Mark Boal

Mark Boal

Born in New York City, Boal became a noted reporter for publications like The Village Voice, Rolling Stone and Playboy, focusing his attention on world events. In 2004, Boal wrote the article "Death and Dishonor" for the latter magazine, which detailed the disappearance of Iraq War veteran, Specialist Richard Davis, whose father, retired Army Staff Sergeant Lanny Davis, went on a lone search to find out what happened. The article served as the inspiration for director Paul Haggis' moving drama, "In the Valley of Elah" (2007), starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon. Also that year, Boal spent several weeks embedded in the U.S. Army's bomb squad, which operated in a particularly dangerous part of Baghdad during the Iraq War. He followed an IED specialist who at the time had defused the most number of roadside bombs in the war. The result was a second article for Playboy, "The Man in the Bomb Suit" (2005), which detailed a profoundly eye-opening experience that Boal was determined to share through the power of film.Even prior to his experiences in Iraq, Boal had become acquainted with director Kathryn Bigelow, who had long admired the journalist's work. Upon his return, he told Bigelow about the bomb squad, which she immediately thought could be a movie. Convinced by the director to write a script, Boal spent the next few years doing just that, while continuing to churn out quality reporting. In March 2007, he had "The Real Cost of War" published in Playboy, which covered the growing problem of how the government handled Iraq war veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Meanwhile, Boal and Bigelow began shopping "The Hurt Locker," though they failed to convince a studio to back the film. Instead, they secured independent financing and shot the film in Jordan, which closely resembled neighboring Iraq. The result was an intense and deeply moving look at the Army's elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, led by a cheerfully reckless staff sergeant (Jeremy Renner), who risk their lives numerous times a day in order to save others. "The Hurt Locker" emerged from the 2008 Venice International Film Festival to become nearly unanimously praised by critics and an early Academy Award contender. For his part, Boal earned several award nominations for Best Screenplay, including a Golden Globe, but he eventually won the Writer's Guild Award and the Oscar.But just days before the Academy Awards ceremony, Master Sergeant Jeffrey S. Sarver filed suit against the producers of "The Hurt Locker," stating that Boal had based Renner's character on him and even stole the phrase "hurt locker," which he claimed to have coined. With the producer countering that the screenplay was entirely fictional - though based on Boal's embedded experience during the Iraq War - a judge tossed the suit out of court in late 2011 and ordered Sarver to pay almost $200,000 in attorney's fees. Meanwhile, rumors began swirling at the time that Boal and Bigelow expanded their professional relationship into something more personal, though both remained quiet about any potential romance. Boal returned to journalism when he published "The Kill Team: How U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians" in a 2011 edition of Rolling Stone magazine, which detailed the Pentagon's efforts to censor images of war crimes. He also reunited professionally with Bigelow to write and produce "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012), a look at the real-life black ops team of operatives who spent 10 years hunting down Osama bin Laden. The film was a source of controversy even before filming began when critics of President Barack Obama claimed its release was being timed to coincide with his re-election effort and that Boal and Bigelow had been granted unprecedented access to classified information during their research. Even after the release date was pushed back until after the election and a C.I.A. investigation uncovered no inappropriate actions on the part of the filmmakers or the administration, controversy continued to hound "Zero Dark Thirty," as several pundits charged that Boal and Bigelow were advocating the use of torture, especially in the context of the hunt for Bin Laden. Boal steadfastly refuted the claims, stating that the practice was simply an unfortunate element of an often unpleasant story. He was granted vindication when the film garnered the writer Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best (Original) Screenplay.