Making "The Flyboys" and actually getting the film into theaters has been "one long, crazy ride" for Utahn Rocco DeVilliers.
"What those kids do in our movie is nothing compared to what we've gone through to get a chance to show it to people," the 38-year-old screenwriter/director said.
"It's really not a stretch to say that we've gone to hell and back with this film. But it's been worth it, really," he said with a sigh.
DeVilliers and his fellow filmmakers actually began work on the movie as early as 2000, after they had already completed two other feature film productions, "Pure Race" (1995) and "Only Once" (1998).
Remembering some of the experiences that he had in his grandfather's crop duster while growing up in Idaho, DeVilliers came up with an idea for something that "was fun and exciting, like what Steven Spielberg did with 'E.T.'"
That ultimately resulted in "The Flyboys." The film's lead characters are youngsters (Reiley McClendon and Jesse James) who accidentally stow aboard the plane of a mobster.
DeVilliers recalled seeing that as an idea that he could "jump right into," and something that could be made on a "reasonable" budget. However, "things didn't go according to plan.
"We've had one thing after another hold us up. At times I've wondered if we were a cursed production," DeVilliers said.
First up were the obvious funding challenges. DeVilliers called on the services of Lisle Moore, a Missouri bail bondsman, who took pity on him when he ran afoul of the law in Missouri (for a speeding violation).
"Since then, (Lisle) has become my benefactor, my guardian angel," he said. (Moore's composer son, Lisle Jr., also scored the movie.)
Then he found another unlikely patron in Utah filmmaker Richard Dutcher, who did a "polish" on "The Flyboys" script.
DeVilliers, who describes himself as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says the often-controversial Dutcher "offered us some really great suggestions and really helped us focus our ideas."
He added that Dutcher "has been nothing but supportive and has been a terrific friend to me during this whole process."
Casting became another issue. When filming began in 2001, DeVilliers hadn't cast two crucial roles, that of mobster Angelo Esposito and his ne'er-do-well brother, Silvio. Luckily, Tom Sizemore and Stephen Baldwin "really liked our script and really liked our ideas."
But bad luck continued once filming ended. A post-production lab closed down while still processing the rough footage, and getting theatrical distribution proved tricky.
Two studio deals fell apart at the last minute, according to DeVilliers. So ultimately he and his producers decided to distribute the film themselves.
Dark Coast Pictures is "four-walling" the movie's release, by taking dozens of prints through various markets starting in the filmmakers' home state.
"The Flyboys" has already been released in southern Utah, where it's been beating the likes of "The Dark Knight" and "Tropic Thunder."
DeVilliers said he is certainly not expecting the same thing with subsequent openings. ("The Flyboys" was released in several locations farther north today.)
Still, reactions have been good so far, and he said "if we can get somebody interested in picking up the movie for a bigger release, we're certainly willing to listen.
"We're not crazy, even though we've had people telling us we are for years," DeVilliers said laughing.
Both the film and its maker have already garnered some fans in Hollywood. In fact, DeVilliers says he's been approached to direct three or four different projects.
However, he said he has chosen to concentrate solely on the film for the time being. "I just didn't think I could do my movie or the investors any favors by having my concentration and loyalties divided. Until the movie is finally out of the house, so to speak, it's my only focus."
Of course, he is taking a huge risk by doing that, because "these windows of opportunity only last so long."I am hoping a few of those offers will still be waiting for me once this is all over. But If not, it will still have been worth it," he said.