Three years ago, “The Hurt Locker” drew the military’s explosive ordnance disposal teams into the spotlight with the fictionalized account of an Army unit tasked with disabling roadside bombs in Iraq.
Now comes the reality show.
“Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan,” a new 10-part documentary series debuting tonight, tracks members of a Navy explosive ordnance disposal unit from their deployment through their tour in northern Afghanistan and back home again. For five months, a production crew armed with helmet- and body-mounted cameras followed the eight-man platoon on missions, shooting more than 4,000 hours of footage and getting caught in harrowing situations along the way.
The result, backers of the series hope, will be an honest look at what it’s like for bomb-disposal teams in Afghanistan.
The series doesn’t have the same kind of billing as its predecessor — it’s being shown on the Comcast-owned cable network G4 , whose fare trends toward gadgets and video games — but it does come with real characters: a platoon with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Mobile Unit 3.
“ ‘The Hurt Locker’ was a Hollywood movie. It obviously got incredible accolades, but it was Hollywood,” said Dan Cesareo, one of the executive producers and co-owner of Bethesda-based Big Fish Entertainment. “This is real life. This is eight guys who have families at home and children and who go out every day and do incredibly hard jobs.”
The documentary’s backers spent months getting the necessary permissions from the Navy, ISAF and others. Once they had them, seven “shooter-producers” spent time with members of the unit at their base in Coronado, Calif., then took off with them for two forward operating bases, one in Kunduz province and the other in Faryab province. They had custom-built rigs inside the unit’s MRAPs and as many as 15 cameras on some missions.
The goal was to give audiences a first-person feel for what it’s like trying to disable IED.
That, of course, was part of the idea behind “Hurt Locker” as well. The Academy Award-winning picture was produced with the benefit of extensive research by journalist Mark Boal , the screenwriter, who had previously embedded with a unit in Iraq. But for all its attention to detail, the film still caught criticism from veterans who both saw small inaccuracies and took larger issue with the portrayal of the main character.
In “Bomb Patrol,” the producers says, it’s all real. “When you watch this,” Cesareo said, “you experience it and see it unfold as the platoon does.”
Rear Adm. Michael Tillotson, commander of the Navy’s Expeditionary Combat Command and the service’s senior EOD officer, said the Navy took a hard look at the documentary proposal before approving the embed. Ultimately, officials decided it was worth it — to give the public a chance to see EOD units at work, and to see it through their eyes rather than through a Hollywood dramatization.
“What I think people will see,” Tillotson said, “is there are truly some courageous ... men that go to address the hazards posed by our adversaries both in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
EOD teams have been the “workhorse” units in the conflicts, Tillotson said, and it’s “important that we get the story out about these individuals.”