This is my cam­era, this is my gun

Marine turned film-maker David Ayer talks Fury with Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TICKET -

David Ayer must be the only film­maker in the world who can look manly while stir­ring and sip­ping pep­per­mint tea. Speak­ing in a low, deep voice, the tal­ented writer-di­rec­tor be­hind Harsh

Times (2005) and End of Watch (2012) smiles more than you might ex­pect, yet sel­dom makes eye con­tact.

He has, of course, plenty to smile about to­day: his new film,

Fury, star­ring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf, has just knocked Gone

Girl off the top spot at the US box of­fice and is all set for a glitzy London Film Fes­ti­val premiere.

A drama set mostly in a Sher­man tank dur­ing the dy­ing days of the sec­ond World War,

Fury is some­thing that Ayer, a US Navy veteran, has wanted to make since he was a kid: “But only in the same out­landish way that I wanted to be an astro­naut who goes to Mars.”

He didn’t have too many sup­port­ers; war movies, ac­cord­ing to stu­dio logic, are un­pop­u­lar. But then, Ayer is ac­cus­tomed to fly­ing in the face of con­ven­tion.

“I don’t make stan­dard, com­mer­cial Hol­ly­wood movies,” says Ayer.

“When I wrote Train­ing Day, I knew it would never get made. They weren’t mak­ing cop movies back then. That genre was DOA. No one cared. I was just writ­ing down crap I was hear­ing on the streets of LA when I was run­ning around not be­ing a good tax­payer. Lo and be­hold, it got me work. But it still took years to get made.”

By the time Train­ing Day earned Den­zel Wash­ing­ton an Os­car, Ayer had al­ready found work as a screen­writer on U-571, The Fast and the Fu­ri­ous and Dark Blue. He wasn’t an overnight suc­cess. He was work­ing as a builder when he stated writ­ing and de­scribes his early ef­forts as “piss aw­ful”. He’s still shocked that he made it. But at

Every­body is work­ing to­gether to­ward a common pur­pose. There’s a hi­er­ar­chy and a tech­nique and a craft and a dis­ci­pline. A film set is a very high func­tion­ing ma­chine

first, he says, he was just happy to have a job.

“It did fi­nally get to a point that I had to tran­si­tion into di­rect­ing,” he re­calls. “Writ­ing was like be­ing a house painter. You don’t get to choose the colours. It’s not your house. Not your paint. Some­times not your taste. That can be soul-killing.”

Ful­lcir­cle

Fury marks a kind of com­plete cir­cle for Ayer. Born in Illi­nois and raised in Min­nesota and Maryland, Ayer grew up as part of a mil­i­tary fam­ily. Both his grand­fa­thers served in the sec­ond World War but never talked about it. “My fam­ily have al­ways been good at fight­ing in Amer­ica’s wars. And even though those ex­pe­ri­ences might have shaped them, they left those wars over­seas. It’s part of what made me cu­ri­ous.”

The younger David Ayer was, by his own ac­count, a no­good­nik teen who was kicked out of home by his par­ents be­fore mov­ing in with a cousin in South Cen­tral Los An­ge­les. It was not a par­tic­u­larly de­sir­able zip code.

“Any­one who knew me back then would be shocked with what I’ve put to­gether with my life,” says Ayer. “A smart bet­ting man would not have risked his cash on this hap­pen­ing. A bet­ting man would have said dead or in prison.”

His life changed when he en­listed in the United States Navy as a sub­mariner: “Go­ing in, I had no dis­ci­pline what­so­ever. But I learned self-dis­ci­pline. I learned how to study. I learned how to work with oth­ers. I learned lead­er­ship. I learned how to be a good fol­lower.” He was honourably dis­charged from the navy at the end of the Cold War and would still miss the life if he hadn’t made it as a film di­rec­tor. “It’s the en­vi­ron­ment I’ve found to be most like the mil­i­tary. Every­body is work­ing to­gether to­ward a common pur­pose. There’s a hi­er­ar­chy and a tech­nique and a craft and a dis­ci­pline. A film set is a

very high func­tion­ing ma­chine.”

Back­inthecan

He has taken a con­vo­luted route, but the for­mer sonar tech­ni­cian from the nu­clear sub­ma­rine USS Haddo has fi­nally found his way back into a tin can. “I know, right?” laughs Ayer. “That ex­pe­ri­ence shaped my abil­ity to tell a mil­i­tary story. The ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing inside of a weapons sys­tem. The de­tails. The re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. It def­i­nitely gave me per­sonal in­sight into what be­ing part of a tank crew might have been like.”

For the Fury shoot, theAyer com­man­deered equip­ment and ex­per­tise from the Bov­ing­ton Tank Mu­seum in Dover and stud­ied the move­ments of var­i­ous di­vi­sions as they moved through north­ern Ger­many in early 1945. Re­al­ism was rig­or­ously con­sid­ered - Shia LaBeouf slashed his own face to pro­duce an au­then­tic scar; a Tiger 131, the last sur­viv­ing op­er­a­tional Tiger I tank, is given pride of place and the cast un­der­went boot-camp train­ing.

“There’s of­ten a sort of sepia patina to war films,” says Ayer. “Aw, gee whizz, let me tell you about Sally-Sue back home. But when you talk to vet­er­ans and get first-hand ac­counts, they were no dif­fer­ent from us. They were rib­ald and tough and cyn­i­cal.

“They could be in­cred­i­ble loving to­ward each other and also in­cred­i­bly bru­tal to­ward each other. No one can un­der­mine you like a rel­a­tive or sib­ling. That’s the en­ergy I wanted for the cast.”

That en­ergy is typ­i­cal of Ayer’s mi­lieu. Whether his sub­jects are dirty cops or are liv­ing within sec­ond World War ar­tillary ar­tillery, this very Amer­i­can di­rec­tor fre­quently fo­cuses on the men and women who rep­re­sent power and might, but, have no power as in­di­vid­u­als. They work to pro­tect so­ci­ety yet they don’t be­long to it.

“I find that iso­la­tion fas­ci­nat­ing,” says Ayer. “Peo­ple are en­trusted by so­ci­ety to pro­tect us. Here’s your gov­ern­ment-is­sued gun. This gun is tax­payer prop­erty. We’re go­ing to give it to you and you’re go­ing to go kill peo­ple. Here is the list of rules. You’re go­ing to have to in­ter­pret those on your own. And if you make a bad call we’re go­ing to de­stroy your life. Have fun.”

Fury is out now on gen­eral re­lease. See full re­view on ir­ish­times.com/film

Bat­tle-ready “The ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing inside of a weapons sys­tem. The de­tails. The re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. It gave me per­sonal in­sight”

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