12 things you need to know about WWII miniseries Masters of the Air

It’s bombs away on Apple TV+ this month, with a bold new war epic premiering from producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. They’ve recruited possibly every hot young male actor in Hollywood and beyond as the audacious airmen of the Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group circa World War Two, led by Academy Award nominee Austin Butler.

Here’s all the important stuff we know about this astounding true story of camaraderie and self-sacrifice, from the stellar cast to the fascinating tech used for every nail-biting cockpit action scene.

1. It’s based on a book, with the subheading: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany

Donald L. Miller’s non-fiction tome tells the story of the “Bloody Hundredth”—the 100th Bomb Group of the US Air Force during World War Two, who were so named for the significant losses of life the unit experienced during their missions. Tom Hanks told Deadline that the “resonance of the series comes from the sense of ‘us,’ that we are all in this together and the primary, instinctive duty is to look after our brothers”—and with a cast stacked full of young male talent, themes of brotherhood and sacrifice should lead to some tear-jerking moments, all based on true events.

2. The show’s considered a companion piece to Spielberg’s shows Band of Brothers and The Pacific

Legendary director Spielberg’s best-known works for TV are both WWII dramas, as well, and his Band of Brothers screenwriter John Orloff returns to pen each episode of the Air Force-centric series Masters of the Air. Both Band of Brothers and The Pacific also featured predominantly male casts of then-unknown actors, perhaps suggesting that Masters of the Air will be the concluding chapter in an unofficial, episodic war-story trilogy.

3. Austin Butler switches from Elvis to airman as Major Gale Cleven

After his Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing The King, Butler has been in hot demand, following up his roles in Dune Part Two and The Bikeriders with this prestige limited series. He definitely has that Old Hollywood, matinee idol quality down pat, making him a solid choice for a heroic role in a 1940s-set series.

4. Tom Hanks cast him in the role to apparently help with the star’s mental health

There’s been plenty of jokes about young star Butler not being able to slip out of his thick Elvis accent, despite the movie and press tour now being well in the past. But according to his co-star in that movie, Masters of the Air producer Tom Hanks, the gag had some hidden, unfortunate truth to it. Butler revealed to The Times of London that Hanks worried about his “emotional whiplash”: “you have immersed yourself so deeply in Elvis that, for your mental health, it would be wise to go straight into something else… and, you know, I’ve got this thing I’m producing…” A little therapy in the form of casting, it seems.

5. There are a few Harry Potter-verse stars in the cast

Callum Turner and Anthony Boyle bring Potter-y magic to the main cast of Masters of the Air. Turner plays Newt Scamander’s brother Theseus in the broadly forgettable Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them prequel series, while Boyle appeared in the sequel play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on both Broadway and the West End. This fortuitous, Hogwarts-centric bit of casting serendipity should be big news for certain demographics of adult Harry Potter nerds.

6. The Fifteenth Doctor Ncuti Gatwa puts in an appearance

From fantasy geekery to sci-fi fandom: new Doctor Who star Ncuti Gatwa, who is absolutely booked and blessed lately with a Ken role in 2022’s Barbie movie, appears in Masters of the Air, too. He’ll portray 2nd Lt. Robert Daniels, one of a few Black pilots in the Bomb Group. Daniels and Lt. Alexander Jefferson (here played by Branden Cook) were amongst those who had to face prejudice and bigotry along with the looming threat of Axis destruction, and Jefferson’s memoirs are a great place to start in understanding that complex historical position.

7. Other cast members include Barry Keoghan and Raff Law (yep, Jude’s son)

After Keoghan got his wang out in Emerald Fennell’s riotous dark comedy Saltburn, he’ll be presumably more buttoned up as airman Curtis Biddick. His American accent’s not too bad, either, as seen in Yorgos Lanthimos’ movie Killing of a Sacred Deer. Another starry addition to the limited series’ ensemble cast in Raff Law, a former model and fledgling actor whose mum and dad just happen to be Sadie Frost and Jude Law.

Raff doesn’t happen to be the only nepo baby in the miniseries’ cast, with some guy called Sawyer Spielberg in the role of Lt. Roy Frank Claytor. Bring your kid to work day!

8. Cary Joji Fukunaga, Dee Rees, and the team behind Captain Marvel direct the episodes

Spielberg is unfortunately not in the director’s seat for this grand series, preferring to produce and help out a team of five stellar directors from behind the scenes. No Time To Die director Cary Joji Fukunaga helms the first four episodes of Masters of the Air before handing the reigns to Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck; the Captain Marvel directors will take charge of episodes five and six. Then, Mudbound director Dee Rees takes episodes seven and eight, before Spielberg’s The Pacific pal Tim Van Patten brings things to a close by directing the show’s finale. With the entire directing team showing plenty of experience in the realms of both TV and cinema, we’re hopeful that a consistent level of big-screen quality can be conveyed in this small-screen story.

9. The shows’ nine episodes are said to have cost $250 million to produce

Deadline Hollywood and The Hollywood Reporter have had some back and forth about the rumoured price tag of Masters of the Air, even arguing about whether the series runs for nine episodes or ten. The truth is: it’s nine episodes, and we can speculate that the budget for the whole shebang was between $250 to $300 million dollars. It’s an extremely bold step for Apple Studios, and signals that Apple is keen to bolster themselves as an awards-grabbing, prestige-defining main player in the streaming realm. They already nabbed an Oscar for CODA and plenty of Emmys for Ted Lasso: the sky’s the limit, perhaps.

10. Filming began way back in 2021

Production of Masters of the Air kicked off in February of 2021 at Dalton Barracks in England, and was halted that July due to a number of positive COVID results amongst cast and crew. We only got one exciting Insta post from director Fukunaga before practically two years of radio silence as to the show’s production; here it is, with Butler’s face peeping around the first week of shooting’s slate.


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Back in February of 2021, the UK was jokingly being called “plague island” for just how rampant the coronavirus was, and a Variety article from that time highlighted the struggles of international productions taking place anywhere in England. “Cast and crew are assigned “bubbles,” sets are zoned off, catering is no longer a free-for-all but delivered via app”, the piece describes: “Inevitably, shoots are taking longer and costing more.”

11. On-set virtual production was used to emulate cockpit action

Consulting effects company Lux Machina helped to orchestrate the epic virtual scenes that put Butler and his pals right in the prime-position for bomb-dropping, dog-fighting mid-air action. Use of OSVP (on-set virtual production) tech took off in a big way after its employment in The Mandalorian, allowing actors to inhabit unreal and dangerous scenarios without elaborate stunt training. The performers can visibly see the effects while acting, too, meaning they’re not stranded against an abstract green screen while trying to tell their story.

12. HBO wanted to buy the series before Apple TV+ snapped it up

You snooze you lose, HBO! A project produced by Steven Spielberg sounds like a must-have for any prestigious streamer, but perhaps the folks at HBO had already blown their budget on new House of the Dragon or something. Despite HBO producing Band of Brothers and The Pacific, they lost out on Masters of the Air to relative newcomer Apple, who is certainly trying to match the bombastic wide-screen clout of their recent titles Napoleon and Invasion with this WWII-set epic. A Popverse article predicts that it all came down to “who had the deeper wallet”.

It’s your loss, HBO: you don’t get to feature Tom Hanks’ chaotic son Chet Hanks on your red carpet this time around.