[FILM] Dean Devlin Personally Raised $60M for his "Flyboys" Project
- Buzzing the festival
Dean Devlin's sales pitch for 'Flyboys' gains altitude.
By Mary McNamara, Times Staff Writer
CANNES, France Producer Dean Devlin wanted to have a squadron of
World War I biplanes buzz the Boulevard de la Croisette in honor
of "Flyboys," his film in progress, but he was told by Cannes
festival officials that this would be illegal. So when several
French fighter jets made a brief but sonically impressive appearance
in the blue blue sky last Saturday evening, Devlin did what people
do when they're in Cannes he spun it. "Those were 'Flyboys'
planes,' " he said to the group of ambient filmmakers and press
standing around in the lobby of the Martinez hotel. "They just
forgot the banner."
At this year's festival, Devlin was a bit of a flyboy himself he
arrived by private jet on Friday night and flew out Sunday evening.
But still he hit all the festival pulse points: The spontaneous deal-
making in the crimson fug of the bar at the hotel Majestic, the
official news conference followed by the screening for international
acquisitions reps, the meet-and-greets in the office of his new
foreign sales company, the breakfast with buyers for several
television projects, the dinner with Lions Gate, the party on a
fabulous yacht, the endless chance encounters at the bar in the
Hotel du Cap and, of course, just walking along the Croisette.
FOR THE RECORD:
"Flyboys" in Cannes An article in Friday's Calendar section about
the movie "Flyboys" said that Bryan Singer is a co-founder of the
marketing company Voltage Pictures. In fact, he is not. Also, the
clip of "Flyboys" shown at Cannes was from three weeks of shooting,
not three days. And the movie "Librarian 2: Return to King Solomon's
Mines" was referred to as "Librarian 2: Revenge of King Solomon's
As the producer of such event films as "Independence Day," "The
Patriot" and "Stargate," Devlin isn't a usual suspect here, where
the presence of big films is limited to one or two and the rest fall
somewhere between fine art and cheesy exploitation. But "Flyboys" is
a special project for Devlin, who raised the $60 million needed for
production completely on his own. And so after only four weeks
shooting in England, he put together a trailer and hopped the flight
across the Channel in the hopes of creating a little buzz.
"This is a new model for me, for us," he says, referring to his
production company, Electric. "We want to create a big movie that's
also independent and sold after it's made. Part of the reason I'm
doing it is because so many people told me it couldn't be done."
"Flyboys" is the tale of the Lafayette Escadrille, a group of
American aviators who joined the French Army during World War I long
before the U.S. entered the war. The story follows the group as it
enters the strange and lovely French landscape, complete with
strange and lovely French girls, and then, of course, combat. It is
directed by Tony Bill, an actor and television director
("Monk," "Felicity"), a longtime friend of Devlin and his father,
famed producer Don Devlin. Although most of Bill's directorial work
has been in television, he is a licensed pilot and World War I
aficionado, so when Devlin came across the script, in 1999, Bill was
the first person he thought of.
"I said, 'It's about these Americans in France,' and Tony
immediately knew all about it; he knows more about these pilots than
anyone I know." Devlin was taken with the story because it had all
the elements of an epic love, death, friendship as well as the
opportunity for outstanding special effects. "We have never had the
technology to do these air battles justice," he says. Although many
flight sequences will be shot in the air with actors leading man
James Franco got his pilot license for the film and first-time actor
David Ellison is a champion acrobatic aviator there will be
extensive use of computer-generated special effects. "We'll be able
to show the tracer bullets," Devlin says of the smoke trailing shots
the pilots used to check their accuracy. "We'll be able to show,
safely, the bullets striking and how close the planes actually came
to each other.
"This was the last gentlemen's war," he says, and not for the last
time. "It was like hand-to-hand combat up there; they knew the men
they were fighting, they had a moral code, while meanwhile, in the
trenches, there was mud and mustard gas and horror." He came to
Cannes, he says, to sell the film emotionally rather than
financially. "Of course if someone makes us an offer at the right
price, we won't exactly refuse."
Sitting in the humid, roiling bar at the Majestic, Devlin is clear-
eyed, fast-talking and hyper-alert, the sort of man whose leg
perpetually jiggles when he sits. Like those of most everyone else
here, his gaze is constantly flickering from the face of his partner
in conversation to scan the rest of the room just in case someone he
needs to talk to walks by. And someone inevitably does here is the
guy to whom he sold his special effects company a few years ago who
mentions the names of some people Devlin simply must meet; here's a
producer who works with director Jim Sheridan whom Devlin met when
he was thinking about filming "Flyboys" in Ireland. "But we got a
better deal in England." Devlin apologizes for the classic Hollywood
over-the-shoulder gaze, but this is the reason he's here to meet,
in a short time, many people from all over the world who can help
him make "Flyboys" a success.
"This room is where it happens," he says, gesturing to the
bar. "It's strange, but if you just walk around here, people will
come to you like flies to honey. In Hollywood, many of these people
would be really competitive, they would guard their contacts and
their projects, but here, we depend on the kindness of strangers."
"Flyboys" will screen for the press in three hours, but Devlin wants
to personally see to the sound and light check. He meets with Kearie
Peak, one of his partners in Electric (Marc Roskin is another), and
the two head down the Croisette. On the sidewalk, cleared a bit by a
sudden shower of rain, he bumps into three people he knows, all of
whom he invites to the screening (all of them amazingly will show
up) before stopping in at the offices of Voltage Pictures, the
foreign sales company he founded last year with Bryan Singer. There,
a staff headed by Nicolas Chartier has created a small sales office,
complete with kitchen, sofa, comfortable chairs and a large flat
screen television on which they are screening clips from the half-
dozen or so films they are hoping to sell here. They have been here
since the day before the festival opened and are staying through the
end showing their wares and fielding offers. "We took this office
because of the balcony," says Chartier. "This way we can just yell
to the people we know." Peak's cellphone rings and news comes that
they have sold the Japanese distribution rights to "The Librarian 2:
Revenge of Solomon's Mine." It's Peak's seventh time at Cannes, her
second with Devlin. "The trick is comfortable shoes and lots of
water," she says.
The screening is being held in a room at the Martinez hotel where
Mark Franco, the visual effects producer, has been setting things
up. Devlin is not in the room two minutes before he is worrying
about the state of the screen "it's dirty, so dirty," he says,
shaking it in hopes of dislodging some dust and the lights. They
roll the three-minute clip, which is pretty impressive considering
it was culled from just three days of shooting, and futz with the
sound synchronization. "Look at that," Devlin says as the clip rolls
again; there are shadows in some of the airborne scenes thrown by
two lights in the ceiling. "Can we shut off those lights?" he asks a
representative of the hotel who answers in swift French. "No," says
Franco, "I asked already. They're safety lights or something."
"This is the way he is," Peak says, watching Devlin straightening
microphones and twitching the fabric that hangs from the long table
where cast members, Devlin and Bill will sit to address
reporters. "And those lights will be off, I promise you."
Franco asks if lunch can be delivered; he's starving. "Me too," says
Peak. "Did you eat yet today?" she asks cast member Ellison, who has
just joined the crowd; he shakes his head. "I didn't. Neither did
Dean. And it's what? One-thirty? Welcome to Cannes."
By news-conference time, the safety lights are off and the screen is
a little cleaner. About 60 journalists and 20 international
television crews gather in the small room. French actor Jean Reno,
who plays the captain of the Escadrille, causes a small riot with
his entrance while Bill makes sure he walks in with Devlin. "I don't
think I'm on the list," he says. "Tell them you're the director,"
Devlin answers. "They'll say I'm too old to be a director," Bill
says with a laugh, a reference to the many scruffy young first-
timers who flood the festival.
During the question and answer period, Devlin gives his "last
gentlemen's war" speech and Bill explains how "Flyboys" is only one
of two films (the next "Superman" is the other) shot with the
Genesis camera, which requires no film. "This takes an enormous
pressure off everyone," he says. "We can do as many takes as we
like." Reporters nod and then ask Franco about "Spider-Man 3." But
the mood when it's over is good; everyone applauded the clip (which,
in Cannes, is not at all required) and, more important, stayed for
the whole thing.
Within an hour and a half, Lions Gate, handling the film's
international sales, reports a bid from the Russian distributor
that's at the asking price. (International Creative Management is
handling domestic.)Whether Electric takes the offer depends on what
happens in the next few days if they think interest in the film is
ballooning, they might hold out for more money. Or Lions Gate might
say yes to the Russians in the hopes that it will spark interest
among other territories. Before the film, Devlin promises
the "biggest low-budget film ever made. We're making a $160-million
movie for $60 million," he says. Again, they all stay and afterward
most join the filmmakers in the salon next door for cocktails.
Financiers and marketing reps congratulate Devlin and Bill on the
clip, sip champagne and talk about jet lag. Ambien is the preferred
solution, though Tylenol PM will work too.
Jet lag is not the only force of exhaustion during Devlin's
campaign. After a dinner hosted by Lion's Gate, many of the crew,
including Franco, Ellison, the film's French leading lady Jennifer
Decker, Peak and Devlin head to the Hotel du Cap, a half-hour away.
There, Devlin runs into more people he knows, including his former
partner, producer-director Roland Emmerich. After sipping mojitos
and schmoozing for an hour, the group heads back, debating the
possibility of attending the party Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen
is throwing aboard his yacht for "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang." Piling into
the two cars provided by Lions Gate, Peak and Decker must sit on
laps. "I need sleep," Peak says, her face to the open window. "We
have a 9 o'clock meeting tomorrow." And their own party to attend.
After a day of one-on-one meetings, Devlin and Peak have about 10
minutes to get ready for the "Flyboys" bash, held on the Rising Sun,
the world's largest yacht, owned by the founder of software giant
Oracle Corp. "Apparently Paul Allen is trying to add on to his
yacht," Devlin says as the launch that is shuttling the 300 or so
guests to the Rising Sun pulls alongside what looks like a small
ocean liner. "So he'll be the biggest." Among the guests are
representatives from the Bank of Ireland and Ingenious
Entertainment, which provided much of the initial financing, as well
as other investors and staff and friends of ICM. To protect the
wooden decks, guests deposit their shoes at a shoe check and wander
three of the decks, eating lobster, sushi and French cheeses and
sipping, of course, champagne. The white peaks of the festival tents
are strung along the beach like a pearl necklace and the palm trees
sway around the Palais des Festivals, a vision of Mediterranean
"My vocabulary has been reduced to 'wow,' " says Devlin, greeting
ICM Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Berg, who organized the party. But he,
Bill and the cast of "Flyboys" don't get to dwell in 'wow' for long.
They leave the party early; their luggage is waiting for them and
they are off to the airport because tomorrow is Monday, festival or
"We have to get back to work," says Devlin. "You see, we're making a