Roger Finnigan is a highly experienced, international award-winning television producer and director with film credits for all the major British TV channels together with films for National Geographic, Discovery, TLC and now PBS. His focus in films has moved from social documentary where he worked for the groundbreaking British series “First Tuesday” to archaeology, science and history. Recent credits include “The Real Dick Turpin” for C5 in Britain which exposed the celebrated 18th century highwayman as a notorious gangster. Roger’s international awards include the Amnesty International Best Documentary prize for a film which exposed conditions in China’s brutal “Laoghai” prison system and a gold medal at the New York Film and Television Festivals for his documentary “Brezhnev’s Daughter.”
What attracted you to this project?
It was a fantastic opportunity to try and unravel connections across millennia. A grasp of the detail is obviously important but it’s just as satisfying to reveal patterns in the development of technologies and to try and understand how they tie in with social and political change.
What makes Ground War stand out in comparison to other history and science documentaries that you have done?
The sheer scale of it. If you begin with a gigantic spear in the hands of the infantry of Alexander the Great and end with American troops firing M4 assault rifles you know you have been on a journey. 2000 years in the course of an hour. But what we wanted to achieve was to combine this journey with thrilling demonstrations of the power of weapons themselves.
Ground War highlights a number of important technological innovations over a long period of time but could not include all of them. How did you decide which technologies to leave in and which to leave out of the film?
This was a very difficult challenge and there isn’t a single simple answer. Inevitably there will be missing technologies which some may argue should be there. Weapons designers have concentrated their efforts on improving range, accuracy, power and rate of fire. I tried to highlight technologies which spoke to those areas and then make hard selections of the weapons which had actually changed the course of battles.
There is a lot of focus on the military advancements and technology during specific periods such as the Middle Ages, the Civil War, and WWII. Was there a specific reason for this?
There are certain periods in history when technology accelerates with extraordinary speed. Clearly involvement in major warfare increases that speed. These periods illustrate that. The Civil War period for instance saw an amazing leap forward in technology, both in the development of rifles and also the beginnings of rapid fire weapons which subsequently dominated World War I. The tank dominated World War II and it was impossible to tell the story of mobile warfare without concentrating on that critical period.
How did working with the different types of technology affect the production of Ground War?
Obviously there was a lot of live firing and plenty of explosions in order to demonstrate the weapons. In production terms we decided to do most of our live firing in the US because its much less bureaucratic to get
permission to discharge weapons. In the UK for instance you can only fire automatic weapons on a range and pointing out to sea. It’s very expensive and time consuming. That being said safety regulations have to be keenly observed in the States also for TV demonstrations.
Did you film in any unusual locations?
One of my strangest experiences was filming at the National Training Center in California. Soldiers there were preparing to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. We filmed in an amazing mock up of an Iraqi village where US troops were trained how to cope with IED explosions and resulting military and civilian casualties. It was highly realistic with “bomb” detonations, Iraqi actors posing as victims. There were even actors with prosthetic legs which they discarded for effect after the explosion. This was the use of Hollywood expertise and techniques for military preparation.
The film introduces new technology in development that will further change ground warfare (such as the new camouflage skins used on Leopard II tanks, and the exoskeleton). What impact do you think they will have?
Make no mistake — emerging technology will have a massive effect on future wars. One of the biggest research projects will probably center on invisibility. Today if you can detect a weapon you can probably kill it so a lot of research and cash is trying to deliver ways to make weapons and men less visible to electronic warfare. For instance a tank can be extremely vulnerable, but if you can disguise it from the enemy’s detection capability the tank will remain a key weapon.
What was the most interesting thing that you learned while making the film?
That innovation and creative thinking offer the same game winning solutions for today’s armies as they did for the Greeks.
What was the most exciting part in making Ground War?
Probably the most exciting thing was the opportunity to spend time with the troops who were on their way to current theatres of war. And also being so close to and in some cases firing weapons which in their time had been battle-winning weapons. Like the Maxim Gun, the deathly executioner of World
War I. Or being deafened in the turret of a Russian T34, the legendary tank of World War II. These are once in a lifetime experiences.
What new projects are you working on?
I’m researching another weapons project which emerged from my work on
Ground War. It seems warfare’s here to stay.