Esteemed Scottish novelist Charles Cumming initially envisioned Plane as another novel, until producer Mark Vahradian at Di Bonaventura Pictures told Cumming his idea had the makings of a motion picture event. A lifelong film enthusiast, Cumming has a parallel career as a screenwriter and wrote several screenplay drafts for what became the film Plane.
The original idea, Cumming remembers, came to him during a family holiday in Egypt. “It was during the high tide of a campaign of terror and kidnappings, and as we landed at Hurghada
International Airport, I wondered, what if our plane had been diverted to an area held by terrorists. The story became a race against time to stop the kidnapping of passengers before the pilot could get the plane back up in the air.”
For Cumming, the film’s imminent release was cause for both reflection and celebration. “I think back to that moment when I had the idea for the film, out of the clear blue sky, at Hurghada Airport in Egypt. From that idea came a major Hollywood movie starring Gerard Butler.”
Charles Cumming has been described by The Observer as ‘the best of the new generation of British spy writers who are taking over where John le Carre and Len Deighton left off’, and his novels have been translated into thirteen languages. In his 20s he was approached for recruitment by MI6 which inspired him to write his first novel A Spy By Nature, currently being adapted for Kevin MacDonald, with Paul Mescal set to star. Charles’s other thrillers include The Trinity Six, which was a New York Times bestseller, and BOX 88, which was longlisted for the CWA Steel Dagger in 2021. The third novel in the BOX 88 series, Kennedy 35, is out next year. Plane is his first feature.
Screenwriter J.P. Davis (The Contractor), who came aboard to refine the script, working closely with Richet and Butler, elaborates, “We no longer wanted to tie everything to a specific time and place, and the Jolo separatists and pirates made sense as our villains. What’s been happening on those islands has been going on forever. It’s a constant conflict and civil war.”
Born in New York City and raised in France, J.P. Davis received a degree in International Affairs from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. With encouragement from his mentor, Oscar-winner William Goldman, J.P. moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Davis quickly converted, starring in his original screenplay Fighting Tommy Riley, which was produced independently on a budget of $100,000. His second original screenplay, Violence of Action, was released by Paramount Pictures in March 2022 under the title The Contractor. Davis is currently writing an original thriller for MadRiver and Nomad, with Jeremy Saulnier attached to direct. For television, he is developing an untitled series in collaboration with filmmaker Gavin O’Connor.
In Plane, pilot Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) saves his passengers from a lightning strike by making a risky landing on a war-torn island, only to find that surviving the landing was just the beginning. When most of the passengers are taken hostage by dangerous rebels, the only person Torrance can count on for help is Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), an accused murderer who was being transported by the FBI. In order to rescue the passengers, Torrance will need Gaspare’s help and will learn there’s more to him than meets the eye.
As the development of the project continued, the producers decided to set the story in the Philippines’ Jolo island cluster, where even the Philippine army refused to venture
“There’s no real rule, there,” says producer Marc Butan. “It hasn’t gotten the same kind of press
attention as ISIS, but it’s run by religious extremists and capitalist pirates. There are hundreds of islands in that chain and the Philippine government doesn’t have the resources to control each one. So, we thought that was a fresh setting that audiences haven’t seen before.”
Having Butler playing key roles as a producer and principal actor was another seismic move for the project. “Gerry had a lot of interesting thoughts,” Davis tells us. “Also, it was great knowing that he was playing Torrance. I no longer had to imagine an actor in the role, because we already had the guy who was perfect for it.”
“Torrance is like the plane he’s piloting; he’s older, maybe past his prime, and looking for a kind of redemption,” notes Davis. “He’s a different breed; this is his mission – to bring everyone home safely and get back to his daughter.”
Torrance is the kind of role – a highly trained and skilled professional – for which Gerald Butler is renowned and which has brought him legions of fans. For Butler Plane offered additional and intriguing dimensions, imbuing the character with a fierce sense of responsibility. Butler, who also serves as a producer, says, “Torrance is a rich character. Though he has no tactical experience in combating dangerous rebels, he feels a deep responsibility to his passengers, and to the daughter, he was on his way to see. After the emergency landing, he’ll go above and beyond to protect his passengers and get them home. He’s a man on a mission.”
While Butler’s Torrance begins his herculean efforts to keep his passengers safe, he is joined by a surprising ally, convict Louis Gaspare, who had been brought aboard the flight at the last minute for extradition. Torrance discovers there’s more to him than meets the eye – and that redemption can be found in the most unusual of places. Much of that heart centers on the evolving dynamic between Torrance and Gaspare, brought to life by two actors known for their action chops and dramatic skills.
For Colter, known for playing the titular anti-hero in Marvel’s Luke Cage, was drawn to more than just the film’s action centerpieces. “Plane has a heart to it,” he says. “I knew Gerry’s work, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to explore a big, fun story that had some interesting characters who begin an unexpected alliance,” Colter adds.
Director Jean-François Richet, who gives the action-thriller a pulse-pounding style, adds, “Gerry plays a real working-class hero. You’re with him every step on his journey; when Torrance is in trouble, you’ll feel it, just as you will his triumphs.”
For Richet, whose work encompasses action films, historical drama, and comedy-drama, Plane was a “classical action story, with relatable characters propelling the fast-moving story. And it’s not just action; there’s a lot of tension, which can be equally compelling.
“We really care about those people on the plane, who find themselves in an almost impossible situation,” he adds. “It’s realistic and avoids over-the-top beats. We understand what they’re facing, and we are right there on the plane, and then in the jungle with them. Part of the experience of Plane is getting to know these very different characters and how they’ll react to the incredibly dangerous situation they’ve been hurled into. Will they band together, or will their fears tear them apart?”
For the filmmakers and cast, job one on Plane was ensuring that, along with the film’s propulsive action, it would be firmly rooted in reality
Richet emphasizes that Plane had to be character-motivated, with a realistic tone.
“It’s never overblown,” he points out. “There’s a lot of action and tension, but we always understand what the characters are doing, and why they’re doing it. Their goal is survival. I wanted that to feel real and avoid theatricality. Even the pirates are based on a real militia group; they are terrifying and believable.”
That focus on reality was spearheaded by Richet and Butler, the latter ensuring that he knew the workings of the plane and its cockpit inside and out before the cameras started rolling.
“I don’t think I’ve seen another actor who puts as much thought into every detail,” comments Butan. “Gerry has this amazing attention to detail.” That attention to detail and realism marks a visceral one-on-one fight scene that has Torrance battling a pirate that finds the pilot trying to contact the outside world. It’s two minutes of intense, no-holds-barred, and brutal hand-to-hand combat – all of which was captured in one take.
From early pre-production to the final touches of post-production, the Plane filmmakers saw their film as being made for the big screen.
“You’ve never before experienced some of the things we did with this film, especially with our explosive ending,” hints Marc Butan. “It’s one of those movies where you go on a ride for two hours, along with these characters that you like and are rooting for.”
Jean-François Richet confirms, “This movie begs to be seen on a very large screen with a glorious sound system, and for audiences to be immersed with it. We made Plane to be experienced with the biggest presentation possible.”