The Ruins The Location

“The Ruins” takes place in Cancun, Mexico, where gorgeously exotic beaches abut lushly tropical forests. Finding a seaside resort location with a nearby soundstage was relatively easy, but director Carter Smith had another approach in mind: shooting the film on two practical locations. “I wanted to keep this as real as possible,” Smith says. “I just think it's better for the actors and for the material, because if you're working with a heightened premise, you want to keep everything else as grounded as possible. Beyond that, natural sunlight is the rawest, most beautiful, most realistic light you can have, and I knew that would work beautifully for the look we were trying to achieve. So to my way of thinking there was no way we could shoot this film on a soundstage.”

Hofmann set about finding a location that reinforced the strong relationship between the coast and jungle, allowed her to access an experienced crew, and would still enable the film to stay within its budget. “With those mandates in mind, there was no better place to shoot than Queensland, Australia,” claims Hofmann. “Early on, DreamWorks had started a conversation with the Pacific Film and Television Commission in Queensland and I took over from there. Obviously, since so many films are shot in Queensland, Australia, we knew we'd be able to assemble a fantastic crew. We also had the Warner Roadshow Movie World Studios nearby to all our exterior locations, which was important, because even though Carter wanted to shoot in natural settings as much as possible, there were some areas of the script that necessitated using a soundstage. So we had everything there - the coast, the jungle and rainforests and the studio - in a tight little circle. That made the decision to film in Australia a very easy one.”

The story required three primary locations, explains Bender. “After our cast leaves the hotel and finds the ruins, they're confronted by some local Mayans. Because they don't speak the indigenous language, they are at a loss to what they've done to anger these people. So, after Mathias' friend, Dimitri, gets shot, they figure they're better off staying at the top of the dig.” The three primary locations were an opening by the jungle where the pyramid base could be built that provided enough room for riders on horseback to maneuver, the top of the ruins with views of the surrounding jungle, and the ruins' dark interior ceremonial chamber. “The ceremonial chamber would be built on a stage. Once we started scouting for exterior locations, however, there was some difficulty,” Bender says. “Some areas had perfect tree lines, some had great views, so we ended up creating two distinct locations. There's the base of the hill set where everyone comes out of the jungle, and another set for the top of the hill. Both sets are really amazing. Our production designer Grant Major did an incredible job with all the rocks and vines, so when we attach the locations digitally, it will be so seamless and perfect that the audience will never realize.”

The film was shot primarily on Mount Tamborine and on private land near the Natural Arch in Springbrook National Park, both on the continent's Gold Coast. While there was certainly a great deal of work involved building sets and delivering crews to these slightly remote locals, Smith's decision to shoot outside was a big bonus for the cast. “Working on any practical set is far better than working on a stage with a green screen,” says Shawn Ashmore, who plays fun-loving Eric and has had experience with special effects in the “X-Men” movies. “On real locations you can see the sky, you can feel the wind and the sun beating down on you. This story has a lot of natural elements. It's all about sweating, feeling that heat, and knowing you're not able to access water when you're thirsty. Having these sensations for real was a great help in transporting us into the scene.”

The only downside was that the production wasn't actually shooting during the summer. “It was wonderful coming to work, being outside in the fresh air and seeing these beautiful sunsets, but it was freezing cold!” laughs Laura Ramsey, who portrays Stacy. “It was supposed to be a hot summer so they have us in these little tank tops and they'd spritz us with olive oil for sweat, which was a little uncomfortable sometimes. But I'd rather be outside in that beautiful environment and have them spritz me while I'm freezing than be in a dusty studio where you're always looking at a green screen and trying to imagine you're in a jungle.”

Being outside was a plus for the actors and for Smith as well, because it helped generate some of the suspense he needed for a film that transpires largely under a blazing, unforgiving sun. “When you're watching the film, you're constantly aware of the sun setting, because you sense that, when it does, something bad is probably going to happen,” he says. “At the same time, because we were shooting in actual daylight, it meant our hours were limited. There's something so pressing about the fact that the sun is slipping behind the mountain. It forces you to work at a rapid pace and make quick decisions so you get everything you need. I almost think that if we didn't sometimes have that pressure, we might not have been as productive and gotten those truly perfect, really tense shots. Being outside put everyone at the top of their game, and the crew always came through so that the actors could do their jobs.”

Smith acknowledges that in some ways it might have been easier to shoot everything on a soundstage, but he is glad he had the opportunity to work outdoors because it better served the script. “This movie isn't just about creeping vines, this is about the psychology of these five people and what they go through in really extreme circumstances. I needed to make this as real for them as possible and I think the results are up there on the screen.”

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