As one of Hollywood’s most accomplished storyboard artists, Russell has worked with a string of film directors, including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who invited him to design key action sequences in the historical thriller. The experience proved to be more than personal for the illustrator as his father, James C. Russell was a decorated member of the Tuskegee Airman, whose story provides the foundation for “Red Tails.”
Unfortunately, James Russell died in 2003, before he could see how his son translated his unit’s exploits on to the big screen. Nevertheless, the elder’s influence is apparent in “Red Tails” as David Russell made good use of the stories he heard when he was younger.
“He was certainly looking forward to the eventual film, which had been in development since the ’80s,” the illustrator shared with EURweb via e-mail.
“Still, I wove some elements of his wartime stories into my storyboards, and also drew upon the experiences of my principal adviser, the late Lt. Col. William Hallohan. Lucasfilm also provided useful background material, and of course I conducted my own extensive research.”
Despite mixed reviews of “Red Tails,” praise has been given to the film’s action scenes. Inspiration for the sequences, Russell said, came after feeling how elements of Lucas’ most famous work was present in “Red Tails.”
“I was pleased with the script’s energy, and felt that some of Lucas’ original ‘Star Wars’ fire infused the narrative,” stated Russell, who made a point of making the film goer feel as though they were in the cockpit” with the Airmen as they engaged in battle. “Thus inspired—and with my father looking over my shoulder—I put everything I had into the work, knowing that Lucas, a brilliant director, would further energize anything I delivered. And this proved to be the case.”
While he is grateful for the praise, Russell believes there is a deeper reason behind the mixed reaction for Red Tails.
“Red Tails isn’t a perfect film, but I do feel that some of the most pointed criticism had its basis in the uneasy nature of US race relations,” he said while acknowledging Lucas’ struggle with getting Red Tails into theaters. “It’s a sad fact that too many mainstream citizens have been inculcated with the notion that African Americans lack the qualities of courage, determination and self-sacrifice. To such persons—primarily insecure White males—“Red Tails” represents a direct threat to their worldview, a repudiation, in fact, of a rather sick, persistent mythology. This attitude has been clearly expressed by various film critics, who are also quietly outraged that a director of Lucas’ caliber took on such a project … Perhaps the difficulty Lucas faced in sourcing funding and distribution for “Red Tails” stands as the most pungent indication of the complex politics faced by African-American filmmakers, and by others who seek to tell their stories.”
Not swayed by the attitude, Russell is using a different vehicle for telling stories with his first novel, “Enchanters: Glys of Myradelle.” The page-turner, which is now available as an e-book by Freya Publishing, serves as another outlet for Russell to explore his interest in fantasy, mythology and historical themes.
The author, who is currently involved in creating 13 science fiction e-book covers for Spatterlight Press, will continue his foray into books this year with the sequel to “Enchanters,” “A Shining Realm” as well as “Mojo in Oz,” a contemporary adventure set in the world of Oz..
As for future film endeavors, two film presentations from Russell are due to start in April.