“I spent months in the jungle just walking around and trying to figure out where the scenes were going to take place,” remembers production designer Wynn Thomas about prepping for “Da 5 Bloods.” The film tells the story of Black Vietnam War vets returning to the country to recover the remains of their fallen squad leader as well as a hidden stash of gold. It was shot in Vietnam and Thailand, which presented a number of unique visual and logistical challenges. Watch our exclusive video interview with Thomas above.
This is far from Thomas’ first film with director Spike Lee. They’ve been working together going all the way back to “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986). But this was Thomas’ first time working on a war movie overseas with the filmmaker. “Much of the movie takes place in the jungle, so part of my design challenge was how to chart that journey through the jungle and how to make it visually interesting,” he explains.
He started with “big, huge vistas” but gradually closed in on the characters: “I began to eliminate the sky from the movie, and the jungle begins to encroach on [Delroy Lindo‘s character Paul].” But it wasn’t just a matter of finding locations that would work for the film visually. While they were shooting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, “the temperature would sometimes get up to 105 degrees … So we had to do everything we could to protect the actors and the crew.”
But Thomas’ work didn’t just involve braving the elements. He also had to recreate the Mỹ Sơn temple ruins for the film’s action-packed climax. They managed to build it “behind a suburban Chiang Mai street,” where “a crew of amazing Thai artists, sculptors and painters” imitated the ancient architecture with “wood and styrofoam. The sculpting work was amazing on the film. And then the painters came in … and the work was so good that most people thought that these ruins had been there for centuries. They had no idea that it was a set.”
That’s Thomas’ goal as a production designer: “My work serves the story. So very often you don’t see it … and I hope that I’m doing that on everything that I do.”
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