Generation Kill – The HBO Miniseries; an Interview with Evan Wright and Eric Kocher
(ACG/HN): In the miniseries, Evan, your character is shown photographing a dead child as the convoy rolls past several destroyed vehicles. In the real world, what was your reaction to the carnage you saw on the road into Iraq?
Wright: It was a very, very muted reaction, a very numb reaction. A lot of vets I know are troubled when they come home and see movies where people are weeping on the battlefield, and they feel guilty because they didn’t feel that way. You’re numb. Mostly, you’re glad you’re alive.
Kocher: There’s a steep curve when you first arrive on the edge of the battle area, but you learn and improve. That’s how you become a gunslinger. Nothing can prepare you for seeing one of your homeboys’ legs get blown off, but the next time it is less intense. Training is getting more realistic, with flesh schools to help prepare men for what they’ll see in combat.
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(ACG/HN): Eric, you served as key military advisor on the miniseries. What did that entail?
Kocher: I was originally hired to run boot camp for the actors, to give them an understanding of how to carry their weapon, of Marine Corps structure, things like that. Then I became an advisor, recommending changes to various departments about uniforms, length of haircuts, some script changes to make Marine language accurate. Now I’m working in post-production with computer-generated imagery on Marine Corps protocol such as making sure Cobras’ flight patterns are correct.
The actors’ training culminated in a full training mission to go search a village 70 klicks away. It involved 18 hours of living in the Humvees. They did their own planning, developed their SOP (standard operating procedures) and contingency plans. I thought I was going to have to babysit, but I was able to sit back and watch. A vehicle had an electrical fire and instead of panicking, they handled it themselves.
They didn’t know we were going to have .50 cals and flash-bangs waiting for them at the objective. Most hadn’t heard a .50 before, but they handled it pretty damn well. They knew a lot of the guys they were going to be portraying had won some very prestigious medals, and they didn’t want to let those guys down.
(ACG/HN): Many Americans, having grown up with sanitized film versions of soldiers as reluctant warriors, are likely to be uncomfortable with the Marines in this miniseries clearly expressing a willingness, even eagerness to kill. Others may think it is "leftist Hollywood" trying to depict Marines as baby killers. What would you say to people who are uncomfortable with this?
Wright: I’m apolitical, but I do hope it pisses off more people on the left than on the right. If people turn it off after the first episode or the first few, they will have missed what we’ve tried to say about (these men). There is a scene in episode seven that explains a great deal of this, that viewers must understand it is necessary to have a force of trained, professional warriors—professional killers—if a nation is going to survive. It will make viewers uncomfortable because most people are not warriors.
Kocher: This is the way it is. It doesn’t turn them into baby killers, but it doesn’t turn them all into heroes. The guys want to be over there, especially special units like recon. They’re eager to fight and eager to test their skills. You got guys like Trombley, probably one of the most misunderstood characters (Lance Corporal Harold James Trombley, who frequently expresses a desire to kill the enemy and is disappointed when he doesn’t get to pull the trigger). He actually wanted to impress the guys with his skills, so that’s why he was anxious to get into combat. A lot of guys, when they don’t get to pull the trigger, they feel they didn’t help out with the mission.
(ACG/HN): Evan, your book frequently explains the reasons behind the Marines’ behavior, including the insults and racial remarks between them. The miniseries lacks those explanations. Do you have any concern that viewers may dismiss the characters, especially in the first episode, as either as stereotypes or as immature jerks who think war is a video game?
Wright: That’s an important question. If by the end of the seventh episode, viewers still see them as race-baiting, immature jerks, the series is a failure. My intent was to take guys with very difficult material to viewers and make viewers like them, but without falsifying them. In a book there’s a logic of words; in film you say things visually and hopefully they come through.
People under 25 or 30 will understand these guys’ language immediately. We showed a preview in Nashville and later I sat with two older, Southern ladies. They were teachers. I was afraid they were going to wash my mouth out with soap. They were laughing about it; they said, "This is how kids talk in our high school."
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