Stepping into David Ayer's hotel room, for the first time in my life I felt as if I was shaking hands with a screenwriter who could literally snap me in half without even flinching. It's not that he's muscular, menacing or intimidating -- in fact, he's none of those things. However, as my eyes met his, I could tell the man had traveled (mentally and physically) to some dangerous places. And, although he managed to survive a tough childhood, going on to become one of the most sought-after screenwriters in Hollywood, his gritty past was written all over his face.

While I was a big fan of Ayer's script for Training Day (a film which saw Denzel Washington take home an Oscar for Best Actor), as well as interested in talking about his directorial debut Harsh Times (opening this Friday), I really wanted to know more about Ayer, and what attracted him to such dark, rough material. Here's a guy who grew up on the streets of South Central, Los Angeles, who somehow found a way to escape by joining the Navy and then wound up writing Hollywood screenplays. How does that happen? Well, I did my best to find out ...

Cinematical: What was it about the story and the idea behind Harsh Times that made you so determined to get this thing made? I know you took out a mortgage on your home to finance it yourself -- I mean, what was about it that spoke to you that way?

David Ayer: Well, I wanted to direct and I wrote it with the intention to direct. I know the world, I know the characters and I know how to do it right. And there's also a uniqueness to it because it's so personal and I knew I could really duplicate some of what I've seen in my experiences and thoughts. I couldn't hand it over to someone else, and it was just time for me to direct -- it was time for the career change. I believed in it. It was a Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab Script, and we ended up doing a table reading at the silent movie theater for like 350 people. People were crying at the end, and I'm like okay -- this is a movie. I have no doubt now, this thing could be a movie. So I was just determined to get it to the screen.