A recent brainstorm by U.K.-based production company Raw TV resulted in “Taking Fire,” a hyper-realistic war documentary that uses footage from cameras affixed to soldiers’ helmets and uniforms to present a different view of the war in Afghanistan.
Discovery had worked with Raw TV before on such series as “Gold Rush” and “Harley and the Davidsons.” In “Taking Fire,” a limited docu-series, the channel’s production and development execs Denise Contis and Joseph Schneier saw the potential to transform the genre of the war documentary, using footage shot by soldiers during a tour of duty in 2010. “These were real people capturing intimate footage, and we shaped it into a very human story,” Schneier says.
The two execs first had to find a group of soldiers who not only regularly shot footage during their first year of deployment, but who also had an engaging story to share. They eventually settled on members of the 101st Airborne Division who had toured Korangal, said to be the deadliest region in Taliban-held territory. After checking with the military to make sure the footage wouldn’t affect ongoing missions, Contis, Schneier, and the production team, including Raw founder Dimitri Doganis, began poring through a year’s worth of material shot by multiple individuals. “We were looking for the narrative thread” says Contis. “We didn’t want it to feel acquired; we wanted it to feel pure.”
The soldiers, routinely placed in life-or-death situations, were hyper-aware of their surroundings and provided steady, usable footage. Focusing on material shot primarily by young recruit Joshua McCool, along with his fellow platoon members Kyle Boucher, Kyle Petry, Ken Shriver, and Chris Adams, Contis and the team began to peel back the layers, highlighting combat and looking for humanizing moments. “We went into the editing room with the idea of finding the material that makes their journey personal,” Contis says. “Such as when they’re talking about how the area smells or feels.”
A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
As the episodes began to take shape, Schneier and Doganis spent September through January in Raw’s London office going over the “nitty gritty” of the stories, avoiding moments that were retrospective, and turning to those that expressed the recruits’ fear, bravery, cockiness, and humility. The producers also conducted interviews with the recruits — now years out of the military — to elaborate on situations and individuals represented in their footage. Maps and graphics are embedded in certain scenes to help viewers better understand what the soldiers are facing. “’Taking Fire,’” says Contis, “allows viewers to look at this world of intense stakes through a relatable prism.”
Episodes 1-4 can be found on DiscoveryGo (or Discovery.com). Episode 5 on Discovery Channel on Tuesday, Oct. 11.