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How "Nightcrawler" Pulled Off That Amazing Car Chase

"We ultimately looked at it as one long accident," writer-director Dan Gilroy told BuzzFeed News. SPOILERS ahead!

Posted on November 1, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. ET

Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed in Nightcrawler
Chuck Zlotnick / Open Road Films

Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed in Nightcrawler

The French Connection. The Road Warrior. The Bourne Identity. Bullitt. The Matrix Reloaded. The Fast and Furious franchise. A great, thrilling, propulsive car chase has long been a badge of honor for some of cinema's most celebrated — or merely successful — thrillers, and this weekend, the new psychological thriller Nightcrawler joins their ranks. (Caution: Some MAJOR SPOILERS follow.)

After tracing the uneasy rise of freelance crime scene videographer Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed), the film concludes with a tense police standoff in an L.A. restaurant that leads to a harrowing police chase through the streets of Los Angeles, with Lou and Rick in hot pursuit.

The result is one of the most thrilling and satisfying movie car chases in recent memory, but writer-director Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy) had originally conceived the sequence to be far more elaborate. After sitting down with his stunt coordinator and second unit director Mike Smith, cinematographer Robert Elswit, and producer (and older brother) Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), however, the filmmaker realized he needed to focus his vision.

"We ultimately looked at it as one long accident, rather than a car chase, in which it was more compressed and more violent," Dan Gilroy told BuzzFeed News.

Open Road Films / Via youtube.com

"A lot of times, in a car chase, when the car is not crashing or something is going on, it's [just] high-speed driving. They go on and on and on. It's spectacle. And we didn't want the spectacle to overwhelm the story."

Gilroy estimated that it took roughly six weeks to plan the sequence. "We got little Hot Wheels cars, and we were moving them around [on] a model," he said.

Open Road Films / Via youtube.com

"We started working out how to shoot it, which was trying to stay inside the car as much as possible. On a lot of films, they would have gone outside the car and gotten the wide shot, and go, Here comes the car! It's a spectacle! Let's get it from a big angle. But we tried to get as much of the car chase as possible through the windshield, from inside the car. I think it makes it more visceral and real in a lot of ways."

"We closed off 10 blocks of Laurel Canyon Blvd. between Van Owen and almost Ventura for five nights in a row," he continued.

"So five solid nights, a Monday to a Friday, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. We owned it. We had 10 blocks of the city that we could do whatever we wanted with. We shut it down. It was amazing."
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"So five solid nights, a Monday to a Friday, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. We owned it. We had 10 blocks of the city that we could do whatever we wanted with. We shut it down. It was amazing."

Open Road Films / Via youtube.com

"That stretch worked for us because it's a wide boulevard, and since we were shooting through the windshield, we wanted to be able to see as much of the visual information on the sides, rather than on a narrow street, where you felt like you were going down a canyon," he added. "We wanted information to be coming in quickly from the sides, whether it was a car or something else."

The biggest moment in the crash is when a police car flips on its roof, raining sparks across the street, and forcing the main pursued vehicle to crash into a parked car.

Open Road Films / Via youtube.com

As conceived, the cop car was meant to spin out into the other lane, leaving the main vehicle alone for Lou and Rick to shoot. Instead, it stayed put. "Within 10 minutes of it happening, we're all walking around going, 'God, this is so much better,'" said Gilroy.

The cop car became a kind of plot point for the sequence, allowing Lou to hide behind it to get a safe view of the scene. "The pieces fell fortuitously into a better place for us," said Gilroy.

Open Road Films / Via youtube.com

"And not only that, but the sparking effect [of the cop car] became a much bigger effect. The stunt guy was saying, 'Man, we can plan all we want. It's never going to be exactly what you want. Sometimes it ends up better, sometimes it doesn't.' This case, it did."

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