Not every veteran who has stumbled into the spotlight is chomping at the bit to tell everyone about their service. However, just because they don’t parade themselves around like a hero doesn’t mean that they don’t use their military service to greatly influence their work. David Ayer, successful screenwriter and director, is a prime example of this. He has written and/or directed films like “Training Day,” “End of Watch,” “Fury,” “Suicide Squad” and most recently, “Bright.”

Ayer served in the United States Navy as a submariner from 1986 to 1988. He was 18 years old at the time of his enlistment, and would become a Sonar Technician Submarine (STS) on the USS Haddo (SSN-604). Though his military career was short, he did his part and it has influenced several of his movies.

The first screenplay Ayer sold was “U-571,” which was produced and released in 2000 — obviously a direct inspiration from his experiences in the Navy. With stars like Mathew McConaughey, Bill Paxton and even Jon Bon Jovi, it garnered a lot of attention. The film’s budget was $62 million, a dream come true for any aspiring screenwriter trying to get their first script out there. On top of that, the movie grossed $127 million, securing him a future in the film industry.

This is actually a commonality among many successful storytellers — “write what you know” has worked time and time again, be it Ernest Hemingway pretty much fictionalizing his own life in his work, or more recently Kumail Nanjiani fictionalizing and retelling true events in his own life in “The Big Sick.” I’m not talking ratings, who likes or doesn’t like the stories — I’m talking success (though I will say I’m a fan of almost all of Ayer’s work).

Later, he would use his military experiences in “Fury,” the harrowing story of a tanker crew in WWII. Of course, he never served on a tank or even in the Army, but Ayer has certain militaristic inputs that you just don’t see in other war movies. For example, the scene where a young lieutenant rallies up the senior NCOs with his gusto and naivety, trying to take charge of these experienced older men — it explores a very nuanced dynamic between officers and NCOs that is rarely seen in war films.

Aside from his military experience, he uses his intimate knowledge of Los Angeles to his advantage in many projects as well, to include “Training Day,” “End of Watch” and even his latest Netflix film, “Bright.”


David Ayer speaks at the Netflix Films’ “Bright” panel on day one of Comic-Con International on Thursday, July 20, 2017, in San Diego. | Photo by Al Powers/Invision/AP