The Production of Michael Mann’s ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ Was a Hot, Sticky Mess


The big picture

  • Shooting on location in the Blue Ridge Mountains pushed both crew and actors to their limits, but it was a visually rich film.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis' intense approach to acting and Michael Mann's attention to detail made for a demanding shoot.
  • The Last of the Mohicans
    is a classic epic film that showcases the dedication and craftsmanship of everyone involved, resulting in a beautiful and immersive cinematic experience.

Shooting on location is demanding, but the end result is often more rewarding and visually rich than a film that tries to reproduce picturesque locations with set technology or costumes. This is clearly seen in Michael Mannthe historical epic of success, The Last of the Mohicanswhich stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowei Wes Studi. The film is set during the French and Indian War, and follows Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, an adopted son of a member of the Mohican tribe, drawn into the conflict.

The Last of the Mohicans is one of Mann's films with more commercial and cultural impact. It remains the only film of his to ever win the Oscar for Best Sound, and it's well-deserved for the phenomenal multi-layered translation scene alone. The film was shot primarily in North Carolina, where the great Blue Ridge Mountains have their highest peaks. Filming outdoors can be difficult in any situation, due to the unpredictability of natural lighting and weather, but The Last of the Mohicans it was a particularly tough shoot that drove everyone crazy. Mann's film makes great use of striking locationsand ended up being a huge commercial success, marking one of Day-Lewis' only traditional “leading man” roles, but the production of The Last of the Mohicans left the crew exhausted.

The production of Michael Mann's “The Last of the Mohicans” broke everyone

The film's difficult production comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with Mann's particular knack for detail-oriented filmmaking, or Day-Lewis' intense focus on performance, but this push things even further than their usual feats. It was an immersive and expansive shoot that got a lot out of Day-Lewis and had everyone on edge. Because The Last of the Mohicans filmed primarily outdoors and in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the crew had to hike nearly an hour uphill for many setups, which posed a major challenge for those riding heavy equipment. Carrying cameras and sound equipment up and down a mountain every day greatly increased the difficulty of the production for everyone.

Being in the woods all day proved difficult for other reasons as well. The film includes a few large-scale battle sequences that require many actors to be covered in fake blood. According to the reports of a fixed visit of the writer Kate Van Winkle Keller, the fake blood used in the production contained corn syrup, which attracted ants on which many extras would swarm. Keller also noted that the extras who portrayed various Native warriors in the film required heavy hair and makeup maintenance, with many of them needing to shave their heads daily to keep up.

The long night sessions gave rise to a funny and oft-repeated anecdote that Mann had a bit of a blast over an incessant orange light that crew members wouldn't dim, only to be told it was actually the sun. A wild story, but one that shows the strange and intense nature of making a film this way and the tunnel vision that closes in as a result. With long shoots that stretch from sunset to sunrise and back again, swarms of ants and all the cliff configurations, mountain hikes and hot weather, this crew really got into proof Mann and Day-Lewis made the shot chillingbut they certainly did a great deal of the work behind their own backs.

Michael Mann and Daniel Day-Lewis created an intense set

The Last of the Mohicans being an arduous and immersive production is no surprise given the reputations of both Day-Lewis and Mann. Day-Lewis is one of the most prominent actors to use intense method acting in every role, and he gave a particularly impressive effort to portray Hawkeye. Day-Lewis lived in the woods for weeks in preparation for the film, where he hunted animals, trained with tomahawks and learned to make canoes by hand. Day-Lewis was so immersed in the part, putting his body and mind into a daze, that he suffered hallucinations and struggled with his mental health during filming. This is Day-Lewis' most conventional leading role, a traditionally heroic and romantic lead in a historical epic, but still poured his all into the performance. While it's done Lincoln, likewise, lived like a man of the past, but did not suffer so much exhaustion. Of all of Day-Lewis' most iconic roles, and of all of his stories with a method approach, this may be the best example of him truly disappearing in a part.

Mann is a director who is also known for his strict attention to detail. His approach to the setting, language, costumes, etc. in any particular film it is rooted in reality. Do The Last of the Mohicans an authentic experience in terms of the look and feel of the period meant that a lot of effort was put into these elements, and it's extra work for everyone involved, but it's easier to respect when the strength driving visionary of the film is putting the work alongside everyone else. Mann takes his job seriously and wants it feels more real than your average movie.

The Last of the Mohicans it's a great kind of epic, sweeping movie that we don't get that often anymore. It was taken seriously, required a lot of craftsmanship and effort to get it right, and it looks absolutely beautiful. The romance is compelling, the action is exciting, and it features great work from all the main actors, especially Wes Studi. For such an accessible genre film, having two extremely dedicated and intensive artists working together takes it to another level. Day-Lewis and Mann working together is a match made in movie heaven, as they both see their artistic work as a craft more than anything, and are artisans anyway. Working with them will not be a walk in the park, but a hike up a mountain. But the view is worth it once you get there, and the movie is all the better for it.

The Last of the Mohicans is available to watch on Tubi in the US

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