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Declassified Documents Reveal How The CIA Influenced The Script & Story Of 'Zero Dark Thirty'

The Playlist By Charlie Schmidlin | The Playlist May 7, 2013 at 9:39AM

Just when Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal might have thought it appropriate to move on from “Zero Dark Thirty” to whatever tense nail-biter comes next, the acclaimed actioner-drama's much-publicized production has resurfaced yet again - this time going back to the film's beginnings, as Boal was in conversation with the CIA over crucial details.
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Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain Mark Strong

Just when Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal might have thought it appropriate to move on from “Zero Dark Thirty” to whatever tense nail-biter comes next, the acclaimed actioner-drama's much-publicized production has resurfaced yet again - this time going back to the film's beginnings, as Boal was in conversation with the CIA over crucial details.

It's well known that the filmmakers' exchanges with CIA officials were mostly cordial -- even somewhat star-struck - and to do with specifics for the film's timeline, such as floor schematics accurate to Osama Bin Laden's hideout. But a new series of declassified memos (via Gawker) have revealed some sway on Boal's part, as he bowed to CIA requests to remove objectionable portions of the screenplay. Revealed in a bundle of information just released under a Freedom of Information Act request, the 2012 memo summarizes five conference calls between Boal and the CIA's Office of Public Affairs at the tail end of 2011, calls intended to “help promote an appropriate portrayal of the Agency and the Bin Laden operation."

These include the opening scene of “Zero Dark Thirty,” which finds Maya (Jessica Chastain) coming into a CIA black site interrogation run by Jason Clarke's character. From the memo, apparently Maya was initially involved in the torture rather than just observing - a point which the CIA felt to be untrue. The memo reads, "For this scene we emphasized that substantive debriefers [i.e. Maya] did not administer [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques],” and then later reads, “Boal said he would fix this.”

Other examples of original scenes taken out include interrogation tactics with dogs and a massive party scene set in Islamabad, but there are some, like Maya's analysis of detainee interviews to track down Osama bin Laden's courier, that remained under pressure. Boal replied to the memo's release shortly after the article was published, saying, “We honored certain requests to keep operational details and the identity of the participants confidential. But as with any publication or work of art, the final decisions as to the content were made by the filmmakers.”

So nothing nefarious in the CIA dealings or the within the ranks of Bigelow and Boal - simply a record of the reciprocal exchange of information that resulted in Bigelow's award-winning film. The director has laid down the cinematic interpretation of these events that many will follow to be true; as these memos continue to show, it must be considered as a work of art first and foremost.

This article is related to: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal