Despite the publicized mishaps that marked the filming of “Beasts of No Nation” — from helmer Cary Fukunaga’s bout with malaria to star Idris Elba’s run-in with the wrong side of a cliff — perhaps the biggest challenge for shooting in Ghana was a less glamorous menace: red tape.
For Fukunaga, who had worked in the region before, the physical strains of shooting in West Africa were to be expected. But, he admits, “The surprising thing was how long it took to get things done.”
When the helmer and his producers first went into pre-pro in 2011, they considered easier alternatives. “Everyone was saying the only option was South Africa,” says Fukunaga, because of its strong infrastructure and history of servicing movies.
South Africa’s tax incentives would also “minimize the equity exposure we had to risk,” according to producer Riva Marker. The filmmakers had to make sure the movie could be bonded and insured
But Fukunaga persisted. In 2004, he’d traveled to the volatile area to work as d.p. on a documentary in Guinea, later hitching a ride to Sierra Leone. Because of his familiarity with the region, he knew a decade later that when it came time to scout locations for “Beasts,” South Africa didn’t have the look and feel he wanted.
In the end, the director was able to get his Ghana shoot, but there were challenges every step of the way. Equipment had to be sourced from the U.S., U.K. and South Africa. In order to get the cooperation of Ghana’s military, “We basically squatted on their doorstep until we got all the papers signed,” he says.
Nearly three dozen crew were imported to work with the Ghanaian team, but “trying to get everyone on board with the style of filmmaking that we wanted to do was a huge learning curve,” Fukunaga says. Facilities were bare-bones, and feeding the cast and crew three meals a day was its own logistical nightmare.
There was also the task of finding child actors, which sent casting director Harrison Nesbit from soccer fields to Internet cafes to churches. Abraham Attah, the lead, wasn’t cast until a week before shooting, and while Fukunaga admits he’d been impressed by the young thesp’s auditions, there was no guarantee he could do the job. “We just had no more time, and he was our best chance.”
In the end, Attah’s eye-opening performance justified the leap of faith.