What Exactly Was The Government’s Role In ZD30?

A reader parses Jessica Chastain’s Daily Show comments on Zero Dark Thirty:

I actually know something about this topic both from years of covering the movie industry and from having done science and technical research for a studio movie that involved global terrorism and classified technology. I think you’re confusing two different ways the government cooperates with Hollywood.

In the Daily Show interview, Chastain says Bigelow and Boal decided “not to work in cooperation with the government.” She misspoke; she should have said that they decided not to work hand in hand with the Defense Department, which has a very active program of cooperation with Hollywood. Jerry Bruckheimer has used it many times. So did Michael Bay on Transformers. She is correct that under this program the DoD will provide helicopters and other authentic military hardware and locations. (I don’t know what financial arrangements they make with the production to cover costs.) However, they want to see the script first and will only provide that access to approved scripts.

Chastain implies they decided not to even try going that route. That was probably a wise decision. They probably wouldn’t have received that approval, and why fight that fight anyway? The lack of DoD cooperation probably cost them next to nothing. There are relatively few military locations or pieces of military gear in the movie. The big exception is the stealth helicopters used in the raid, and I think it’s safe to assume there was no way they were going to get access to them anyway, so those would have been created by the production one way or another.

That is not the same as Bigelow and Boal working closely with sources within the defense and intelligence community to research and write the script. I spoke to official DoD and CIA sources in doing my own research for that terrorism project. That was not contingent upon any script approval – and couldn’t have been, since the script wasn’t written yet. Good movie researchers, like good journalists, don’t rely entirely on those official sources, and after The Hurt Locker we can be sure Bigelow and Boal have a ton of contacts within the military and veterans who could help them contact sources such as current and former SEALs.

So I believe Chastain when she says the Zero Dark Thirty people didn’t work with the government go get military hardware and access, but that’s a separate issue from their having relied on government sources in writing the script.