SXSW 2022: ‘The Lost City’ Review & Interview with Aaron Nee and Adam Nee

On Saturday, March 12, 2022, The Lost City had its World Premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX. I attended the premiere, which took place at the Paramount Theater, where the theater was pretty much at capacity. The Lost City is a fun and entertaining throwback to action-adventure comedies from the 80s and 90s. Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum are comedic gold. Their back and forth banter was not only hilarious but managed to keep me smiling the entire time. The chemistry between the two is also spot-on, and I don’t think Sandra Bullock gets enough credit for her comedic timing. There are several scenes where Bullock’s facial reactions reminded me of Jim Carrey in scenes from Dumb & Dumber and Liar Liar.

Sadly, The Lost City is the kind of film that most studios don’t make nowadays. The script takes a simple premise and runs with it. I love how the script relies heavily on the chemistry between the cast to make it work. You can see how committed the cast is to the material. Everyone involved, from Sandra Bullock to Patti Harrison looks as though they are having the time of their life making this film. In addition, seeing a film combine three different genres isn’t anything new, but Adam and Aaron Nee pull it off with such ease. The Lost City not only made me miss action-adventure comedies but romantic comedies too.

Seeing this film with an SXSW crowd was honestly the best way to experience a movie like The Lost City. The audience wanted to have a  good time, and hearing those around react elevated my experience. After almost two years of watching movies at home, SXSW reminded me why I love watching films with a crowd and why comedies, just like horror, are better with an audience. The Lost City was non-spot fun that I hope it does well enough to become a franchise. We need more films like this to break up the monotony of comic book films and awards movies. Hollywood is in desperate need of films like The Lost City because it serves as an escape and one that isn’t tied to a massive franchise or a cinematic universe.

The day after the premiere, I had the opportunity to do my first in-person junket in about two years where I got to sit down and chat with Aaron and Adam Nee, the dynamic duo behind The Lost City.  They had a lot to say about the film and shared a lot about their experience filming during the pandemic, working with Sandra Bullock, and who inspired them as filmmakers. You can read the full interview below:

Scott Menzel: Hi Aaron, Hi Adam. I have to tell you, I think this film has the potential of becoming a franchise. I know, I sound like an executive (laughs) but I think this is a franchise picture, let’s make it happen.

Adam Nee: Oh, my God. That’s scary sweet.

Scott Menzel: I mean the reaction from that premiere was pretty crazy. What was it like being in that theater and seeing that kind of reaction?

Aaron Nee: We were serious when we said how meaningful it was to show the movie here. And not just because SXSW is where we premiered the very first movie which we basically made for coins we found in the couch cushions. But it’s also a place that attracts the kind of people we’re making this movie for. People who just want to have fun and just get out and enjoy movies.

Scott Menzel: Yep. I agree. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a big movie outside of Spiderman. Spiderman was a crowd favorite. But to be here at SXSW and watching all these movies with a crowd, it reminds me of what I was missing when I was sitting at home on a fucking couch watching a movie.

Adam Nee: Yes.

Scott Menzel: Because so few films connected the same way that they are watching these movies with a crowd.  I am sitting in theaters and watching the reactions, it has been incredible. You two should be very proud of this movie.

Adam Nee: Thank you. It’s funny how comedy is such a group event. You watch a comedy alone at home and you’re smiling at the jokes. But when you’re with a crowd and people are screaming at the screen, it’s like church, it’s such a visceral experience. And it is the thing that I think we’ve all been missing so much over the past few years.

Scott Menzel: I agree. I wanted to ask, why do you think there’s such an absence of movies like this? I’m thinking of the adventure comedy, in the ’80s and ’90s they were regular occurrences. And then they just disappeared. Why do you think that is?

Adam Nee: That’s a great question. I feel like movies have to be more than one thing. And I think that’s what gives this movie a chance to be that kind of movie again because it has this stream of romance that we take very seriously and there’s great romance in the movie. It has to have action but also be super fun and it’s subverted with comedy. It does have a big adventure and a treasure hunt, all the things. And I think audiences just need more than just a rom-com in theaters because there’s so much that you can watch on streaming. And I really feel like to have a big-adventure comedy, it does need to be working on all of these different levels to be theatrical. It’s an interesting thing, I miss those movies. We really wanted to make one of those movies like the ’80s or ’90s because I think it’s one of the most fun worlds you can live in.

Scott Menzel: Absolutely, jumping off that, influences, who are your inspirations? Who are the people you look up to?

Aaron Nee: We obviously grew up on those popcorn films that everybody loves, ET and Raiders of the Lost Ark and films like them. But also from a very young age, I remember when we got our very first VCR. And our dad, who managed a print shop, one of the guys who ran the presses was feeding him these VHS dupes that he would make of obscure old movies. So we were growing up watching The Silent Thief of Baghdad, we were watching Buster Keaton films and getting influenced by those films.

Adam Nee: Or a Walter Hill movie. It was very eclectic stuff. And then, Aaron, he worked at Blockbuster as a teenager and so he would bring home all this stuff. So we were obsessed with Wong Kar-wai and Zome Mu. So our influences were all over the place. I think current day, my favorite people are Spike Jonze and PT Anderson. But I think that for us it’s like taking that influence of the Amblin stuff and then trying to insert and subvert with the weirder, quirkier side of filmmaking.

Scott Menzel: Yeah and filmmaking, in general, has changed so much. And the way that we consume media has changed. So to go to an earlier point that you made about romantic comedies, Netflix has almost become the new home for those.

Adam Nee: Yeah, of course.

Scott Menzel: So if you’re going to watch a romantic comedy you know you’re going to go to Netflix. This is why we saw a film like Marry Me not perform as strongly theatrically because people can watch a film like that on a streaming platform now. But with this movie, what I love about it is that it has that charm of an old-fashioned romantic comedy like a When Harry Met Sally, something that is this fish-out-of-water, where I say to myself, “these people do not belong together but somehow they work.” And then you add the adventure of Indiana Jones into the mix. I’m just a fan of combining genres in general. Anyway, I am curious about how you put a team together for that, with the production team and the costume team, how much work did that require, especially during a pandemic, to put this together?

Aaron Nee: Well first, I would say it’s a great question because it’s one of the biggest parts of our job, is the people that you put your team together with. Because no one person makes a movie. And as directors, I think our main role is finding incredible artists and craftsmen, empowering them, and enabling them to be great at what they do. And then just make sure everybody is making the same movie, setting that vision, “This is the tone, this is the story we’re telling. This is that film.” But for the team that we assembled for this, in addition to working in the conditions of the pandemic which made things that previously would be simple. For example, sourcing the fabric for that jumpsuit was a big deal. And then you add to the supply-chain problems and things like that that we’re shooting on an island. The whole movie is being shot in the Dominican Republic and it’s hard to get things there.

Adam Nee: Yeah, even things like Fairfax’s camp, getting the tents that we needed for that was super challenging. And our set decorator, Karen Frick had to bring in almost all of that dressing before on containers just to make sure we had it. At times it felt like we were making this Werner Herzog comedy where it was so challenging and we’re in the jungle and we’re pushing this boat up the hill. And it’s like, “This is a comedy. What are we doing? Why are we making this so hard? We could have shot this on stages.”

Scott Menzel: The supply chain issue is such a big deal, even still. We talk about people being understaffed. But there is stuff that you put in orders for and the product never arrives. 

Aaron Nee: It’s bonkers.

Scott Menzel: So you brought up the jumpsuit. How many versions of that jumpsuit were there?

Aaron Nee: What I understand is it was around 20. And because they had to do very different things. So there was the on-the-stage jumpsuit that you wanted to be as tight as possible so it’s hard for her to sit on the stool and all of those things. Then it’s the glam version. And then, we’ve had Sandy wading through a real river in the jungle that needed to hold up to the elements and also not injure her because of its sequins. And I don’t think that’s meant to swim in. So there was just different fits, different size, different things that we needed them for. And then obviously, of course, is the scarecrow jumpsuit at the end that I think is my favorite.

Scott Menzel: It is amazing watching Sandra because she’s so good at facial humor. And I don’t think a lot of people associate her with that, but she does have almost a Jim Carrey vibe where she can just move her face around and you’re like, “Oh, my God, this expression is everything.

Adam Nee: Yes. It was really the first week of shooting where Aaron and I were like, “This is where how surreal it was started to honestly come to light, was watching Sandy work that first week.” And we are shooting some of the harder stuff in week one. We’re deep in the jungle, we’re doing really challenging stuff and you just get it. You go, “Oh, I see why she is such a star. She is so incredible, she makes it look so easy.” And it’s simple as the smallest look that she’ll give sometimes and we’re all just laughing. She’s such an incredible talent.

Scott Menzel: She really is. Curious about that leech scene. I know this is going to be the question that probably comes up a lot but how frigging long did filming that scene take? And was Channing really naked that entire time or was that someone else?

Aaron Nee: Only him.

Adam Nee: That’s him.

Aaron Nee: Only him, and not only was that only Channing, but that was also on day two.

Scott Menzel: Wait, you filmed that on day two?

Adam Nee: Yeah. Day two of the shoot and it’s not in a protected environment. We had to hike down to that water. And so he has to hike down, and there’s no comfortable place to sit. There’s no green room waiting for him between takes. He is standing there in a river. And we’re just like, “We’re shooting this till we’re done, buddy, sorry.” Channing texted me weeks before and he said, “So this leech scene, are we going full cake?” And I was like, “What does that mean? Oh, he’s asking, ‘Is my butt going to be out this entire scene?'” And I was like, “If you’re comfortable with that, Channing, that would be great. I think it will be funny.” And he was like, “I’m so down.” So this guy has every reason to be very comfortable with his body and he’s just so game. He had to go into a tent and lay on a massage table so they could glue these rubber leeches to his butt, and then walk out on set with a crew that he has known for one day, with just a protective thingie on his front and that’s it.

Scott Menzel: I’m amazed how much protection there had to be on-set with that, that that did not leak. Because we always see stuff from movies leaked now online. I’m pretty amazed that didn’t happen.

Adam Nee: I think maybe part of the day-two thing might have helped that and it was closed set and was pretty protected, even though we’re just in the woods.

Aaron Nee: Yeah, I think the closed set helped.

Adam Nee: However, someone could be walking through the woods and stumble upon Channing Tatum standing naked with Sandra Bullock kneeling and talking to him and be like, “What am I dreaming? What is this reality I’ve just entered?”

Scott Menzel: And then even worse when he turns around and you have that whole scene where she’s just staring at his junk and having a conversation. Imagine if someone walked by when that was happening (laughs). 

Adam Nee: There are so many outtakes of her doing these crazy, hilarious runners for that moment. We shot so much funny stuff of her talking to him. And you obviously can’t include it all because there were over five minutes of amazing monologue. It is so good.

Scott Menzel: I’m so curious how you even came up with the idea of casting them because you really look at it and you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t know if this is going to work with these two because they seem like polar opposites.” But somehow the magic and the chemistry is instantaneous. How did that casting happen?

Aaron Nee: Sandy was there from the beginning. She actually is the one who brought us onto this project. Channing, we knew that with this character you wanted somebody who, you can initially see him and he’s so beautiful. It feels like he’s that romance-novel model that you can judge by its cover. But also, we were absolutely confident that once you start spending time with him you’re going to fall in love with him and go, “He’s a sweetheart. He’s such a good guy. He’s not just this vain thing.” He’s the kind of person that you can just drop in that role and you know it’s going to work. You know he’s going to be able to be that person.

Adam Nee: And really the first time that we put them together, it was not in a room we were on Zoom, obviously. And so watching them talk to each other on the Zoom, the chemistry across airwaves was so palpable that it was like, “This is going to work.” Because we were like, “Yeah, you never know what is the chemistry between these two people going to feel like?” But the first time we all got on Zoom together, Aaron and I felt like, “Oh, we’re safe. This is going to be amazing.”

Scott Menzel: I don’t think you could have a better cast. The two of them are lightening in a bottle.

Adam Nee: They really are. It feels like a special pairing and we felt very grateful the entire shoot because they really are the kind of talent that you point the camera at them and you’re going to enjoy it. It’s good.

Scott Menzel: I wanted to ask you about Dana Fox, I’m a big fan of hers. 

Aaron Nee: Don’t get started on Dana Fox.

Scott Menzel: She’s amazing

Adam Nee: She is the funniest person. Dana Fox probably should be under the definition of collaborator in the dictionary. She is also just a human rainbow, just the sweetest person in the world. But when we came on, she had written the last draft. We loved it, it’s what made us want to do the movie. We did some work on it and then we brought her back in to work with us because she just has such a great voice. She’s so good at comedy. She also is just the best team player I’ve ever met in Hollywood.

Aaron Nee: Yeah, she’s great at mining, even the movie we’re wanting to make, what is that? And just finding the goal and then becoming the champion of that goal.

Adam Nee: There’s no ego with her. It really is just she’s trying to figure out how we can make the best possible thing and is happy to give everybody else credit.

Scott Menzel: Okay, my last question before I let you guys go. But I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me because-

Adam Nee: This has been a lot of fricking fun.

Aaron Nee: We love it, man.

Scott Menzel: Appreciate that. So, you two, as collaborators, how do you balance one another? How does that work? Are one of you more of the joke guy? I want to know how your system works. I’m always curious about this especially on a two-director movie, how you guys break up the tasks.

Aaron Nee: There’s no formal division of “You handle that, I handle this.” It’s very fluid. And it’s a difficult question to answer, I think in part because it’s also just second nature because we’re brothers and we grew up together and we’ve been doing these things. It’s a thing that we do and we don’t know how we’re doing it or why we’re doing it. It’s just [inaudible 00:16:26].

Adam Nee: It is a very fluid thing, we prep heavily. Aaron comes from more of a technical background where he can do actual animation and VFX. And I come from more of a comedy background, but that doesn’t mean that Aaron isn’t writing or coming up with some of the funniest lines in the movie or that I don’t have an opinion on the visual effects. It is a very fluid thing.  Our goal is to always know that onset we’ve prepped enough to where anybody can come to just one of us and we can give you the answer. You don’t have to go to the other person so that it never becomes a burden that there are two people, that it’s just a gift that we can divide quicker.

Aaron Nee: Because we write on everything that we do, that writing process of us learning each other’s point of view on the movie so that by the time we get the set, I know what Adam’s point of view on a scene is, why certain lines are in there, what the goal and intention of it is, and he knows mine. And that’s a big part of why somebody could come up to me when Adam’s off doing something else and ask the question and get the same answer that they would get from him.

Scott Menzel: Like I said when I opened this interview, I do see this having the potential of becoming a franchise. I have been watching a lot of movies over the last couple of months and I love watching them with a crowd. Like we were talking about being at SXSW. It is different when you’re in a regular movie theater. I have been in a theater and have seen how an audience reacts when this trailer plays, it really speaks to the audience. And I think Sandra was worried that maybe guys wouldn’t like this movie as much as women do. But I think it has something for everyone in it and I think people are going to gravitate towards it. I think it will have strong a word of mouth from a critical standpoint, plus I think it’s going to perform well, I really do.

Adam Nee: From your lips to God’s ears. Thank you so much-

Scott Menzel: It was so very nice meeting you both

Adam Nee: You’re awesome. Thank you so much for chatting with us.

The Lost City is now playing in theaters everywhere

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott D. Menzel has been a film fanatic since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associates Degree in Marketing, a Bachelors in Mass Media, Communications and a Masters in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com, which he founded. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name changed occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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