George Lucas in Prague to oversee ‘Red Tails’ score

Over 20 years after the ‘Star Wars’ director announced ‘Red Tails’ as his next project, production is nearing completion in Prague

Society
Raymond Johnston | 06.06.2011
Lucas said the story of the Tuskegee Airmen was ‘too good to be true’

Hollywood filmmaker George Lucas is back in Prague to oversee the recording of the score for “Red Tails,” a film he is executive producing about African-American pilots in World War II, based on his own original story. It is the legendary filmmaker’s first film credit not related to the Indiana Jones or Star Wars series since 1994’s “Radioland Murders.”

Lucas will reportedly be in Prague from June 5–9, when composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard records a jazz score for the long-delayed film at the Rudolfinum with the FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague. Adding the score to a film is typically one of the last steps before a film is completed.

“Red Tails” is Blanchard’s 52nd score, including ones made for TV films, according to a May 27 press release from Muse Media, which represents Blanchard. His most notable previous soundtrack work includes the Spike Lee films “Jungle Fever,” “Malcom X,” “Summer of Sam,” “Inside Job” and the World War II flick “Miracle of St. Anna.” He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on “25th Hour” and won a Grammy for “A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina),” released in 2007.

Until word about the score was announced at the end of May, very little news had come out about the film since some scenes were reshot in early 2010. The film was originally slated to be released in 2011, but it failed to turn up on schedules. On June 2, director Anthony Hemingway finally broke the silence. “BTW, Red Tails hits screens January 2012,” he told a fellow filmmaker on social networking site Twitter. The film is Hemingway’s first feature although he has experience from TV series such as “CSI: NY” and “The Wire.” ‘BTW, Red Tails hits screens January 2012.’

The title refers to the color of paint used on the tails (as well as the noses) of the planes used by the Tuskegee Airmen, a unit of African American pilots who served in the US Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force, in World War II. The army at that time was still segregated. The airmen faced discrimination but managed an exemplary record as bomber escorts.

Lucas began developing the film idea more than 20 years ago, and it was even announced as his next film in an Aug. 11, 1990, article in The Los Angeles Times. “I let it sit awhile, but two years ago I realized it wouldn’t leave my brain. Like ‘Tucker,’ it’s a story too good to be true,” he said in 1990.

The script that was finally used was written by John Ridley although Lucas reportedly retains a credit for the original story. “Producers interviewed surviving original Tuskegee pilots and even gained access to official logbooks from their missions in World War II. The film was shot in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Italy and England, and the film score will be recorded in Prague this June,” the May press release said. ‘The film addresses racial prejudice, war and showcases the human spirit as it rises above all odds.’

“The film addresses racial prejudice, war and showcases the human spirit as it rises above all odds,” it added, without giving specific details of the film’s plot. The cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard and Bryan Lee Cranston.

Setting aside the 20-plus year wait, the film has been a long time in the making. The project was announced as definitely going forward in 2008, and principal production on the film took place between April and June 2009, with scenes shot at Prague Studios and Prague’s Bohnice Hospital, as well as the airport at Milovice in Central Bohemia, a theater in Kalovy Vary in West Bohemia and a station at Krupá in Central Bohemia, according to the Czech Film Commission and other sources. Sets including the Milovice airport as well as work on full-scale models of historical airplanes was done by Barrandov Studios.

Reshoots took place in Prague in March 2010, with Lucas taking the director’s seat, as the original director, Anthony Hemingway, was already committed to work on an HBO project. Media reports at the time said there was no conflict in the production team, and Hemingway would be able to approve of the reshot scenes; however, some sources speculated that Lucas was unhappy with the original filming and was taking over.

“Red Tails” was also one of the first films to be able to take advantage of the new tax incentives meant to boost the Czech filmmaking industry, which saw a big downturn after 2003 when Hungary and other countries that offered financial aid attracted many projects that would otherwise have come to Prague.

The film was approved to receive Kč 20.45 million back from Kč 102.25 million of eligible spending, according to figures from the Ministry of Culture. While much of the film was shot in 2009 before the incentives program began, the additional production that took place in 2010 qualified for the tax program. The total budget for the film was originally estimated to be between $25 million and $35 million, according to media reports from 2008 when the production was first announced.

While all aspects of the filmmaking have been closed to the public, Prague audiences will have a chance to see Blanchard perform in person next month at the Prague Proms on July 6 at the Žofín Garden. There is no word whether he will play anything from his new score at the show. 

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