Inside The Hurt Locker with Writer Mark Boal
Also, watch the first 8 minutes of The Hurt Locker and learn the real facts about bomb disposal in Iraq.
After spending time in 2004 as an embedded journalist in Iraq, Playboy writer Mark Boal turned his experiences and observations into a fictionalized character study of three bomb technicians in Baghdad. The result, the Certified Fresh film The Hurt Locker, has earned some of the biggest raves of the year from critics who hail Boal's riveting characterizations along with superbly tense direction from Kathryn Bigelow.
But while the film features its fair share of action movie danger and, yes, explosions, it derives a sobering weight from the very real efforts of the few American soldiers tasked with diffusing the Iraq War's most unpredictable weapons on a daily basis. Incredibly, the soldiers of the EOD -- short for the US Army's Explosive Ordnance Disposal team -- volunteer for this duty, an assignment with far more casualties than any other military post. Boal explained why he felt compelled to turn his embedded observations into a film.
(Watch the first eight minutes of the film on page 2.)
Why did you want to turn this experience of yours into a movie?
Mark Boal: It started out as a story; I was interested in doing a story on the bomb squad because they hadn't been written about. And they had this really interesting job that continues to be very topically important, because the bomb squad is one of the key military units in a war that consists largely of IEDs (improvised explosive devices). So that was the fairly straightforward journalistic impulse; I wanted to write about something that was newsworthy.
That's how it all got started. After I came back from Iraq, I had some conversations with Kathryn Bigelow about what I'd seen, and those conversations turned into the idea of writing the screenplay.
Did Kathryn Bigelow approach you, or vice versa, and what were your shared goals?
MB: Well, we had worked together before, so I don't remember who picked up the phone first. We worked together on a TV show before, so we sort of knew each other. It was really just the idea of making a movie that was compelling in cinematic terms, but also in journalistic terms, if that makes sense.
Coming from a background in journalism, were you prepared to write in terms of cinematic storytelling?
MB: No, not really. I was really lucky in that I had worked before that on In the Valley of Elah with Paul Haggis, so that was my introduction to screenwriting. I learned a lot from Paul. Kathryn was very generous with her time and taught me a lot, too, so between the two of them I got my feet wet.
The time in Iraq was really research, and I did additional research after that. What it did was it enabled us to make something that was pretty faithful to what life was like in 2004.
Can you talk about how your embed affected you?
MB: Well, I think I was really struck by the danger and intensity of the job that these soldiers have. And so that's just something that stayed with me that made me want to write a movie about it.
How much time did you spend with the bomb squad?
MB: I was with the bomb techs the whole time I was there, and I was there for several weeks. I don't remember the exact number of days. I went on a lot of missions with them, and saw them diffuse all sorts of bombs and IEDs.
As we can see in the film, it seems incredibly dangerous to even approach any of these bombs in order to disarm them. How close did you get to a bomb?
MB: Well, maybe a hundred yards.
I was amazed at how detailed the processes are depicted, especially if you were witnessing bomb diffusion firsthand. That sort of journalism seems incredibly dangerous in itself.
MB: Well, it's certainly more dangerous than going to a Lakers game. But it's something I wanted to do, and it was certainly my choice. I was only there for a short amount of time so I don't want to exaggerate the danger, but I found it to be quite scary.
Next: On the psychological toll of EOD bomb squad life, and where real life stories intertwined with fiction