Flyboys: WWI Film Starring James Franco

The story of “Flyboys” is set in 1916, in the midst of the raging WWI. On the Western Front, the Allied powers of Britain and France are bogged down in stagnant trench warfare against Germany, and million of men have been killed.

Directed by Tony Bill (“My Bodyguard,” “Five Corners”) and produced by Electric Entertainment’s Dean Devlin (“Independence Day”) and Marc Frydman. The film, written by Oscar-winner writer David S. Ward (“The Sting”), based on Phil Sears and Blake Evans’s original screenplay, was shot on location in the U.K.

Political Context

The U.S. remains neutral and isolationist, letting Europeans fight their opwn war. But a number of Americans have jounryed to Europe to assist the Allies, as volunteer ambulance drivers and members of the French Foeign Legion.

Soon, some of these American volunteers form their own squadron to take on the better-equipped German pilots and aid in the Allied war effort. It is in this tense, life-or-death context that Flyboys takes place.

The Story

Soaring high above the earth in fragile, flammable, open-cockpit biplane, outracing better-equipped enemy aircraft, and knowing the average life expectancy of someone in your line of work is at most 6 weeks. This was the daring and heroic story of the men of the Lafayette Escadrille, the first American fighter-pilot squadron to see action in World War I, when a few brave young men volunteered to fight for democracy.

And this is the story of the new epic picture “Flyboys,” a tale of love, loss, and adventure, featuring a fleet of real WWI airplanes, state-of-the-art special effects, and ground-breaking digital camera technology, which put the viewers in the cockpit with these courageous flyers.

Barely a dozen years after the invention ofpowered, contyrollable flight, these pilots invented, experimented with, and dashed headlong into the modern ewra of aerial combat.

The Characters

James Franco (known for his James Dean portrayal) stars as Texas-born Blaine Rawlings, a proud youngster who finds himself evicted from his family’s 900-acre ranch, and sees a new future in a newsreel reporting on the squadron’s heroics.

French Foreign Legion recruit, Higgins (Christien Anholt) transfers to the sqaudron from the ambulance corps.

Nebraska-born William Jensen (Philip Winchester), the son of a cavalry officer, joins to uphold the family tradition of military service.

Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labiner) enlists to make something of himself, yielding to the pressure of his wealthy and powerful father.

Eddie Beagle (David Ellison), a cocky character who can’s shoot straight, seems to be esacping from his past.

Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), a black American expatriate, wants to defend France, a country that has shown him tolerance by allowing him to compete and become a boxing champion, whereas in America he would not be allowed inside a cockpit.

The squadron leader Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson), already a vet fighter pilot at age 28, has seen firsthand the dangers of this new air combat and knows the few of these young men will survive. An object of respect and mystery, Cassidy, the sqaudron’s top ace, has defied the odds time and again with more than 20 kills to his record, but he has paid a price: He’s lost his idealism and innocence.

French star Jean Reno (“Da Vinci Code”) plays Captain Georges Thenault, who commands his French pilkots to put the American through vigorous training in preparation for their first aerial combat.

As the boysand initially they are boys–train to fly the latest French biplane, the Nieuport 17, they quickly realize the gravity of their situation. Indeed, a pilot’s life expectancy is a mere three-to-six weeks. They learn that they are outnumbered and fighting against a superior German military power. They are even denied parachutes, since the military places higher value on the airplanes than on the lives of their pilots.

Soon combat begins, and Rawlings and his fellow pilots are engaged in a furious aerial dogfight with shocking, devastating casualties beyond their worst expectations. The highly trained German pilots, in their superior Fokker aircraft, are adept at coming from nowhere to outmaneuver a French plane and shoot it down. The shockingly short life expectancy of the pilots is reinforced with each burial in the squadron’s cemetery.

Love interest

Un between battles, Rawlings finds moments of hope and happiness, when he meets and falls in love with Lucienne D’Arcy (French newcomer Jennifer Decker), a young Frecnh woman who lives in a town country nearby with her war-orphaned niece and nephews.

Through Lucienne, Rawlings learns firsthand the disturbing costs of war as it has affected her and her family. When Lucienne’s farm is surrounded by German infantry, Rawlings risks his life to rescue her. Soon thereafter, they have to bid farewell as the chaos of wwar engulfs her and she leaves for Paris.


As the pilots who survive regroup and prepare for their next battle, Rawlings and his courageous flyers must leave their fears behind, particulatly when they face the deadliest battles yet. All thoughts of idealism and thrill-seeking thus take a back seat to a single notion, survival, staying alive while helping to save their comrades.

Using New Technology

When producer Dean devlin first read the script, he realized that no one had ever made a film that truly did justice to the men who fought the dogfights of World War I. “I’ve nevr seen this kind of chaos in the sky that these guys experience,” says Devlin. “I knew that using modern equipment and special effects to recreate another time, we could show it did happened, what was it really like for those extraordinarily brave young men.”

Finding Director

Devlin says that the first director he thought of when he read “Flyboys” was longtime friend and actor-producer-director Tony Bill, who had been a licensed aerobatic pilot since he was 14, and was a dedicated WWII buff with one of the world’s largest private collections of books on the subject. Devlin knew Bill’s passion and talent would enable him as a director to translate to modern audiences the unapprecedented thrills and dangers these men experienced.

Men Who Never Saw Airplane

Tony Bill claims that, “When WWI broked out, most people had never seen an airplane, much less flown in one. The Wright Brothers had flown at kitty Hawk in the last few days of 1903, but, incredibly, the airplane had languished, practically unoticed for several more years. Aeronautical technology had barely advanced before WWI. This was a time when most people had never even driven a car, so the airplanes of WWI were the space vehicles of their time. They weren’t in a cockpit, they didn’t have any protection around them or parachutes. A mere spark was almost certainly fatal. They were basically flammable, flying targets.”

No One’s Seen This Movie Before

Tony Bill was determined to show in detail “what it was actualy like for these courageous pilots, who chose to become fighter-pilots in open planes, made of nothing but canvas, wood, wires, and linen.”

He elbaorates: “If anyone has ever wondered what it’s like to fly inverted or to do loops and rolls in the sky in an open cockpit biplane with people shooting at you, this is their chance to find out. There’s no template for this movie. No one’s seen this movie before.”