Put simply, Triple Frontier goes something like this: A group of former Special Forces operatives reunite to plan a heist in a sparsely populated multi-border zone of South America. From the tagline alone director J.C. Chandor knew that making the thriller was going to be an epic adventure. And that was exactly what he was looking for. The name of the movie was inspired by the Tres Fronteras, a term for the area between Brazil, Peru, and Colombia where the heist in the story takes place.
“Getting to travel to these actual locations in the world was half the reason I signed on,” says Chandor, a New York-based filmmaker whose previous credits include A Most Violent Year and Margin Call. “I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to be taken outside of my comfort zone.”
Shooting the ocean survival drama All Is Lost starring Robert Redford had taught Chandor a lot about managing difficult shoots, but that was one man in the middle of the Indian Ocean—this was an ensemble piece with multiple company moves. Pulling it off meant finding a cast that was willing to travel to three far-flung locations between North and South America.
The process wasn’t easy, with numerous highly publicized scheduling issues, but finally Chandor landed a dream crew of Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garret Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal.
The first stop was Oahu, Hawaii, where they would film the jungle scenes. The cast stayed by the beach, which was a welcome respite from filming in the wet wilderness. According to Chandor, Oahu experienced a bout of unusually wet weather during filming, meaning that the actors were constantly soaked in their military gear.
“They had the biggest downfall in their history,” says Chandor. “But we needed rain for the scenes, so it all worked out. On the few occasions that it stopped raining we would turn rain machines on. So basically it was coming down on the guys for 70 days straight.”
“The rain was constant and that also brought a lot of insects during the day,” says Isaac. “There was an absolute difference between living in Hawaii and working Hawaii because of the tactical scenes that we were shooting,”
On the few days that the crew wasn’t getting soaked by rain, they were leading mules through mountainous areas on the west side of the island. Their characters enlist the pack animals to help them haul their loot and have a few issues along the way, but for the actors, the off-screen relationship with the mules wasn’t as complicated as it was in the movie.
“The mule work on the mountain was particularly challenging,” says Pascal. “But the mules loved me.”
The cast also had an occasional free day in Hawaii, which Hunnam recalls fondly while also bemoaning the fact that a few ambitious cameramen caught them decompressing. “They caught us roaming the beach in our speedos,” he says, laughing. “I thought what happens in Hawaii stays in Hawaii.”
“Thank god someone got a record of that,” says Affleck.
After Oahu, next up was the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, which was shot to represent the Andes of Peru. The first thing the guys felt was the elevation change, and both cast and crew grappled with the effects of oxygen depletion during the high output scenes. The effort and the difficult riggings were worth it though—those scenes are some of the most stunning in the entire film.
“It was all loose rocks that we were going up,” says Isaac. “The crew had a lot of difficult setups to do, and would leave to get the equipment prepared. There were a few funny accidents because of that, like on Ben’s last day they had us harnessed up on the side of a mountain and left. We were all just talking and hanging out for awhile before we realized that they had just left us up there.”
After the mountains, all that remained was one key stop that only required Isaac out of the group of guys and the female lead Adria Arjona. The opening raid sequence takes places in the favelas (also known as comunas) of Colombia, specifically in the neighborhood of Soacha, about an hour’s drive outside of Bogotá.
Populated mostly with working-class families, the locals of Soacha were excited to have a large Hollywood shoot in their neighborhood, and many appeared as extras in the sequence. The unique geography of the city also brought plenty of character to the shoot: Soacha’s steeply inclined streets made the foot chase that takes place particularly intense.
“The favelas in Colombia are so unique in that area and have so much character,” says Chandor. “We could have never created anything like them on a studio lot.”
Want to get a taste of all three of these amazing locations? Check out the guide below.
THE TRIPLE FRONTIER TRAVEL GUIDE
VISIT: Kualoa Ranch
This adventure park was used for several key scenes in Triple Frontier, and it has also been used for the Jurassic Park franchise.
EAT: The Street Food Hall by Michael Mina Waikiki
This epic food hall from chef Michael Mina was where the guys from Triple Frontier had their wrap party after filming finished.
STAY: Kaneohe Bay Guest Home
This charming lodging is just steps away from the beach where the Triple Frontier crew filmed, and it has a dock to die for.
SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS, CALIFORNIA
VISIT: Charlotte Dome
This hike should be on every adventurer’s list, and it closely resembles the cliffs featured in the Triple Frontier escape scenes.
One of the best dining experiences in the Mammoth area, check out this alpine restaurant for local meat and produce.
STAY: Mammoth Mountain Inn
This rustic inn with fireplaces aplenty is the best place to set up base camp around Mammoth.
VISIT: Tequendama Falls
This stunning and tall waterfall is a beautiful natural landmark in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogotá.
EAT: Andrés Carne de Res
Specializing in grilled meat dishes and traditional Colombian fare, this is the right place for a memorable night in the Columbian capital.
STAY: Casa Bochiaca 1943
In keeping with the Triple Frontier theme, stay in a mansion in Bogotá fit for a Colombian drug lord.
Triple Frontier is now available on Netflix.