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Kathryn Bigelow


Peter Keough

Publication Year: 2013

With her gripping film The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow (b. 1951) made history in 2010 by becoming the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. Since then she has also filmed history with her latest movie, which is about the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden.

She is one of Hollywood's brightest stars, but her roots go back four decades to the very non-Hollywood, avant-garde art world of New York City in the 1970s. Her first feature The Loveless (1982) reflected those academic origins, but subsequent films such as the vampire-Western Near Dark (1987), the female vigilante movie Blue Steel (1989), and the surfer-crime thriller Point Break (1991) demonstrated her determination to apply her aesthetic sensibilities to popular, genre filmmaking.

The first volume of Bigelow's interviews ever published, Peter Keough's collection covers her early success with Near Dark; the frustrations and disappointments she endured with films such as Strange Days (1995) and K-19: The Widowmaker (2002); and her triumph with The Hurt Locker. In conversations ranging from the casual to the analytical, Bigelow explains how her evolving ambitions and aesthetics sprang from her earliest aspirations to be a painter and conceptual artist in New York in the 1970s, and then expanded to embrace Hollywood filmmaking when she was exposed to renowned directors such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah, and George Roy Hill.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

...Despite the millions of viewers and all the hoopla, the Academy Awards rarely amount to much of cultural significance. Not so the 82nd annual Oscar ceremony, which took place on March 7, 2010. Though there were ten nominees for Best Picture, the first time more than five had competed since 1944, the contests had come down to only two films and two directors, who, adding to the drama, were also formerly husband and wife. They were James Cameron with his sci-fi...


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pp. xix-xxiv


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pp. xxv-xxxiii

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Nicholas Ray: The Last Interview

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pp. 1-9

...Question: What did you think when you went to Europe and noticed how filmmakers, especially, the French ones, were influenced by your work? Truffaut, for example? NR: And also Godard, Rohmer. Yes, I did have a strong influence on their work. I’m not sure if it was always for the best. I remember one evening I was driving home during the filming of...

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A Visit with the Master of Melodrama: Douglas Sirk

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pp. 10-16

...On the terrace of the Sirk home overlooking Lake Lugano, situated against the base of the Alps in Lugano, Switzerland, Hilde Sirk (beautiful and gracious former stage actress in Germany), Mathias Brunner (Swiss film exhibitor and friend of the Sirks), Kathryn Bigelow (American film director), and Monty Montgomery (American film director) meet with the eighty-two-year-old film director Douglas Sirk. Born Hans Detlef Sierck...

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Revamping Vampires

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pp. 17-19

...gothic vampire mythology has been stripped away, leaving an intense, haunting story of sensual compulsion and anarchy. The outlaws live forever, by night and on blood, but the word “vampire” is never once mentioned. “It was a deliberate choice,” says Bigelow, who also co-wrote the script with Eric Red, author of the chilling nightmare movie...

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Black-Leather Director in a Business World

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pp. 20-23

...Bang! Bang! Bang! Shots rang out along the dim paths into Central Park, reminding intrepid strollers and joggers of the danger that lay deep within the huge, cavernous park. And then, a reassuring shout from within the park: “Cut! Print!” Kathryn Bigelow, sinewy and dark-haired, stood in long shadows that streaked the floodlighted clearing, directing her third...

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Happiness Is a Warm Gun

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pp. 24-29

...In a narrow cul-de-sac near Wall Street, a woman cop is fighting for her life. Jamie Lee Curtis, arm and hand bloodied, collapses against a car. Ron Silver’s gun is aimed at her. It’s the final showdown of a long, gory battle. Curtis, bleeding profusely from her ear and arm, gun clenched tight in her bloody hand, is struggling slowly to her feet...

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Dark by Design

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pp. 30-39

...The child of a paint factory manager and his wife, a librarian, Bigelow grew up in northern California and studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She entered the Whitney Museum Independent Study program in 1972 and began experimenting with film while working as an assistant to Vito Acconci. Her first short...

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Blue Steel: Kathryn Bigelow in Action

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pp. 40-41

...Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Silver, Louise Fletcher, Philip Bosco, and Clancy Brown, should erase any lingering doubts about her ability to direct action movies. Considering the stereotype of female directors, she says, “I think people expect fairly tame movies from women. I don’t know why that should be gender-related, but we have to work against those preconceptions...

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Genre Bender

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pp. 42-45

...shall sleep!” True aficionados are not tempted by bogus protestations of culture nor by the pale imitations of action films, such as the Rambo regiment, that feature lots of huffing and puffing and hurtling bodies but no visible skill. Rather, their eyes light up when they talk about the grails of their quest: exceptional, often underappreciated efforts such as Don Siegel’s...

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Kathryn Bigelow’s Disturbing Vision

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pp. 46-49

...Bigelow insists that “film genres are not gender-specific,” and that men should be able to direct gentle romances, and women gory shoot- ’em-ups. Still, she can’t help puzzling about how significantly her ultraviolent obsessions diverge from the pacifist concerns of women of her acquaintance, including women filmmakers. “I wish I could find an explanation in some resonance from my childhood,” the filmmaker jokes...

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James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow

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pp. 50-60

...James Cameron, self-described “king of the sequel” has built his career on the intelligent action-adventure flick. After supporting himself as a truck driver while writing screenplays, he landed in the industry with a job at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures as a miniature-set builder and art director. Cameron came into his own as a director with...

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From Style to Steel

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pp. 61-63

...In 1982, London clubs were almost entirely patronized by people who had dumped their New Romantic sash cords for the frisson of torn jeans and a perfect flattop. When it came to music, those hedonists were all soul fans, but in looks they plumped for the downhome classicism of fifties rebel style. The previous year, Kathryn Bigelow’s debut feature...

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Hollywood’s Macho Woman

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pp. 64-66

...Kathryn Bigelow has been asked this particular question a lot. No matter how delicately you phrase it, how much you skirt around the issue, it comes down to the same thing: why does she make the kind of movie she makes? As the sole woman director regularly working in the traditionally male-dominated action movie arena, Bigelow has had to contend with her critics ill-at-ease with her proficiency with the medium. Moreover...

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Kathryn Bigelow

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pp. 67-72

...Born in 1951 and raised in San Francisco, Bigelow was trained in the arts; first in the San Francisco Art Institute and then at the Whitney Museum in New York. She found herself bored with what she called the “elitist limitations” of traditional visual arts, so with a group of other avantgarde painters and sculptors Bigelow started dabbling in film as an expressive...

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Momentum and Design: Kathryn Bigelow Interviewed

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pp. 73-90

...Bigelow’s alternately brooding and pulverizing new film, Entertainment has, for all intents and purposes, become the medium for a jaded nation’s ever more spectral political life. By extension, the film frames the End of History as the End of Cinema as we know it. We’re in a Los Angeles of confetti and riot helmets, where the sun never rises and Hollywood is obsolete. In this ultimate police state, the limos are all bulletproof...

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Kathryn Bigelow: Vicarious Thrills

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pp. 91-94

...millennium. The city is dark, decaying, crime-ridden, wracked by racial tensions. And, skulking through the wreckage is the charming Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), a former cop who has gone to seed and now peddles black-market “SQUID clips,” electronic memories that are recorded directly in people’s brains and enable buyers to relive, in playback on a small headpiece, a slice of someone else’s life. We see a good deal of these SQUIDs in the course of the movie, vividly presented through the dizzy...

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Reality Bytes

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pp. 95-102

...A painter who enrolled in the Whitney Program before migrating to Columbia Film School, Kathryn Bigelow is something of an anomaly in Planet Hollywood. Combining an affinity for the frenetic rhythms of the thriller with a taste for subversive genre-bending that recalls her “high art” beginnings, Bigelow is a consummate technician whose balletic action sequences remind us how cinematically pure the language...

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Strange Days Probes Import of Vicarious Living

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pp. 103-104

...Bigelow on that point. Although the movie has not stirred major waves at the box office, to the disappointment of 20th Century Fox, it has stirred major discussion among critics and audiences. It also earned the distinction of an American premiere at the New York Film Festival, one of the most selective and prestigious events of its kind. Love it or hate it, most moviegoers have a hard time dismissing it— and that’s unusual in an age when Hollywood would rather duck difficult issues than risk a slump in ticket sales. Supporters of the movie cite...

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Happy New Millennium

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pp. 105-108

...Lewis. In America, this shocking vision of pre-apocalyptic Los Angeles at the turn of the century has already been met by both enthusiastic acclaim, boos, and much talk for a need for censorship. “The movie isn’t only about violence. It’s a love story and it emphasizes characters,” defends Bigelow of her often intensely overwhelming film. Bigelow makes genre pictures, she says, because they offer her the opportunity to explore the visceral dynamic she loves. It also offers accessibility. It gives the audience a familiarity to...

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Action Figure

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pp. 109-116

...call of action, huge wind and rain machines whir to life. Orange Zodiac boats and green Sea-Doo jet skis skip back and forth, churning up waves. A crew of firemen shoot high-pressure hoses straight up to create a slashing rain, and fifteen burly men in yellow rubberwear overalls run up and down the length of the dock, heave-hoing a thick rope that is tethered to a yacht’s mask making it pitch and buck. The noise is incredible. Bigelow...

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Direct from the Gut

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pp. 117-119

...“To be honest, I can’t cite an example of a film (where her gender has been an issue),” Bigelow, forty-eight, said in an interview yesterday, looking like Emma Peel reborn in a chic and sleek black outfit. “I may be naive, perhaps painfully naive, but if anything has been difficult or frustrating, I don’t think it’s gender related.” “I think it’s usually symptomatic of wanting to do projects that are very personal and truthful and challenging. That’s not to say the inequities...

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K-19: The Widowmaker: A Film by Kathryn Bigelow

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pp. 120-128

...In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was eager to display its ability to launch nuclear missiles within striking distance of the United States. With arms-race tensions at fever pitch, the Soviets believed it essential to demonstrate to American intelligence that they had the capability to strike back. Their newest sub, the K-19, was rushed from the shipyard for sea trials and missile-test firing. Unfortunately for the crew, at depth in the North...

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Her Underwater Canvas

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pp. 129-133

...One of Kathryn Bigelow’s teachers in art school instructed his students to find their “most productive weakness.” That seemingly contradictory bit of advice remained lodged somewhere in a corner of her mind, and when she began directing movies, Bigelow discovered what her weakness was. “Withstanding pressure,” she says. So she set out to conquer it. “I learned to treat the reality of constant pressure on a movie set abstractly, like it was a mental process,” she says...

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K-19: The Widowmaker: Harrison Ford and Kathryn Bigelow Interview

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pp. 134-137

...opportunity to prove his point—and explore cultural definitions of heroism—by essaying the true story of Russian submarine captain and stern taskmaster Alexei Vostrikov [in real life, Capt. Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev— PK], who finds himself at the helm of an experimental nuclear sub on her maiden voyage at the height of the Cold War in 1961. When the vessel’s reactor goes awry, Vostrikov finds himself under “difficult circumstances” indeed. He sends his crewmen in to repair the deadly...

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“I Like to Be Strong”

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pp. 138-141

...deserves a place in our nightmares. It is almost intolerably grim. The film contains a particularly harrowing half hour in which Soviet submariners try to weld a new cooling system around the reactor wearing protective suits that are about as effective at repelling radiation as light raincoats. After ten-minute shifts, each two-man crew of welders emerges from fitting water pipes—vomiting, bleeding, and fatally poisoned by radiation—to be replaced by another set of hitherto unsung heroes. It’s a disaster movie...

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Time’s Up

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pp. 142-149

...Now that the end is in sight for the Iraq war, hopefully the whole cinematic idea of “Iraq War fatigue” will go along with it. The phrase has been thrown around by industry journalists as a catchall term to describe the average American’s ostensible lack of desire to watch films set against the Middle East conflict. But if there was ever a director who could turn the tide, it is Kathryn Bigelow, who has returned to features for the first...

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An Interview with Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow

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pp. 150-152

...It was very important to provide a very clear map of the landscape and the process of bomb disarmament. It took me a while, spending time with EOD techs, to really understand that the ground troops—a large part of what they’re doing is they’re on the alert for anything suspicious: a pair of wires, a new patch of asphalt, a paper bag fluttering. Something they didn’t see the day before or on their rotation that...

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Interview: Kathryn Bigelow

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pp. 153-158

...public, I felt fairly unaware of what was going on in Baghdad. I think it’s a war that has been underreported in many respects, so I was extremely curious, and I kind of suspected that, providing he survived, he might come back with some really rich material that would be worthy of a cinematic translation, and that’s what happened. So then he came back and we started working on the script in 2005, raised the money in 2006, shot in 2007, cut it, and here we are. These things take time, is all I’m trying...

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Kathryn Bigelow to Movieline: “I Thrive on Production. I Don’t Know if I Thrive in Normal Life.”

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pp. 159-163

...Well, I think I do just because of the stamina that’s required. The hours are punishing, there’s a kind of sleep deprivation and exhaustion that forces you to kind of reframe your existence. When that abruptly stops and you have to be a different type of human being, you kind of redefine yourself all over again, with a less rigorous approach to your life, I suppose. I don’t know, that’s a very interesting question. I thrive on...

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Interview with Kathryn Bigelow

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pp. 164-168

...lead character, an ingenious Army grunt who stares bombs in the face for his daily bread and who slowly comes to appreciate the immense toll that such death-defying work takes on the psyche. Depictions of men under nerve-melting pressure are frequent in Bigelow’s famously kinetic oeuvre, which spans two decades and includes the deliriously inventive cowboy-vampire pastiche...

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Big Bang Theory: Kathryn Bigelow Breaks out with Hurt Locker

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pp. 169-171

...Okay, so Kathryn Bigelow might be the only major filmmaker to have modeled for The Gap. And now, at fifty-seven, she could very well do so again. Though everyone makes a point of Bigelow’s gender and height and good looks, what’s germane is that even if she was short and had bushy eyebrows like Martin Scorsese, she still would be directing action pictures like no one since Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. With her latest...

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An Interview with Kathryn Bigelow

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pp. 172-179

...which was released in only four theaters, made somewhat less (it will be expanding to more screens and cities on July 10, including Boston). But it did score about 91 on Metacritic. So I asked Bigelow how she might compare her film to the competition. A good question for Bigelow, no doubt, but when I spoke to her Friday, she seemed to have something else on her mind, as you will see....

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A Discussion with Kathryn Bigelow at the Harvard Film Archive

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pp. 180-195

...I’m going to just gush for a little bit. I also want to say some thanks. Thanks to Summit Entertainment, the film’s distributor, for making tonight’s screening possible. The film does open locally a week from tomorrow. I also want to say thanks to Sara Rosenfield for her assistance in helping to make tonight’s screening happen. We’re very pleased here at the Harvard Film Archive to be hosting a full retrospective of Bigelow’s...

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A Maverick Female Director Explores Men Who Dare Death

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pp. 196-198

...warrior’s mindset: The acute focus that makes Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) such a cunning creature of war is the very quality that makes him unsuited to just about everything else. “He is walking toward what you and I and everyone else on the planet would be running away from,” says Bigelow, fifty-seven, who made it her mission “to transport the audience into the mind of a bomb technician.” Is he a hero, this sergeant who unties improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as though they were shoelaces? Or is he a daredevil testing...

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The Hurt Locker Interview: Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal

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pp. 199-202

...opportunity to extend realism as a text within the medium and push film to be relevant, as opposed to fantastical. A colleague, Sally Cox, a senior agent at Creative Artists Agency, introduced me to Mark’s journalism. I’d spoken to Sally at length about nonfiction material and had a deliberate interest in journalism and its potential application for film. I’d pursued a number of magazine articles through her, before she introduced...

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Shoot Shoot, Bang Bang

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pp. 203-211

...Baghdad, 2004. An explosive ordnance robot rolls along a dusty city street toward a pile of white burlap sacks. Soldiers, American, leap from armored vehicles, cradling their M16s. They must evacuate the women, children, and old men, who could be killed or maimed if they don’t move faster. Cars race past, horns blaring. Soldiers yell and push. Closer to the kill zone, three members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)...

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Kathryn Bigelow’s 2010 Oscar Acceptance Speech

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p. 212-212

...“This really is . . . There’s no other way to describe it, it’s the moment of a lifetime. First of all, this is so extraordinary to be in the company of such powerful, my fellow nominees, such powerful filmmakers who have inspired me and I have admired for, some of whom, for decades. And thank you to every member of the Academy. This is, again, the moment of a lifetime. “I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for Mark Boal, who risked...

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Introduction and Q&A for Museum of Modern Art Retrospective

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pp. 213-218

...was . . . actually, I began with an NEA grant before I went to Columbia University for my graduate degree, but I ran out of money to finish it, so I went to Columbia to use their editing equipment, and was able to go to school at the same time. So, I finished it as my thesis film, and it’s a twenty-minute short. The audio mix—they did a great job with what I had—but it’s a little rough. And so, the kind of idea behind it—I’ll...

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Press Conference for Zero Dark Thirty

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pp. 219-234

...It wasn’t really any—at “cut”—being able to just kind of go back home and be normal because we were shooting in Jordan and India and we were really immersed in the story we were telling. I had the props person print out all the pictures of the terrorists that Maya looks at, and I actually hung them in my hotel room, so even when you go home from set, it was always around me. In terms of research, you know, there was a great deal of information in the script, every scene gave me...

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pp. 235-236


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pp. 237-247

E-ISBN-13: 9781621039419
E-ISBN-10: 1621039412
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617037740

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013