We Talk With the Map Guru of 'Nightcrawler'

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Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal behind the scenes of Nighcrawler
Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal behind the scenes of Nighcrawler

Director Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal behind the scenes

At more than 4,000 square miles, Los Angeles County is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Jake Gyllenhaal covers much of that terrain in Nightcrawler.

The 33-year-old actor negotiates L.A. roads at breakneck speeds as Lou Bloom, an ambitious freelance videographer for local television news. Starting his gig out in a tiny, vintage Toyota Tercel, Bloom drives furiously, following GPS directions to crime scenes. As Bloom’s operation expands, he takes on a partner and a new car — a superfast, red Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, tearing it up all over the Southland.

The staging of such scenes are so central to Nightcrawler, Yahoo Movies tracked down the film’s mapping mastermind. Production designer Kevin Kavanaugh devised routes and locations for the film, which was, indeed, shot in the greater L.A. area.

Related: 6 Handy L.A. Driving Tips From the ‘Nightcrawler’ Map Man

Like the film’s writer-director Dan Gilroy (with whom Yahoo has also spoken), and Gyllenhaal himself, Kavanaugh is a proud Angeleno who knows the roads like the back of his hand. (He says he has no use for crowd-sourced GPS app Waze.) “I just started from truth,” he says of his methods when it came to devising Gyllenhaal’s unwieldy routes.

To locals, Nightcrawler can become a game of Where’s Waldo? as Gyllenhaal crisscrosses L.A. several times over. Early on, we see him in Venice Beach, though his apartment is miles across town near Dodger Stadium, in Chinatown. One assignment takes him to nearby Echo Park, also on the east side of L.A. Another takes him all the way to Mullholland Drive in the northernmost point of the city limits. “I wanted to move him around a bit and not just stick him in one neighborhood,” says Kavanaugh.

Culver City Dinah's Chicken Nighcrawler
Culver City Dinah's Chicken Nighcrawler

There’s one scene only the most geographically astute Angelenos will recognize. When Bloom meets his prospective partner at a picturesque, old diner, a partially obscured city welcome sign is visible in the background. “Oh, that [sign] is real. It’s Culver City,” confirms Kavanaugh. “It’s a chicken place, Dinah’s, down on Sepulveda and Centinela, by Playa Vista, where the 405 and the 90 meet.”

Kavanaugh would fit right in to the SNL skit “The Californians,” also referencing “where the 5 meets the 170 and the 134” (Angelenos simply say the freeway and highway number, without a descriptor following it, and always preceded with a “the”). “I’m very familiar with where all these freeways intersect and what’s the fastest way.”

Related: Interview with ‘Nightcrawler’ Director Dan Gilroy

While Gyllenhaal has made much of memorizing every inch of Gilroy’s script, Kavanaugh had a major hand in shaping it. “Dan’s script had a blueprint of where [the actors] should be going,” explains the production designer, who has worked on two Dark Knight movies as well as Transformers. “But once we started finding where things are in reality, it was very easy for Dan to change some of the dialogue.”

Kavanaugh knew one scene was to be staged in Koreatown — so the script shifted to reflect the location: Western Avenue and 3rd Street. In fact, Gilroy says some locations that had been set up for months in advance would often be scrapped. “When you have that many locations, permits fall apart,” he tells Yahoo. “Somebody suddenly decides to close their business early. Often the night of, locations would drop out, and [our location scouts] would go leapfrog ahead of us and find locations that we could shoot at.”

In spite of the constantly shifting sites, Gyllenhaal never once questioned the routes and locations he recited while in character, Kavanaugh reports.

Related: ‘Nightcrawler’ vs. Nightcrawler: Which One’s Harder to Play?

Authenticity was paramount to filmmakers, but there was “a little bit of fudging here and there.” The final chase sequence, for example, was pieced together from a few different locations. Filmmakers had to match a street to Western, and found Laurel Canyon Boulevard, near the cross street of Roscoe in the nearby San Fernando Valley, as its closest equivalent. “It has the same type of lanes, it’s straight, with similar store fronts left and right. It’s pretty good,” says Kavanaugh with certainty. “I’m my own critic here because I’m from L.A.”

Nightcrawler is in theaters now.

Photo: Open Road Films, TravelsWithTwo.com, TVUnfiltered.com