David Ayer lived a million lives before he discovered how he would make a living. He moved around the country as a kid, wound up in South Central L.A., and enlisted on a nuclear submarine, packing in a lot of living before getting his first movie made.
Since U-571, which he wrote based on his time on the submarine, hit theaters in 2000, Ayer has made a long line of films about cops and soldiers; he wrote the screenplay to Training Day and wrote/directed 2014's WWII film Fury. Last year, he put out Suicide Squad to mixed reviews, and he's returned to the supernatural crime flick with Bright, a Training Day-meets-Warcraft starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton out on Netflix on December 22.
Ayer spoke with SYFY WIRE about the film and his career for an abbreviated version of the SYFY WIRE Survey.
You generally write your own movies, so what made you want to direct Bright?
David Ayer: Max [Landis] wrote it as an homage to my movies, the cop movies I've done. I never had any intention of doing another one. But the way he threaded in the magic element, with orcs and elves and fairies, it was so insane. I hadn't seen that before. It spoke to my strengths, especially coming off of Suicide Squad, I saw exactly how to execute the movie.
What about Suicide Squad prepared you for this?
World building, world creation. I learned a lot about visual effects, I learned about makeup effects. I used the same Oscar-winning team to develop the orcs and do Joel's mask, which is absolutely incredible on camera. You get comfortable with larger crews and all the bells and whistles of full-scale filmmaking.
What was the hardest scene you ever had to shoot or write?
Holy cow… it all becomes a blur. The gas station action scene in Bright was incredibly difficult to shoot. You're always racing the clock, and with that much detail, it's incredibly well-choreographed, incredibly detailed scene. It's a giant jigsaw puzzle and each piece is a different camera angle that needed to be set up, shot, and edited. It was a lot of fun, and simultaneously an incredible challenge to pull off.
Writing is always a haze. You go into the cave and nail the door shut and hope you come out with something good.
What did you rewrite most in your life?
Training Day, which I wrote in my mid-20s, was probably the script that I just endlessly tinkered with and agonized over every word. That one will always be special to me.
Did it change a lot over time?
It evolved a lot over time. It started from a short story I had written, and that gave me the character. I sort of went into it without any real plan. It was definitely an exploration.
Every process is different. Now I outline very carefully. I actually have a huge outline going in. It's kind of a scriptment, so I'll have little sets of dialogue and set scenes as I do it. I've also done it where you just dive in and start writing. I've written so many scripts that I have an internal clock on how to structure them.
What is the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
Chair time. You just have to sit down and put the work in. Too many people talk about writing. You always see around L.A. people sitting in Starbucks with Final Draft, pecking away. Writing is just lonely, brutal, dirty work, and there's no way around it. You have to sit in that chair and stare at that blank page. My mentor Wesley Strick really taught me screenwriting.
What is the best day you've ever had on set?
Each day directing brings its own challenges. My joke is that I'm like Dory, because all my memories get wiped out as the day ahead becomes that challenge. On Bright, it's just little things. Working with Will and Joel and getting them in the car together and watching the scene evolve and the chemistry evolve. The humor and feeding them jokes. You see the crew laughing and trying not to get yelled at by the sound guy because they're laughing. Those are the most satisfying.
The big stuff, you can't control. You do your homework, you set it up, you pull the trigger, and hope it works.
Is there something in your movies that you would change?
I would change everything. I would reshoot everything. Although right now I'm very happy with Bright, but ten years from now, I'm sure I'll feel differently, because I'll be a different filmmaker with different eyes, and I'll have different skills under my belt. I think a director's job is to never be satisfied.