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[FILM] Dean Devlin Personally Raised $60M for his "Flyboys" Project

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  • madchinaman
    Buzzing the festival Dean Devlin s sales pitch for Flyboys gains altitude. By Mary McNamara, Times Staff Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 2005
      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.


      "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
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