HBO’s new $50 million mini-series, "Generation Kill," is being promoted everywhere as having been brought to the screen by the creator of "The Wire," David Simon. But what does that mean exactly? The series, debuting next Sunday, is a hard-driving, non-fiction tale of Marines on the front lines in Iraq, and it is drawn directly – in some scenes word for word – from the award-winning book of the same name by Evan Wright. Wright is credited as a consulting producer on the seven-part series, and has credit on two of the scripts. But he tells me that in fact he also wrote about "50 percent" of the scripts on which Simon and his collaborator Ed Burns have credit, and that he had to fight for the credits he got. "There was a lot of friction over credit issues," Wright told me today.
Last summer, after HBO cut the series from eight episodes to seven, emails flew back and forth last summer from Baltimore, where Simon lives, to Baghdad, where Wright had returned to report for Rolling Stone. Wright was worried, correctly it turned out, that Simon was about to kill one of his scripts. Simon resolved the matter by giving joint credit to Wright and Burns. Again two months ago Wright had to request further credit in the wake of still more active input, and Simon agreed. But Simon denies that Wright was responsible for half the scripts with his or Burns’ name on them. "If he told you that, he’s genuinely incorrect," Simon said this evening, from a screening for Marines in California, where Wright was also in attendance. He added: "Nobody wrote any of the scripts by themselves. There’s stuff in Evan’s script written by me and Ed. There’s stuff written in total by me and Ed. There’s stuff in our scripts written by Evan. That’s what happens in every serialized show."
Well, yes and no. These matters are taken very seriously by the Writers Guild, and in the case of "Generation Kill" even Simon notes that it came down to actual page counts per writer. As for what it means to write the ‘story’ of a series based closely on a carefully reported, non-fiction book, Simon damned himself with faint praise: "Decisions have to be made about where to break the story, where to limit the point of view, where to combine elements, what characters are going to have to disappear from the storyline, which to maintain, which arcs are going to be emphasized, where the exposition will be." No wonder Wright, a novice in Hollywood who has no need to make an enemy of Simon, made this generous remark: "Even if the scripts were 100% mine, David is the author of the miniseries in that I’d never have thought to have migrated my book as faithfully as he did," he said.