Interview: ‘The Lost City’ directors Aaron and Adam Nee

The duo talk bringing back the non-IP action adventure flick, going from indie to box office gold and more.

Filmmaking duo Aaron and Adam Nee are on a career trajectory no doubt ripped straight from their childhood dreams. With several independent features under their belts – including 2006’s ‘The Last Romantic’ and ‘Band of Robbers’ in 2015 – the brothers have been launched into blockbuster territory with ‘The Lost City’.

The Nee brothers were brought on board by Sandra Bullock, who both stars in and produced the action-adventure-comedy flick. ‘The Lost City’ follows Bullock’s romance novelist Loretta Sage, who finds herself kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe), believing that her latest book unwittingly contains clues to the location of a priceless relic. Channing Tatum stars as Alan Caprison, the heartthrob cover model for Sage’s famed book series and reluctant companion after a rescue mission goes awry.

I had the pleasure of talking to Aaron and Adam about the process of getting ‘The Lost City’ from concept to the big screen, the surreal joy of working with some of their favorite actors and why the diversity of cinema matters so much to them.

The first thing that came to mind when a trailer for ‘The Lost City’ played in a local theatre was: “this is the kind of movie that doesn’t really get made anymore”. Unless it’s an adaptation of an existing IP or involves superheroes, it seems difficult to get this kind of action-adventure film into production. Was it a hard sell?

Aaron: To Paramount’s credit, I think they got it. We were kind of shocked – we really thought it would be more of a hard sell. A non-IP comedic adventure, like you said, just isn’t getting made. But I think Paramount was savvy enough to recognize that this is a void in cinema right now that needs to be filled, and they got behind it.

Adam: It’s funny, too: I think there’s that universal mind thing, where it was the movie we wanted to be seeing ourselves. You get the sense that a lot of people are hungry for fresh movies that aren’t just a reboot of an IP. It just felt right. Everyone was like “yeah, we do want to see a movie like this!”, and that helped it along. It also doesn’t hurt that Sandra Bullock is attached to the project, saying “I’m going to make this movie”. That carries a lot of weight.

As someone who grew up on a diet of ‘Demolition Man’ and ‘Speed’, I knew she was a natural for this kind of clashing duo dynamic – Channing Tatum, too. Was it a long road to getting those two lead roles cast, or did you have them both in mind from an early point?

Adam: Sandy came with the movie – she actually hired us on the movie. That was a dream come true, because like you, we grew up on her movies. I think she’s one of the first loves of my life. ‘Speed’ and ‘While You Were Sleeping’ were game-changers for me.

With Channing, it was an interesting thing. We were talking about who could play this role of a cover model who, at first, you think is vapid and vain – but as you peel back the layers, you go, “this guy actually has emotional intelligence and heart and is a sweetheart”.

We set up this meeting with Sandy and Channing and it was immediate. He is so full of love and life, and he’s so funny that you could just see that he’s the only guy who’s going to be able to do this kind of dance where you gradually see all the different layers to this character.

It happened way faster than this kind of thing should happen. Typically, especially in our experience with coming from the indie world, it takes years to get your cast. This came so fast, and I think a lot of it has to do with Sandra Bullock being a producer, Liza Chasin and Paramount. All the pieces were so attractive that people like Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Patti Harrison could all see that this was going to be a fun thing to be part of with cool people who are already saying yes.

Things seem to be falling together pretty well for you guys. You’re going from indie features to the box office in a big way. How has that journey been for you – has it felt like the long, hard road or has it all taken you by surprise?

Aaron: I would say it doesn’t feel all-of-a-sudden to us. I know on the outside it looks that way, but there were so many bigger projects that we were in the mix on or developing leading up to this. With each of those, you get a little bit further and a little bit further along, until you’ve got a film like this.

Maybe a couple of moments that really felt like “oh, this is different!” would be the afternoon that Sandy called us up and said, “do you want to come and make this movie with me?”. We were like, “oh my gosh. It’s Sandra Bullock, and she wants us to go make a movie. This is incredible”. Or Brad Pitt’s first day showing up on set. On his first day, we had this shot set up where there are going to be two cars exploding behind him, Sandy and Channing are running alongside him, we’ve got one take. That was another one of those moments where all of a sudden, you have this mindfulness moment of “oh my god, this is my life right now”. I’m about to blow something up behind Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum.

Adam: We definitely don’t take this moment for granted; I’ll tell you that much. We feel incredibly grateful that we get to be in this industry, doing this work and working with people on this scale. It’s really a beautiful moment.

Aside from the A-lister leads like Sandy, Channing and Brad, you’ve got some fantastic comedic actors in the mix like Patti Harrison, who I adore. I found that that varied cast lead to there being several different senses of humor in the film, which doesn’t happen all that often.

Adam: It was very important to us. We wanted to bring different types of senses of humor to create that cornucopia within the cast. Patti is someone that we knew we wanted – we didn’t want anyone else. Right out of the gate, we knew it was Patti Harrison, because she’s just so specific and strange. Her sense of humor, her mind, is the most impressive comedic brain I’ve ever met in my life.

Adding someone like her, someone like Da’Vine Joy Randolph – who’s a great dramatic actress, but also incredible with comedy and improv – someone like Oscar Nunez – those little pairings are what gives the movie that next layer, where it’s not just the movies stars you know and love, but makes it interesting weird and a little off-beat. We love our cast. We were so lucky to have those people.

You two have plenty of upcoming projects ahead of you, but I’m curious: is there a particular dream project that either of you keep in your back pocket; a dream film that you’d love to be able to bring to the right producer?

Aaron: I’ll let Adam jump in if he has a different thought, but I would say that for me, it’s really not so much a dream film as it is a dream career. The dream career is to get to explore lots of different types of films. One of the things that I really don’t want to do is get pigeon-holed and only make one kind of thing, because I’m so in love with cinema and the diversity of cinema.

I feel lucky that we’ve been able to do the indie world thing and the big studio thing, and we’d like to continue to move back and forth between those worlds. To explore big stories and small stories, and high-concept stories and very personal stories too.

Adam: Yeah, I totally agree. Aaron and I would love to make a movie like ‘The Big Lebowski’, a movie like ‘E.T’, a movie like ‘Jurassic Park’. We’re just so excited by this medium, and the challenge is to find the core human element to each story. If you can do that, the sky’s the limit.

THE LOST CITY is now available on Digital and Paramount+. It will be on 4K ULTRA HD™, BLU-RAY™ & DVD July 26, 2022.

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