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Jake Gyllenhaal Had To Rely On Zoom To Film Netflix's The Guilty And It Presented Wild New Challenges

2020 was a year where, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, if you wanted to make a movie, you could. Early projects like Songbird proved that assumption to be true, and the Netflix original film The Guilty helps to carry that torch further. Director Antoine Fuqua and star Jake Gyllenhaal put that notion to the test with an intense production that the director himself stated took place during “the height of COVID.” Part of that model had Gyllenhaal relying on Zoom, which itself presented wild new challenges for this single location thriller.

If The Guilty was just a typical movie made in a “normal” time of production, the technical obstacles might not have presented themselves as severely. Seeing as the film is a single location thriller, with most of its cast acting through audio, there still may have been chances for the execution to find unique ways of glitching out. But just as the story of Joe Baylor’s mysterious circumstances feels ripped from the headlines, the tales of how this movie was made have the same immediacy. No one knows about the freshness of Zoom more than Mr. Gyllenhaal himself, which he admitted during our interview on the film’s press day:

If you talk about luxuries, the luxury of being in person, particularly when creating rhythm with another actor, is essential. And Zoom forces a rhythm on you. Even when we said hello at the beginning of this interview, I knew I couldn’t say hello at the same time as Antoine would say it, because he wouldn’t be heard. I think we’re starting to understand that, because we’re spending a lot more time interacting with each other in this way. But there was never a creative experience where I had to do that.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s response, as well as some further explanation from director Antoine Fuqua, came out of my inquiry about what luxuries both of these collaborators missed thanks to The Guilty’s tight shooting schedule. On top of shooting their film during the COVID-19 pandemic, the remake of the 2018 Danish film from director Gustav Möller was initially intended to be shot over the course of five days. That schedule stretched to 11 days, which saw Gyllenhaal looking to have 15-20 page chunks of dialogue memorized for each day. For a normal production, that’s already an intense experience, but for one that threw technology into the mix, it was even more stunning.

The plan originally laid out in The Guilty’s press notes sounded like a more traditional strategy to craft the 911 calls that make up Jake Gyllenhaal’s field of play as Joe Baylor. Originally Antoine Fuqua had intended on sending “special boxes” to the film’s vocal cast so they could capture their lines, with the playback being fed to Gyllenhaal on set. That plan, which sounds similar to how the Apple TV+ series Mythic Quest executed a huge Rube Goldberg gag for its quarantine episode, was never meant to be.

In came the technological marvel that the world has come to know as Zoom. With The Guilty assembling an impressive cast throughout the world, the virtual meeting platform that’s become shorthand for the very medium played an important part in Antoine Fuqua’s vision. This led to the forced rhythm that Jake Gyllenhaal discussed in our interview, which was in part thanks to the technical challenges that were inherent to this strategy. Mr. Fuqua explained those hurdles, and how they enhanced The Guilty’s finished product, thusly:

Jake had long, 20 minute takes ... but they were longer than 20 minutes sometimes, because he had all the different technical things happening in his ear. We had actors from around the world, so we had them on Zoom, and the Zoom as you know can lag sometimes. He didn’t know when it was gonna repeat in his ear, and at times he would hear himself in his ear. So he was performing, and then hearing his performance, and then hearing the actor’s performance, and a repeat of that. And he had me in his ear, so technically that’s a lot going on for anyone to deal with. Jake dealt with it in flying colors, but technically it’s really complicated to do that, and to deliver a performance.

Through long takes and the rhythm and glitches of Zoom audio, as well as intense direction from a friend and colleague, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Joe Baylor in The Guilty was shaped. With the movie providing a riveting showcase of his acting range, Gyllenhaal is one of those actors you’d absolutely want anchoring a single location film, especially when the story plays out almost exclusively around that person’s emotions and actions. As he further explained when discussing the subject of that rhythm, Gyllenhaal found room to be even more precise with his delivery in light of such limitations:

So sometimes you wouldn’t realize that the computer was creating your rhythm. It was like you were playing chess with the computer, it felt a little bit like that sometimes. And you had to figure your way around it, but obviously the computer would win. We would figure out different ways to interrupt each other, to be able to talk over each other, to me starting my line at the end of the Zoom. Even though it would mute them out, I would know I was interrupting. It was a very, very much more meticulous process than I had ever thought it would be, because of the limitations and the ‘luxury’, I would call it, of being in person.

The Guilty is a lean and electrifying experience that brings out the best in Jake Gyllenhaal and Antoine Fuqua. Despite the obstacles that were presented to them, the two make a winning team and delivered a film that’s as intense as its production. So the next time you're on a Zoom call, just imagine how much worse it could be if you were pretending that the person on the other line was a life you were trying to save. You can catch The Guilty for yourself, in limited theatrical release, on September 25. But if you’re not ready to head back to the movies just yet, the Netflix original will debut on its home streaming platform starting October 1.

Mike Reyes

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.