McCallum eventually joined forces with Lucas and the two of them teamed on "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles," a partnership that would lead to McCallum's immersion into the "Star Wars" world as a producer on both the re-releases and the prequels. Now McCallum and Lucas are back at it again, pairing up for the Lucasfilms production "Red Tails," spotlighting the story of the Tuskegee airmen and their struggles during combat in World War II.
"When we finished 'Episode Three,' George said, you know what? The world we live in is only one story. It’s the middle story. It’s like episode four. And if someone wanted to make episode three and episode five, which is the civil rights movie, and the Tuskegee movie, they could. The problem was, we were just starting the live-action 'Star Wars' series, which took us to 2007." The show, meanwhile, remains in incubation to this day. "I’m hoping one day we can develop the technology," McCallum says of the proposed live-action series. "But right now it’s just too expensive. Each hour episode is bigger than any of the films we’ve done, and we only have $5 million an episode to do them."
While they were excited about the material provided by screenwriter John Ridley ("Three Kings," "Twelve Years A Slave"), they felt a light touch was needed during post-production. Enter the most unlikely of names, neophyte screenwriter Aaron McGruder, best known for creating the hit comic strip "The Boondocks." "Aaron was one of the first writers I had met," confirmed McCallum. "But he was locked in for 'The Boondocks' [TV series] and couldn’t get out. He had done an episode on the Tuskegee Airman, and back at the University of Pennsylvania, he did a major paper on [the subject]. But at that time, he had never written a film script before, so we went with John, who we loved."
While original plans for the "Red Tails" story were more expansive, it doesn't look like Lucas and company will be revisiting that mileu. "Doing the center part of the story was probably the cheapest part [of our story]," says McCallum. "We only needed our airbase, we needed to be in Europe. But recreating the South, recreating the Civil Rights movement, that would have been very expensive to do." The earlier and later portions of the "Red Tails" story will surface, however, in a couple of lengthy documentaries that recently debuted on the History Channel and will be available on the "Red Tails" DVD.
While McCallum hopes Lucas will now complete his highly-publicized move to smaller, more personal filmmaking, McCallum has no hard answers. "I’m hoping he takes a break from this and gets back to his roots, in terms of small filmmaking," McCallum hopes. "[George] has always been a small filmmaker at heart, which is why I hope he goes on to make his smaller experimental films. Plus, he’s an editor, and that’s what he loves to do." But he cautioned, "This closes the circle for [Lucas]. He’s made every single film he’s developed that he wanted to make."
As for McCallum, he remains an independent producer unaffiliated with Lucasfilms, and he's trying to get financing together for a 3D film set in the world of NASCAR. Written and directed by Dustin Voigt, McCallum, a NASCAR fan, says, "It’s an exciting script. It’s about a bunch of guys who want to get into a NASCAR race but can’t because of various rules and regulations." McCallum says this film, "Gets back to the spirit of what NASCAR was thirty years ago before it became this big corporate monster, when it was a different kind of sport.”
"Red Tails" opens this Friday.