Written by Shona Smith on Feb 7, 2020. Posted in On Location

Black comedy Downhill filmed on location in Austria's "wild west" during one of the snowiest years on record

Filming for Searchlight Pictures Downhill took place in Austrian ski resorts of Ischgl, Fiss and Kaunertal during one of the snowiest years on record. According to Austrian locations manager Johannes Köck, the region of pure alpine landscape is “the wild West of Austria”.

Inspired by the 2014 Golden Globe nominated Swedish film Force Majeure by Ruben Östlund, Downhill riffs on the story of a married couple played by Will Ferrell (Anchorman, 30 Rock) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld, Veep) who are thrown into disarray as they are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other after barely escaping an avalanche during a family ski vacation. Directed by duo Nat Faxon (The Descendants, Bad Teacher) and Jim Rash (The Descendants, The Way Way Back) , produces and as stars alongside Will Ferrell.

Anthony Bregman, Producer at Likely Story Film Production commented that “the backdrops and the scenery and the landscape were so stunning that we were worried that people would think they’re fake”.

The production team had professional help in securing the safest and most scenic areas in what Austrian locations manager Johannes Köck describes as “the wild West of Austria". "This is a pure alpine landscape. I believe we found perfect locations for Downhill. The advantage is that the locations way up in the mountains are very accessible and the infrastructure around it is just perfect. This was not built for film productions, but it was built for the development of tourism in our country, and now film and tourism get along very well together”.

Jo Homewood, Fox Searchlight/Line Producer noted “The infrastructure in these resorts is second to none. The authorities in the Tirol were very helpful in assisting us too - often in film we don’t have the lead in time that is normal in “real world” businesses, and it was great that there was an understanding of the particular way that film projects work”.

When shooting outside on the slopes, the actors, directors, camera operators and other crew members go to set by snowcat. The filming took place at an active ski resort open for business, they could only use snowcats and snowmobiles outside of the resort’s operating hours, which made for many early mornings and long days outside in alpine weather.

Of course, making a movie outside in the Alps during winter means the production was constantly subject to the whims of the weather. A flexible filming schedule was essential, as the weather was ever-changing and could only be accurately predicted a few days out.

“Usually, within about a 72-hour period, you have a good idea of what’s to come,” says co-director Nat Faxon says. “We could plan about two to three days out and make adjustments on the fly. That kind of malleable scheduling was all possible thanks to our adept and nimble crew, captained by our fearless line producer, Jo Homewood, and our first AD, Julie Bloom.”

The trickiest shots to get were those on the gondola and the chair lift, since the resort was not about to shut down any lift lines for its paying customers. “We’d have to get the actors on, then start the lift back up so they could get the resort guests up the mountain while we shot,” says co-director Jim Rash. “So, our actors would ride up and down the chairlift a couple of times. But we’d have to stop and change the camera angle. And our crew was amazing. They’d do it just like a NASCAR pit stop”.

Bregman notes “The Austrian Film Commission have been extremely helpful in the scouting and selection of resorts, and in facilitating negotiations with the resorts. We have been impressed by the level of co-operation and access given to us by the resorts of Ischgl and Fiss. Both resorts have not only been helpful with co-operation with the ski slopes and infrastructure, but have been extremely helpful on securing accommodation for us in peak ski season”.

Berman adds, “The initiatives provided by the Government of Austria and the regional Government of Tirol/Cine Tirol are both extremely helpful and influential in our decision to shoot this film in Austria”.

Downhill was approved for a Film Industry Support Austria grant of EUR1.3 million under Austria’s 25% FISA production incentive. The scheme which provides Austrian-foreign co-productions up to 25% of the production costs. Productions must spend in Austria of EUR400,000 for a feature film and the meet a minimum total budget of EUR4 million for a feature production, of EUR500,000 for documentaries.

The Tirol region also operates a Cine Tirol Production Incentive in the form of a non-repayable production grant awarded to selected film projects after application review. Experienced producers “creatively and economically” are qualified to apply for the grant and the grants are contingent upon the economic effect of the production on the region.

Image Credits © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

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