'Bright' Director David Ayer On Creating A Fantasy L.A. For Netflix [Interview]

It's hard to argue that Netflix isn't directly competing with Hollywood studios when the new Will Smith movie premieres on the streaming service. After making original films with megastars Adam Sandler and Brad Pitt, Netflix closes the year out with Bright, a cop drama reuniting Smith with his Suicide Squad director David Ayer.

Well, it's not quite a standard cop drama. Smith is partnered with an orc (Joel Edgerton) on the case of elves (Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry and Edgar Ramirez), and looking for a magic wand. Ayer spoke with /Film by phone last week to discuss the film, which premieres tomorrow, December 22, on Netflix and in select theaters.

You've done a lot of movies showing L.A. as it is. Was Bright your first chance to really re-imagine L.A.? 

Oh, for sure. It's a lived in world with this sort of exotic history. As you know, it's a genre mash-up. So my big challenge was how do I add this layer of history and current presence to these species that have intermingled with humans for thousands of years and make it feel real? How have these cultures lived together? What would it look like? It was just really a lot of fun.

In Suicide Squad you had the comic book world to base that movie's vision on. With Bright were you free to create from scratch?

Yeah. It came from a script Max Landis wrote kind of as an homage to me and my cop movies, then adding these incredible elements. So in a lot of ways, you're working from reality as a baseline and then the other side of it is how do you take these incredible elements and then ground them and make them feel part of our reality?

Are orcish and elvish full languages like Dothraki that people can speak?

Yeah. David Peterson was our language consultant. He did the languages obviously for Game of Thrones. He created both languages with their grammar and pronunciation. He would kind of, on set, sit there and monitor the actors and dive in and correct them when they got the accents wrong.

Did Max Landis write all of the cop trash talk, or were you able to add that?

He wrote some really great stuff. Like anything, a script is a living document. It evolves as you make the movie. Will added some great stuff, Joel added some great stuff. In a lot of ways it was a potluck.

Can you still correct the police procedure for Joel and Will even when you're talking about orcs and elves?

Absolutely. Being a cop is being a cop. Doesn't matter who you are. They did a lot of training, firearms training, ride-alongs. I just really wanted them to feel comfortable with what they were doing as police. I didn't want them to look like actors that someone just handed a gun to.

Since getting to be R-rated in a fantasy is so rare, was Bright a portrayal of this sort of world we don't often get to see?

Oh, for sure. Normally if you do a movie like this, you have to make it as broad as possible which in this day and age means PG-13, which sort of means toning it down. But real people say edgy things. Real people cuss. Real people do some raw stuff every now and then. So I think by being able to have a little bit of a harder edge, it enables the world to feel even more realistic and more grounded.

In a world where magic exists, is the law even more vulnerable to corruption?

Well, I think in this case, magic exists but it's sort of ruthlessly hunted and taken off the street as aggressively as possible by the government. The message is a little bit that whole saying: power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. So I think nearly anyone would be tempted to bend the rules a little bit if they had a real shot at unlimited power.

Could you have done a movie on this scale without having done Suicide Squad?

Yeah, I mean, filmmaking scales up and down. I brought a lot of the lessons of Suicide Squad to this. The same makeup team, special effects team, worked with a lot of the same crew. So I'm always growing as a filmmaker. Suicide Squad was a great training ground for me.

What were some of the most challenging sequences in Bright?

Action for sure. There's a huge battle between the elves and our heroes in a gas station. That was a pretty intense shoot. We actually built that gas station in downtown L.A. We kept having people pull up trying to buy gas and it's like no, it's a movie set, sorry. We had everything going on in there from fire to rain, special effects, squibs going off and everything you see is real. We put a car inside the space. We have a car spinning around in there with the actors. That was very intense and very technical to figure out.

Was it a battle to use real squibs when a lot of movies are doing bullet hits in post now?

I've done it every movie. I've been doing it since my first film so I'm very comfortable with them and understand how to use them safely. You can't fake it. That's what's great about using the real thing is the actors behavior is very honest when stuff's blowing up for real.

When these big action scenes happen, it's not what most cops face day to day. Even though you're very accurate with the cop stuff, do you let the movie fantasy take over for the action?

Well, the idea is how does an elf fight? How does an orc fight? So Rob Alonzo, my stunt coordinator who's just a brilliant guy, we had a lot of conversations about what these fights would look like, what the choreography would look like and how would they be different from just a straight up bar fight.

Box office has been down this year and Bright is going into theaters as well as Netflix. If the theatrical showings don't pack them in, will that ultimately prove that Netflix is the dominant viewing model?

Well, it's just showing up in a handful of theaters, so I don't think that attendance will really tell us anything.

Does Gotham City Sirens come from any material you couldn't fit into Suicide Squad?

That's all in progress. Let's talk about Bright.

Is the world of Bright created in the hopes that there can be a Bright 2 and more adventures in this world?

We're going to leave it up to the fans to ask Netflix for us but it's a huge universe and it's a lot of fun. People seem to be really connecting with it. I think anything's possible.