Razorfine, and other members of the Kansas City Film Critic’s Circle, got the opportunity to set down with James Franco, David Ellison, Dean Devlin and Rachel Olschan actors and producers of the War World 1 film, Flyboys, at the KC Air Show.
3 & 1/2 Stars
Very lucky for us, Dean Devlin was there; he’s one of the producers on the project and very hands on and passionate about the film. He spoke in great detail about elements to the film and the history behind it; Dean gave us some wonderful insights.
“The director, Tony Bill, welcomed the help and liked having the suggestions. He doesn’t have one of those extensive egos, so I was able to help out on set wherever needed, from feeding the lion to feeding lines to the cast. He allowed me to work hand and hand we were partners all the way through.” Dean Devlin
David Ellison played Eddie Beagle, a young pilot who couldn’t get anything right till the end. David has been a pilot since he was 13 and ranked one of the top 3 acrobatic pilots, it was quite comical he played a role that couldn’t shoot, barely fly and screwed up things pretty big back home. Flyboys is David’s first feature film, he played a small role in The Chumscrubber, you could tell he was a little shy and new at this whole interview thing, but added a great deal to his character and the role he played in bringing Eddie to life.
James Franco was a little out of it; he actually may have dozed off in the middle of the interview. James played the lead with Blaine Rawlings character, a headstrong no holds bar country boy who just lost the family ranch and felt it was time for a change. Blaine started out with a sense of self-preservation, but ended up in love and with a strong sense of duty to the other men in his quadrant and what they stood for.
Flyboys is the first WW1 film made in over 40 years, it represents true events and composites of real life heroes in the research of letters from soldiers during the conflict and history books written about the war and adventures of the Lafayette Escadrille.
It’s a film full of life during a time when a gentleman’s war still existed for the pilots. As with life Flyboys gives us many ups and downs from romance, humorous lighthearted moments to death, sorrow and a sense of duty.
“What was going on in the sky was an end of the era. The last gentleman’s war, there was a code of conduct in the air, unlike on the ground. There was trench warfare and chemical weapons happening below.” Dean Devlin
Q:: Let’s start with why did you choose a War World 1 picture, little alone a history piece?
Dean:: It’s been 40 years since Hollywood has made a picture about these unsung heroes. Flyboys is a film based on true events and characters meshed together from WW1 about American fighter pilots. We thought it was time to revive the genre and time to honor some guys who have been forgotten.
Q:: Are any of you history buffs or did you do any serious research for your character’s role or the film in general?
Dean:: Well James reads all the time; he’s one of the biggest readers I know, so he did plenty of research.
James:: That’s true, I think I may have had too many books.
Dean:: However, the director has the largest collection of books about WW1 and his research and extensive knowledge on the era was of great help and importance; he was a real resource for us.
James:: There was a 2 Volume set put together for us to use about the pilots from the Lafayette Escadrille crew. This was one of the biggest helps of all.
Dean:: Our aerial battles where even drawn from the letters from these pilots back then all the way down to the detail with the description of tracer fire looking like spider webs in the skies.
Q:: To keep it historically accurate, how much time did each one of you put into research for the film, on your own?
James:: I signed on in December so about 4 months I trained as a pilot and did as much reading as I could. I watch the old films; they were a lot closer to the actual war.
I even got my pilots license.
Q:: Would you have done that with out the film?
James:: No, probably not, I have a hard time motivating myself to do things unless forced. I do a lot of great things, but I have to get the movie first.
Q:: Would you want to do another film that involves flying?
Q:: Were there things that surprised you during your research? Incidences that were truer than fiction?
David:: Yes, I just knew the lion had to be fake, but when I opened the book and was reading the biographies of the gentlemen from the Lafayette Escadrille, there they were holding 2 lion cubs.
Dean:: I loved the lion. At the end of the film, I snuck in the cage and fed him; I had spent a lot of time during the filming of this movie feeding the lion so I knew we had a bond. He wasn’t a trained lion.
David:: The other thing is, I’ve been a pilot since I was 13 and thought for sure that someone else was the first African American pilot, I had no idea that Eugene Jacques Ballard, Eugene Skinner’s (Abdul Salis) character really was the first African American to fly in combat and in the United States. There were a lot of surprises that came from reading the history for the film.
Q:: Out of other films you have worked on did you feel like you owed a little more to the memories of the characters you portrayed in Flyboys? They did do something original, something that can never be repeated again.
Dean:: Yes, even though I felt I owed a lot to The Patriot, many did not know about the story of the Flyboys. So there was a sense of responsibility to really honor these guys.
Q:: Since you have worked a lot in the science fiction genre, like Independence Day, do you find it easier to do a film where you make something up or when you do a period piece like Flyboys?
Rachel:: It’s harder to recreate reality than fiction. With period pieces there are more fans and critics out there checking all the facts and making sure you get everything spot on, but when you are making something up, there isn’t anything to compare it to and no one you must honor or commemorate.
Q:: Why was it that the only real character was Captain Thenault (Jean Reno) and the rest where composites of other men from the story?
Dean:: The Captain Thenault character was easiest because there was only 1 captain, but it was easier to mix the other 38 men from the Lafayette Escadrille into fewer characters to make more of a connection with the audience and each individual got more consideration. The thing is that everything that happened in the movie is something that truly happened during that conflict.
Q:: Basically you did it to keep a more coherent narrative?
Dean:: That’s right.
Q:: On a lighter note, what was your favorite day on set?
David:: Everyday was pretty fun and fairly tedious. The days we were shooting and doing any of the flying scenes were fun.
Q:: You were the most experienced pilot on the film, but the character you played was a bit of a screw up?
David:: Yah, he was. It was really fun and different to play such a challenging role.
Q:: Back too serious. As I was reading the press kit, I noticed that the average life span of one of these pilots was 18 hours, is this true?
Dean:: Yes, it greatly depended on when you were flying because the machines were being invited as the war went along. Improvements happened everyday. At one point the life span was only 16 hours and for the Escadrille it got up to 3 to 6 weeks.
Q:: Do any of you have friends or family in the military?
Rachel:: Every man in my family were and are in the military.
James:: Both of my grandfathers fought in WW2
David:: So did mine.
Come to find out Flyboys was done completely independent, it had no relation to the Hollywood studio system. We truly commend Dean for that.:
Dean:: This project was a real labor of love, from the time I got the script to when James and David signed on it had been 6 years. This project was done completely outside of the Hollywood studio system; the film was totally independently funded. For a film of this size and of its nature, I believe that is the first time that has ever happened, so it really was and is a labor of love.
Q:: Why was it done outside of the Hollywood system?
Dean:: Even if I could convince the studio execs to make a film of this genre, the process is a very cynical one and the there is a huge fear of films like this not being hip and edgy and the MTV mentality might not like it. I think if we had done it in the studio system it would have made the film less. We would not have had the director and the creativity and strengths we had on set with new and less recognized talent, true talent not the stars who are ranked by who they are dating and not by their skill. We may have had some director whose only claim to fame is the latest rock video and a writer who knew nothing about classical film.
With the type of staff we had plus shooting in England we got more. We got more work out of everybody on set, they all went above and beyond the call of duty for this project; we got more than we paid for. For example, Franco never left the set, from the time he stepped on in the morning to the end of the shoot, he didn’t go back to his trailer and said “call me when you need me”, which is what a typical Hollywood film set would be like.
And Jean Reno is brilliant, it just takes one look and he’s got you. He is diffidently one of those actors that you get more with less, just a tiny eye movement, you can get so much power. The guys would watch shooting just to watch Reno act. He’s such a real actor, a great gentleman and an excellent addition to the crew and the film.
We got the quality and hard work out every member of the cast and crew, it was a wonderful experience and created a cohesive full length film.
Q:: You can tell that the extra work was put in. It completely translated to the big screen! Do you think not having the money to throw at problems forced you to think outside the box more and create a better film?
Dean:: Of course, think about some of the scenes and shots we had. We had a costuming budget equal to television, but here we are with unique and replicated costuming. The scenes where to scale and happy little accidents happened all over the place. There was a scene where James character had kissed the girl under a tree in the rain, but originally this scene was to be shot on a sunny day. With a small budget, you cannot set around and wait for the sun to come out, you have to compromise and make it work. This created a more intense scene than originally planned and was left in the film. The first scene, if shot, may have ended up on the cutting room floor. You have no choice, but to be creative when you have a finite amount of money.
Q:: I commend your style of filmmaking. It wasn’t all-serious there was some very genuine happy moments or rather, light hearted moments that came across, such as life. Was this intentional, or another of those happy accident types of moments?
Dean:: That says something about you as a viewer, because the comedy is not written as comedy, but humanity and that’s truly where humor comes from. In the Hollywood studio system, they would say “where’s the jokes, where are the one-liners?” and they wouldn’t get that humor. We always felt that the audience is not stupid; the truth is people get it and you don’t have to hit everybody over the head with a sledgehammer. We wanted them to find the humor out of the humanity of the moment. The greatest feeling you get is when you hear people laugh at moments in the film.
There isn’t just humor and a bit of romance, but war action and male comradery, however we don’t throw the violence in your face. We don’t show blood and guts, what we show are the conditions and the idea of what’s to happen.
Flyboys is a film that reminds us of a time when men acted like gentlemen and did things out of a sense of honor and duty. It also shows us that, no matter what generation it is or what era, there are always heroes and those select few, men and women, who are willing to live on the edge and be the first to accomplish a great purpose. The story and accommodations shown for the heroes back then still stand true for our heroes in war today.
I think there are large similarities between the Flyboys and what is going on now. Any man or woman who volunteers to fight for their country out of a since of honor and duty are all heroes; they were heroes then and they are heroes now and I think that is something that never changes. Dean Devlin