The Journalist Behind Kathryn Bigelow's Films

Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, is turning her focus to the U.S. in her next movie. Not present day America, but 1967 Detroit during riots that killed 43 people and tore the city apart. The new movie, simply titled Detroit, focuses on the killing of three black men by police at the Algiers Hotel.

Bigelow's writer on those war movies and Detroit is Mark Boal, a former reporter who once wrote for Village Voice, Playboy and Rolling Stone. His story about a murdered Iraq war veteran was the basis for In The Valley of Elah, a 2007 film by Paul Haggis.

Soon Boal was working with Bigelow on Hurt Locker. In an A.V. Club interview, Bigelow says he made the transition from journalism to screenwriting quickly. "He began to become familiar with the craft of screenwriting [on Elah], and then in my opinion, mastered it on [Hurt Locker]," she says. "But definitely going from fact-based writing to fictionalization—and then creating the kind of architecture for cinematic translation—was a bit of a process. Although he took to it quite naturally."

What Boal hasn't learned is how to talk to reporters. When Columbia Journalism Review's Bryce Duffy requested an interview, Boal insisted on email or Instant Messages exchanges. The result is a Q&A that's full of lower case letters. Regarding the soon-to-be-released Detroit, Boal says he was talking about race with a friend "and somehow he said, ‘You ever been to Detroit?’ And that’s how it started. I hadn’t."

Here's a longer excerpt, complete with lower case letters but tightened up a little on the paragraph indentations:

COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW: "so essentially you hired a bunch of reporters to report on Detroit — on the riots and that era, or on what’s going on now, or both?"

MARK BOAL: "yup. that era. i mean, i told them what i was looking for. like an editor would, almost ... they dug up the skeletons. they found a bunch of folks still alive with the memories. and then i went around after they’d done the hard work, and did my own interviews and got the lay of the land firsthand. on Detroit, i quickly realized i needed to bone up on the city i knew little about – and find out how this particular story actually worked. the fastest way to do that? we put together a team of ace reporters. pulitzer guys and so forth. they hammered out the story in a couple of months. dazzling work. hopefully we can put it to some journalistic use one day – then, yeah, i take that research and put it in the toaster oven, and wait for a screenplay to pop out."

The full interview is here.

Detroit is slated for a Aug. 4, 2017 release.