Director Kathryn Bigelow and Screenwriter Mark Boal Interview THE HURT LOCKER

     June 7, 2009

The Hurt Locker movie poster.jpgOpening on June 26th, in limited release, is an incredible movie about the war in Iraq called “The Hurt Locker”. It’s directed by Kathryn Bigelow and it’s about an EOD bomb squad working in the war torn country.

One of the reasons the film feels so authentic is screenwriter Mark Boal was embedded with a working bomb squad to research what really goes on. He spent weeks with the troops, and in doing so, what he wrote never felt scripted. His secret was placing most of the movie in the soldiers Humvee and you follow them from bomb to bomb. Also, while most films have some down time, “Hurt Locker” never let’s you collect your thoughts. It’s a movie experience you have to see for yourself and when you do….you’ll be chewing your fingers the entire time.

While many films have been made about the war in Iraq and what the soldiers go through, this is absolutely my favorite and something you have to see. I truly cannot recommend this film enough.

Anyhow, I recently got to speak with Kathryn and Mark and the interview is after the jump. We talked about the challenges making “Hurt Locker”, what characters were based on real people, did they always plan for the movie to be nonstop action, and, of course, I asked Kathryn what she thought of “Hot Fuzz”.

It’s a great interview and one worth reading. Again, make sure you see “The Hurt Locker” when it gets released in your area.

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Kathryn: You’re a pretty spirited…or you rather I don’t know it that’s what it like every time but very spirited video blog from Las Vegas.

Did you see the one that I did with Peter from SlashFilm?

Kathryn: Yes.

Well, actually that’s the only one I did so I guess that’s the one I saw.

Kathryn: Yes, that’s the one I saw.  Anyway, very spirited.

I hope that’s a good thing.

Kathryn: That’s a good thing.  It was great.

Yeah, we’re both very passionate about movies and it’s better to be honest and upfront about what we like and dislike then to waste everyone’s time.

Kathryn: Right, right.

Okay, so are you both ready to jump into this.

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah.

So let’s just jump on in and say…first of all congratulations on a spectacular film. I definitely want to put that out there and say how much I enjoyed it.

Kathryn:  Thank you.

I was reading the production notes and one of the things I found fascinating was you guys worked on 17 drafts of the script together.  One of the things that’s great about the film is the dialogue. It’s very natural and all the scenes felt very organic and real. Can you talk about how you guys worked together to craft the script to get it to where we saw it on the screen?

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Mark:  I write something.  Kathryn says it sucks. I go home and cry and try again and it still sucks and you repeat that over and over and over again.

Kathryn:  17 times.  1700 times.

Mark:  No, I’m being glib but…what was the question?

Kathryn:  Our process and the fact that the material, I mean if I can put words in your mouth, the fact that the material feels very real and kind of unscripted if you will.

Mark:  Yeah, I mean we were trying to make the dialogue feel spontaneous and lifelike and the whole movie experience to feel tense and authentic and intense.  And to do all that you wanted it to feel kind of like you were parachuted into the war and not parachuted into a movie, like so that was all very much our sort of goal for the script.

Kathryn:  Yeah, it was obviously intentional to have it feel that way kind of you are their boots on the ground look at this particular conflict or what it’s like to have the most dangerous job in the world.  And I think that the kind of conventional maybe a kind of more conventional structure might have betrayed that realism.  That was what was kind of so critical is a look in the life in the day of a bomb tech and the kind of courage and heroism that is comprised in that psychological profile and the cost of that heroism.  So trying to make it feel very visceral, immediate and raw and not I don’t know, mechanical or familiar.

Well one of the things I thought was great about the film is usually a film will apply the breaks between action scenes; between suspenseful moments but yet this film there is none of that.  You’re on the edge of your seat almost again and again and again and again.  And was that always the design when you guys were putting the film together that you would almost have no break or did you…and I have a part two to that of how did the studio react?  Did they want some downtime or were they always onboard with the way you guys were trying to tell your story?

Mark:  Kathryn’s not a big believer in brakes, you know?  If she were a car maker they’d be a gas pedal and that would be it.  You’d just have to drive straight I guess.  But no, then again we made it independently.

Kathryn:  Yeah, there wasn’t a studio until we sold it in Toronto.

Mark:  So yeah, and she had final cut on the movie and it was really kind of her baby from beginning to end and there was nobody….there was no bank…I mean there was a bank that put up the money but there was no “banker”, you know?

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Kathryn:  Creative interference.

Mark:  Yeah, there was no creative interference really.  So we went off the reservation in terms of how we made it and where we shot it and all that stuff and so it was very fortunate for me because the only notes I ever got were from Kathryn and that’s like a very unusual setup for a writer. It was nice.

Okay Mark I have a direct question for you.  You based this on very real experiences.  Were any of the characters in the film based on one particular person or was this like a combination of a lot of characters for each person?

Mark:  Yeah I mean the characters are fictionalized and composite you know?  But the situations are pretty authentic to what within the parameters of it being a movie.  Let me add that.  It’s not a documentary.  So there are definitely some movie liberties that are taken in order to tell a story in a compressed heartfelt way.  Does that answer your question?

I was just curious if there was one person…or if it was just based on your entire experiences.

Mark:  Yeah, it’s more like the gestalt of it all.  I don’t even know what that word means.

Kathryn: I was just going to say that.

Mark:  I don’t know what the hell it means.  It’s kind of like the sum of it all plus…

Kathryn: Plus the X factor of actually being there and ducking shrapnel knowing all the other things that happened here.

Mark: And also trying to make something that would be worthy of Kathryn’s direction.

Kathryn a direct question for you.  The casting process on this-you have a few high profile people playing smaller parts.  How did you go about getting certain people in the film and just the overall casting process?  Was this a project that everyone seemed to really want to get onboard or did you have to fight a little bit to get people?

Kathryn:  No we were very, very fortunate.  I mean I knew from the beginning during the writing phase that I wanted to cast kind of emerging, breakout talents.  In other words actors that were not overly familiar.  And I think for a number of reasons. One is I’ve sort of done that since “The Loveless” with Willem Dafoe.  Of course, that was sort of the blind leading the blind. It was both of our first outings, but just wanting to I suppose use the opportunity making an independent movie.  We’re shooting the whole thing off the reservation.  No creative interference.  Casting it right, you know without any compromise and really showcasing these three emerging talents.  And then surrounding them with actors who I know and have worked with and basically asking them if they wanted to kind of share in their experience and come to the Middle East for a few days.  And it was a great experience.

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Mark:  And then let me just dote on that as a producer I can say it was not hard…for I know you are talking about…it wasn’t hard to get some of these other guys–the Ralph Fiennes of the world, or the Guy Pierces or the David Morse’s or the Evangeline Lilly’s.  They all really wanted to work with Kathryn and I mean I know that sounds a bit like a sort of canned response but it’s actually true because we didn’t have a lot else to offer them, you know?  It wasn’t like do this and you’re going to make a lot of money or do this and you can buy a new house.  It was pretty much come to Jordan and stay in an okay hotel, but you get to work with Kathryn and they all really wanted to do that.  And that was actually true if anyone’s’ like a real geek about how all the different departments, if you look at everybody it’s really high-end people in every department.  Like the special effects guys had just come off “Transformers” and the sound guy had just come off “Spider-Man” and the editing team had just come off “Spider-Man” and the art director is like this legend in Europe.  And of course Barry Ackroyd is prominent and even then was prominent from having just shot “United 93” so considering the size of the movie we weren’t supposed to be able to get talent that high-end but they all wanted to do it because they liked the idea of working with Kathryn.  Obviously they did like the script, too but it was….not but it’s true.  There was a lot of people that were kind of excited about the artistic potential of the project because of the way it was being done, because it was kind of being done a little bit guerilla is probably too strong.  We didn’t put the movie on our credit cards but it was…

Kathryn:  close.

Mark:  Yeah, I still do have pretty high credit card bills from it, but it was a little bit outside the box, put it that way.

Well, you brought up Jordan and I definitely wanted to talk about you guys filming there.

Mark:  That’s a perfect example because just the fact of filming in Jordan, we went through three different line producers before we found somebody that was even willing to discuss it.  And that was not even about the money.  That was just like Jordan was not at that time considered a very film-friendly environment.  To put it diplomatically, people were afraid of terrorism and all sorts of stuff, so that in itself sort of set it apart like ‘hey, we’re going to go to the Middle East not New Mexico.’

I’m just curious.  I know that obviously the temperature out there, 125-135 degrees sometimes, when you’re filming something like this how challenging is that for getting cameras to work?  Does that factor in?  I’m not sure what the….

Kathryn:  I think temperature would have been a factor if we had shot digitally, but that was intentionally I didn’t want to go in that direction knowing that we were going to shoot in the Middle East knowing it was going to be summer.  So I didn’t want to have temperature sensitive equipment, but no we were fine with that.  I mean the hard part was really Jeremy in the bomb suit.  That was a real bomb suit and those are steel plates that of course protect the soldier.  And, you know to be working in the heat with the bomb suit several hours at a time was extraordinarily arduous.

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Mark:  But it was hard for…if it wasn’t hard on the equipment it was hard on the people using the equipment.

Kathryn:  Yeah.

Mark:  I mean, because and it wasn’t just Jeremy.  It was also everybody that was out there because I guess if you live there you get acclimated to it, but for the average Gringo it was pretty shocking.  And dehydration was a concern. Heat stroke was a concern like that.

Well another thing I wanted to address is the use of multiple cameras.  I read in some of the notes that sometimes, and I could be wrong about this, 12 cameras in some scenes?

Kathryn:  No, it was a comment about having worked with multiple cameras in previous films.  I mean, I’ve had….this was four discrete camera units and I’ve worked with more than that on other films, so it’s just kind of a process that I’m comfortable with and it enables me to come away with a lot of footage and a lot of options in the cutting room and in this case really kind of get that sort of immediate raw, visceral landscape of what it’s like to be a bomb tech in the field.   And it’s a real 360 degree threat situation.  Top to bottom and you don’t know what’s a potential threat or what isn’t.  I mean it’s such an asymmetrical warfare that’s being waged over there that it’s pretty unique.  And I think all the observations that Mark brought back, I felt very important to kind of capture it as accurately as possible.

Well, I definitely have to ask have you shown the film to soldiers and what’s been their reaction to the film?

Kathryn:  Some soldiers have seen it and more are yet to see it and I don’t know I was just at Show West at Monday nights screening and that might have been the one you went to and there were actually I don’t know maybe five or six four-tour vets who came up to me afterwards just like no one else ever….just ridiculously glowing comments like I mean I’d have to go off the record to tell you because it’s too embarrassing to repeat.

Well, no you can say it on the record because, listen, I loved the movie and I think that I don’t know how you can make one…it felt very, very realistic and no holds barred, so if real soldiers told you compliments, by all means, share them, because I think it’s important for people to know how much…

Kathryn:  Should I tell them Mark?

Mark:  No I think we should just say that people liked the movie.  I don’t want to over…because then you know what happens.

Kathryn:  Yes.

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Mark: Then people say well it’s not all that.  So the truth is people that have come up to us have liked the movie. I’m sure there are people that haven’t come up to us that hated it, so who knows?

I have not heard anything negative, but I do want to ask you about the ShowWest experience and what that was like for you and does that add a little pressure when you have all these theatre owners there and you’re just hoping they’re going to like it and want to book it?

Kathryn:  I have to say, honestly, I wasn’t worried at all.  I mean I felt that….I don’t know. Most people usually kind of walk away with a pretty experiential experience and I don’t know. I just sort of …I wasn’t concerned.

Before I run out of time I definitely have to ask you Kathryn what you thought of the movie “Hot Fuzz”?

Kathryn:  Oh I loved it, I loved it.  I love Edgar and I love his work and I loved it.  In fact, he dragged me to…what was that called Point Break Live?  You know, there’s actually a theatre…a kind of theatrical company that has mounted Point Break as a theatre piece–very hilarious theatre piece.  Anyway, we saw that and it was very funny.

Did you know Hot Fuzz was coming?  Did they ask you for your permission when they were going to use it in the film or did that hit you out of left field?

Kathryn:  No, I didn’t know it was coming but Edgar was really like personally wanted me to check it out and set up a screening for me and I guess perhaps he might have been actually concerned of my reaction, and of course I mean, how could you not love it, I mean I don’t know why he would be.  So anyway I loved it.

Cool, well congratulations to both of you on making such a great film.

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