Zero Dark Thirty: The Shooting Script Transcends the Finished Product

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It wasn't surprising that screenwriter Mark Boal's script for Zero Dark Thirty didn't nab the coveted statuette at this year's Academy Awards; sad, but not surprising. Thankfully, you can read that riveting script and see what the Academy didn't honor in HarperCollins print of the Zero Dark Thirty screenplay. If you're a fan of movie scripts, like myself, or want to see what everyone was freaking out over when the movie first came to theaters, I can't stress enough that you should pick up a copy. Additional items in the book keep this from being just a slim, bound script, and I found myself understanding (and admittedly enjoying) the movie a lot more.

In case you didn't actually see the finished film, Zero Dark Thirty details the ten-year manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. Utilizing real CIA information, the story revolves around idealistic CIA operative Maya (Academy Award-nominee Jessica Chastain) as she struggles to hold onto her sanity alongside her determination to take down the most wanted terrorist in the world.

I've been a sucker for scripts from a young age, maybe because it combined movies and the written word? The script for Zero Dark Thirty is a taut thriller filled with beautiful prose and powerful monologues. As Boal discusses in an interview that's included in the book, he's a visual screenwriter, which comes through in the script itself. He details character motivations, giving those reading the script a Cliff's Notes idea of what they should be thinking and feeling.

At times, he includes information that you would need to understand the plot. I was drawn to a moment, that's not spoken dialogue, where Boal details a terrorist network "growing and spreading, like an octopus, throughout the base. We trace the new tentacles of the CIA facility" (Boal, pg. 27). It's not a moment we see in the movie properly, but reading that orients you into exactly what's going on behind the scenes, that might not be spoken by the actors. I'll admit I didn't love Zero Dark Thirty until I read the script. Reading it allows you to take time to process the intricate network of characters that's established, and whatever you don't understand can be reread. It's a far cry from having to nudge the person next to you at the theater and asking "Who's that guy?" You also get character issues that you might never have noticed. I had no idea we were supposed to detect a rivalry between Maya and fellow female CIA operative Jessica (Jennifer Ehle). It's not the fault of the actress, but a movie this complex makes you forget the characters we follow. Really, if you didn't fully comprehend the movie, this is an indispensable resource.

Along with the script is a series of movie stills from the finished product. They're glossy, but not necessarily a bonus. The bonus is the interview with Mark Boal where he details his writing style, and his background. I didn't know Boal had a journalistic background, and there's a lot of good writing advice included in the interview, including how journalistic writing is different from screenwriting; the various incarnations the book took from page to screen, including how the capture/death of Bin Laden changed the script entirely; his past writing assignments; and why he's allowed to be on-set more than most screenwriters. If anything, this not only gives you proof of Boal's expert writing, but is a tribute to the screenwriter in general. There are also storyboards from the final raid sequence included at the end. They're great drawings, but nothing too spectacular.

If you're hoping to become a screenwriter, or just enjoy reading a good piece of writing, then grab the Zero Dark Thirty shooting script. It's a slim volume, but packed with a script to a highly acclaimed movie as well as a detailed interview with the writer himself. I'm anticipating rewatching the movie when it hits DVD with fresher, more informed eyes.

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