Training Days

Screenwriter David Ayers hard, miserable, lonely path to the big paycheck

On another occasion, Ayer's fondness for Hispanic women left him in need of dental work. "He used to go to these parties to meet Latinas," says Strick. "I guess some people thought it was fine, but others saw it as cultural poaching. One morning, he came into the kitchen with a couple of teeth knocked out. Some guy had sucker-punched him at a party. That's the kind of world he was inhabiting at the time. He was safely writing during the day; then he'd go out and look for trouble and adventure at night."

Ayer poured his rough past and wild nights into his writing, which continued to improve. But nothing seemed to click until, he says, "after kind of unsuccessfully pimping scripts for five years or so, I just got fed up and burned out and wrote one for me."

The result was Training Day, which, although it did not get picked up immediately (its pre-Rampart-scandal depiction of rogue cops made it a hard sell), got him an agent. It also landed him an assignment rewriting The Plague Season, an original screenplay by crime novelist James Ellroy. Eventually re-titled Dark Blue, it told the story of a corrupt LAPD detective in the days leading up to the 1992 riots. Caldecot Chubb, one of the film's producers, says, "Every once in a while, you read a script and go, 'Oh, my God, who wrote this?' That's what happened when I read Training Day. It was original, powerful, shocking, with a real voice, and I thought, 'This is the one guy who could possibly rework James Ellroy.'"

Ayer did such a wholesale revamp that Ellroy ultimately opted for a "story by" (versus a screenwriting) credit. Meanwhile, Rampart broke, Warner Bros. snapped up Training Day, and soon, despite his contention that writing is "hard, miserable, lonely work," Ayer was churning out studio rewrites as zealously as he had once plowed through incipient drafts in Strick's guesthouse. "I always had a feeling that Dave would amount to something," says Strick, "although I was stunned by the magnitude and speed of his success. When my wife and I met him, he was something of what the newspapers call a drifter or a loner—a guy on the fringe who, I suppose, could have gone either way."

Where Ayer is going now is the director's chair. Under a production deal with Warner Bros., he hopes to direct a remake of Andrť de Toth's 1954 film noir Crime Wave, with Ethan Hawke penciled in to star. And although Ayer is probably closer in temperament to Ozzy Osbourne than he is to Ozzie Nelson, a wife and new baby have pretty much quieted his restless streak. Reflecting on the circuitous path that led him to this hilltop aerie overlooking the pocked streets that shaped him, Ayer says, "You've got to make your demons drive your work and not drive you. It took a while to learn that. Everyone's got his shit going on, but for the most part, it's really worked out for me. And I'm getting promoted. It's like the military—I got promoted to producer, and now I'm getting promoted to director. That's like a colonel or something. You get to tell people what to do. So it's cool."

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