In Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, videographer Lou Bloom—whose ambulance-chasing and crime-scene crashing nocturnal activities become ever more sociopathic—likes to tell people that if you’re seeing him, you’re having the worst day of your life. That’s probably true, given the lengths Bloom will go to get his shot. But neither is it so far from the truth for Los Angeles’ real cast of freelance camera crews, who prowl the streets after dark in search of the latest shocks to fill the morning news.
They’re all following in the tradition of Arthur (Weegee) Fellig, whose New York street photography of dead bodies and the aftermath of mob shootouts would come to define the post-Prohibition, pre-war blues of the Five Boroughs. But where newsprint once managed some semblance of permanence—at least for a day—today’s stringers feed the ever-rolling cycle of 24-hour news, constantly bounding to the next crime scene in search of more and more human misery.
And few are as successful as the Raishbrook brothers—Austin, Howard and Mark—whose Raishbrook Media Group supplies the West Coast’s hungry news stations. The brothers had a fondness for chasing sirens that stretched back to their childhoods in Devon, England, and turned it into a hobby, and eventually a business, when they upped sticks to Los Angeles in the mid 1990s. “We bought a cheap police radio, a cheap camera and a cheap car and we went and sat in the L.A. gangland,” says Howard. “It’s a little scary to think how naïve we were.”
When Nightcrawler’s production team called to license background footage for the film’s TV newsroom scenes, RMG offered their 15 years of experience as professional news gatherers and came on board as project consultants. Among other things, they took Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal out with them on ride-alongs. “We didn’t take them to anything too dangerous,” insists Mark. “A couple of nights ago we took some ride-alongs out and there was a police chase where the guy was shooting at the police out of his window. We wouldn’t have taken Jake or Dan to that. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for getting them shot.”
Howard says the appetite for RMG’s footage has been insatiable since they started, and competition on the streets has gotten ever hotter, in no small part because of a reality TV show the brothers starred in. He thinks the appetite will always be there. “A lot of people see it as entertainment and have a morbid interest,” he says. “A lot of my friends will watch it hoping that the police chase is going to end in a crash, because it’s like a live movie.”
Howard insists, though, that what they shoot has educational value. “We shoot a lot of DUI crashes, and we’ve had comments before that it’s made people think twice,” he says. RMG has a good relationship with law enforcement, the brothers claim, and, unlike Lou Bloom, they will always provide assistance when they arrive on a scene before the emergency services. “When we started we felt helpless, and so we took it upon ourselves to be first-aid trained,” Howard says. “I’ve pulled people out of fires and helped crash victims. We’ll help first and shoot at the same time if we can, but if not we’ll shoot later.”
The job doubtless takes a certain disregard for personal safety, but Mark says that, viewed through the perceived safety of a lens, it’s surprising how far they can go. “I’ve had police chases coming straight at me on the wrong side of the street, and I just sat there filming it. I figured I didn’t have time to move out of the way so he was going to hit me whether I was filming it or not.
“But it’s definitely dangerous, and something that most people wouldn’t do.”