The rights of the story was first bought by Ray Stark, back in the late 70s, with Jack Nicholson to star as Benjamin. Later, the film rights were bought by Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall under the Amblin banner. When Kennedy and Marshall left to start their own production company, they also took the rights along and only started developing the movie in 1994. David Fincher admitted that he never read the source short story. He only read the 240-page script that Eric Roth wrote. His agent, who brought the script to Fincher's attention was a former assistant of Stark. His resolve to make the film came evidently after the death of his father in 2002.
The hummingbird is the only bird in the world that can fly backwards. Hurricanes spin counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. These, among other "backward" motifs involving clocks and so on, tie in with the major thematic elements related to Benjamin Button living life in reverse.
Director Tarsem Singh was enlisted to shoot the brief handheld montage of Benjamin backpacking through India and Cambodia, after David Fincher learned that Tarsem and Brad Pitt were both already planning to be in Southeast Asia at the same time.
The original setting for the film was to be Baltimore, the city of the short story the movie is based on. David Fincher and Eric Roth changed the location to New Orleans when the studio requested they film there to take advantage of the state's filming discount.
The look that David Fincher, visual-effects supervisor Eric Barba and special makeup-effects artist Greg Cannom devised for Benjamin as a child resemble the later stages of progeria, a condition technically named Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, a rare disease that makes its young sufferers appear aged. Those who didn't attend medical school may be most familiar with it from the Ralph Macchio TV movie The Three Wishes of Billy Grier (1984). Robin Williams had a fictional version of progeria in Jack (1996) and the Susan Sarandon character in The Hunger (1983) is shown researching and discussing the disease.
There really was a pygmy man housed in a monkey house. Ota Benga was trapped from the Congo in 1904, and kept on display in a monkey house in the Bronx Zoo. His teeth were chiseled, and he used to shoot arrows at onlookers. In 1906, they released him, realizing they had been "inhumane," and he was placed in an orphanage until 1910 when he was relocated to Virginia. He received formal education before starting work at a tobacco factory, and he began to plan his return to the Congo. With the outbreak of WWI his plans seemed impossible and he became depressed and killed himself in 1916. Ota Benga also serves as a character in The Fall (2006).
The character of Daisy was named Hildegarde Moncrief in F. Scott Fitzgerald's original short story. The name change is likely a nod to the female lead in Fitzgerald's best-known work, The Great Gatsby (1974).
Shot using Viper Thomson digital cameras, also used in David Fincher's previous movie, Zodiac (2007). However, the close-ups and the hospital scenes were shot in the Sony F-23 cameras, as Fincher noted that the fan built inside the Viper cameras create too much noise that interferes with the dialog.
Roy Cleveland Sullivan (1912-1983) was actually struck by lightning seven times, giving him the Guinness World Record. Mr. Daws (Ted Manson) recalls being struck while in his car: "Did I ever tell you I been struck by lightning seven times? Once when I was just sittin' in my truck just minding my own business," as happened to Sullivan in 1969.
Julia Ormond filmed her scenes last, two weeks before end of shooting. During that period, Cate Blanchett had to undergo 4 hours of daily makeup to play a near-dead Daisy. She could only lie on the hospital bed for a short period of time due to excessive heat generated by studio lights and the blankets.