Director leads team through the minefield

Ask Kathryn Bigelow about the obstacles facing the production of “The Hurt Locker,” and she cuts right to logistics. “The biggest challenge was getting all the material we needed on an extremely tight budget: To shoot the script with multiple locations and intricate choreography, it took a million feet of film,” says the director.

Then there were the headaches over importing fake weapons into Jordan, which required explosives still stuck in customs to be substituted with ground-up Chinese fireworks. No matter the hurdle, Bigelow had a work-around. “We did that in 44 days on a very tight budget, in the Middle East, with a small crew in hot summer weather,” she recalls. “We had sand and heat issues and security concerns, but managed to get through it all.”

Talk to her fellow producer, Greg Shapiro, however, and you sense this story simply wouldn’t have been made without Bigelow’s name attached. “I think the movie was sold, in large part, based on her track record as a filmmaker, even though there weren’t big stars in it.” Bigelow insisted on casting great but relatively unknown actors for the three leads — an especially risky gamble, given the touchiness around the subject itself.

“When we initially got the movie financed, there was a spate of Iraq war movies in production or in development,” Shapiro recalls. “The war was very unpopular overseas, obviously, so the foreign markets weren’t rushing toward that subject matter, and the domestic studios were reticent as well.”

Financier anxieties only increased after that first batch of movies eventually came out and underperformed. “It became this Iraq War Syndrome,” says Shapiro, “which is a total misnomer because it included movies about Afghanistan and the effects of the war at home. Anything that had to do with American military involvement or the Middle East was lumped into one category.”

Shapiro is quick to remind that making an independent film always feels like a crawl to the finish line, but he believes Bigelow played the most vital role in moving the action forward. “I know this is a generic answer, but it was her general sense of leadership, an understanding that she knew what kind of movie she was making,” he says. “Everybody on set trusted in her. That’s the greatest gift that the director can give, to motivate a cast and crew.”

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