Building Osama Bin Laden’s Compound for “Zero Dark Thirty”

First-time feature production designer Jeremy Hindle admits to some dicey feelings while taking director Kathryn Bigelowon an initial walk-through of “Zero Dark Thirty’s” key set. But they weren’t rookie jitters.

“I remember telling her, ‘You’re going to feel insanely creepy. You’re going to feel like he lived here,’” Hindle says.

The verisimilitude Bigelow demanded for all aspects of the film was particularly important to the re-creation of the compound in which Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs last year. “We walked through, and the detail … it felt like someone had lived there; six years of never leaving,” Hindle says. “We knew what his bed looked like from photographs. We knew he had an AK-47 hanging over it. We knew he was a pack rat. The hallway was just jammed full of every newspaper he could get his hands on.”

Using primarily open-source intelligence from news reports and the like, and enhanced by Oscar-winning writer-producer and military journalist Mark Boal’s research, the production constructed a full-scale, fully operational replica of Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

“You can scale quite a lot off photographs,” Hindle says. “We had a company called Frame Store in London model it in 3-D for us. Once you have the photographs and video, it’s all a big math equation. It was a couple weeks of math, really.

“We built it for real out of stone and steel. We flew real Black Hawks in; there was a Black Hawk 50 feet over that set with Kathryn and every actor inside it. So the compound was 21/2 times over-engineered,” he says, noting the set had to withstand the crash of one of the helicopters [hanging by a crane]. “There were 9-foot caissons underground, steel, cinder blocks; it was a bunker. It would be hard to blow that place up.”

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