Production has begun on the National Geographic miniseries, “The Long Road Home,” which details the events of “Black Sunday,” April 4, 2004, when a 1st Cavalry Division platoon was ambushed in Sadr City, Iraq, and the rescue missions to save them, days into their yearlong deployment. Filming is ongoing at several locations across Fort Hood.
The miniseries, based on the New York Times bestseller by Martha Raddatz, tells the story not only of the battle that claimed the lives of eight U.S. Soldiers, but also the effects on the home front to present a 360-degree view of Soldiers’ and their Families’ experiences at war.
The project, which is slated to premiere later this year, will star Michael Kelly, Kate Bosworth Sarah Wayne Callies, Jason Ritter, Jeremy Sisto, E.J. Bonilla, Patrick Schwarzenegger and Noel Fisher, National Geographic announced last week.
Mike Medavoy, who has been involved with more than 300 films, including “Apocalypse Now,” “Rocky,” “The Thin Red Line,” “Platoon” and “Shutter Island,” is serving as an executive producer for the miniseries.
Medavoy, an Army veteran, has been interested in putting this story on film since he read Raddatz’s book.
“This is something we have been working on for a long time,” Medavoy said. “It’s an interesting story from a historical point of view.”
Mikko Alanne, executive producer, show runner and writer for the miniseries, said the process of turning the book into a movie began nine years ago, including meeting with then-Col. Gary Volesky and others involved in the battle at Sadr City during a visit to Fort Hood in 2008 to discuss the project.
Having not only those who were there, but also Fort Hood enmeshed in the project has been key.
“We felt from the beginning that they would be our guides in this process,” Alanne said.
Originally planned as a three-hour feature film, Medavoy and Alanne agreed that the story fit well as an eight-part miniseries.
Medavoy said the long format helps tell more about those involved and their experiences.
“It’s a great way of telling the story,” he said.
Alanne wrote each hour-long segment in the series centered on themes such as faith, fate and valor, Medavoy added.
“This is such an astonishingly intimate portrait of every man – Soldiers,” Alanne said. “This is a side to war audiences have never seen.”
For both Alanne and Medavoy, authenticity in presenting this story was paramount.
“We have tried to be as faithful as possible to the book,” Medavoy said, noting that the nature of presenting the story on TV through actors does require some dramatic license.
Everything from the set designs to hiring Soldiers who were there on the ground in Sadr City on April 4, 2004, and filming at Fort Hood, was done deliberately.
Alanne said having Eric Bourquin and Aaron Fowler, two Soldiers involved in the Sadr City battle, involved with the project “added a level of authenticity.”
Sets representing Camp War Eagle and Sadr City have been constructed on a Fort Hood training area for the filming.
Production designer Seth Reed conceived the Iraq sets off of videos and photographs from Camp War Eagle and Sadr City. He also incorporated architectural aspects from trips to Jordan and Morocco, since he was unable to travel to Iraq.
Construction included a lot of unfinished and exposed concrete on building facades. Buildings are close together, with brightly colored fabric in the windows and tangles of electrical wires running across the facades, representative of the houses and businesses that crowd the narrow streets and alleyways of Sadr City.
“We worked hard to make it rough and unfinished,” Reed said.
As construction of those sets continues, actors portraying the 1st Cav. Div. Soldiers in the film are undergoing boot camp training from Soldiers, learning how to move, shoot and communicate, as well as learning more about the actual Soldiers themselves.
“Our actors are incredibly committed and have done lots of research,” Alanne said, adding that many asked to meet the real-life person they are portraying.
When casting the roles, Alanne was looking for actors with heart, not swagger.
“I tried to match actors with the emotional truths,” he said. “It’s intimidating to portray real people.”
Dramatic license was discussed with each person being portrayed and permission was given to take that license, Alanne said.
Meeting the real people and the Families of those lost on April 4, 2004, has been touching to all of those involved with the project.
“Meeting them was heart wrenching,” Medavoy said. “I want to share their stories with the rest of the world.”
Family members of the Soldiers are key to the story and Medavoy and Alanne took care to keep their experiences authentic, as well.
Filming of the Families’ side of the story is ongoing across Fort Hood, including in housing and at chapels.
Alanne said showing the sacrifice that military Families make was important and telling that side of the story inspired him.
“The struggles of military Families are invisible to most of the country,” he said. “The Families are so brave. It’s been inspiring.”
It was also paramount to the production team that the project was filmed at Fort Hood, where the Soldiers and Families lived.
“It’s important to show where it happens and show what military life is like,” Alanne said.
At its heart, the story is one of Family and war. Medavoy said the project is a tribute to Soldiers, veterans and their Families.
“It’s about the sacrifice they make for all of us,” he said. “That is what this is all about.”