The Big Screen: Hurt Locker screenwriter interview

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

In the new action movie The Hurt Locker, audiences are presented with an up-close, particularly hazardous view of the Iraq conflict at its peak.

Its chronicle of a month with a small, tight-knit and tightly wound Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, which is responsible for defusing roadside bombs, is a progression of language barriers, images moving so fast it takes a second to register that the shoulder you were just looking over doesn't belong to a friendly, and red wires trailing toward possible obliteration.

Since debuting on the festival circuit last year, the film has won universal critical acclaim for capturing the intensity of warfare and the sensation that one second, one hesitation or unforeseen delay, can be the difference between life and death. And unlike every other film about Iraq to come to theaters, The Hurt Locker is getting just as enthusiastic a response from audiences.

Screenwriter Mark Boal co-produced the film with director Kathryn Bigelow and they collaborated extensively throughout the filmmaking process. A writer-at-large for Playboy, he based the story on his experiences as a reporter embedded with an EOD unit in Baghdad in 2004.

In his journalism career he's also written weekly columns for The Village Voice and contributed to Rolling Stone and Brill's Content. Boal's 2004 Playboy story about the death of an Iraq veteran formed the basis for Paul Haggis' 2007 drama In the Valley of Elah, on which Boal received a co-story credit, his first for a feature film.

Via e-mail, Boal answered a few questions about The Hurt Locker, its inspiration, shooting on location in Amman, Jordan, and connecting movies to news of the world.

Was your transition from journalism to film prompted by Paul Haggis' interest in the story behind In the Valley of Elah, or is there maybe something about the Iraq war that lends itself to film treatment?

I love the intersection of journalism and movies. I think of that as true fiction. Paul gave me a big boost but even before we worked together, as early as 2002, I was trying to get something going along those lines because I felt that Hollywood had strayed somewhat from its tradition of social realism and there was an opportunity there.

How do you think The Hurt Locker distinguishes itself from other films about the Iraq War?

I think it's the first movie set in Iraq that parachutes the audience into the intensity of the combat zone, life in the dizzying world of the bomb squad.

When you were writing the script, were there certain details about your experiences with actual EOD personnel that you felt especially committed to conveying?

The intensity, suspense and pressure of a job where the margin of error is zero - that's what I tried to capture, and to do that I used as many details as I could without giving away tactics or turning the movie into a training video.

I know you've heard that part of the film's success lies in its intensity. Can you recall any particularly intense moments during its making?

Every day shooting in the Middle East was intense. There were so many things that could have gone wrong. I held my breath for three months.