James Gandolfini, who portrays former CIA head Leon Panetta, sent a note to Panetta before the film came out, writing, "I'm very sorry about everything. I apologize. You're like my father, so you'll find something to be angry about, but please let me know." For months, there was silence. Then, as the film was in the middle of awards season in early January, screenwriter Mark Boal told Gandolfini, "Leon Panetta would like your phone number because he doesn't know how to get in touch with you." The actor was surprised, saying, "He's the head of the CIA! He can't find me? Come on, really?!"
The person who is the subject of the manhunt at the center of this movie is referred to interchangeably as "Osama bin Laden" and "UBL" (for "Usama bin Laden"). The reason for this inconsistency is the real-life fact that there is no one, standard system for transliterating languages that use non-Latinate alphabets (such as Arabic or Hebrew) into English. Since the events of September 11, 2001, "Osama" has been the most common rendering of his first name in the American press, but "Usama" is the version that has always been more commonly used by the intelligence community.
The bizarre, four-lens night vision goggles worn by SEAL Team Six are, in fact, authentic. They are cutting-edge GPNVG-18 (Ground Panoramic Night Vision Goggles), manufactured by L-3 Warrior Systems. The extra lenses provide more peripheral vision to the operator.
Originally conceived as a project about the battle of Tora Bora, Mark Boal completely re-wrote the script after Osama bin Laden was shot and killed. It took him five months and he was not paid for the re-write.
"Zero Dark Thirty" is not a military term that means 12:30 AM. "Zero Dark" is not midnight. It simply refers to an early/late time of the day (Depending on your perspective), often referred to in a negative light. It is similar to the phrase "Beer-thirty."
Chris Pratt went through vigorous training and boot camp to prepare for his role. He has also partake the famous "O-Course" in the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, but gave up when he attempted to swim through cold water.
Several important factors in the preparation and execution of the raid, as detailed in the book "No Easy Day," were glossed over or not mentioned in this film. These include, specifically, 1) the debate over whether to bomb the compound or conduct a special forces raid, 2) the construction of a complete training mock-up of the compound in North Carolina and repeated drills using the same SEAL teams and helicopters, as on the eventual raid, and 3) the presence of backup Black Hawks at a forward staging area during the mission, which proved to be vital to recovering the team after the crash of the stealth Black Hawk during the initial insertion. It is assumed these were left out for dramatic purposes.
This movie depicts a high-level CIA official (known in the film as "The Wolf" and played by Fredric Lehne) as a devout Muslim. This corresponds with a March 24, 2012, Washington Post article titled "At CIA, a Convert to Islam Leads the Terrorism Hunt," which (pseudonymously) profiles "Roger," the chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, and identifies him as an adult convert to Islam.
The stealth helicopters used in the actual mission were heavily modified Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks. Anti-radar cladding, like that of the F-117 stealth fighter, helped them avoid detection by Pakistani air defenses, and the extra blades in the main rotors and tail rotors produced less noise than the standard rotors.
In an unusual step, acting CIA Director Michael Morell issued a statement about the film emphasizing that while the production team had met with the CIA, the film is a dramatization and is not historically accurate. Morell specifically contradicted the film's assertion that "enhanced interrogation techniques," also known as "torture," had been of significant benefit in locating Osama bin Laden. Director Morell stated, "That impression is false. We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory."
Jordan and the Indian city Chandigarh (capital of Punjab & Haryana states), near the Pakistani border, were used as stand-ins to duplicate scenes taking place in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some second-unit film footage was also actually shot in Pakistan.
Digital footage equivalent to 1.8 million feet film were shot at a similar notorious ratio of 100:1 (as with Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Hurt Locker (2008)). Co-editor William Goldenberg estimated that 1/8 of the total footage was on the climatic assault of Osama bin Laden's compound. The raid was shot at least twice, one on a normal moonlight illuminated compound, and another on night vision mode.
Of the many books she researched in preparation for her role as CIA operative Maya, Jessica Chastain found two of particular interest, namely, "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright and "'Osama bin Laden'" by Michael Scheuer.
In the Kuwait Lamborghini showroom scene, Dan asks if one of the cars is a Balboni. Gallardo LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni, a limited-production named after a test driver, is the car with the stripe along its centerline.
In January 2013, on the brink of the movie's wider release, three politically active members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Martin Sheen, David Clennon and Edward Asner, announced they were organizing a public condemnation of Zero Dark Thirty (2012) for what they termed its "tolerance" of torture.
Although the breed of dog used in the film is listed as a factual error, (the breed of dog used in the actual capture of Osama bin Laden was a Belgian Malinois. The breed of dog used in the movie is a German Shepherd.) The director, Kathryn Bigelow, owns German Shepherds, which may explain the dog's appearance in the movie.
Joel Edgerton was originally cast in a leading role, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Jason Clarke. However, when the conflicts were resolved, Edgerton was able to return in another role.
This is Jeremy Hindle's first feature-film work as production designer. Hindle previously collaborated with Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser on numerous TV commercial shoots. Director Kathryn Bigelow lauded Hindle for his remarkably precise re-creation of the huge Osama bin Laden compound, built from scratch in the Jordanian desert, in less than three months.