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'Red Tails' director talks George Lucas, delays, reshoots

August 3, 2011 | 12:41 pm

George Lucas had yearned for decades to tell the story of the the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black fighter squad of World War II. He penned the story, but it was only in the last four years that he was able to make it happen. (The film, directed by Anthony Hemingway, will open in January.) According to Hemingway, much of the delay stemmed from Lucas' inability to find the right pool of talent; both young African American actors and an African American director to helm the movie.

Hemingway nabbed the director's slot in 2008. A veteran television director on such series as HBO's "Treme" and "True Blood," and an assistant director on features working for filmmakers including Jonathan Demme and Michael Mann, Hemingway caught the eye of Lucas, who was a fan of his work on "The Wire."

"It was very scary," said Hemingway of preparing to meet with Lucas. "I'm meeting George Lucas on this scale. I'm going to be competing against all my peers for the opportunity of a lifetime. I guess I showed them I was ready."

Hemingway began his 50-day shoot in Prague and Croatia back in February 2009 and upon delivery of the film in early summer, he gave Lucas and his producing partner Rick McCallum notes on what additonal scenes he'd like shot. Unfortunately, the director had also signed on--with McCallum's and Lucas' blessings--to direct and produce the first season of "Treme," which began shooting that October. When the two weeks of reshoots were finally given the go-ahead, Hemingway was set to begin his lengthy "Treme" obligation, a commitment that lasted until May 2010.

"We all knew there was going to be additional photography. It wasn't a surprise. But it really hurt when it all happened. I would never have walked away from the film. It was my primary obligation," says Hemingway.

The director says the reshoots weren't extensive but were little character moments and effects-driven scenes that were needed to "make things clear; to strengthen individual characters." And those scenes were overseen by Lucas and McCallum, with Hemingway contributing from afar.

Hemingway stepped back into the movie last summer, to work with Industrial Light & Magic, and their effects partner in Prague, UPP, to oversee the 1,500 effects shots that had to be created for the movie, one that came with a relatively modest budget of $30 million.

The trio finally completed what Hemingway calls "an indie film" just recently--spending an additional year fine-tuning the effects and finalizing a deal with longtime Lucas distributor 20th Century Fox, for a January release.

The time, according to Hemingway, has been an "intense labor of love." He continues, "This is almost like a two-year pregnancy. I'm so ready for this to be taken out of me."

He'll get his wish on Jan. 20.


LucasFilm's long-delayed 'Red Tails' coming in January

From the L.A. Times archives: Lucas on 'Red Tails' in 1990

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Leslie Odom Jr., Michael B. Jordan, Nate Parker, Kevin Phillips, David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelley portray Tuskegee Airmen. Credit: Business Wire