The director of Red Tails speaks
Legendary producer George Lucas has had the movie Red Tails on his mind since the early 80s and finally brings it to screen this year. The story revolves around the Tuskegee Airmen, an all black group of fighter pilots who were active during the Second World War. TV director Anthony Hemingway makes his feature debut with the film and we spoke to him about Lucas, CG and trying to educate and entertain at the same time.CLICK: Why don’t you tell me how you got involved with the movie Red Tails
AH: Basically I got a call from my agent one day that George Lucas wanted to meet with me and that was just disbelief – why would George Lucas want to meet with me?! I grew up in this industry but I had never met George. I did work with him, I was a production assistant on the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles back in the 90s but I’d never met him so it was really ironic. So I go in for a meeting and he tells me his vision and when they were looking to get started and it turned into a series of meetings and shortly after that they sent me the script and I did a presentation showing that the job was mine. And it was really awesome. I knew from the first phone call that it really resonated with me and I knew the story and it was something that I always loved and admired and these guys were mentors of mine growing up.CLICK: Lucas has been trying to make it for a long time – what finally set things in motion this time?
AH: Yes it’s been in development for over 20 years and I believe there are a collection of things. One – technology was ready for what we were ready to do. And two, I think that the acting pool was there, in so many ways. Being true to the story – these pilots were in their late teens and early 20s and we are in a time now where we really have that talent available.CLICK: Were you at all intimidated during that first meeting?
AH: Well it’s funny like I said I’ve been around a lot of these guys before so it wasn’t intimidating. However as collected as you can be going in to anything like that as soon as I walked in the door I pretty much broke down and started sweating bullets. And it was funny and at moments like that I sometimes say things I haven’t planned which was when I said ‘May the Force be With You!’CLICK: I heard that quote, did you really say it?!
AH: Yea. I wanted to jump off the building!CLICK: I’m sure he’s heard it before!
AH: He got a little chuckle which helped me out.CLICK: What drew you into wanting to work on the film?
AH: Well just knowing the nuts and bolts of who these men were and what they did for our. Personally I feel sometimes that we are reincarnations of people that come before us. So a lot of it to me is just looking at the tenacity and drive that they had. And some struggles that I’ve gone through are nothing like what they’ve gone through but I have my own struggles in my own life. And just using them as a…. I think a blueprint to how want to live my life and what I want to accomplish. They’ve been an example for me.CLICK: And what’s it like having that Lucasfilm logo at the start of your first movie?!
AH: Every time I watch it get chills! The first time I saw it I was just like ‘woah!’CLICK: The tone of the film has serious issues to deal with but it’s actually quite broad at times – was it almost an homage to an older style of movie?
AH: Yea I think you know the approach to the film was very complex in terms of keeping it old but new in various ways – story and look. And just also trying to appeal to a younger audience who don’t know the story and aren’t familiar with that part of history. It’s like a lot of times I try to approach things like this when you’re trying to educate someone, you have to figure out how to reach them. And a lot of times it’s either comedy or whatever. And you bring them in and make them laugh but they get sucker punched with some education on the way out.CLICK: What genre would you put Red Tails in? It’s got drama, comedy and action…
AH: It’s a dramatic action film but it’s definitely infused with some lightness and history as well. But it’s a dramatic action/adventure film.CLICK: Was Lucas very hands on? He must have had some very clear ideas after being in development for so long.
AH: Well one thing I really admire and was so blessed to work with him is that he gave me my space and my freedom to do my job. I was not overly micromanaged or controlled. He had a presence a lot of it was when we were strengthening the script; he came to set several times and was very much on board in the end. But he allowed me room to create.CLICK: You’ve worked as an Assistant Director for many years – was it a step on the way to becoming a director?
AH: It was my pathway to it. Initially when I really decided to make this a career I wanted to produce, which I’m doing now. But I think directing really felt – I found it and it found me along the way.CLICK: But you still want to produce?
AH: Well you know I’m more creative than I think most people see a producing role to be. But yea I think directing is definitely my first love.CLICK: Why do you think Red Tails was not picked up by a major studio?
AH: Well I think it’s an issue that we face and it’s not something that just started. It’s been around for awhile. It’s kind of led us in terms of having more diversity in storytelling. And unfortunately they just don’t trust certain material and see the potential in it or the return. Basically they didn’t think it was going to make any money.CLICK: Are there advantages to releasing it yourself?
AH: Absolutely, in every way. You have complete control in that. I mean take Star Wars for example, everyone told George no but he found out a way to get it done and look what it did for him!CLICK: This is your first feature film – how have you found making the transition?
AH: I felt like I was ready, completely. I won’t say easy but it was a smooth transition I’d say.CLICK: What are the biggest differences between working on an hour for TV and a two hour plus movie?
AH: Well you have a larger canvas and just even the attention to detail that you need to have because of the medium and the size that it’s going to be shown on, things stand out. You have less room for compromise.CLICK: And are you happy with your work on Red Tails? Anything you’d like to change?
AH: I’m very proud of this story. Clearly with any work that you do sometimes there are things that you’d like to remain or things you didn’t want to stay in but in the end I can definitely stand proud and say that I’m happy with the film.CLICK: You’re also working with a huge amount of CG here, what was that like?
AH: It was really awesome. I’d had a great deal of experience in visual effects in my career. Nothing to this magnitude but it definitely… and to have ILM and George on my side and supporting me for anything I wanted to dream of was just awesome!CLICK: I noticed a few familiar faces from HBO shows; did you bring them on board?
AH: Yea. With all work that I do I definitely remember people who have talent and who are deserving of opportunity. So they were definitely brought in as part of the masses of people we considered.CLICK: Do you have any future projects lined up?
AH: I don’t have anything I can share. I have some passion projects that you’ll hopefully hear about very soon.CLICK: But you plan to continue working in TV?
AH: Yes.Red Tails is in cinemas from the 6th of June. Check back soon for our review.