David Ayer is known for both writing (Training Day) and directing (End of Watch) hard-boiled tales of cops and crooks in Los Angeles – so it was surprising to see him make the jump to a period war drama for his latest film, the star-studded ensemble piece Fury.
In the film, Brad Pitt plays a seasoned (and worn down) tank commander trying to lead his veteran crew (Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal and Michael Peña) – plus one fresh-faced new recruit (Logan Lerman) – through the last days of WWII in one piece. But with the last of the Nazi army (and the dreaded SS) willing to fight to the last man, woman or child, victory for the allies can only come at a bloody – and soul-snuffing – price. (Read our official review.)
We sat down with David Ayer in NYC – just days before the official announcement that he is, in fact, directing DC Comics’ Suicide Squad, a film about a group of supervillains coerced into black ops service by the government. (So we apologize, no questions about that film – unfortunate timing.)
Needless to say, our interview gets pretty in-depth about the plot of the movie – BE WARNED! SPOILERS FOLLOW!
If you want to hear Ayer’s thoughts about the divisive ending of the film – head over to our FURY ENDING EXPLAINED ARTICLE.
Fury Interview with David Ayer (Spoilers)
Screen Rant: So just getting started, I know when a lot of people, especially people who follow your films, they hear your name and the first thing they envision is kind of the streets of either LA or stretching down to the tip into Mexico and that kind of playing in that world. What made you want to really revisit this World War II setting and kind of make a film in that setting?
David: For me it was both my grandparents fought in the war, my uncle and stuff. And I was in the Navy. So it was always kind of personal to me. There was always like a family piece to it. The more I learned about it, it’s always shown as this very sort of black and white, morally righteous event, and it was. I mean it was good versus evil. But for the guys fighting in the trenches, I mean it was brutal. It was just murky. That’s what I wanted to show, that the outcome was wildly positive, but there was this still this incredible price the guys paid, the soldiers paid. That price has resonated through families ever since.
Screen Rant: One thing I thought was very interesting and really kind of worked to the film’s advantage was that this was almost, in my opinion, the format of a short story. You come into it and there was so much implication that the guys carried out so well. Can you talk about just from the writing aspect of how you kind of packed all that implication in and how it was working with the guys to kind of convey all that?
David: The movie is different. It’s not like your regular war movie where it’s this big battle and celebrating some great battle or some great event. It’s just a slice of life. It’s a day in the life. It’s just a day of this family’s life. It’s a family that happens to live in a tank and kill people. But these guys are brothers. I mean these guys are bonded in a way that is hard to understand unless you’ve actually been in the military.
The way I see it, the history of these characters is in their performance. It’s what they’re playing. I just don’t hand you everything and say, “This is what it’s all about.” It’s very experiential. You go into this world and it’s like you have to work. you gotta work for it as an audience member. You gotta think. You gotta figure it out. And it’s all very intentional. You just want to pull people into the world.
When you are handed everything in a film, I don’t know if you connect with it the same, whereas if you have to go on a journey and learn and feel, which is I what I wanted to do, take people on a journey.
Screen Rant: One of the things that I also think was really exceptional about this film was the editing, the visual editing and of course the sound editing, and creating this slice of World War II we don’t really get to see very often, which is kind of tank warfare, and just kind of working in this confined space to show how, like you said, they are a family and they move almost as one unit. Can you talk about how that was in approaching that? Were there any difficulties that you guys had to work out?
David: Movie are made in post. We shot like 1.3 million feet. And there’s probably only a handful of shots on set where I was like, “OK. That’s in the movie. That’s in the movie. I know that’s in the movie.” There’s a handful of those. And even in post that’s in doubt. Everything is in doubt.
The first assembly was something like four hours. Cutting performance is tough. And that’s what this really is. It’s a performance movie. It’s about these five guys and how they bounce off each other. They’re brothers and it’s like they fight like brothers. It can be brutal.
So telling that emotional story and the emotional story of, like, Brad’s character and Logan’s character, even up to the very end it was just like you get to the point of looking at every take in the movie, every shot in the movie, what story does the shot itself say about that relationship right now at that point in the movie?
It’s always surprising the power of switching out a shot can have beyond what you think. You know, a 10 second shot of somebody reacting to something and you change it and it just transforms the energy from there forward.
And then the sound, Paul Ottosson did the sound design. Like with the ricochets, what does a tank shell ricochet sound like? We wanted to fire tank shells at steel plate and record it. We didn’t have the money. [laughs] It would have told us what it sounded like.
So you are working really hard to approximate what things sound like. But a lot of work went into the sound design. We recorded a couple hours of radio transmissions, which I wrote. We used the World War II radios because they have a very specific sound. A lot of detail. A lot of love went into the Tiger tank. We mic’d up the Tiger tank with 12 different microphones. We got the actual sounds.
So just like the detail, the visual is pretty real, as real as we could get. Same with the sounds; it’s as real as we could get it. And we did it on a lot of hard work.
Screen Rant: The other thing I want to touch on is one of my favorite moments from the film, the dinner scene. I think across the board, from what I’ve gathered, everybody really just loved…I mean everybody took a moment just to look around the theater. And these are all like critics and things, and they were all like right here. Can you tell me about running through that scene and how it came to be and how many times you guys ran through it?
David: It’s funny, because that dinner scene was the hardest thing to film in the movie. And I’m talking like shooting full-on scenes of tank warfare in the mud and cold. That scene was just brutal. It was so intense. And the performance is so strong. There’s no mercy. It’s so tense you can cut it with a knife. The actors were just in a tough place. I put them in a tough place. I wanted them in a tough place. There’s that feeling of anything can happen. It’s the most dangerous dinner.
But it’s like if you have a big family, it’s like one of those bad Thanksgiving dinners. I think a lot of people can [laughs] identify with it. There’s something universal about it. But it’s different. [laughs]
Screen Rant: That final shot that we saw. Was that just a concept you had?
David: Yeah. I heard the story that there was a Sherman tank crew and the tank was disabled, and instead of abandoning the vehicle, they fought it out and they killed something like 500 people. I wish I could find the documentation of the actual report on that, man, because I could just go, “Bam! Here.”
It’s based on a story I heard about the war. I wanted to show that. It’s one of those things where the last shot of the movie puts the sharp edge on the story. The last shot of the movie finishes the story and has narrative information that tells you what these guys did.
That was a camera mounted on a crane, the biggest crane we could rent, the tallest crane in the United Kingdom. It was nuts. Had all these guys laying down everywhere. It was a big shot.
Screen Rant: Did you know it when you saw it and you were just like, “Yeah. Yeah…”
David: No, because it’s like I’m sitting there and I hate everything on set. I’m like, ‘you know…’
Screen Rant: Really? Even that shot?
David: Yeah, either it sucks more or it sucks less. I’ll be honest. There was one take, the best take….we didn’t turn the camera on. Someone forgot to turn the camera on. I thought I was going to vomit. That’s how you know what kind of director you are at that point, where you can like freaking kick and scream, or it’s just like, “All right, dude. Don’t worry.”
Screen Rant: Well, if you hadn’t told me that I would have never known it from the way the shot is at the end.
David: It’s a beautiful shot. We shot on film. We shot in anamorphic lenses, these older lenses…it’s just beautiful. It’s like a ‘70s movie. As a director it was great to just slow down and see the world. There is so much to see.
Screen Rant: With how tense the actors had to keep it, was there ever a day where that actually spilled over into real life, or when the cameras cut was it just smooth and relaxed?
David: No. I mean everyone was kind of under the gun. Everyone was kind of feeling it. The schedule was really fast. The schedule was crazy intense. It just took so much velocity to keep going. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t nice to them. And that was intentional. There’s no war, so we have to create the war. We have to create tension. We have to create stress. My philosophy is the more you can give the actors, the more they can give you back.
That’s what this movie is, man. It’s about their performance. It’s about watching guys who can act do exactly that. I mean the performances are just freaking off the chain.
Screen Rant: Speaking of those, I know people know Brad, even Shia, Jon, just from other characters they’ve done, even Michael. I don’t think people know and are going to really realize…some other people may have known before about Logan before this movie. Can you talk about when you knew he was just the guy for this?
David: I met with him and we talked. It was kind of like an, “OK, can I work with you?” meeting. And then he came in and auditioned. And there was like three scenes we had for him to read from the script. After the first one I was like, “Yeah. He’s got the job. He’s in the movie.” It was like a no-brainer. It’s like he’s playing the fresh, innocent guy that shows up. He’s the guy having like the really bad first day at school.
In these movies, if it’s played by the wrong kind of actor, you are going to want to punch them. But Logan’s like an old soul. He’s a likeable guy. He’s a good dude. And he brings that to this role. He’s the audience in a lot of ways just experiencing this hell. He killed it.
Fury is now playing in theaters. It is 134 minutes long and is Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout.
Follow us and talk movies @screenrant – and be sure to listen to our in-depth discussion of the film on the SR Underground Podcast.