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Nightcrawler: Writing The Issue-Based Movie
By Jacob Krueger
EXCERPT FROM PODCAST
Hello, I’m Jacob Krueger and welcome to the Write Your Screenplay podcast. As you know, in this podcast, we don’t look at movies in terms of whether they’re good or bad, two thumbs up or two thumbs down, instead we look at movies of all kind. We look at movies that succeed, movies that fail, great movies, bad movies, old movies, new movies, and we try to look at them and pose the question: “what can we learn from these movies, as screenwriters?”
Today, we’re going to be talking about Nightcrawler and Dan Gilroy’s script. We’re also going to be talking about a lot of other movies that fall into the same genre: these political character-driven movies that seem to succeed so well by being subtly political, rather than overtly political.
Just a quick warning for all of you: there are going to be spoilers in this podcast! So, if you have not seen Nightcrawler yet, you should definitely run out and see it.
Nightcrawler is a really interesting script. I feel like if Taxi Driver and Network got together and had a baby, it would probably be something like Nightcrawler.
The script succeeds on many merits. It succeeds on the merits of its spectacular dialogue. It succeeds because of the great performances of Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom and Rene Russo as Nina Romina. It succeeds because of the world: it’s a world that we have not seen before. It’s a world that we feel like we maybe should be familiar with, but we’re not. It’s that world of freelance newspaper photographers, which is a world that we’ve never been exposed to before.
The movie also succeeds on the basis of some really bold writing choices that integrate a strong political message. It’s a real indictment of our media in a way that we really haven’t seen since Network or maybe Bowling for Columbine. And it does it in a way that never feels preachy and that never feels like we’re being told what to think. In fact, it does it in a way that even somebody who doesn’t necessarily agree with the writer can still be moved, can still be taken on a journey, and maybe even can still have their thoughts change – just a little bit – by this film. And this is one of the most important lessons, I believe, whenever we’re working in a political framework.
As a writer who also works on social-political movies, when we have a strong socio-political point that we want to make as writers sometimes the urge is to get up on our soapbox and start preaching. We have the urge to tell people what they should think, to expose hypocrisy or the thing that we’re angry about, and to sway the audience’s view of the world. That is a really strong urge, especially for those of us who do want to make a change and who do see the media and film as such a powerful opportunity to make a change.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of getting onto our soapbox. Or – the worst version of this – we’ve all seen those movies with the big speech at the end that tells you what to believe. Instead of doing theme, we’re doing moral. Instead of having real characters that people can care about, we have political puppets that we’re moving around on the screen.
There’s a big tradition of movies that have transcended their political bases while still delivering a really powerful political punch. And some of these movies very clearly influenced Nightcrawler…
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*Edited for length and clarity