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Posts Tagged ‘Kathryn Bigelow’

“I started out in newspapers, went on to narrative nonfiction magazine articles in the late 90’s, and then began trying my hand at screenwriting…In 2002, Kathryn Bigelow optioned a piece I did called ‘Jailbait.’ It became a short-lived TV show on Fox that she directed. That was really my introduction to television and film. Then I continued on the dual track I’m on now, trying to merge the two disciplines. This really started with The Hurt Locker, which was based on reporting, and continued with Zero Dark Thirty.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
Interview with Rob Feld
The Hurt Locker: The Shooting Script 

Here’s a link to Boal’s article Jailbait which got the attention of Bigelow.

P.S. Back in 1995 Boal graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio where he majored in philosophy. In this 2010 talk at the school Boal told students, “You have to be willing to get your teeth kicked in continually before you achieve even a modicum of success. And once you achieve that you have to be willing to put up with a bunch of rejection before you can get anywhere.” (I don’t get too much criticism from this blog, but when it comes it’s usually in the form of, “you make this sound too hard to do.” I think Boal’s quote and Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg‘s similar quote—“Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.”—pretty much sum it up.

BTW—Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All the Presidents Men) graduated from Oberlin College with an English degree.

Related post:
Screenwriting Quote #126 (Mark Boal) Boal proves you don’t have to go to film school, but you do have to learn from others. (And it’s a bonus if those others are Oscar-winner Paul Haggis and Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow. The key is to write something good enough to get you in the room with that kind of talent.)
Hitchcock Loved The Hurt Locker
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (tip#2)
First screenplay=9 Oscar Nominations
Beatles, King, Cody & 10,000 Hours
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)

Scott W. Smith

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Hitchcock loved The Hurt Locker? As in Alfred Hitchcock? Really? Hasn’t he been dead for like 30 years? Yes, I guess I should have said that “Hitchcock would have loved The Hurt Locker”—but that’s a long title, and less interesting. So why do I think the master of suspense and a psychological thrillers would have appreciated the film that picked up the best picture Oscar Sunday?

Well, in part because The Hurt Locker was suspenseful and psychological. But there are three other reasons that come to mind of why I think director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal tapped into the Hitchcock creative mindset as filmmakers.

1) Hitchcock said that the difference between shock and suspense was the difference between having a bomb suddenly going off surprising the audience (shock) and the audience seeing that there is a bomb under a table with a timer ticking down (suspense). The later being able to hold your attention for a long time no matter what the conversation is above the table. Bigelow and her editors knew they didn’t need to rush certain scenes and used the built in suspense to their advantage.

2) Little dialogue/strong visuals—Hitchcock came from the world of silent films and believed you only used words when the visuals didn’t tell the story. (Watch Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and The Birds to see excellent examples.) Bigelow studied painting before she became a filmmaker and The Hurt Locker is strong on visuals. Hitchcock embraced simplicity at times sometimes using little or no sound effects. Sometimes pulling the effects and music altogether for a dramatic effect. I’ve only seen The Hurt Locker once so far but I seem to recall the music and effects track being spartan at times. I’m sure much effort went into the sound design of The Hurt Locker but it didn’t overpower the track and at times seemed to be just actor Jeremy Renner breathing in his protective suit.

3) Hitchcock didn’t care about reality. There have been a few articles about how some bomb experts in Iraq don’t feel like the film was realistic. One used the words “grossly exaggerated.” Bigelow wasn’t making a documentary. She was making a movie. And movies as I learned in film school are “heightened  reality.” Some cops never shoot their gun in their whole career, but that tends not to make for good drama. Hitchcock didn’t worry about reality and I’ll let him explain his reasoning, after all he’s the guy who had a chase scene on top of Mount Rushmore, a killing inside the UN building, as well as many other “grossly exaggerated” situations;

“To insist that a storyteller stick to the facts is just as ridiculous as to demand of a representative painter that he show objects accurately…We should have total freedom to do as we like, just so long as it’s not dull. A critic who talks to me about plausibility is a dull fellow…I don’t want to film a ‘slice of life’ because people can get that at home, in the street, or even in front of the movie theater. They don’t have to pay money to see a slice of life. And I avoid out-and-out fantasy because people should be able to identify with the characters. Making a film means, first of all, to tell a story. That story should never be banal. It must be dramatic and human. What is drama, after all, but life with the dull bits cut out.”
Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock: The Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock by Truffaut

Of course, the military leadership has to go on record saying that they aren’t looking for lone-ranger, hotshot cowboys on their bomb squads. And they probably don’t. But I image they realize  this will do a little for recruiting what the cocky, hotshot pilot Tom Cruise and Top Gun did back for Navy recruiting in the 80s. Bigalow and Boal have made rock stars of guys that risk their life to defuse bombs. (I read one reviewer who went as far as to say the movie felt like an Army recruitment film.) The movie hasn’t been seen any where near as much as Top Gun and flying a jet plane seems a little more glamorous, but I think that bomb disposal experts should be sending thank you notes to Bigelow and Boals because they have brought dignity and awareness to a job most Americans knew little about.

And if any bomb disposal experts in Iraq or Afghanistan read this, thank you for what you’re doing. I hope you come home safely soon.

And congrats to Bigelow and the whole Hurt Locker crew on the Oscar wins.

Related post: Pandora vs. Baghdad

Scott W. Smith

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Since The Hurt Locker is Mark Boal’s first screenplay I wondered how he first made contact with producer/director Kathryn Bigelow. According to an LA Times article by Claudia Eller Boal & Bigelow first met “years earlier when she developed a TV series for Fox based on an article he wrote about an undercover drug agent.”

With that answer out of the way, I began to wonder where Boal’s picked up how to write a screenplay since he was a trained journalist. And I found the answer in the  article “Inside The Hurt Locker with writer Mark Boal” by Jen Yamato.

Yamato:  Coming from a background in journalism, were you prepared to write in terms of cinematic storytelling?

Boal: 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.

Ahhhh, it all makes sense. Haggis (who I quoted back in November) cut his writing chops back on shows like the Love Boat back in 1985 and many other TV programs before winning back to back Oscar awards for writing the scripts for Crash and Million Dollar Baby. I kept wondering how Boal pulled off such a great first script. Not to take anything away from Boal or the research he did in Iraq, but what a great opportunity he had to have mentor-like relationship with an multiple Academy Award-winning screenwriter who has picked up a few things in his 20+ year career. And then add Bigelow’s experience on top of that I’m guessing that Boal has a pretty solid understanding of screenwriting and I look forward to his next film.

The Writer’ Store is selling The Hurt Locker script published by Newsmarket and Storylink  will also be hosting a live Q&A with Boal on February 16, 2010. You can submit questions online at Storylink.

Related posts: Pandora vs. Baghdad

First Screenplay= 9 Oscar Nominations

Scott W. Smith

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For journalist turned screenwriter Mark Boal, 2009/2010 turned into quite a life changing period. His script for The Hurt Locker was released as a movie and more recently the film has been nominated for nine Academy Awards. He was asked recently by  Claudia Eller at the Los Angeles TImes how all of that has changed the 36-year old’s life;

“Drastically. The single biggest change is probably seeing a story I care about discussed on the “Today” show with Kathryn Bigelow and Jeremy Renner. It’s a far cry from being on the subway and seeing the story you wrote being read by a guy as he turns the page to look at the escort ads. I was in the post office the other day sending a copy of the screenplay to someone whose house I stayed at in Nantucket, and this woman behind me in line who had seen the movie said, “Oh my God, I’ve got to text my friend that I’m in line with you.”
Mark Boal, screenwriter
The Hurt Locker had an explosive effect on Mark Boal’s Screenwriting Career
Article by Claudia Eller/LA Times

Related post: Screenwriting from Massachusetts

Scott W. Smith

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“[Kathryn] Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal…have made the first fictional feature about American soldiers in Iraq that doesn’t fall apart, or preach to a choir, or turn into a position paper.”
Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune

The Hurt Locker had a limited release last summer and never made it to my neck of the woods. Nor did the release in December. Which is too bad, because I think that the story which takes place in Iraq would have resonated well in a part of the country that attracts a lot of men and women into the military.

What’s worse though is it never found an audience in the theater so not many people got to see this great and well crafted film on the big screen. Fortunalty,  the film was nominated for nine Academy Awards which has helped it attracts more of a following. I watched the film this week and found this exchange on the commentary track between producer/director Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: Widowmaker, Point Break) and producer/screenwriter Mark Boal talking about the impetus of the film.

Mark Boal: (The Hurt Locker) sort of came out of a experience I had in Baghdad—in Iraq–where I was embedded as a journalist in 2004 covering the bomb squad and going out on daily missions with them and seeing the kinds of situations they got into. And it was a really eye-opening experience  just to witness the sheer onslaught of bombs that these three man teams would have to deal with at that time in the war. And I think that it took the military a little bit by surprise, it certainly took them by surprise. I wrote a article about the bomb squad and then felt that the story warrented a larger translation, perhaps into a film.

And when I came back from Iraq (I) presented the idea to Kathryn Bigelow, and I think you were intrigued–I don’t know if that’s putting words in your mouth…

Kathryn Bigelow: I was more than intrigued. I thought that these men have arguable the most dangerous job in the world, And that it’s a voluntary military, so that’s a very interesting psychological profile and I thought because we had an opportunity to look at this conflict through first hand observation of Mark’s embed I thought it was a pretty rare and extraordinary situation and could be a very interesting film. I also felt that the war was under reported and that I, being a member of the general public, I had very little idea what was going on over there. What EOD, IED–what these terms meant, And looking at a day in the life of a bomb tech really unpacked it.

Mark: So having secured Kathryn’s interest I set out to write a script on spec. Which means that there was no contract or money involved and we ended up producing the movie independently, raising the funds sort of outside the Hollywood system.

I hope that the film gains traction and I imagine as we look back on this era The Hurt Locker will be one of the defining film of the times.

A second rare and extraordinary situation is this is Mark Boal’s first screenplay.

And third rare and extraordinary thing surrounding The Hurt Locker is Kathryn Bigelow was once married to writer/director James Cameron who also has a little film out called Avatar which also has been nominated for nine Academy Awards. What are the odds of that combo ever happening again?

The Hurt Locker and Avatar are up against each other in the best picture category. Fantasy vs. reality. 3-D vs. 2-D.  Pandora vs. Baghdad. At the box office there is no question who the winner is–Avatar probably made more thanThe Hurt Locker in just its first weekend playing at the Archlight Cinema in Hollywood.

Avatar just became the top box office money-maker in the history of movies, and it would be poetic justice if The Hurt Locker took home the best picture Oscar next month. It would be well deserved.

Scott W. Smith

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