Ever since History announced its development slate earlier this year, bloggers, journalists and viewers alike have been anticipating one program: WWII in HD. Realscreen spoke with David McKillop, History’s SVP of development and programming and executive producer of WWII in HD, about this huge undertaking and what he hopes viewers will take away from the project.
Two years ago History went to Lou Reda Productions looking for it to develop an archive-heavy project that would give viewers an inside look at WWII. The Pennsylvania-based prodco came back with close to 3,000 hours of footage from archives around the world.
‘Around 50% of the material we’ll be showing in the actual program has never before been seen,’ says McKillop. What’s impressive about the footage, which comes from German, American and Japanese archives, is not just its rare nature, but also the way it’s being used.
‘The idea is that when you watch the show you experience World War II,’ says McKillop. The footage, which has been restored and transferred into HD (hence the title), is accompanied by sound from wire recordings of the war found through History’s partnership with the Library of Congress.
One of the biggest challenges in making an innovative program on the Second World War was getting the tonality right, says McKillop. ‘You don’t want to make it look like The World At War,’ he says, referring to the Laurence Olivier-narrated documentary series on WWII. Rather, they took a risk with this 10-hour program by letting the stock footage play out without narration in some places, in order to let the viewer get a feel for what it was like to be there during these battles. ‘I think we learned a lot from 102 Minutes That Changed America,’ he says. ‘This is not like 102 Minutes, but we learned a lot about the power of images when they’re left to just unfold in front of the viewer.’
In addition to immersing viewers in the sights and sounds of the war, WWII in HD, which airs the week of November 15, also uses the diaries and journals of soldiers to create characters that will be voiced by actors such as LL Cool J, Steve Zahn, Rob Lowe and Rob Corddry, while Gary Sinise narrates.
McKillop hopes that if viewers take away anything from WWII in HD it’s not just a better understanding of the war itself, but also an emotional sense of what it was like to be in the war. ‘Some of us weren’t even born yet, but this show should be able to immerse someone so that they’ll be able to say, ‘Oh, now I can see it. It’s almost like I remember being there,” he says. ‘This is one of the most important things I’ve worked on in a long time.’