(Exclusive) Talking with director Michael B. Chait upon the release of his debut feature film ‘Wolf Hound’

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Inspired by the real-life account KG 200, the German Luftwaffe special operations unit that captured Allied aircraft as Trojan horses to wreak havoc on Allied bomber squadrons, “Wolf Hound” is from a screenplay by Timothy Ritchey and his story.

At the height of the war in 1944,  in Nazi-occupied France. a Jewish-American pilot shot down behind enemy lines who must single-handedly battle Nazi troops to thwart a doomsday plot involving a superbomb that can destroy whole cities.

Michael Chait’s feature directorial debut, “Wolf Hound” is going to set a high bar for Michigan movies and is going to establish him as a force de cinema to be reckoned with. It is Chait’s attention to detail and emphasis on authenticity which are going to put him over the top.

As director Michael Chait tells it, ” “Wolf Hound” is a World War II action movie. We wanted to do justice and honor the real-life heroes and events of WWII by doing everything possible in-camera, for real, including real WWII fighter planes and bombers flying and dogfighting in the sky.

“We also set out to create images that are larger than life, visually rich, romanticized, and very emotive, both to treat the content in a regal fashion on the largest canvas possible and to take the audience on the journey with the characters through dramatic visual storytelling that hopefully makes you feel like you’re there and experiencing everything with them.”

To give this movie that feeling of authenticity, the Yankee Air Museum in Michigan allowed the filmmaker to utilize the original “Rosie the Riveter” bomber plant hanger as a major filming location. The museum also offered their North American B-25 Mitchell Bomber and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber, of which there are only nine still flying in the world.

Filmmakers also shot footage with P-51 Mustangs, a Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane, and a German Messerschmitt Bf 109.

“Wolf Hound” was released on June 3 to 33 theaters and streaming services and VOD.  Within its first week on Amazon Direct Videos, “Wolf Hound” ranked #15 in new releases.

Director Michael B. Chait consented to this interview in which he talks at length regarding the production of his directorial debut.

First of all, congratulations. You have achieved something that few other Michigan filmmakers have done. Your first feature film Wolf Hound has just been released. And it was released with help from your distributors, and it is appearing at a number of different theaters nationwide. How does it feel to hit one out of the park upon your first time at bat?

Thank you for saying that, it is still surreal for me to truly realize that in some ways. Just like for so many filmmakers, it has been a very, very long journey to get here. I feel absolutely thrilled and elated, but thankful even more than anything else! We came up with the story in late 2013/early 2014, shot principal photography in 2018 and pick-ups in 2019 (not reshoots, but pick-ups mainly due to being rained out weather-wise for several key scenes in 2018) so it’s been many years in the making, but for me personally, this goal began in earnest when I was 12 and I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker, so it’s truly been all these years working toward this, every corporate video nobody will ever see haha, music video, commercial, short film, they’ve all helped to both prepare me for and build toward our first feature, and the fact that Lionsgate is our distributor is still sinking in.
This is no doubt very exciting for you. But you did not do this alone. Since its release, and before, Facebook has really exploded with excitement as members of both your cast and crew are posting about how exciting this is for everyone involved. Congratulations are due to everyone who had a hand in making this movie both in front of and behind the camera. Who all appears in your movie and how did this all come together?

Oh, I am the first one to admit that it took a village to make this movie, and I can’t say enough great things about everyone involved: Sue Witham is our full producing partner, and without her and her family, it never would have gotten off the ground, pun intended (it was truly a family effort, especially for her and my families coming together to help make this come to life!)…Sue is one of the most successful, well-known and liked, and veteran commercial producers in Michigan and the entire network she brought to this film was crucial in making it happen. I definitely called in all my favors, and she did as well, which I can’t thank her enough for. I was lucky enough to meet many of my closest collaborators at Columbia College Chicago where I attended from 2002 – to 2006, and Tim Ritchey my writing partner, Michael Kramer our incredible composer, Wes Gathright our awesome DP, Janina Maria our editor who did an amazing job with literal mountains of footage, Ryan Urban our VFX Guru and Supervisor, they all brought their A-Game and every one of them contributed so much passion that you can see and feel on the screen.

On the Michigan side, I’m extremely proud that the majority of the cast and crew are either current or former Michiganders, mostly current…I’ve always known we have some of the most talented filmmakers living in the Metro Detroit area/Michigan as a whole, and Hollywood, unfortunately, uses most people in the Midwest especially as assistants of some kind, bringing everyone with them as department heads…this truly is a Michigan made movie, the credits reflect that, and I couldn’t be more proud of the artistic and technical work of every single person on the crew to achieve what we made.

Our cast really kicked ass, I’ve been told by many people and I agree that there isn’t a single “bad” performance, the entire lead and supporting cast did what I consider some of their best work in our film, which again I couldn’t be more thankful for especially as a director. Kara Joy Reed, who is both in the movie as a key supporting role and a co-producer, cast and/or helped cast a large amount of the Michigan actors, and some out-of-state actors that come up here to work, and she did a phenomenal job of bringing the right people into the movie, many of which I didn’t know prior to casting and filming, and I definitely have a lot of home state Michigan pride in the majority of the actors/performances you see on the screen!

How did you gain access to Willow Run and the aircraft which appear throughout this movie? Was this a matter of calling in favors?

First, I can never thank The Yankee Air Museum or The Military Aviation Museum down in Virginia Beach enough, without their involvement and extreme generosity, this movie would not exist.I grew up the son of a pilot, so I was introduced to the aviation world before I could even walk as a baby. I was lucky enough to direct several Air National Guard commercials after college, and through some mutual aviation connections, I was introduced to Kevin Walsh, the director of the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run in Ypsilanti.

How did you introduce your idea to Kevin?

I directed a commercial for the YAM’s B-17 experience flights in 2013, and when I stepped onto the B-17 for the first time, I literally felt a rush of emotion just thinking about the real 18 and 19-year-old guys who really flew and fought for us in WWII, many of which didn’t make it home, and I thought, “there is a movie here.” So not only did I try extra, extra hard to do them, the plane and the museum justice with that commercial, I came back and pitched the idea of using “The Yankee Lady” as the main character in a movie, which would also serve as a great, hopefully, a worldwide advertisement for the Museum, and he agreed. From there, the YAM helped me get in touch with the Military Aviation Museum, and they loved the idea of what we were trying to do: real planes up in the real sky, filming the aerial sequences/dogfights with cameras for real instead of all CGI, and they were on board.

Please tell us about the aircraft that we see in your movie. These are all actual vintage WWII airplanes.

We filmed the majority of the aerial sequences down in Virginia Beach and Suffolk, VA, as several of the key aircraft from the MAM couldn’t safely travel up to Michigan, so we wound up having to fly the B-17 down to Virginia, twice!!! That was definitely an undertaking for everyone involved, and the YAM was very, very generous to do that. Aside from the B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber, we were able to feature 2 P-51D Mustangs, a Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane, B-25 Mitchell Bomber, and a very, very rare Messerschmitt Bf 109 (ME 109) German Fighter

I grew up watching Top Gun over and over again, and lots of WWII movies with my parents, and hardly any movies have ever fully committed to using all real aircraft in aerial sequences vs. CG/special effects…that was one of the biggest goals for the movie, shooting these scenes for real, and we treated the aircraft like gold as they are also priceless historical artifacts…there are only 9 B-17’s still flying in the world today, and similarly slim numbers for each of the other planes we used.

Craig Hosking was our aerial coordinator/lead pilot and did the same on “Dunkirk,” flew for “Pearl Harbor” and hundreds of other films, without Craig we couldn’t have pulled this off, I can never thank him enough for saying “yes” to make this movie with us, along with aerial DP Dwayne McClintock, who isn’t just a veteran Aerial Cinematographer but actually designed quite a bit of the gyro-stabilized aerial camera mounts used today in Hollywood.

Did you in fact use any CGI in the production of your movie? While most of your audience may recognize this use, can you point out any key scenes where it may have been used–regardless of how little?

There are over 400 Visual Effects shots in our movie, but many were designed so they are invisible to the audience, hopefully, haha! There isn’t a single fully CG plane in the movie in any shot, but some battle damage and smoke/fire were digitally added, and airplane explosion/destruction shots were a mix of scale models that were built for the movie and blown up by our special effects coordinator, Matthew Stratton, and then the VFX team sweetened the shots by painting on the actual paint jobs/textures of the real aircraft, enhanced the in-camera pyrotechnics with larger explosions, erased wires, and cables, etc., and for some wide shots in the air, entire cities/subdivisions were painted out to look like forests if anything ruined the illusion of being in 1944. For ground action shots during shootouts, VFX was used mainly to erase stunt wires/safety harnesses/ratchets, and pads, and also make some of the squibs (bullet impacts) even bigger, but much of the action was achieved without VFX as well

Ryan Urban and his company Turncoat Pictures were the lead VFX supervisor and team, but he also called in 4 or 5 other VFX companies that each specialized in certain types of VFX to accomplish what I think are some of the cleanest, highest quality VFX I’ve seen on a lower budgeted film for what we were doing. They worked for about 9 months on our movie and did an absolutely impeccable job!
Wow! This should give everyone an idea of the monumental undertaking Wolf Hound was.

Two more things VFX-wise: the Yankee Air Museum wouldn’t allow any pyro effects to be used inside the B-17, so every spark, the bullet hit, and everything except smoke was all digitally added in, as well as all tracer fire from machine guns on all aircraft…they literally needed to develop their own custom software to achieve the tracer fire as realistically as they did in our film! Second, in the finale when James Maslow flies the B-25 bomber, there are many air-to-air shots showing him as the pilot with nobody else in the cockpit…the real pilot was sitting next to him, and was digitally erased in all shots…I am not exaggerating when I say I am still in awe that they were able to do that.

“Wolf Hound” was released on June 3. Before it was, a list of all of the theaters throughout the country where it was appearing was dropped to ensure that people could see it at the theater nearest to them. After it screens at these theaters which for Michigan was largely in the Detroit Metropolitan area, is there any chance that it may screen elsewhere in the state?

I’m honestly not sure, but the current theaters in the Metro Detroit area may be it, at least aside from special screenings that might be able to happen…I was involved to a point with Lionsgate in terms of requesting where the film could hopefully open theatrically, but the final call was up to them and I’m thrilled they gave us that many theaters in Metro Detroit! I am very aware how lucky any film is, aside from the giant studio tentpoles, to even get a theatrical release these days, and even then it can sometimes be just a few theaters…the fact Lionsgate gave us 33 theaters for the opening weekend was both humbling and thrilling at the same time, so I really hope a lot of people are choosing to go see it on the big screen instead of choosing Amazon and Apple this week, but I also see the logic in Metro Detroit being the largest target for theaters as we largely made the movie here, and hopefully there is a lot of hometown support!

Is it too early to ask what your next plans are? Do you yet see another movie over the horizon?
Well, we have a treatment written for a Western we would love to do, an idea for a direct “Wolf Hound” sequel which would pick up where this movie left off, and a couple of general ideas, but I (and our whole team!) am just as open to other scripts/ideas that are already in the works at the studios if we were offered a chance to see what we could do with it! But the plan is definitely to make Movie #2, which I hope to be in pre-production for at least later this year…I love commercials and music videos but movies have always been my biggest goal and passion, and I’m crossing my fingers and toes hard that “Wolf Hound” allows us to just keep making more movies!!!
This sounds like a good place to wrap. Is there anything else you may like to cover?
I also truly hope to be able to bring as many movies as possible to Michigan, with or without tax incentives but hopefully, we get those back, there is such a great pool of talent here in front of and behind the camera, and I love shooting here vs. chasing tax incentives around the country

Yes, sir. I agree with you. I have been watching things since well before the end of the last incentives.

I guess the only other thing I’d like to say is to thank you so much to you personally for covering/following “Wolf Hound” over the last few years, and thank you to everyone reading this in Michigan, especially those who helped make our dream a reality and got our movie in the can and on the screen!

Breaking News

Tubi has snared a multi-year deal with Lionsgate to be the exclusive ad-supported VOD streaming service for 30 feature films.   Among the Lionsgate films covered under the deal streaming on Tubi in the fall of 2022 will be“Wolf Hound,”  starring Trevor Donavan, James Maslow, and Michael Wayne Foster.

Tubi is an American over-the-top content platform and ad-supported streaming service owned by Fox Corporation. The service was launched on April 1, 2014, and is based in San Francisco, California. In January 2021, Tubi reached 33 million monthly active users.

Variety https://bit.ly/39toekb 

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