‘Wolf Hound’ scenes filmed in Suffolk skies

Published 9:40 pm Saturday, August 4, 2018

There was little rain and amenable cloud coverage for the film crew at the Suffolk Executive Airport as warbirds sped off the runway and into the sky for dips and turns in Suffolk airspace. Cameras captured every twist and turn both in and out of the cockpit.

The crew had arrived in Suffolk on Tuesday to capture aerial footage for the World War II action movie “Wolf Hound,” which is currently in principal photography. Mechanics, pilots and four genuine warplanes from the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach were fueled and ready on Friday afternoon.

Director Michael B. Chait explained that the surrounding Suffolk landscape was ideal for a skirmish in Nazi-occupied France circa 1944.

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“We’ve had an extremely pleasant experience,” Chait said about filming in Suffolk. “We love it here, and we’re very thankful for the hospitality that the airport has extended to us.”

“Wolf Hound” takes place in the course of a single day in 1944 France. An Allied pilot is escorting a B-17 bomber into Nazi territory and engages a Nazi aircraft. The dogfight cripples both aircraft, and the pilots parachute into the forest below where their cat-and-mouse game continues.

Chait explained how the wooded areas of Suffolk make it an ideal filming location for these aerial shots.

“The area right around here looks absolutely perfect for the forests of 1944 France,” he said.

“Wolf Hound” is Chait’s feature film directorial debut. His resume includes directing music videos for artists like The Black Eyed Peas and commercials for Honda, the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard, and other high-profile clients.

He said he’s been working with a team on the script for four years. The original story is based on the real-life KG 200, the German Luftwaffe special operations unit that operated captured Allied aircraft as Trojan horses to wreak havoc on Allied bomber squadrons.

Chait read firsthand accounts from World War II pilots that described “phantom fighter planes and bombers” that would appear in Allied formations with different markings, sometimes even with a swastika on the tail, he said.

“We definitely wanted to create a fun, exciting adventure thriller set in World War II that’s a great ride to go on, but does shed some light on a little-known, factual piece of history,” he said.

James Maslow will star as the film’s Jewish-American pilot protagonist, Capt. David Holden, according to the website IMDB. Maslow starred in Nickelodeon’s “Big Time Rush” and also appeared on “Dancing with the Stars” and “Celebrity Big Brother.” His solo L.P. “How I Like It” debuted in March.

Maslow has starred in films such as “Bachelor Lions,” “It Happened One Valentine’s” and the crime thriller “48 Hours to Live.” He said he’s always been interested in starring in a World War II period film and that he’s been a fan of action movies since he was a child.

“That little kid in me has not left,” he said. “I still plan on being an action star, and this film is such an amazing, magnificent step in that direction. I’m just grateful and happy to be a part of it.”

The museum provided three warbirds for filming on Friday: a Hawker Hurricane, MK-1XE Supermarine Spitfire and the P-51 Mustang dubbed “Double Trouble Two.” Chief Pilot Mike Spalding flew the P-51 with Maslow in the seat behind him to capture Maslow’s character flying with camera shots of him inside the cockpit.

The air-to-air engagement footage is the work of aerial cinematographer Dwayne McClintock and aerial coordinator Craig Hosking, who was also the aerial coordinator for the intense dogfights in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.”

“He’s like the No. 1 aerial coordinator and cameraman in the business, and I’m absolutely thankful beyond belief that he came out to do this with us,” Chait said. “He did some shots that I don’t think you’ve seen in hardly any movie before.”

Military Aviation Museum mechanics and film crew members worked out of The Fighter Factory hangar at Suffolk Executive Airport, and General Manager Tom Kurtz explained how each warbird was a piece of history. The Hurricane never saw action, but it’s just one of 13 that are still flyable worldwide. It’s also one of the three left that are built with the 12-gun design. Kurtz said the Russians used these planes for “tank busting.”

But the most historically significant museum craft buzzing over the Suffolk airport on Friday was the Spitfire. According to the museum’s website, this Spitfire flew in North Africa, Italy, Corsica, Greece and Yugoslavia during World War II, then in Italy and Israel after the war.

Military Aviation Museum Pilot John Mazza — callsign “Pappy” — was flying the Spitfire between 150 to 200 knots for aerial shots of engagement moves. He said he was smiling ear-to-ear in the cockpit. When asked how the plane handled, he quoted the late Geoffrey Wellum, a veteran of the Royal Air Force during World War II who piloted a Spitfire extensively in the Battle of Britain.

“’You can’t fly a Spitfire and forget about it; it stays with you,’” Mazza said inside the Spitfire cockpit, quoting Wellum. “Now I’ll give you a Pappy quote: you haven’t flown until you’ve flown a Spitfire. It’s the most graceful, maneuverable plane.”

“That you’ve been in,” Military Aviation Museum mechanic Frank Owens said.

“Ever,” Mazza retorted. “Even to this day there’s nothing like this airplane. If you go and ask anybody that flies a Spitfire from anywhere in the world, they’re going to tell you the same thing I just told you. The exact same thing.”

The Military Aviation Museum crew was excited to help bring real World War II planes to movie theaters as opposed to CGI.

“It’s an incredible endeavor. Anytime that we have the chance to participate in bringing history to life, we’re there,” Kurtz said as the Spitfire rumbled above the airport. “It’s what we do. We are caretakers of history, but when you boil it all down, we show off for a living. We show off for a living to keep history alive.”

Caretakers of history, or as Robert Dickson Jr. would say, “trustees of history.”

Dickson was flying the fourth plane at the airport on Friday, a P-51 Mustang he owns with his father called “Swamp Fox.” This plane underwent complete restoration for five years before the Dicksons purchased it in 2012.

According to a Hickory Record article, Dickson painted the plane to look like that of retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Will Foard, a World War II pilot who flew a P-51 Mustang in France. Foard named his plane after his hometown, Marion, S.C., which itself was named after famous Revolutionary War military officer Frances Marion, nicknamed “Swamp Fox.”

Dickson argued that you can’t replace the roar of the Packard-built, Rolls Royce-designed Merlin engine inside the “Swamp Fox.”

“It’s a very visceral, physical experience that shakes and rattles,” he said with engines rumbling the hangar. “It’s one of the important reasons why we still fly these things. It’s great to go see it in a museum, but you just stand back and go ‘oh, pretty airplane.’ But you heard it running out here, and it has a cool sound to it.”

Most of the Military Aviation Museum pilots flying on Friday have been airborne since they were just children, and all of them were encouraged by Chait and his crew’s commitment to authenticity.

“I don’t know anything about making movies, but I read the script twice,” Mazza said before takeoff. “I think every aviation buff will go to it. Every World War II buff will go to it. Every action movie fan will go to it, and I think thousands and thousands of young girls will go to it because of James Maslow. He’s the heartthrob of all the young girls now.”

It’s actually personal for Maslow, because his grandfather flew B-17s in World War II. His father told him that his part in the movie came together this year on what would have been his grandfather’s birthday.

“If that wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what is,” he said.

Maslow described his own experience shooting inside a B-17 as simply “surreal,” with a tightrope passageway and an incredible sound as the bomb bay opened.

According to a Variety report, the Yankee Air Museum in Michigan allowed filmmakers to utilize the original “Rosie the Riveter” bomber plant hangar for filming, along with two of its bombers. Westley Gathright — a frequent collaborator of Chait’s — is the film’s cinematographer and the film’s visual consultant is Russel Carpenter, the Oscar-Winning cinematographer for “Titanic.”

“I think it’s going to be captivating and one of the most beautiful films that anyone has seen in a long time,” Maslow said.

The crew left Suffolk Friday evening to continue principal photography elsewhere. According to Chait, the goal is for “Wolf Hound” to premiere summer of next year. He hopes for it to be a compelling rendition of what fighter pilots experienced more than 70 years ago in the skies over Europe.

He said he used actual warplanes not just for the audience to enjoy the “excitement and awe-inspiring visuals,” but also to give “the most respectful, regal treatment to the actual veterans.”

“It’s like a tribute and an homage to them in showing the audience what this was for real,” he said. “Using the actual aircraft means a lot to me as a filmmaker, just to give people not only an exciting experience but a much more authentic and meaningful one.”