The Guilty Filmmaker Antoine Fuqua Directed The Movie From A Van After Covid Diagnosis

Sometimes, life really does imitate art. Few have the firsthand experience of knowing that to be true more than director Antoine Fuqua and Jake Gyllenhaal while they worked on their latest movie, "The Guilty." The film, a remake of the 2018 Danish production of the same name, is unique in that it features a single location and takes place over the course of a single day. These circumstances meant that Gyllenhaal underwent an unusually isolated shoot, playing a character who interacts with several cast members without ever actually seeing them. But filming in late 2020 as coronavirus cases were rising in Los Angeles proved to be an immense challenge, one that was compounded even further when Fuqua himself was forced into quarantine after contact tracing revealed a close exposure to the virus. The solution? Direct from a van down the street, of course!

Desperate Measures

"The Guilty" follows a 9-1-1 operator, played by Gyllenhaal, who must do all he can to save a frantic caller on the other end. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gyllenhaal describes the singular difficulties involved in filming. The scope and scale of the production meant that it would only require an eyeblink of a filming schedule — 11 total days — but Fuqua was taken out of commission only days before shooting began. Since he repeatedly tested negative, Fuqua was able to hole up inside a van outfitted with monitors and two-way communication far away from anyone else. As Gyllenhaal recalls, the initially attractive nature of filming was suddenly put at risk, but an ingenious solution saved the day.

"What seemed advantageous at the time ended up being a bit of a curse. They were talking about shutting Los Angeles down almost every day. So, because Antoine subsequently tested negative for days afterwards, we decided to get a van that was outfitted with screens and park him a block away, hardwired to the stage where we were shooting. We'd FaceTime each other after these 25-minute long takes. He'd give me direction, I'd take it down, we'd do another take. We never saw each other in-person the entire shoot."

It's difficult to imagine these circumstances resulting in a collaborative working environment, but Gyllenhaal and Fuqua had the advantage of familiarity. The actor and director both teamed up on "Southpaw" in 2015. In reference to that film, Gyllenhaal explains, "Because of our relationship and because I trust him so much, I'll go anywhere for him. I just knew, somehow, when we are challenged, Antoine and I always get better."

For his part, Fuqua acknowledges that the bizarre situation obviously wasn't ideal, but the team managed to band together and get it done anyway.

"I had to have eyes on set [and] our main cameras, and a way to communicate with my actors via Zoom and phone, when it needed to be private. Jake and I would only physically see each other from behind the studio wall. Jake would climb on a ladder and I would open the door to my van, and we would communicate. I definitely missed the close contact with my crew, but everyone stepped up and we found a way."
"Watching Jake pull off his performance was difficult in the best way. Acting is also listening, but the difficulties of having to perform under Covid and the technical challenges was a challenge that Jake handled beautifully."

Specific details of the film are kept under wraps throughout the interview, but much of this premise sounds very reminiscent of a movie like "Locke," which similarly featured one big-name actor in a one-location drama. In another similarity, Gyllenhaal mentions that "...part of the fun is [viewers] trying to guess who the actors are" that he interacts with through voice-only during the course of the film.

"The Guilty" premieres exclusively on Netflix on October 1, 2021.