Director picked for Lucasfilm project

Anthony Hemingway  to helm 'Red Tails'

George Lucas' "Red Tails" project is on the runway, ready for takeoff.

Anthony Hemingway, who has directed episodes of "The Wire," "CSI: NY" and "ER," will helm the long-gestating World War II film. John Ridley has written the script. Rick McCallum and Charles Floyd Johnson are producing, and Lucas will serve as exec producer.

Based on a true story, "Red Tails" was the name of the first group of black airmen to serve as pilot escorts for American bombers in the war. Although their ability to fly had been questioned on racist grounds, the Red Tails' record in the sky was so impressive that they became heavily in-demand to lead bombing runs over Italy and Germany in the last year of the conflict.

Preproduction on the $30 million-$35 million feature will start in January, with principal photography beginning at the end of March. The production will shoot in Prague, Italy, Croatia and England.

Lucas has been developing the project since 1989 but put it aside to complete his second trilogy of "Star Wars" films and revive the "Indiana Jones" franchise. Now that he and Hemingway have further cracked the storytelling, Ridley will take another pass at the script.

"Anthony came to it with such a fresh eye, such a degree of enthusiasm, such a commitment, that it helped illuminate a lot of areas of the story that we would like to take advantage of," said McCallum, who cited "The Wire" as a favorite of his and Lucas.

The Red Tails' story actually began under President Franklin Roosevelt, who as an experiment sent the soldiers to Tuskegee, Ala., to train once the war started. There, they experienced rampant racism and harassment. After their exemplary performance in the war, they helped to desegregate the Army's flying crew.

"You can tell a story and look at it in a negative way because there was so much s*** that they had to go through," McCallum said, "or you can say, 'This is an incredible moment in a tiny period of history, of a group of extraordinary college-educated kids, all 21-22 years old, who all they cared about was serving their country.' "

Lucasfilm has hired Alexa L. Fogel ("Oz," "Wire," "Generation Kill") to begin casting the film.