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'Zero Dark Thirty' is filmmaking in real time

A story of failure changed to one of success midway through the writing of “Zero Dark Thirty.”
BY DENNIS KING Modified: January 14, 2013 at 11:49 pm •  Published: January 16, 2013

“If you're trying to do your homework, as I was, the first thing you do is you go directly to the offices that are set up and designed to work with reporters or book authors or screenwriters,” Boal explained. “That's what their job is: Communicate the facts and the goals of whatever agency they work for. That relationship between people seeking information and government agencies sharing the information is one of the foundations of this system that we have.

“I certainly went through official channels, the public affairs offices of the relevant agencies, as any reporter would do,” he said. “I also did independent reporting, and you just kind of follow your nose and you build what you know one interview at a time.”

While working under intense deadline was a familiar thing to him, Boal said the intense public scrutiny of the film — especially from government officials who expressed concerns about guarding classified information — added extra pressure on both him and Bigelow.

“I felt like I was working with a gun to my head because I felt a lot of competitive pressure to do it quickly,” Boal said. “It was a couple or three months of writing, and another three months of research. I was researching while I was writing. We shot the first draft, more or less, but I was always tweaking scenes on set.”

If, as the old saying goes, journalism is about writing the first rough draft of history, Boal said he feels with this film he's staked out some new territory in the space between journalism and fiction. It's a hybrid form of storytelling that blends hard-nosed reporting with narrative drama. And for this relatively new genre of literary reportage, Boal has coined a new term. He refers to “Zero Dark Thirty” as “a reported film.”