the surroundings as he looks for the suspect he thinks is close by. After getting to the back of the property, the two come to a six foot cement barrier. Without hesitation, they make their way over the wall, and then I hear South Central-born writer-director-producer David Ayer (screenwriter of Training Day, The Fast and the Furious, S.W.A.T. and writer/director of Harsh Times & Street Kings) call cut.
But let me back up a second.
Late at night on August 25, 2011 I got to visit the set of End of Watch. Unlike most set visits which have 8 to 10 reporters, I was the only invited journalist, and I got to spend a number of hours talking with the filmmakers, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, as well as producer John Lesher. While I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, I learned that End of Watch is going to look and feel completely different than any cop movie you’ve ever seen and I left excited by what I saw. Hit the jump for a lot more – including the first two official images from the movie.
Since End of Watch just wrapped principal photography and it doesn’t yet have a release date (it will be in 2012) or domestic distributor, I’m going to hold my on-set interviews and my full set report until a later date. However, to go along with the first two images of the film, I’m offering the “20 Things to Know” about the film. But first, here’s the official synopsis:
A powerful story of family, friendship, love, honor and courage, End Of Watch stars Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as young Los Angeles police officers Taylor and Zavala as they patrol the city’s meanest streets of south central Los Angeles.
Giving the story a gripping, first-person immediacy, the action unfolds entirely through footage from the handheld HD cameras of the police officers, gang members, surveillance cameras, and citizens caught in the line of fire to create a riveting portrait of the city’s darkest, most violent corners, the cops who risk their lives there every day, and the price they and their families are forced to pay.
- End of Watch is a true indie. While you might think actors like Gyllenhaal and Pena playing the leads means the movie is being produced by a major studio, but that’s not the case Instead, former Paramount head John Lesher (who produced films such as No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Babel) has started his own label and this is the first film under its umbrella. End of Watch was financed by Exclusive Media Group, the same folks who produced George Clooney’s The Ides of March.
- The shoot is scheduled for 22 days. I was on set for day 19. Keep in mind, a “studio” movie can run 40 to 90 days.
- Gyllenhaal read the whole script in an hour and immediately called up writer/director David Ayer.
- Gyllenhaal and Peña went through five months of training in order to prepare for their roles as cops. The training involved shooting, tactical training, fight training, drivers training and visits to the academy.
- Ayer wrote the script in six days.
- The film was shot with unconventional camera coverage. In addition to the normal camera set up, Gyllenhaal and Peña also have cameras strapped to their chest in order to get a POV shot. The actors operate the cameras themselves and have to think about the camera in terms of a character.
- The cameras are referred to in the actual film, as Gyllenhaal’s character straps a small webcam-like camera onto his chest. The way they’ll get away with this is Gyllenhaal plays a cop going to night school and he’s taking a filmmaking class. So he gets Pena’s character to also wear a camera as he’s planning on making a short film (or something like that).
- Writer-director David Ayer is going for an “in your face” POV style. At times it will feel like a first person shooter video game. In addition, the movie will use camera footage from unorthodox sources like gang members’ cellphone cameras, dashcams from inside cop cars, TV news footage, citizens’ cameras, and surveillance cameras. However, at some points, the movie will look like your typical film with Ayer shooting select scenes with normal coverage. He’s going to mix it up. The thing to know is that it’s not all found footage.
- They approached the material like a play, and Gyllenhaal likened the script to a David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross.
- Gyllenhaal, who also notably shaved his head for the film, got so immersed into the character and preparation that he no longer uses his right hand when he’s out because he’s been taught that his right hand always needs to be free to reach for his gun.
- Because Gyllenhaal and Peña had prepared so much and for so long, Ayer would write pages on the spot and the two would be able to nail scenes on the fly.
- The film was shot entirely on location in South Central Los Angeles.
- Director David Ayer brought his friend Jamie Fitzsimons on as technical advisor. Fitzsimons worked for 15 years as a police officer and captain in South Central. He was also a consultant on Ayer’s Street Kings.
- Unlike the corruption depicted in Ayer’s Training Day, Gyllenhaal and Pena play honest cops and best friends. Gyllenhaal is dating Anna Kendrick’s character and Pena is married. The goal is to shoot a real portrait of police officers in South Central Los Angeles.
- The film takes place over 8 months.
- End of Watch means end of your day/end of shift.
- Pena has two very close quarter fights in the film.
- The film will always follow the point of view of Gyllenhaal and Pena’s characters. We’ll never leave one of them during the movie.
- End of Watch will have plenty of levity mixed with the drama.
- End of Watch is being edited by Dody Dorn, who earned an Oscar nomination in 2002 for Best Film Editing for her work on Christopher Nolan’s Memento.
The Exclusive Photos
As I already said, I’ll have a lot more on End of Watch down the road, but until then, here are better looks at the first two images from the movie. Click on either one for high-resolution. You can see the camera rig on one of them.
1) Jake Gyllenhaal as Officer Taylor, a police officer for the LAPD’s Newton Division in South Los Angeles.
2) Behind-The-Scenes: From the left, writer/director/producer David Ayer, Michael Pena (who plays Officer Zavala, Jake Gyllenhaal’s partner in the LAPD Newton Division) wearing one of the film’s custom-designed POV camera rigs, and director of photography/cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, as they prepare a shot on the streets of South Los Angeles.
Photos by Scott Garfield, (c) 2011 Sole Productions, LLC