Page last updated at 08:49 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

Wire producers' Killer new show

Generation Kill
Generation Kill has a "documentary feel" without being political, says its director

By Alex Stanger
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Variety magazine called it "so real you'll-forget-it's-drama" and the Hollywood Reporter hailed it as "utterly riveting".

Now it is the turn of the British critics to make their minds up about Generation Kill, a TV mini-series tracing the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The show is the latest offering from The Wire's creators David Simon and Ed Burns.

It is based on the work of Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright who was embedded with the marines of the first reconnaissance battalion as they journeyed from Kuwait to Baghdad.

After the show went out in the US, internet chat rooms were full of praise from members of the military for the programme's realism, which was exactly what director Susanna White was aiming for.

"What we wanted was a very truthful documentary feel to the piece that wasn't going to take a political position but told it as it was from the ground," says White.

Generation Kill is a far cry from the British director's last job on the BBC's adaptation of the Dickens's classic Bleak House.

I now know about Humvees, Cobras and what sequence a Humvee travels in - it's a long way from Bleak House.
Susanna White, Generation Kill director

"People see it as a huge leap from Bleak House to Generation Kill but they are similar," says White.

"It's a huge cast of characters and a story over a lot of episodes. It requires very vivid and clear storytelling. So I think I am quite qualified in that sense to direct it."

It is a sentiment shared by co-producer and writer Ed Burns: "What bubbles up in warfare is the feminine side in wanting to connect, in wanting to create family. Susanna was very sharp in creating that."

White agrees that being a female director had its advantages when it came to presiding over a cast of 28 men.

"Several of the actors said: 'It's so good to have a woman because with a man there's a whole ego, alpha male thing going on, where we are all trying to prove ourselves and with you we can get on and do the job.'

"There was a different dynamic, which was a positive dynamic."

Real marines

The series was shot over six months at locations in Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa. But before that White's research led her to the US.

"I spent time at Camp Pendleton and I learnt how to fire the heavy weapons," she says.

Rudy Reyes
Rudy Reyes thinks the drama gives a realistic picture of military conflict

"I did a lot of military preparations both in terms of looking at war movies and seeing how it all worked.

"I now know about Humvees, Cobras and what sequence a Humvee travels in. It's a long way from Bleak House."

The producers also employed some of the marines who were involved in the 2003 attack to act as advisors on the programme.

Sergeant Rudy Reyes ended up playing himself in Generation Kill and is full of praise for its realism.

"In films everything is fast and explosive, there is resolve. In real war, real fighting (and you are talking to a guy who has fought in three of them) there is no resolve.

"You can go four hours, four days, four weeks without a gunfight and when you are in it, it is so fast and so beautiful it's intoxicating and it changes your life.

"That is what I think is so important about Generation Kill - it shows that."

It is during the spells of no action when the show is probably at its most controversial.

The banter between marines has been accused of being racist, homophobic and misogynistic but White disagrees.

"It is misunderstood because a lot of the humour between marines is teasing about their individuality and actually these guys have incredibly loyal relationships," she says.

"It is a very black humour which is mistaken for prejudice. At the end of the day these guys would die for each other."

Gritty drama

Like The Wire before it, Generation Kill was produced by American Channel HBO, the makers of TV hits Sex and the City and The Sopranos.

"There's a balance at HBO," says Burns.

Generation Kill
The series promises lots of tough action

"There are certain shows where you can sit back in the couch and they will wash over you.

"There are other shows you have to lean into and figure out. We prefer leaning in and HBO gives us the opportunity to lean in."

Before writing for TV, Burns spent 20 years working as a detective in Baltimore's police department.

He first teamed up with journalist David Simon in 1993 to write the award-winning book The Corner.

An Emmy award-winning TV series followed and then The Wire established the duo as the guys for gritty drama.

But Burns says he does not pay much attention to all the critical acclaim: "The bottom line is HBO has already paid us.

"To me it's: 'Is it what we want to say?' and the same with David. Then you put it out there and see what happens.

"That's all you can do as a storyteller."

Generation Kill can be seen on the FX channel at 2200 GMT from 25 January.

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