Director picked to pilot Lucasfilm's '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 "Indiana Jones." 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 began under President Franklin Roosevelt, who as an experiment sent the soldiers to Tuskegee, Ala., to train once the war started. There, they experienced racism and harassment. After their performance in the war, they helped desegregate the Army's flying crew.

Lucasfilm tapped Alexa L. Fogel ("Wire") to begin casting the film. (partialdiff)