The upcoming TV event series “The Long Road Home,” a harrowing war story involving soldiers from Fort Hood and their families, actually was filmed on the Texas military base.
It may sound like a no-brainer — matching the shooting locale to the setting of a TV show — but in reality it isn’t all that common, particularly when that setting is the Lone Star State.
Because New Mexico offers more attractive film incentives, Albuquerque often doubles for various areas in Texas. It stands in for San Antonio in NBC’s medical series “The Night Shift,” for West Texas in AMC’s “Preacher” and for the fictional title town of NBC’s new supernatural thriller “Midnight, Texas.”
But producers of “The Long Road Home” said shooting such an emotionally gripping story at any other locale than where it all started — Fort Hood, near Killeen — wasn’t an option.
“(It) was all a part of really trying to do something unprecedented for television in terms of the level of authenticity we went for,” executive producer and screenwriter Mikko Alanne told TV critics gathered at a press session for the National Geographic Channel series.
“We worked very closely with all the families, all the principal soldiers that we could in making sure that we had the details right. I have a background in oral history, and I take the idea of telling a real life story very seriously.”
Michael Kelly (“House of Cards”), who portrays Lt. Col. Gary Volesky, one of the drama’s core characters, said working at Fort Hood “was such an advantage to all of us as actors … to live amongst the families,”
“The Long Road Home,” an eight-part series based on journalist Martha Raddatz’s bestselling book, also stars Jeremy Sisto, Kate Bosworth, Jason Ritter and Sarah Wayne Callies.
It dramatizes the heroic fight for survival during the Iraq War when the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood was ambushed on April 4, 2004, in Sadr City, Baghdad, a day that came to be known as Black Sunday.
The series cuts between the action on the ground in Iraq and the homefront back in Texas, where wives and families await the news for 48 hellish hours, expecting the worst.
TV critics got a peek at the first hour of the series. It not only was intense, but full of heart.
After all, it’s executive produced by a man who really knows war films, Mike Medavoy.
“This is the fourth, maybe the fifth, war movie I have been involved with,” said Medavoy, listing “Platoon,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Coming Home.”
Those all took place during the Vietnam War.
“I thought it was time I told a story set in Iraq since it’s more current,” Medavoy said.
The experience was all the more meaningful, said co-executive producer Jason Clark, because of the months of filming at Fort Hood.
“We received kind of unprecedented support from the Army, in part because we’re telling the story of people who are around today … and in part because of the people that lost their lives in the battle,” Clark said. “And most importantly, the support they gave us made this possible to actually film on the location where the soldiers trained before they deployed on this mission.
“It felt like we were on important ground and telling a very important story.”
It was impossible to film at the actual site of the ambush in Iraq, so the base also was used to re-create Sadr City. Alanne said that set was built at the site “where the soldiers who are in the story trained before going to Iraq.
“It gave us also the really unique opportunity to film in the actual soldiers’ homes, in the actual chapels, the Family Readiness Center,” he said.
E.J. Bonilla, who plays Lt. Shane Aguero, said living among real military families was vital to his portrayal.
“There’s something about going home every day from set and being reminded why we’re doing this, that the military is made up of millions of little pieces. And each of those little pieces are individuals with families and problems and money issues and everything,” he said.
“It was immersive,” added Jon Beavers, who portrays Sgt. Eric Bourquin. “And I think that translates in a huge way to the finished product.”
“The Long Road Home” will debut with a two-hour premiere on Nov. 7.