A Marriage Unwrapped in the Alps
It's the ski vacation of a lifetime for Pete and Billie Stanton and their two
boys: a week in the Austrian Alps. With both parents unplugged from their
professional careers, the Stantons are - on the surface - ready for seven days
of snowy family fun.
What was poised to be a delightful week of skiing and togetherness instead
becomes a series of awkward and emotionally fraught moments in which Pete and
Billie have to be honest with themselves and each other in ways they hadn't
Early in the trip, while having lunch at a mountainside restaurant, Pete and
Billie have dramatically different responses to what is- unbeknownst to them- a
controlled avalanche that appears frighteningly out of control. Pete's reaction
stuns the family and throws the rest of their vacation and the couple's marriage
into chaos, as Billie reevaluates their relationship and each is forced to
wrestle with their own sense of self.
Throughout all of this, directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's comedic touches
and nuances shine through.
"I was immediately interested in the premise," Louis-Dreyfus says. "What
appealed to me about the story was the idea that a person can be viewing their
life through a certain lens, and what happens when that lens is taken off -
what's different? And is, in fact, anything different? So the idea of a reality
being altered dramatically is what appealed to me."
She was intrigued by the notion of how a subtle shift in perspective - if
facing an avalanche can be subtle - can have such profound emotional effects.
"It's a very big crisis, and it's a big actual event that happens in the
film," Louis-Dreyfus says. "But the fallout from it is seemingly small at first.
And then it, dare I say, snowballs."
For Louis-Dreyfus, making DOWNHILL has been a dream realized. "I've been
involved with this project for several years," she says. "It was a great
opportunity for me, not only as an actress, but also as a producer.
A distinctly American take on an original story by Swedish writer-director
Ruben Ostlund, DOWNHILL was brought to the screen by producer and star Julia
The multi-award-winning actress (VEEP, SEINFELD) had just finished showing
off her dramatic chops in Fox Searchlight's ENOUGH SAID when Searchlight's
production team asked if she'd consider developing an American version of
Ostlund's FORCE MAJEURE.
Louis-Dreyfus invited Anthony Bregman and Stefanie Azpiazu of Likely Story,
who also produced ENOUGH SAID, to join forces on the adaptation, which Bregman
characterizes as more of a "riff" than a remake.
"There's a long-standing tradition in every art form of taking a work of art
that you admire and interpreting it in a different context. It's the film
version of a cover song," says producer Bregman.
"We're taking a movie that we all love, that has a very particular
sensibility and showing how you can riff on it. Our intention was to take the
ideas that the original movie had and explore them in a new context."
Inspiring a remake has been both rewarding and surreal for Ostlund and FORCE
MAJEURE producer Erik Hemmendorf who is also an executive producer on DOWNHILL.
"My strongest experiences of movies have inspired me in my work, so for me
this is the best proof that my films are having an impact," Ostlund says.
Seeing DOWNHILL for the first time also proved to be an emotional experience
for the two.
"It was nerve-wracking and fun," Hemmendorff says. "The most important thing
for us was to make sure that everybody involved knew that they could be as free
as they wanted in terms of (relating) to the original... I really liked that they
put in new scenes and storylines."
Adds Ostlund: "As soon as I thought they had managed to solve a scene better
than we did, I felt genuinely happy - and jealous at the same time. But I've
decided for myself to embrace the differences and look at it like when they put
on classic plays in the theater: it's the differences in the reading that are a
big part of what makes it interesting."
To create the American version of the story, producers tapped writer Jesse
Armstrong (SUCCESSION, VEEP) to pen the script, with finishing touches by Oscar
winning writing-directing duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (THE DESCENDANTS, THE WAY
The delicate balance between comedy and drama in Faxon and Rash's previous
films made the Oscar-winning pair an ideal choice for DOWNHILL, Louis-Dreyfus
"I think they certainly understood exactly what we were going for tonally in
this picture. They're so familiar with drama within comedy and how to thread
that needle," she says of Faxon and Rash. "I had never worked with a directing
team before, but it was very refreshing to do so, and they really worked in
tandem with one another brilliantly."
The chance to work with Louis-Dreyfus was a major draw for the duo- "It's
cliche to say we're fans," Rash says. "The idea fit into what we react to the
most, which is character-driven ballets between comedy and drama," Rash
continues. "It's the thing we gravitate towards most in the storytelling
Adds Faxon: "We are drawn to these types of mixed-genre projects because, to
us, they feel the most relatable. They mimic life's unpredictable nature where
daily stress or even tragic circumstances can often be accompanied by comedic
moments and/or relief."
The filmmakers knew it would be a challenge to take on a movie as beloved and
well-executed as FORCE MAJEURE, but they also recognized the universality of its
central questions: How well can two people really know each other? And what
happens when one of them does something totally unexpected?
"We wanted to balance this film with both the woman's perspective as well as
the man's and examine how this random, yet incredibly significant, incident
affects them both as individuals and as a couple," Faxon says. "Inevitably, the
characters are forced to reevaluate everything they thought to be true."
Adds Producer Stefanie Azpiazu: "This version of the film uses the avalanche
as a metaphor for the marriage. Billie and Pete can't move on because they see
the things that are happening differently. The question is: can they sync up in
Bringing American characters to Europe also adds a fish-out-of-water element
to the challenges they're facing - a feeling the filmmakers, cast and crew
shared while shooting on location in the Alps.
"Billie and Pete are thrown off balance in a culture they don't understand,
frustrated by a language they don't speak, and confused by customs and laws
they're not familiar with. They're just these tiny, confused human beings,"
Bregman says. "And then a massive, out-of-control avalanche rolls over them. The
story shows us that it's in moments of unexpected stress and imbalance that
characters find their true selves and reveal the fissures in their
Billie and Pete Stanton
Bringing Billie and Pete Stanton to life are comic superstars Julia
Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, in their first on-screen pairing. The two actors
had never actually met before coming together on this film, despite having many
colleagues in common and working at some of the same places over their long
Upon meeting, though, Louis-Dreyfus felt like she'd known Ferrell forever.
"We immediately got along. We immediately were making each other howl
laughing," she says. "I felt like we must have known each other in another life.
I don't know how else to say it. It was totally bizarre, but it was a very happy
Ferrell (STRANGER THAN FICTION, ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY)
agrees, saying getting to know Louis-Dreyfus has been among the best parts of
"It's just incredible to have gone on this journey with her and now I feel
like I've known her for 20 years," he says.
"She's obviously brilliantly funny. She's an incredible producer in terms of
always having really great questions for our directors... and making sure we're on
the right track with our storytelling," Ferrell continues. "She was incredible
to get to act with, and at the same time, she could not have been more down to
earth and self-deprecating in the best possible way."
That off-screen connection served them well. As a long-married couple, Billie
and Pete know each other inside and out - or so they thought before their trip
to the Alps.
When disaster strikes, Pete reacts in a way Billie couldn't have predicted or
"These characters, including the children, are digesting the reality of what
just happened," Louis-Dreyfus says. "As terrifying as the avalanche is, I think
what Pete does is just as terrifying, if not even more so. And it happens so
quickly and it's such a disaster that I think it's hard for Billie to actually
fully understand what happened. She's in shock."
Pete is also in denial. Unable to accept or understand what he's done, he
tries hard to carry on with the family vacation they'd all hoped for.
"I liked how pathetic Pete is in his own way," Ferrell says. "Yet I think
when you watch the movie, you're also kind of sympathetic to him at the same
time. He's made the most egregious error he could make, and he's so sorry, but
he's just too childish to admit it."
That's why it was so critical to have someone as appealing as Ferrell in the
role, Nat Faxon says. Otherwise, it could be easy to write off Pete's actions -
abandoning his family in a moment of danger - as wholly unredeemable.
"Will has such a wonderful vulnerability in the role, which proved to be an
incredible asset. It helped us create this sense of empathy for Pete," Faxon
says. "And as a result, the audience is left at the end of the film debating
whose side they are on."
Beyond her ongoing duties as a producer, Louis-Dreyfus brings her
characteristic warmth to Billie: a self-assured, accomplished attorney and
devoted wife and mother who suddenly finds herself on unstable emotional ground.
"Julia traverses Billie's emotional journey in such a nuanced and relatable
way," Faxon says. "Her grounded performance and emotional depth allow us to
witness her myriad reactions - confusion, impatience and resentment - from such
a close and personal perspective. She also has the enviable ability to
communicate so much without really saying a lot. That's fun for a director,
because a reaction can say as much, if not more, than a verbal retort. It's this
restraint that elevates her phenomenal performance."
It was a great gift during editing, when the directors needed a certain look
or facial expression to convey the emotion of a scene.
"There were countless times where we were able to tell the story just because
of her reactions," says Faxon.
In a way, the film is all about Pete and Billie's reactions, both to the
avalanche and the emotional challenges that ensue. For Louis-Dreyfus, it's
Pete's regrettable response and resulting shame that make the story so
"There are no good guys or bad guys in this movie," she says. "Maybe there
are good people making bad decisions, but even then, they're questionable
decisions... Billie ultimately feels a great deal of sympathy for her husband
because she understands the shame he feels for what he has done."
"I hope the audience goes, 'Oh this should be fun, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and
Will Ferrell, this should be funny,'" adds Ferrell. "And then you get to go on
this journey, which is even kind of heartbreaking and a real dramedy."
He characterizes the central quandary of the film as a classic "dinner party
kind of question: What would you do if you were faced with this sort of event?
How would you react?"
"I think we all kind of have the place in our minds where we think we would
do the right thing," Ferrell says. "But in that moment, you never really know."
Zach and Rosie
and Pete and Billie
Providing a foible to both the established relationship and emotional tension
between Billie and Pete are Zach and Rosie, a carefree young couple enjoying a
free-wheeling exploration of Europe that they document online with the hashtag "NoAgenda."
Played by Zach Woods (VEEP, SILICON VALLEY) and ZoĆ« Chao (STRANGERS, LIVING
WITH YOURSELF), the couple ends up in a pivotal role in Billie and Pete's
understanding of the avalanche and its aftermath.
"They're a couple in the euphoric phase of falling in love, where your brain
is just marinating in all those love hormones," Woods says. "You're just so
excited and sort of disinclined to pay attention to the limitations in yourself
or the other person."
Zach works with Pete in real estate, though it's debatable how close their
friendship is. Pete has been following Zach and Rosie's European adventures
online - perhaps with a bit of jealousy and envy - and, unbeknownst to Billie,
invites the couple to drop by their hotel for dinner.
"Pete kind of reels them into their predicament to give him cover," Will
"I think maybe he's using Zach and Rosie as a smokescreen or a way of
blocking the conversation from Billie about what happened during the avalanche,"
The two couples spend an incredibly squirm-worthy evening together, as Zach
and Rosie bear witness to the unbearable tension between Billie and Pete.
Jim Rash explains the dynamic with both couples: "Having Rosie and Zach
observe Billie and Pete's meltdown is a great device; we can feel the cringing
and the awkwardness. It also gives a small nod that these two people, in their
own way, are also headed toward an avalanche if they're not careful, and we get
clues about what Rosie wants and what Zach wants as they have private time with
Billie and Pete respectively. So, it was important to show, again, the theme of
the individual within the whole."
It was among the toughest scenes to shoot, Julia Louis-Dreyfus says.
"It was a 10 or 12-page scene, and we shot it without stopping. We just kept
doing it over and over and over again, like a play," she says. "So, it required
a kind of stamina and concentration that was pretty demanding."
Filming that sequence, incidentally, was a highlight for Rash, who describes
it as "a nice little masterclass."
"In the scene, they're just sort of coming apart as a couple, and watching
those guys and show up with ever-greater vulnerability and intensity take to
take, it was really exciting," Woods adds.
Zach also has private conversations with Pete, as Rosie does with Billie,
where the younger couple provides perspective for the agonized husband and wife.
"Pete and Zach have the relationship that so many men have," Woods says,
"where you go out expecting to have the time of your life and by the end of the
night, you're crying into your Jagermeister."
Adds Ferrell: "Zach is a critical component to Pete's journey."
Rosie and Billie have a poignant exchange when the two women unexpectedly
cross paths the day after their stressful dinner.
"She's almost a stranger to Billie but when they unexpectedly meet on the
same ski lift, Rosie says, 'Hey, what your husband did was messed up and you
have every right to be angry,'" Chao says of her character. "And maybe Julia's
character is able to hear and accept this feedback because Rosie is a stranger.
Rosie is an outsider looking in at a situation and offering an honest, objective
Chao adds that she found Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus, whom she describes as
"titans of comedy," to be a dream to work with.
"It's just really incredible to be in a room witnessing two people who are so
good at what they do just bouncing off each other," Chao says. "And then it's
astonishing that they're as nice and real as they are talented."
Woods, who worked with Louis-Dreyfus on VEEP, was similarly wowed.
"In addition to her incredible comedic and acting talent, I was also sort of
blown away with how she balanced being a producer and being in the moment," he
says. "I think it's really hard to go out and in and out and in, to keep an eye
on the production and the story - all that stuff which the producer needs to do
- and then also be playful and present and generous."
Charlotte and Guglielmo
and Pete and Billie
Two other characters that help Billie gain perspective are Charlotte, a
mysterious and outspoken woman who may or may not work at the hotel where the
couple is staying, and Guglielmo, a handsome and passionate ski instructor with
whom Billie spends an afternoon on the slopes.
"You have these characters that flow into the story of Pete and Billie in the
right time in this moment in their lives where they're figuring out if they can
go down the hill together," says co-director Jim Rash. "Charlotte and Guglielmo
are characters who, especially for Billie, come in at the right time with a
message for her."
Australian actress Miranda Otto (THE LORD OF THE RINGS, HOMELAND) plays
Charlotte, the story's most enigmatic and outrageous character. She is among the
first people Pete and Billie meet when they arrive in Austria, and within
seconds, she's sharing tales of her sexual exploits.
"I think she sees herself as a very charming person, like, 'I am so fun and
people love me, and if they don't love me, I give them something to talk
about,'" Otto says. "She feels she's there to liven up the party and make people
loosen up. She's super confident about herself and doesn't care about anyone
else's opinions at all."
The character was so delicious that Otto gave up a planned work break to play
"I was going to take a few months off, and then when I read the script, I
wanted to do it so much. I love how cleverly observed this character is," Otto
says, adding that she was particularly struck by the contrast between Charlotte
"She has a very black and white kind of stance on things," Otto says of
Charlotte. "It's just totally different than an American point of view."
Rash says the role wasn't easy to cast, but Otto proved perfect.
"It took a while to find the right Charlotte," the co-director says. "She's
definitely a character that has a toe on the ground but is a little
larger-than-life and lives her life differently from every other character that
we meet in the story."
Billie's time with Guglielmo, played by Italian actor Giulio Berruti (MONTE
CARLO, WALKING ON SUNSHINE), is no less impactful.
Berruti describes the character as "a guy that is very passionate about what
he's doing. He doesn't think too much. He just feels a lot."
Guglielmo's passion contrasts with Pete's avoidance, Berruti says, as he
helps Billie understand that sometimes "we might need to feel rather than
Adds Louis-Dreyfus, "I think that Billie's interaction with Guglielmo is a
spontaneous, surprising relief and a tempting distraction from the anxiety and
tension she is experiencing with her husband and her family."
Finn and Emerson
and Billie and Pete
Portraying Billie and Pete's twin sons, Finn and Emerson, are Julian Grey and
Ammon Ford. The two 14-year-olds had never met before working together on
DOWNHILL, but "it's like we're actually brothers at this point," Grey says.
"In another life we were related," Ford says.
"In our past lives for sure," Grey adds.
The young actors even seemed like siblings off-camera, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
"They're roughhousing, they're cracking jokes or pushing each other around.
It's really like they're brothers," she says. "And I have two boys. I raised two
boy children so it's really familiar to me to have that kind of energy around."
The characters the boys play have different feelings about skiing, but in
real life, both love it. Grey was already a skier, but Ford learned just for the
"Skiing is like my passion now," he says.
As with Billie and Pete, the avalanche changes the vibe of the boys'
vacation. Finn and Emerson experience the close call alongside their parents and
are deeply shaken by Pete's reaction.
"They're not just frightened, but confused as to why he would do that," Ford
says. "We thought he was our idol, but then he shows a different side of
himself. And in fact, their father becomes a child to them."
Making the film was a thrill for the two young actors, who spent their days
off skiing together and their time on set trying not to laugh at Will Ferrell's
and Louis-Dreyfus's antics.
"They build off each other's energy and it's really fun to watch," Grey says
of the two stars. "Like halfway through the scenes we can't keep it together and
we're dying in the middle."
Still, Louis-Dreyfus was impressed - both with the boys' performance and
their skiing ability.
"Ammon is a better skier than he portrays his character, Emerson, to be. He
had to sort of dial back his skiing skills by the time we got him on skis
because he took to it really well, and Julian was a very good skier from the
get-go," she says. "They've been just wonderful. They bring a lot to the page
and have a nice, real feel to them. They're very natural actors."
Billie and Pete in Austria
Bringing real authenticity - and its own set of challenges - to DOWNHILL was
its breathtaking setting in the Austrian Alps, where the cast and crew relocated
for the production.
"It was unbelievably exotic," Julia Louis-Dreyfus says. "Short of filming in
the White House, it was the most exotic thing I've ever done in my career. I
moved to Austria for two months and was living in the Alps for the vast majority
of that time. I loved every second of it."
Adds producer Anthony Bregman: "The backdrops and the scenery and the
landscape were so stunning that we worried that people would think that they're
By bringing the production to Austria - during one of the snowiest years on
record - the cast and filmmakers had a similar fish-out-of-water feeling that
Billie and Pete do in the film.
"It certainly brought a complete authenticity to these American characters
being in a different country, because we were," Louis-Dreyfus says.
"Additionally, shooting on a mountain in snow certainly is different than being
on a sound stage."
A great many scenes were shot outside on the slopes, which meant the actors,
directors, camera operators and other crew members got to set by snowcat
(tractor-like vehicles that can scale steep, snowy surfaces).
And because they were filming at an active ski resort that was 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
winter alpine weather.
"We didn't have the luxury of having these really sweet trailers that we
could park on the side of a ski slope, so they would basically just hunker down
and get warm by this crappy little heater that somebody had brought up,"
co-director Faxon says. "Everyone was really game to do what was needed and be
good sports about it."
The trickiest shots to get were those on the gondola and 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
like a NASCAR pit stop."
On a few days, the resort did reserve a run or two just for the film crew,
much to the delight of the skiers on the production team, including Bregman and
"It was definitely a thrill to shoot on a ski mountain," Bregman says. "We'd
ski to set and spend the entire day in ski boots."
"It was one of the best perks of my working experience there," Faxon says. "I
loved having that last ski run at the end of the day."
Skiing on camera was pretty memorable, too, for star Will Ferrell.
"One of the days that I'll never forget filming is we were almost at the end
of the day and our second-unit ski team said, 'You know what, we're just going
to film you guys skiing all the way down the mountain,'" Ferrell recalls. "And
we were just kind of joyously laughing at the fact that here we were in the
middle of a movie being filmed skiing, which will never happen again, for me,
unless I only make ski movies from this point on."
Having the cast and crew together overseas also made for a unifying working
experience, he adds.
"There's something that's really bonding about doing a movie where everyone's
all in the same location," Ferrell says. "We're all staying in the same hotel,
we'd grab dinner at night - all those little intangibles that make you feel that
much closer. That in combination with every day we'd be on the mountain going:
Look at these views. What is going on? People are going to think we CGI'd the
Actor Zach Woods agrees, adding that he hadn't considered himself much of a
mountain guy before making DOWNHILL.
"It was so incredibly beautiful and impossibly exciting that, just like
through sheer force of beauty and magnitude, it turned me into a mountain
person," he says.
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," Faxon says. "So, 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."
Adds Louis-Dreyfus: "I think our line producer had on her phone every single
weather app known to mankind... And we all owe a debt of gratitude to this crew,
who was not only nimble, but enthusiastically so. I think everybody was kind of
jazzed to be where we were, the circumstances of being surrounded by these
beautiful, glorious Alps in this unusual country with incredible culture."
Producing a feature film overseas - another first for Louis-Dreyfus - was a
"I'd never produced anything that was sort of joyfully arduous as this
project," she says. "It took a long time to bring it to fruition. And then once
we were there, it was really challenging to get it done.
Setting the Scene for Disaster: Music, Design and Costumes
From the start of DOWNHILL, there's a sense of foreboding, even before the
Stantons come face to face with an avalanche.
That feeling of uncertainty comes from a combination of camerawork, the sight
of avalanche-blast cannons on the mountainside and the film's doom-heralding
"We knew the presence of music would be important," says co-director Jim
Rash. "So with our composer, we literally wanted to create the presence of
Austria, and that came through yodeling. Yodeling is inherently funny, but he
suggested there are modern ways that people are using it differently."
Here, the refrain of yodels provides a kind of siren call of danger ahead.
"I thought it would be nice to have a local color in the film music without
getting too cliche or too traditional," says composer Volker Bertelmann, who has
been skiing in the Alps since he was a young child. "I had the feeling that we
could use traditional instruments, vocals and the tonality of the yodeling
music, which has, by the way, a lot in common with blues."
Bertelmann created an eerie effect by blending notes and looping
"Traditional yodeling is usually faster," he says. "I took elements like
(blending pitches) and the way the vocals are sung to create a connection to the
Alps and a kind of unique interpretation."
The challenge was to combine humor, melancholy and a distinct regional feel
in the music without muddling the composition, the composer says. "Such
difficulties can be inspirational because you're doing something you wouldn't do
Sonic warnings also come from avalanche cannons scattered throughout the
peaks. Though they appear ominous, they're designed to blast away accumulated
snow, creating intentional slides on empty slopes to diminish the risk of
spontaneous avalanches on active ski runs.
Creating the avalanche that changes the trajectory of Billie and Pete's
relationship took several days of shooting, snow cannons that pelted the cast
with icy pellets and a touch of CGI.
"Anytime you see an actual avalanche on the mountain, that whole mountain
range is changed and replaced from the one that was there," Rash says.
But the "snow shrapnel" hitting the actors was real: performers were pummeled
with snow and ice as they filmed the scene, which added to the drama, not to
mention the cold.
"A ton of snow was being shot at us from some sort of cannon," Julia
Louis-Dreyfus says. "I didn't quite see the contraption, but it was a huge,
blowing thing of ice and snow and so on. So we were putting our heads down. It
was pretty intense, actually. It was pretty demanding."
Further compounding the intensity and sense of danger were real, uncontrolled
snow slides happening throughout the alps. With record snowfall that year,
avalanches were wreaking havoc across the area where the film was shooting.
"We saw videos of avalanches that happened while we were there," Rash says.
"We would be driving to scout a shoot and see these large swaths on the sides of
mountains where the snow had slid off, so that makes it terrifying."
Actor Zach Woods confesses feeling "acute anxiety" when hearing about the
avalanches in nearby mountain ranges.
"There were avalanches happening all the time," he says. "I had thought this
was just, you know, a dramatic device. But then when we got there, we kept
hearing about casualties due to avalanches."
Louis-Dreyfus, too, found herself beset with real-life anxiety in the days
after enduring snow cannons and a made-for-the-movie avalanche.
"I was actually skiing on a day off, and it was underneath where we had shot
the avalanche scene. I looked up and saw that and said to myself, 'I've got to
get off this mountain,'" she says.
For Will Ferrell, though, being in avalanche country enhanced the drama of
the story and the overall filmmaking experience.
"It added a whole other layer of, oh gosh, this scenario that kicks off the
emotional journey for this family is actually something that is happening 30
miles down the road," he says. "All of those elements added poignancy that you
couldn't help but feel. I think it added to the film immeasurably."
The production team had professional help in securing the safest and most scenic
areas in what Austrian locations manager Johannes Kock describes as "the wild
West of Austria."
"This is a pure alpine landscape," he says. "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."
He adds that, for locals, the sound of avalanche cannons is actually a
"It doesn't make anybody afraid," he says. "On the contrary, hearing the
avalanches coming down gives us a good feeling, like, 'OK, the slopes are ready
Even when Billie and Pete are safe from avalanche danger, they're still
surrounded by a cold and snowy landscape. The filmmakers relied on a palette of
whites for many costumes and interior scenes.
For example, Charlotte dresses almost entirely in white, from her fur-trimmed
ski suit to her glamorous casual wear. The color plays into other characters'
clothes, too, notes costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager.
"There's a scene with Billie and Pete, sort of a pivotal scene in the
hallway, and Billie's wearing this white scarf," Felix-Hager says. "My intention
there was to show this impending avalanche of feelings was sort of choking her,
to put it bluntly."
There were also unseen costume challenges, as Felix-Hager devised sneaky ways
to warm up the actors while filming outside.
"I don't think any of us really anticipated how cold it was going to be on
the mountain," she says. "The thing that seemed to bring the cast the most
comfort and the most warmth was a good old-fashioned hot water bottle, which we
had dozens of that we shoved in every place you could put inside a costume to
keep the actors warm."
Felix-Hager worked closely with production designer David Warren to create
the crisp look of the film, as he carried the snowy theme into the Stantons'
"Another little signature was putting the cast in a white environment even
when they're inside. We've done that with the apartment with the sofa, chair and
carpet," he says. "That was really to put Julia, playing the part of Billie, in
the snow even though she's actually in a physical interior. It's this thing
again of being trapped in a blind environment where you haven't got depth
perception and those kinds of things. It's just white all around her, so even
when she's inside, she's still in the snow."
Beyond the starkness of white, Warren's team leaned on a muted palette for
Billie and Pete - both in their ski wear and the dark grays and blues that round
out their apartment - as a way of expressing the mood of their trip. While the
locals take to the slopes in bright, flashy outfits, the Stantons' look is a
little less lively.
"The point is that even within the sphere of wonderful enjoyment, the Stanton
family seems to be this slightly neutral-toned whole," Warren says, "because
maybe they're not enjoying the holiday as much as everybody else is, and that's
significant for us."
The design concept aims to keep Billie and Pete in the eye of the storm, no
matter where they are.
"The theme is that Billie and Pete are still trying to weather this large
avalanche," concludes Rash. "Multiple things happen along the way, but it really
is about two people spiraling and trying to figure out how they can navigate
their way back to each other."
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