The making of Cast Away reunited two-time Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks with his Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis. The two-year production schedule was not an easy feat for the cast and crew, and resulted in many behind-the-scenes stories that will totally blow you away.

The adventure drama released in 2000 was an incredibly untraditional film, and the fact that it became a Hollywood blockbuster, grossing well over $400 million worldwide, was quite a surprise. Tom Hanks was essentially alone for a majority of the film – unless you count his washed-up buddy, Wilson the volleyball – and he even lost a total of 50 pounds for his role as Chuck Noland. The existential survival epic was nominated for two Academy Awards, including another Best Actor nomination for Hanks.

So, just how much did FedEx pay for all that product placement? Why was production shut down for one year? What was really in that package that Chuck refused to open until he got off the island? Find out the answers to those questions and discover other interesting details about Cast Away below.


Almost Everything About Cast Away Is Completely Unconventional

Photo: 20th Century Fox

It took a lot of guts to make Cast Away – the $85 million film that defied nearly every big-budget movie convention. The entire second act of the film features only a single actor alone on a deserted island with almost no dialogue. Tom Hanks said of the film,

Look, it’s all a Hail Mary pass. It’s a huge risk. And part of it is, ‘Well, why do it if it’s not a huge risk? Why go through all this stuff?’ The whole movie itself is, I think, bodaciously treading new territory.

Even the movie’s director Robert Zemeckis initially didn’t think that Cast Away would work because it was so unconventional. “It was a really hard movie to write because it didn’t have any conventions,” he says. “There are no bad guys, no one’s running around chasing after microfilm…and we didn’t want to junk it up with desert island clichés.”

“Cast Away” Was Not The Original Title

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Hanks originally thought up the concept for Cast Away six years before the film was released. He initially thought the movie would be a comedy, with its title being Chuck of the Jungle. However, upon reflection, Hanks eventually saw the story as being much more serious.

In fact, the actor felt the film was metaphysical in a way, “Take a modern man and strip him of everything – food, water, shelter, even the ability to tell time.”

The Writer’s Loneliness Led To The Creation Of Wilson

Photo: 20th Century Fox

The movie’s screenwriter, William Broyles Jr., needed inspiration when writing Chuck’s survival scenes. So, in order to get the creative juices flowing, he traveled to a scarcely populated island in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes to get a first-hand account of what it was like to be all alone on an island.

His need for some kind of companionship became readily apparent even after just a short time in isolation. Broyles described:

I had to figure out how to open a coconut because I was so thirsty, I had to figure out how to make a knife out of a rock, I had to learn how to spear stingrays… It was just a few days, but I got really lonely. And then one morning this Wilson volleyball washed up on the beach and I looked at it, and put some seashells on it, and I started talking to it… I totally went Kurtz.

(Kurtz is a reference to the madman character in the novella Heart of Darkness, which inspired the character Colonel Kurtz [Marlon Brando] in Apocalypse Now.)

Wilson Sold For Over 18K In An Online Auction

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Wilson may have been just a volleyball, but to Chuck he was everything. Wilson most likely saved the FedEx executive from suffering a slow, lonely end while marooned on the South Pacific island for four years. So, when Wilson floats out to sea during Chuck’s voyage home, it is a devastating loss for Chuck and movie-goers alike.

The iconic movie prop instantly became a piece of popular culture, with one of the original Wilson volleyballs used in the film even selling for $18,400 in an online auction. The Wilson company also cashed in on Wilson’s 15 minutes of fame when they started making volleyballs with the iconic bloody hand print on them.

There’s A Draft Where The Audience Finds Out What Was In The FedEx Box

Photo: 20th Century Fox

What was inside the one FedEx package that Chuck refused to open during his entire stay on the island? The ending of Cast Away is one of those open-ended, ambiguous conclusions that leaves many spectators pulling their hair out. However, there was at least a brief time when the “what was in the box” question had an answer.

The third draft of the film had a few important differences from the final draft. In this third draft, on his 1,000th day on the island Chuck figures, “what the heck,” and opens up the mysterious package with angel wings. What was inside? Two bottles of salsa verde and a note from a woman named Bettina trying to convince her husband to come back home.

Chuck reads the letter:

You said our life was a prison. Dull. Boring. Empty. I can’t begin to tell you how much that hurt. I don’t want to lose you. I’m enclosing some salsa, the verde you like. Use it on your sticky rice and think of home. Then come home – to me. We’ll find the spice in our lives again. Together. I love you. Always. Bettina.

Production Stopped For One Year So Hanks Could Lose Over 50 Pounds

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Tom Hanks looks like a different person from the beginning of the movie to the end. The actor even brought his weight down from 225 (Hanks actually put on weight before filming so he would look chubby) to 170 pounds. He also let his hair and beard grow out. In order to make his physical transformation as authentic as possible, the film took off one whole year from production.

“Bob was like ‘You know what we can do? If we really wanted to do this right, we’d make the first half of this movie, then take a year off and make the second half,” explained Hanks.

Tom Hanks Suffered From A Horrible Infection

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Hanks accidently cut his right leg while shooting a scene for Cast Away on the island of Fiji. He didn’t think the cut was a very big deal – that is until he got an infection that could have ended him. Hanks explained,

Just before we left the island, I had this little cut and something got in there… I flew home and, boy, was my leg hurting!

The weekend we were home it swelled up really big so I finally went to the doctor, thinking he was going to clean out my knee and give me some antibiotics, but it turned out I had a staph infection that was close to giving me blood poisoning.

The doctor said to me ‘What’s the matter with you, you idiot? You could have died from this thing!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ But they literally had to take out a big chunk of the stuff in my leg.

It was also still highly infectious, so I had to take these super-duper antibiotics which just dried me out so much — and I was in the hospital for three days. Then we had to shut down production for three weeks because the doctors said, ‘No way is this kid getting in the water.’

Filming All Alone Every Day Took A Toll On Hanks

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Actors often work by feeding off of each other during a scene, and a lot of acting actually comes from reacting. Keeping that in mind, what was it like for Hanks to film almost an entire movie with no other actors? It may have started out as fun for Hanks, but the isolation definitely took a toll.

He explained, “initially, it was fun. But then it became exhausting, as I had no time away from the camera. Being the sole focus of the film did wear me down after a while.”

Production Was Shut Down For An Entire Year

Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

In order for Hanks to transform his chubby body into a rail thin frame, production had to shut down for an entire year. Robert Zemeckis said that the reaction from the studio was “stunned silence.” What would the production crew do while Cast Away was shut down? They would need to find other work in the meantime, but also need to get back together after the hiatus.

The solution ultimately appeased everyone. Zemeckis opted to direct another movie with the studio and use the same crew from Cast Away in the Hitchcock-ian psychological horror film What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. The film turned out to be a box office success.

The Musical Score Doesn’t Begin Until Chuck Leaves The Island

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Zemeckis and his long-time musical collaborator Alan Silvestri opted not to introduce a musical score until two-thirds (one hour and 43 minutes) of the way into the movie. There could have been several instances where the director and the composer added a score to highlight Chuck’s struggle and loneliness; however, Silvestri’s score does not begin until Chuck finally gets off of the island.

Evan Carter from AllMusic describes Silvestri’s score, which won the composer a Grammy Award in 2002:

Silvestri’s theme isn’t introduced until Hanks finally escapes from his island, and then it is stunning in large part because of the simplicity of the melody. Slow, steady, characterized by long notes and unusual moments of silence, it opens emotional floodgates in ways that a more expressive piece would not. The excerpt included on the CD is the seven-minute end title theme, which boldly intersperses the music with several long segments of softly crashing waves. It is an exceptional achievement for director and scorist alike and a fitting culmination to this summary of their collaboration.

FedEx Didn’t Pay For Product Placement

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Many people assume that FedEx paid a lot of money in product placement fees to the producers of Cast Away. However, FedEx spokeswoman Darlene Faquin said the company didn’t pay a dime to be featured so prominently throughout the film. “It was the writers idea to focus on FedEx’s efficiency. They came to us,” Faquin explained.

There was a specific reason why the film’s screenwriter, William Broyles Jr., wrote Chuck as a FedEx employee. He thought the best way to show that Chuck was a professional man whose entire life revolved around time was to make him a FedEx executive. “As a FedEx worker, Chuck would be dedicated to connecting people all over the world,” Broyles says, “his life would be dictated by the clock.”

Broyles’s goal was to draw a rich contrast between Chuck’s life in business and his life stranded on a deserted island. The life he used to live meant absolutely nothing on the island. His new life would only focus on survival.

Wilson Actually Had Lines Of Dialogue

Photo: 20th Century Fox

“I think Wilson was crucial to Chuck’s survival,” Hanks said of his desert island buddy. In order for Broyles to have a way for Chuck to convey his inner thoughts and feelings, the screenwriter actually wrote lines of dialogue for the volleyball into the script. When the film was in production, stand-ins read the lines to Hanks in order to make him feel like he was having a conversation with an actual person.

Initially, Broyles thought that Wilson could be “serious and sympathetic.” However, anyone who has actually seen Cast Away knows the opposite is true. Hanks turned Wilson into an “old man” who constantly nagged Chuck. “He’s mischievous and he’s an instigator,” Hanks said of Wilson.

The Russians Were Extremely Accommodating To The Film’s Production

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Zemeckis opted to open the film in Moscow, Russian, in the middle of winter in order to illustrate that Chuck was “a man of the world.” Any major city would have done the trick, but the Russians were especially amenable and let Zemeckis and his crew film wherever they needed to.

In fact, the Russians even shut down Red Square for almost a week and allowed the film’s production vehicles to drive through the Square.

It Took A World-Wide Search To Find The Perfect Island Location

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Parts of the film were also made in Memphis and Los Angeles. However, a majority of the filming took place in Monuriki, a semi-remote island in Fiji. Location scouts selected Monuriki because Cast Away‘s island was not supposed to look like paradise, instead the location was intended to help convey Chuck’s struggle to survive.

In order for Zemeckis to get permission to film on the island, he needed the approval of the Fijian family who owns it. The director learned Fijian customs and met with the island’s owners. He even participated in a Fijian ceremony.

The Film Was Made In Chronological Order

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Most films are not made in chronological order; they are filmed based on production schedules. However, sometimes filmmakers will opt to shoot their movies in chronological order for a variety of different reasons. Cast Away is one of those movies that was filmed in sequential order.

One of the more obvious reasons is that the movie needed to break half way through production for one year in order to give Hanks time to lose 50 pounds.

Filming On Monuriki Was A Huge Production

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Monuriki is pretty remote – it took about an hour by boat for the team to get from the island to the production hotel. In addition, filming on the island turned out to be a massive ordeal. Every production team on the film (audio, lighting, grips, electric, etc.) needed their own hut built on the beach in which to store their equipment.

Also, 75-100 different boats traveled to the island every day in order to transport production equipment and crew members.

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