Both Bigelow and Boal felt a responsibility to accurately portray the lives of the people who normally work in the shadows, their efforts rarely known to the outside world. While some of the dialog is word for word real, based on interviews with the young CIA officer and others, some of the dialog is dramatized and the decade-long narrative of events condensed.
"They were proud of what they had done, but they had more or less resigned themselves to the fact that what they had done is not something they could talk about publically," Boal said. "But one of the things a movie allows people to do is talk in a way that is a little bit freer because they know that movies can change the way people look, [and] that I don't have quite the same standards of having to reveal sources as I would if I was, let's say, running a front page piece in the New York Times."
The climax of the film is, of course, the raid that killed bin Laden. The scene was a challenge for the filmmakers who were presenting it to a world that knew how it ended.
"But they don't know how it happened," Bigelow said. "They don't know, OK what was the choreography of the assault itself, where did they land, where did they crash, who did they kill first?"
Although it only takes up about one-fifth of "Zero Dark Thirty" -- the title comes from the code for SEAL team's landing time of 12:30 a.m. -- the filmmakers said the assault on bin Laden's compound, like the rest of the film, is as accurate as possible. A full scale version of the compound -- no Hollywood facades for this movie – was built in Jordan, where they shot for almost four weeks. The floor, the tile, the carpet, the furniture and the marks on the walls, were copied from images seen in ABC News footage that Bigelow said they reviewed frame by frame.
And the famous stealth helicopters that swept over the border into Pakistan were real Black Hawks with computer generated graphics replicating the stealthy skin. Bigelow said the actors told of the terrifying and challenging conditions their real-life counterparts faced.
"You are in the elements, you are in the wind, you are in the sand, the sound of the rotor wash and you can't see anything. So you imagine what it would be like to land in this place," she said.
And Bigelow takes viewers beyond the clinical news accounts, the soundless descriptions and even though you might think you know how it ends, there is more to the story.
"For both of us I think it's fair to say the story itself and the making of it was really hard but really thrilling and exciting," Boal said. "Because you are at the center of something that is so epic and that doesn't come along very often and I think we were both aware of the fact that we probably won't have another story like this."
"I can't imagine," Bigelow said. "I think it's the story of a lifetime."