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Guest column: 'The Beast' producer James Lopez says going on a safari in South Africa 'wakes up something in me'

Making Beast is my first time in Africa, but it won’t be my last. I landed in March 1146 ready to be in southern Cape Town Film Africa and start our location scouting. The first place we visited actually ended up being one of the places we filmed, in the Limpopo region near the Zimbabwe border. We found a stunning valley location in a giraffe sanctuary on the other side of the country where the commute time was nothing short of a – Safari ride The vehicle enters the valley.

Now, I’ve never been a nature or animal lover; I’ve never gone camping. I don’t get confused by animals. But something there changed me. I found myself doing things I never thought I would do, like getting out of a safari vehicle around wild animals, touching the rough hide of a white rhino when it got close to the vehicle – crazy stuff like that.

The first scouting day in Limpopo was my first safari experience. We met some rangers and staff and without even unpacking we jumped into the safari vehicle and took off. I was a little nervous when they showed us the puddle and we could shoot a big tree nearby. In my head, I was saying, “I want to see some animals!” That’s when we went up a hill and a bunch of giraffes were running by the car! This is amazing to me. As we got deeper into the land, I realized that if you stay a little bit still, scan the horizon and really pay attention to detail, there are animals all around us.

Beast scene (from left) Idris Elba , Sharlto Copley and Iana Halley. Courtesy of Lauren Mulligan/Universal Pictures 2410999

As we drove back to the hotel, the sun was going down and I was frustrated because I really wanted to see an elephant. In a place where cell service is hard to come by, my phone started buzzing like crazy, and I was looking down when the car stopped. The ranger said, “James, look up.” And there’s an elephant right in front of us! I was emotional – I literally had tears in my eyes. At that moment, I was grateful for what I could do, my feet were firmly in the motherland, and I made it my job.

Later we lived in a cabin next to our filming location and I met a ranger named Neil, an Irishman who knew animals very well, This is awesome. We became good friends. With unstable Wi-Fi and no TV, I have nothing to do on the weekends but a safari. Neil would come and pick me up, like, “Would you like to go play a game?” We’d go find animals — rhinos, giraffes, baboons.

Wildlife ranger Neil and South African Limpopo Two rhinos in the area. “Neil took me and the cast to track the rhino, and two of them walked up to the car,” recalls James F. Lopez. Contributed by Eddy Matchette 2410999

The scariest moment I’ve ever had was my last Saturday in Limpopo. Neil asked me if I wanted to see the herd. During my entire time there, I never saw more than two elephants at a time. So we took off late that July afternoon and drove a few hours to a part of the property that I had never seen before. Then we got stuck on a muddy road…the sun went down…out of range of the phone. Neil announced, “I don’t have a radio.” I said, “Excuse me?” He said, “I can’t get in touch with the hotel. But I’m going out and running back to where we saw the campers. Just stay here.”

All I can think about is hyenas and leopards killing me. but02 A few minutes later, I heard a car: it was Neil, running in front of the campers. These lovely South Africans go out and say in their heavy South African accent, “Broo” – which means brother – “We have a feeling you’re going to get stuck!” Pulled us out after trying.

“We are in Limpopo found the herd of elephants on the last day of my life,” said Lopez (right), whose production credits also include Little and What Men Want. by Eddy Matchette

We started driving back to the hotel and Neil apologized: “I’m sorry you didn’t see the cows, this is your last day here.” As he said, I Look to the right and start yelling, “They’re coming!” There used to be 042Elephant! Neil said: “We found the herd, but I have to tell you one thing. One elephant was experiencing prickly heat [a cyclical condition experienced by male elephants characterized by elevated hormones and aggression], and he It’s the biggest elephant in the land. He’s going to charge our car.” I thought, “Excuse me?” The elephant came out, so huge compared to other elephants. This is very scary.

Neil said, “Okay, he’s going to charge the car. We’ll sit still, and then I’ll hit the gas and drive towards him, and he’ll stop – he’s bluffing. .” And I thought, “I hope you’re right!” It happened just as he said it — happened four times. Then Neil said, “He’s going to knock down a tree and show us he’s the boss.” The elephant walked over and he knocked down a tree, showing off to the female. Neil knew everything an elephant would do, including charging us as soon as we got in front of him. He chased us down the road and made a loud elephant noise. I was dizzy – I couldn’t believe it. On top of that, we encountered a large dust cloud on the way back from the drive, [there was] about 75 Big, loud baboons to roost at night.

by Eddy Matchette supply

We also shot in the Orange River Valley near the Namibian border and stayed at the Tutwa Desert Lodge. Because we shot it during the day, it was surrounded by walls, and we didn’t encounter many times, but when we built a very real village from scratch for a scene, the elephants kept knocking down trees. A hyena actually bit our generator power cord so the lights went out overnight!

A ranger named Norman took me and the wanderer to a rocky, arid desert where you could look for miles and we saw a lot of wildebeest, zebras, Springbok and Giraffe. Norman stopped the car abruptly and pointed to a leopard trailing its prey. He got out of the car and was like, “Come on!” We were cautious, to say the least, but he assured the leopard wouldn’t show up during the day. So we went and finally found a ditch with half a dead springbok lying in the ditch. I couldn’t possibly go back at night, but our DP came back after dark and saw the leopards feeding.

On the African continent, seeing animals in their natural habitat in their majesty awakened something inside me and broke down the barriers of fear inside me. It’s hard to describe, but there’s something spiritual about it. Five months later, I was ready to get out of there, but I found myself missing out right away.

Lopez in South Africa Weekend safari experiences often include zebra sightings. by Eddy Matchette

This story first appeared in August. 02 The Hollywood Reporter Magazine issue. 9035Click here to subscribe .

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