Iraq series for Simon Baltimore writer-producers David Simon and Ed Burns will shift their TV storytelling focus this summer from the failed war on drugs in Baltimore to the American invasion of Iraq - just as they are finishing the final season of HBO's acclaimed drama The Wire.
HBO will begin production in June on Generation Kill, a seven-hour miniseries based on an award-winning book by Evan Wright about the early days of the war in Iraq. The work originally appeared in Rolling Stone magazine.
Simon, Burns and Wright wrote the screenplays for all seven hours. Burns and Simon will also serve as co-executive producers. Other producers will include Nina Noble (a producer of The Wire and The Corner, another Burns-Wright miniseries) and Andrea Calderwood (The Last King of Scotland). The film will be shot over six months in South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique.
It will be the first time since Simon left The Sun in 1992 to work as a writer-producer on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street that he will not be filming in his hometown.
"I feel kind of sad about that," the former police reporter said yesterday in the Sun newsroom, where some scenes from Season 5 of The Wire will be filmed in coming months. "But while Baltimore can stand in for a lot of things, it can't quite do so for Iraq."
HBO executives approached Simon about writing the project in 2005. The nonfiction work, published in 2004, had won a National Magazine Award, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the PEN USA Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award.
"The book covers the run-up to and the first few weeks of the war in 2003," said Simon. "It is a complete metaphor for everything that was going to go wrong with the war. It is the best narrative journalism out of Iraq that I've read."
Wright's book focuses on the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of U.S. Marines, an elite unit that stresses individuality, according to Simon. Just as The Wire regularly explores conflict between police detectives on the street and Baltimore city bureaucrats, so will Generation Kill look at the tension between the Marines in battle and the bureaucracy of the American war machine.
Working on the film could create scheduling problems, Simon acknowledged.
The Wire is scheduled to finish filming in Baltimore in August with post-production in October. Burns is expected to spend most of the summer in Africa on Generation Kill, while Simon will travel back and forth from Africa to Baltimore to shepherd The Wire through its final days.
"For me, the trick in producing is to stay hands on - which won't be easy this summer," Simon said.