There was only one small problem that faced the filmmakers of Fox Searchlight’s dark comedy Downhill, which shot in Austria’s Tyrolean Alps in early 2019 — the scenery is so stunning “people might think it’s CGI because it’s so beautiful”, says Jo Homewood, the Ireland-based line producer of the production.
Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Downhill is a remake of Ruben Ostlund’s 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure and stars Will Ferrell and Julia-Louis Dreyfus as parents of two children reassessing their relationship after an avalanche hits the ski resort where the family is on holiday.
But that beauty is a good problem to have. “Everyone on the crew said it was one of the most enjoyable shoots they had in a long time,” says Homewood. “Watching the sun rise over the Alps for the 20th time doesn’t ever get boring.”
Downhill was produced by Anthony Bregman, Dreyfus and Stefanie Azpiazu. The team chose Austria due to its stunning locations and the 25% cash rebate on a project’s qualifying spend. Individual projects can access up to 15% of the rebate’s annual total of $8.3m (€7.5m) but Downhill was able to secure slightly more than that ($1.4m) as it was shot entirely in Austria. Regional fund Cine Tirol also contributed to the film.
Homewood praises the national film commission, Location Austria and its director Arie Bohrer, as being “incredible” to work with and mentions the dependable English-speaking crews, who are mostly based in Vienna. About 60% of the crew were Austrian and 40% US/international.
The challenges when working in Austria can be the high costs as well as the need to navigate local employment laws, according to Homewood. Hiring local production service company Filmhaus was crucial. “They have a very strong accountant in-house,” says Homewood of the company. “You need someone who understands the Austrian tax system and employment laws, that can be very paperwork heavy.”
The Downhill filmmakers had first explored the idea of shooting in France, Italy or somewhere more affordable such as British Columbia. But they wanted a realistic backdrop for a story about Americans abroad in Europe. Plus, Homewood adds: “If we shot in Canada, we’d have to spend a lot of money to make it look like Europe. With Austria, Tyrol had so many stunning options.” (Ostlund shot the majority of his original film in Les Arcs, France, and filmed an avalanche in British Columbia.)
The Downhill team settled on about three weeks at Ischgl, where most of the slopes work was done, three weeks at Fiss and then nearly two weeks in Vienna, where they built a hotel set in the former Rosenhügel studios of Wien Film.
The team had initially hoped to shoot on “shoulder season” for the ski resorts, but that did not work with cast availability. So the film shot during the peak season of January and February of this year.
The resorts were very accommodating while also respecting their usual paying customers — for example Ischgl created some new pistes for the film, so production could work safely away from holidaymakers. But a shoot during high season meant expensive accommodation for 160 people as the Vienna-based crew members also had to be housed in addition to the international cast and crew. “Everybody knew from the start that accommodation and travel was going to be expensive,” says Homewood. “Still, we could shoot with the locations as they were, so, for example, the art department wasn’t a huge part of the budget.”
Homewood says the locals were particularly strong in departments such as camera, costumes, set decoration, electricals and locations. But it was harder to find production office crew — they do exist in Austria but many are working on longer-term TV projects. Equipment rental was easy through Arri in Vienna.
Past shoots in Austria include 2015’s Spectre and Mission: Impossible 5 — Rogue Nation and 2016’s Eddie The Eagle. Overall, Homewood says, “Shooting in Austria is expensive. But the locations are stupendous. We got a huge amount of value on screen.”
Homepage image of Downhill set shot. Credit: Jaap Buitendijk