Producer discusses why he wanted to make this film, historical accuracy and what he's working on next
Having produced Independence Day and the The Patriot, producer Dean Devlin knows something about making big films. Taking to the skies with Flyboys, the producer looked to tell the little known story of how planes were first introduced as fighting machines. Directed by Tony Bill, this film is an unforgettable story about a group of heroic American men who volunteer for the French Military and become fighter pilots before the US enters WW1.
What was it about the subject matter of Flyboys that attracted you to it?
Dean Devlin: Well, I've always wanted to do a World War One dogfight movie. I think that it's a lost genre. They used to be a staple in Hollywood but we haven't seen it in 40 years. I thought that it's really time to bring that genre back. It's a great genre. I was never able to find a story that I thought would be fresh and interesting to tell. Then one day a spec script came to me about the Lafayette Escadrille. I had never heard of the Lafayette Escadrille, I didn't know about them, I just thought one of the writers had made it up. So I called the person that I knew was the biggest expert about WW1 aviation, and that's director Tony Bill. As soon as I mentioned the Lafayette Escadrille, he went on for about two hours telling me all these amazing stories about the real Lafayette Escadrille.
I thought, this concept of American boys who volunteer to fight in WW1, before the US had entered the war, so they're completely acting on their own, I thought that was a really unique way of entering the story; to make the story more about the pilots than about nationalism.
When you're given a script for a movie like Flyboys, as a producer, how do you break down the screenplay so that it's workable to produce?
Dean Devlin: This was a labor of love. Everybody involved, from the creative team, to even the financiers, everyone approached this film as a film from the heart. I think when you do that, no matter what difficulties you run into they're battles worth fighting, because you know you're doing it for a different reason. You know you're not doing it because you think, "Oh, this is gonna be the most commercial film out there." You're doing it because it's a film you wanna make. You wanna see it in theaters. You want people to hear and see the story. I think that that really made this whole process special and unique.
What for you was the most difficult part of making this film? And also, what was the most rewarding part?
Dean Devlin: The toughest part, I think, is that this is a film that had we done it at any major studio would have easily been $120, $130 million dollars to make. We had less than half that amount of money, so the challenge was how can we make the film at this price without sacrificing anything? So we really had to go and use every filmmaking technique we ever learned to try and stretch our dollars and make it work. I think it's an enormous compliment to the 100s of craftsmen that worked on the film... literally, every artist who worked on the film did more than their budget should have allowed them to do.
I think the most rewarding part of the film was being able to pull off the six major aerial battles in the film. These were sequences where we were going to need real airplanes flying and doing stunts. We were going to need 850 digital effects shots. It was a massive undertaking and on a budget that was basically a television movie budget. I think that it was a real accomplishment and it's the thing that I am the most proud of pulling off.
When making a film of this size what do you look for as a producer on the set?
Dean Devlin: This was a different kind of film because, again, we made this movie completely independently. So we didn't have the same kind of pressures you have when you're at a studio. We really only approached the film from an artistic point of view. We approached it from what was going to make the movie most emotional? What was going to engage us most in the characters? We really didn't have to concern ourselves with, "Did we have the hottest actors who's dating another hot actor, who's on the cover of all the newspapers that week?" These are real concerns for a studio because they want to make sure there's enough publicity, etc..
For us, when we were on the set, all we thought was "Is this scene the way it's supposed to be?" "Does this match the letters that we read from the actual pilots?" And always, "Are we doing enough to tell this story from an emotional point of view?"
Does your job as a producer vary from production to production?
Dean Devlin: I think if you talk to 10 different producers and ask them what a producer does, you're going to get to 10 different answers. I think the way in which I produce is the same on every film. It's just kind of the way I work. The demands and disciplines of each film really are varied by what you're trying to accomplish storywise. If you're doing something that's more comedic then your discipline is, "Are we making this as funny as we can?" It really kind of depends on the film. The way I kind of approach producing is from a very hands on, creative standpoint. In that regard, the way I approach my job is the same on every film.
Having done Independence Day, The Patriot, and now Flyboys, what is it about these big, spectacle-type films that draws you to them?
Dean Devlin: I'm a person who believes that if you're gonna be a filmmaker, because filmmaking is really hard, you have to make the kind of movies that you personally really like. A lot of filmmakers try and make movies they think somebody else would like, because they want to do well commercially; they want to make a good living. I understand that, but I think that it's harder to do. I just know that any given Friday, when I'm thinking what movies to go see, I like to see the big pictures. I like to see a movie that's special as a movie. It doesn't feel like a television show. It's offering me something bigger and grander. That's just my personal preference as a film watcher. I tend to want to make the films that I want to go see myself.
When you're in the midst of production on a movie like Flyboys, how concerned can you be with being faithful to depicting history accurately?
Dean Devlin: Inherently you're going to have fudge reality because you're telling a story in two hours. This is an inherent part of the process. What you're constantly wanting to do is juggle fact, the spirit of what happened, and good storytelling. One of the places where we're not historically accurate in the film is depicting the German airplanes as predominantly red airplanes. We've taken some criticism for it but we discovered very early on, when we did early testing, that when we had as many different colored German airplanes as they had, the battles became very confusing and people couldn't understand who was shooting who.
We made an artistic decision that it was more important to be involved emotionally in the battles, and the characters that we're following, than to depict that historically accurately. That said, everything that happens in the air was based on actual battles that were written about by pilots. We tried to stay incredibly accurate to that degree, we tried to stay incredibly accurate in the spirit and emotion of these battles, but we had made a filmmaking decision to paint the German planes red to add clarity to the battles.
What are you working on next?
Dean Devlin: Next up we're going to do a big science fiction film called Isobar. We're hoping to start shooting that this summer. Then after that we will do the third episode of The Librarian franchise with Noah Wyle. The third one is gonna be a lot of fun. It takes place in New Orleans and we're really looking forward to making it. We think it's gonna be something really special.
Does that currently have a title?
Dean Devlin: Yes, it's called The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice.
Flyboys comes to DVD January 30 from MGM and Fox Home Entertainment.
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