NEW YORK (AP) – Jake Gyllenhaal was driving when a COVID-19 supervisor called him and told him to park the car.
It was November 2020, when cases in the United States were skyrocketing and Gyllenhaal was days away from starting filming on “The Guilty,” a thriller about a demoted Los Angeles Police detective (played by Gyllenhaal) who takes a kidnapping call while working at the 911 dispatch center. The purpose of the highly contained production was to minimize disruption from COVID- 19. Gyllenhaal is almost the only actor on screen. There is one parameter. The entire shoot would have lasted 11 days.
“So I stopped and I was like, ‘Oh no.’ I had already had COVID, so I kind of knew it might not have been me, but I didn’t, ”says Gyllenhaal.
No one on the production had the virus, but director Antoine Fuqua had been in close contact with one person who tested positive. The tests were negative for Fuqua, but regulations at the time required him to self-quarantine.
“You have a 10-day quarantine and an 11-day shoot, so that basically makes your movie,” Gyllenhaal explains. “I just felt it sort of crumble.”
But after Gyllenhaal, Fuqua, and the producers considered their options, they went for a new one. Fuqua would run “The Guilty” from a van parked on Plateau Street.
“We rocked it, rocked it and looked for a van that is used for photography. I wondered if there was a way to use the technology to our advantage, ”says Fuqua. “Literally, I did everything from this van.”
The coronavirus has forced Hollywood to adapt in countless ways to keep productions running during the pandemic. Film sets are teeming hubs of activity where mask-wearing and social distancing are often impossible when cameras are rolling. But few films have rotated like “The Guilty”, a film made without its director barely getting on set. It hits theaters Friday and debuts October 1 on Netflix.
Film making is generally a more complete contact sport. On their previous film together, the 2015 boxing drama “Southpaw,” Fuqua, a boxer, and Gyllenhaal trained intensely together twice a day. They fought in the ring. On “The Guilty”, they didn’t see each other for the duration of the shoot. They spoke by phone or FaceTime. Watching the streams of the film and spy cameras around the set, Fuqua communicated with the team via a “mic from God.”
“There were days when Jake would climb a ladder and talk to me over a wall,” laughs Fuqua.
“I’ve never made a movie where I haven’t had physical intimacy with my director – a closeness where they come after a take and say ‘OK, listen,'” says Gyllenhaal. “I said to myself: This is brand new. “
Gyllenhaal and his production partner, Riva Marker, first acquired the rights to “The Guilty”, an adaptation of Gustav Möller’s Danish thriller, at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. When the pandemic arrived and the industry cinematic closed, they returned, with Nic Pizzolatto (“True Detective”) writing the screenplay. In the film, Gyllenhaal’s detective struggles desperately to save a caught woman while reconciling his own guilty conscience.
“We were all desperate to find material that we could make and keep the business going even in the midst of so much falling apart,” says Gyllenhaal. “We are adaptable creatures.”
Some of the voices heard on the other end of phone calls in “The Guilty” belong to longtime friends of Fuqua and Gyllenhaal, including Fuqua’s “Training Day” star Ethan Hawke and Gyllenhaal’s brother-in-law Peter. Sarsgaard. They and others, including Riley Keough and Paul Dano, recorded the live dialogue with Gyllenhaal, calling via Zoom from different time zones.
There were hiccups. At first, Fuqua’s van was hooked up to his house but everything was delayed by half a second. Gyllenhaal initially continued to hear his own voice in his earpiece. The zooms would have a problem.
“It’s really strange to play. This is not true. A lot of it is rhythms, ”Gyllenhaal explains.
But the production ended up finding its rhythm. And when Fuqua’s quarantine was over, he decided to stay in the van for the last two days. Surrounded by monitors and sounds, he positions himself almost identically to the main character in the film. And it worked.
“Jake said, ‘Are you going to come in? And I said, ‘Absolutely not!’ said Fuqua.
Fuqua and Gyllenhaal have since reverted to larger-scale films, as vaccines have made larger productions less difficult to edit. Gyllenhaal shot the Michael Bay action movie “Ambulance”; Fuqua is filming the pre-Civil War drama “Emancipation” in Louisiana with Will Smith.
Fuqua, however, kept the van. He made some changes and brought it with him to Louisiana.
“In Hollywood, we’re funny. Some things we stick with, like pitching tents with sandbags, ”says Fuqua. “When I got in the van I said it was great. You can ride it and it becomes my tent. Me and Will go over there and watch the scene.
But other trials continue. Fuqua was speaking recently during a forced break after Hurricane Ida and torrential rains interrupted filming. Contemplating biblically produced headaches such as the pandemic and flooding, Fuqua sighed.
“Between that and COVID and everything,” he said, “you have to really love this job. ”
Follow AP screenwriter Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP