Director James Gray wrote to Francis Ford Coppola, who directed Apocalypse Now (1979), asking for advice about shooting in the jungle. Coppola's two-word reply was "Don't go." When Coppola decided to make Apocalypse Now, he received the same advice from Roger Corman.
While filming in the jungle, Hunnam remembers a particularly nerve-wracking encounter one Saturday night following an exhausting six-day shooting week. "I was staying in this little shack on this hill and woke up at three in the morning to this ungodly noise, like there was a pneumatic drill in my ear. An insect had burrowed into my ear and hit my eardrum so it couldn't go any further. It was a long beetle with wings. When it couldn't get back out, it kept trying to burrow further in and flapping its wings. That's what woke me up."
If shooting on 35mm film made perfect sense aesthetically, it posed significant logistical challenges in the middle of the Colombian jungle. "It was an act of absolute hubris to shoot this picture on film," says Gray, who set up an elaborate routine in order to ship, process and review the film during production. "First, we had to teach a young guy from Bogota how to load the film, because nobody really knows how to do that anymore," Gray recalls. "Then, every day after we finished our shoot, they'd put this film into a torn-up crappy cardboard box and load it onto a single-engine crop duster that would take off from this little runway." After a series of plane changes, the film canisters eventually made their way to London. "You're talking three flights every day just to get your film processed," Gray says. "The next morning, there was always this sense of dread when the satellite phone rang and you'd be thinking: 'I really hope the film arrived.'"
When it came to filming in the jungle, "It felt pretty sketchy at times," admits Pattinson. "There were enormous spiders and snakes everywhere. And giant, gorgeous, bright blue frogs that will kill you. We were worried about Arbor Vipers that drop from trees and bite you in the face. After someone in the crew got bitten in the neck by a snake, they asked me and Charlie to go into virgin jungle with blunt machetes, and all the Colombians were telling us, 'There's a reason you don't go off the path. The animals will leave you alone until you start smashing the jungle.'"
Holland went swimming with the largest predators in the Amazon basin - inadvertently. "I got in the river one day with the local kids and had the best day ever, but I didn't realize the water was filled with black caimans, which are like giant alligators," he says. "The next day we were filming on the boat when I saw this big crocodile-looking thing in the river. Apparently they are very docile and don't really attack people, but to me this thing looked as mean as could be."
The decision to shoot on 35mm may have been the film's saving grace, as the production team's computers proved no match for the oppressive jungle conditions. "The humidity got to my Mac to the point where it wouldn't turn on anymore," Gray recalls. "Looking back on it now, the film format worked out pretty well because it's a mechanical process. If I'd relied on digital, the machines might have conked out completely and then I'd be in real trouble."
Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson both lost around 20-40 lb by only eating the minimum per day while filming in the jungle.
Most of Pattinson's scenes took place in uncomfortable situations in the jungle, where he forged a close rapport with Hunnam. "Charlie and I would be an hour up river from the base camp basically covered in sand fleas all day," Pattinson says. "It's definitely a bonding experience when there's no way to hide from extreme conditions. I remember we pushed a wooden raft with horses on it upstream. After just one day of that, you're completely done, yet the real guys did this for three years every single day, going against the river. It's complete madness."
According to James Gray, the story is more about the characters than the adventure. Percy Fawcett's father was a gambling addict who squandered two family fortunes. Percy spent most of his adult life trying to answer for his father's misdeeds.
Robert Pattinson's performance in this film is reportedly what brought Matt Reeves to consider him in the title role in The Batman (2022).
Tom Holland broke his nose on his very last day of shooting by doing a salto backwards in between takes.
Filming included so many gunshots and big explosions that it scared local farmers, who complained to local newspapers and tv stations.
The role of Percy Fawcett was originally supposed to be played by Brad Pitt. However after discussions, both Brad and the director felt the role should be played by a British actor. This allowed Brad Pitt the opportunity to take the lead role in World War Z while they went on to sign Benedict Cumberbatch. Benedict was all set to go when his wife became pregnant and preferred not to give birth in the middle of the Amazon. This eventually led them to sign on with Charlie Hunnam.
To capture the dramatically varied settings of the Amazon rainforest, proper English life, and horrific World War I battles, Gray asked cinematographer Khondji to shoot on film stock. "I wanted the movie to be almost like a throwback visually to the complexity of characterization you might see in the 'New Hollywood' films of the 1970s," he says. "I wanted to couple that with the epic sense of adventure David Lean brought to his films in the early '60s. Of course, I should be so lucky, but that was the ambition."
Principal photography began in August 2015, in the Northern Irish countryside. By October, Gray and his team had decamped for Santa Marta, Colombia, where cast and crew endured a string of mishaps, from flash floods and poisonous snakes to sweltering heat and humidity. The inhospitable rainforest environment helped cast and crew to channel Fawcett's adventure. "It was hot, it was buggy, it was uncomfortable and I actually think that was a blessing," recalls Grann, who visited the set in Colombia. "I think it was important to have some sense of what Fawcett actually experienced when they were performing these scenes."
Lead actor Charlie Hunnam wanted to eat and sleep in the battlefield trenches during filming the war scenes. He was not allowed however probably due to Insurance parameters.
Tom Holland had to wear a fake mustache for the movie as he said he was "a child" and couldn't grow one yet.
James Gray cooked pasta for the cast and crew most nights while filming in the jungle.
James Gray worked closely with Sienna Miller to ensure Nina was given full dimension and her own arc instead of being a passive wife character that Miller herself has often admitted she ends up playing.
Robert Pattinson sought out director James Gray to work with him after he saw Two Lovers (2008) for the first time.
Based on the best-selling non-fiction book written by The New Yorker staff writer David Grann, who first researched the topic for his 2005 article. James Gray was hired to write and direct this film in February of 2009. It remained in-development for the next six years.
Intent on capturing the reality faced by the actual explorers a century earlier, Gray committed to shooting in remote rainforest locations, which presented challenges from all directions - including the trees. "The weird thing about the jungle is that it's verdant and lush and beautiful," he says. "But people call the Amazon a counterfeit paradise. It's a tough environment and making a film there was no picnic."
Although reports have never been officially confirmed, the publishers of the Indiana Jones children's book series did seek to make a seemingly self-referential connection between the two adventurers. In the 1991 book Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils, published after the release of Spielberg's Indiana Jones original trilogy, the bullwhip-wielding archaeologist travels to the Amazon after he discovers secret writings by Fawcett recounting his quest for a lost city.
In 2017, explorer John Hemming criticized the film for claiming that Fawcett was one of Britain's greatest explorers, arguing that it was an insult to many true explorers. He called Fawcett a racist, a nutter, and a dangerous incompetent who "never discovered anything", but caused the loss of many lives.
First feature length film for Ian McDiarmid since Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005).
According to director James Gray, the boat trip was believed to be eight weeks long, filled with violent pick-pockets and knife fights.
Brad Pitt's Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures optioned David Grann's The Lost City of Z. James Gray is directing the film, which stars Charlie Hunnam as Fawcett.