Filming Anaconda On Location Called For Some Creative Engineering

Old Tinseltown wisdom dictates never to work with children or animals, a rule that even makes its way into this year's Jordan Peele offering "Nope" via a vicious animal-performer attack. Sometimes the rule can be soft-pedaled with animatronics and CGI facsimiles, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee a smoother production.

One of the most savage when-animals-attack movies (according to /Film standards) crafted an incredible antagonist for the cast and crew to wrangle, but that didn't ease the shoot any. Luis Llosa's "Anaconda" is a 1997 adventure-horror movie that sees a small film crew venturing into the Amazon in search of an undiscovered (fictional) tribe called the Shirishamas and, after running into a shady hunter, end up tussling with a mythic green boa snake. Featuring a stacked cast (Ice Cube! Danny Trejo! Jennifer Lopez!) and a cult following, "Anaconda" is one of the enduring creature features of the 1990s.

Old-school film site Film Scouts gives an exhaustive account of production on "Anaconda," including the difficulties arising from telling a story mostly set on a river barge. The outlet quotes production manager Jim Dyer, who oversaw the American side of things in the joint Brazilian-American effort. Dyer recalls delays and troubles from the moment location shooting began in the Amazon:

"In 1995 the Amazon had an 80-year drought and the water went down fast and at a depth of maybe a three-story building! The water went out so fast that the whole Amazon became non-functional in the upriver regions. So the right decision was made to postpone till April when the waters naturally come up from the winter rains. When we did come back we had the opposite situation. We had to build our own dock where a beach had been — because the staircase was completely submerged under water."

Boats 'n boas

The film's real star is its villain: a 25-foot green anaconda who, as some snakes do, regurgitates its food just to relive the joy of that first tasty bite. As it would be unfair to ask Ice Cube and Jon Voight to battle a real Emerald anaconda, a life-size snake designed by Walt Conti was used for several key sequences, giving its co-stars the willies — and if it didn't freak them out, the local monkeys did. But filming primarily on the water came with its own challenges; it's not as easy as carrying a camera onto a boat. Everything needed to be accessible on the water, as support vehicles like props and electric couldn't operate remotely from dry land. Jim Dyer likens it to a puzzle:

"The first thing I asked myself was how do we put this production on water? We built our picture boat from scratch and all the working barges including our EFX boat, as well as the necessary barges to hold equipment that would marry up to it. All in all it ended up being a giant floor space puzzle. We boated equipment back and forth. We had a yacht with a number of suites to house the eight actors and director during the day in-between scenes and it also held the hair and make-up departments."

And so, production became a network of locally-sourced barges and hollowed-out sightseeing boats as floating work trailers. Dyer's final count was "five work barges, five skiffs, 15 canoes (long rowboats), and five faster shuttle boats" to get the job done. But the most ingenious creation made for "Anaconda" was yet to come.

The Panaconda

Whereas a film shot on a soundstage loses some of its location-based authenticity (unless handled as well as a Bond movie), lugging cameras and equipment into the Brazilian state of Amazonas made it difficult to hit the kind of angles you'd come to expect from a killer-animal movie. On "Anaconda," a picture barge (built on-site) served as a floating soundstage where the bulk of the on-screen action would happen. Pieces of precious real estate could be added to increase the floor space depending on the daily shooting schedule, but what about that terrifying killer POV, popularized by monster movies and slasher flicks? Good news — they've got a boat for that.

One of the most unique vessels built for the film was a small two-man skiff, dubbed "the Panaconda" by cinematographer Bill Butler. It would enable underwater-to-surface shooting from the snake's POV, and worked "quite well, actually" according to Butler, who recalls to Film Scouts:

"It was powered by a tiny, quiet electric motor and it was able to move through the trees, like a snake. We put the camera in a water box, which was kind of half in and half out of the river, placed it in the boat, and maneuvered through the water, the way a snake might."

The result can be seen throughout the movie, but here's a glimpse of the magic worked by the Panaconda, stalking his victims like a serpentine Michael Myers:


If the clip got you jazzed for an "Anaconda" revisit, we have fantastic news for you: a re-imagining of "Anaconda," in the style of the megashark blockbuster "The Meg," is currently in the works with "Tomb Raider" writer Evan Daugherty penning the script.