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Fury - David Ayer interview

Fury director David Ayer

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WRITER-director David Ayer talks about how tank drama Fury differs from a lot of other World War II movies in its depiction of war as well as the technical difficulties of filming in such a confined space.

He also discusses key scenes in the movie, assembling his cast and the honour of working with Brad Pitt, and why the chapter in history depicted in the film remains such a fascinating time period to explore. He was speaking at a press conference held to mark the closing of the 2014 London Film Festival.

Q. Anyone expecting Fury to be a typical World War II movie will be in for a bit of a shock, won’t they?
David Ayer: Yeah, they’d be wrong. It’s a unique animal. This is about a family that happens to live in a tank, killing people. It’s a day in the life, it’s a slice of life, it’s a character study, it’s about these guys and their chemistry. They’re brothers, so it’s about the love they have for each other.

Q. The Allies are shown to have a lot of aggression and ruthlessness. Was that always intentional?
David Ayer: It’s a convention of the genre to show this very sort of clean and choreographed fighting. The conflict itself truly was this battle between good and evil. Either we were going to have human rights and freedom or utter debasement. And people often project the moral clarity of the conflict itself into the lives of the soldier, which is not the case. For the soldier on the ground or the tank turret, it was incredibly morally murky, just like any conflict has ever been. If you look back at literature or see All Quiet On The Western Front, they explore those same themes. I just wanted to make a film that spotlighted the moral hazards, the psychic hazards of war itself and the impression it leaves on the human soul, and how it affects this family of brothers.

Q. Was there a point in the preparation where every character had a back-story of who they were before the war?
David Ayer: Each character had a very defined back-story. Logan [Lerman] knew where he came from, what his father did, how he was raised, his childhood, his education. And every character had an incredibly detailed CV and a past. There are a few scenes in the script that did detail very specifically some of those character backgrounds. But it ultimately became a directorial choice to sort of cut out the classic ‘we’re going to tell the audience who these people are’ stuff and create defined enough portraits. Had their performances not been as outstanding as they are, I probably would have had to have placed those scenes in the movie, in order to make them empathetic. It’s a testament to their ability as actors that they’re able to bring these dimensional characters to the screen that we didn’t need the standard issue ‘let me tell you who everyone is’ stuff.

Q. Do any of the cast have an insight into the warrior within? Could you use violence to protect your own ideals and the people you love?
David Ayer: What’s fascinating about World War II is whereas today we have an all volunteer Army and career conflict, professional soldiers staffing that Army at senior and officer levels, in World War II it really was our neighbours and friends, who were drafted into this conflict. So, the men that fought this war and bore the brunt of the fighting were everyday people, who while growing up as adolescents, never imagined themselves in these situations. The warrior is in all of us, I believe. It’s just a question of circumstances as to when that warrior is awakened.

Q. How did you go about assembling your band of brothers? Were there any parts written with anyone specific in mind?
David Ayer: In the writing phase, normally I try not to envisage any particular actors because I like to let the characters sort of reveal themselves in that process. I wrote the role of Gordo with Mike [Pena] in mind. We worked together before and, as he has indicated, I’m not the easiest person to work for so, specifically, I created a role that’s complex, nuanced and a lot of shades. He had to do his work and find quite a bit of that and bring that to the screen. Brad read the script and wanted in, so I was honoured to have him. We’d met before and discussed working together and it was an honour to finally find that project. After that, it really became about building a family and finding the right brothers to round us pout, and the right chemistry. Not only that, it was about casting these gentlemen who have a level of commitment above and beyond… not just the time-frame but a willingness to expose themselves to hardships and difficulties that actors aren’t usually asked to participate in.

Q. We’ve seen a lot of submarine movies but not so many tank movies. What were the logistics of filming in such a confined space?
David Ayer: We built the interior set and modelled it after a Sherman tank but then up-scaled the blueprints about 10% and then kitted it out with all the proper equipment it would have had. The turret turn, the gun load and ejector shells, the machine guns fired, the radio transmitted… everything worked in there. It was actually one of the most technically complex sets that anyone on that film crew had ever worked on before. It was utterly maddening to film in for me. I’m a shooter, I like to get lots of coverage, so I would just go to the corner and cry while they took about two hours to light the thing with these teeny little bespoke LAD lights – dozens of them stashed throughout this to give it the beautiful look it has. There weren’t many of us that enjoyed working in it but maybe that did help some of the sort of tension that’s built on-screen. Fortunately, I never had to go in it [smiles].

Fury

What was interesting for me is that, more often than not, actors will go to their trailers in between takes and hang out and make calls. But Brad would stay inside of the tank on-set. So, I got very good at climbing up the tank and looking inside just to talk to him. He would be relaxed inside and he got very comfortable. He was also about 13 feet in the air. It was like his eagle’s nest. He would gaze down upon us working.

Q. As a German woman who was brought up on a diet of horrific stories from her mother and grandmother of what they went through in the last few months of the war and immediately afterwards, and especially their encounters with other forces, I personally found it very harrowing and very suspenseful to include a part in the movie which is not about warfare but about the dynamic between the German people and the Allied occupying soldiers . Why was it important to include that?
David Ayer: It’s a very interesting chapter in history. During the last portion of that war, the United States Army were not liberators but occupiers. They were invading a country. One veteran told me that once they’d crossed the border to Germany a German soldier who was captured told them: “You’re no longer fighting the Nazis now, you’re fighting the German people.” So, there’s something interesting about that mindset. It was a different world back then and a different time. You had an Army that was exhausted, you had an Army that had been fighting for several years on both sides and the depictions of war, of civilians and children being thrown into battle as the regime sort of fell apart…

But the purpose of that scene in the film was really to shine a spotlight on how much these men had changed and how they could never go home. Brad’s character is desperate for this human connection and some normalcy but is not allowed that by the other members of his crew. So, it’s a very complex scene and it was one of the most difficult ones to photograph. I think the two actresses did some incredible work in preparation. It’s very nuanced and layered. But there’s something fascinating about that apocalyptic time period in the occupation.

Q. I understand the film was shot on 35mm. Why?
David Ayer: Well, as far as film, either you’re making a film or you’re making videos. Digital capture is always trying to emulate the range and look of film. I believe personally that film has more. We decided to shoot on film. We tested various platforms but our initial test was on film and there’s such a subtle palette of uniforms and the patina and world we created in design that when you did tests on digital you ended up with these crushing blacks and these very muddy greens that didn’t have any differentiation that one has with film, So, we shot on film. True Romance was shot on the same film. We treated the final image, when we did the DI, as film. So, it was taking the digital scans and then pushing the data around and doing whatever with them. We were very careful to apply traditional film lights and film curves on this. I think that’s a bit difference. So, I think we ended up with this nice, even saturation. It’s not over-saturation. Film loves skin, film loves textures and I love film.

Read our review of Fury

Read our interview with Brad Pitt