Mark Boal ’91

From Science to Screenwriting


James Zhang

Anastasia Koutavas ’18 interviews Mr. Boal in front of the student body in the auditorium.

Now an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Mark Boal ’91 was once a Bronx Science student and active member of the Speech and Debate team. Boal worked as a journalist for ten years, writing articles for magazines such as Rolling Stone and The Village Voice. Later on, he ventured into the world of Hollywood, going on to write screenplays such as ‘The Hurt Locker,’ ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ and ‘Detroit.’ Boal returned to Bronx Science on November 22, 2017 for the school’s 80th anniversary Hall of Fame induction.

Reflecting on his high school experience, Boal spoke about the value of the diverse learning experience he had at Bronx Science and how his classmates pushed him to do his best. He was especially fond of his time competing in Policy Debate on the Speech and Debate team. “I had a great time. I think that this school prepared me well, and Speech and Debate, in particular, prepared me well for college and for what I ended up doing,” said Boal.

“I started out as a reporter. I was covering politics and news, and that was sort of related to some of the topics that we used to deal with on the debate team.”

After graduating from Bronx Science, Boal earned an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Oberlin College. “Liberal arts prepare you for life, and philosophy teaches you how to think and question things,” said Boal. Boal went backpacking around Eastern Europe after graduating from Oberlin College in 1995. He ended up selling his car and got his first job writing up news digests for an English newspaper in Hungary called The Budapest Sun.

His first foray into the world of film came when an article he wrote for Playboy magazine in 2004 was optioned to become a film. This movie, ‘In the Valley of Elah,’ was directed by Paul Haggis and released in 2007.

“I think that this school prepared me well… for college and for what I ended up doing”

In 2005, Boal traveled to Baghdad and spent time with the military bomb squad as research for an article. Boal enjoyed meeting the soldiers, though he described how at first they were skeptical of him as an outsider. However, they took care of him and helped to alleviate his anxiety in such an intense environment. That trip to Iraq became the inspiration for ‘The Hurt Locker.’ This film won six Academy Awards, with Boal personally receiving the awards for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

The powerful impact of the stories Boal writes about is exemplified by his meeting with the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks after making the award-winning film ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ “That was really powerful, because for me, meeting them and having the opportunity to hear their stories and also hear how the movie affected them and gave them some insight into what the hunt for Bin Laden had been, gave some sense, just a tiny sense, of narrative closure,” described Boal. “It’s moments like that that can make the whole thing kind of worthwhile.”

This is clearly a common thread in his body of work; Boal pulls from the moving and emotional stories of people with whom he interacts. His most recently released movie, ‘Detroit,’ was based on the true story of an incident of police brutality at the Algiers Motel in 1967. “Meeting some of the people who survived that night in 1967 and hearing the way that they had struggled to survive and overcome the trauma, that’s what inspired me and made me want to write about it,” he explained.

“Just being able to tell the stories that I’ve been lucky enough to tell — it’s a real privilege to be able to make movies that are entertaining but also meaningful. I’m proud of that,” reflected Boal.

James Zhang
Skylar Kleinman ‘18 interviews Mr. Boal about time at Bronx Science for The Science Survey.
James Zhang
Principal Jean Donahue presents Mr. Boal with his Hall of Fame plaque, celebrating The Bronx High School of Science’s 80th anniversary.
James Zhang
Mr. Boal discusses his career in the journalism and film industries in a student interview.
James Zhang
Mr. Boal is joined by students in front of the Bronx High School of Science’s newly made Hall of Fame.