Having picked up the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008 with The Counterfeiters, Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky now returns with his first ever Hollywood production, assembling an all-star cast for his crime thriller Deadfall.
Starring the likes of Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde, Ruzowitzky discusses his pride at directing such talented performers, while discussing the latter’s rather uncomfortable first day of shooting. He also speaks about the challenges posed given the weather conditions and relatively low-budget, as well his own Hollywood future.
Deadfall marks writer Zach Dean’s first ever screenplay, how did you come to be involved in the project?
I got it in the normal way, from my American agent and I liked this mix of horror and drama elements, and I think what we succeeded in was that during the whole script development process, not to lose the edginess of the script and it still is edgy, and it’s not generic and it has stuff that is different what you usually get to see in the movies.
The setting is really important to this film, and the audience feel really cold which adds to the tense atmosphere. How do you go about achieving that? Because that can’t be in the script.
Thanks, and yeah it’s not that difficult because we did feel genuinely cold, it was incredibly cold when we were shooting so you don’t need a lot of imagination to feel cold. I think it’s helped most by Olivia Wilde in particular, because she had a hard time. The guys can always hide by wearing long-johns, or extra underwear, but Olivia was wearing a sequinned miniskirt and she felt she couldn’t hide anything. Her first shooting day happened to be her birthday and afterwards she said “I’ve never been that cold in my entire life”.
Did you have to persuade her to come back for the second day?
Yeah. I mean, when you shoot you repeat stuff, it’s not like she goes out there, delivers her lines and that’s it – she had to do it again and again, and between each time somebody was waiting for her with a warm jacket and blankets, but still it’s freezing and she is almost naked because that miniskirt is not really something to keep you warm.
Did the weather conditions pose any challenges to the shoot?
Yes, in a way. Creating these snow storms and blizzards, this is something that is really unpleasant, they are very loud and artificial snow is made from yeast for ecological reasons and that stuff is sticky and it’s just unpleasant conditions, yet still you have to try and be focused all the time and even though you may hate it because it’s cold and loud, you still have to say “No. Let’s do it once again, because I know we can do it better” and that is actually the real problem behind it.
Talking of other challenges, it’s an incredible achievement given the relatively low-budget, did you have to make any compromises due to the money?
Of course the ambition is not to show your limited resources, and not to say “let’s forget about the snowmobile chase because it’s too expensive” – but the problem you have is that you just don’t have the time or budget to make mistakes, you can’t say “well, let’s do it again tomorrow”, we didn’t have money for reshoots, which is the common thing, that two months after the principle photography you’re doing the reshoots for stuff that didn’t work. So the problem with a limited budget is that you can’t make any mistakes, which is hard enough. We proved that you can do it in 34 days, but I would have liked to have the luxury of making mistakes.
But you were really fortunate to have such a good cast – you must have been thrilled to have the likes of Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde on board?
Yes, that was a great experience, and shooting that final thanksgiving dinner sequence was really great, I mean, you’re in one room with Sissy Spacek, Kriss Kristofferson, Treat Williams, Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde and Charlie Hunnam – and you’re the guy to direct them. It sure makes you very proud.
At the heart of this tale is a brother and sister relationship – is that something that attracted you to the film? That there is this intimate tale amidst the big thriller surroundings?
Yeah, thriller surroundings and it’s what I always like. If you’re not interested in the drama stuff you still have the thriller, chase sequences, the blood and violence, and yet if you’re ready for it, it’s also an interesting drama with interesting characters and I think we got this great cast because these characters and the script is that interesting and complex and multilayered.
Because this is your first film in the English language since All the Queen’s Men in 2001 – so why the return now? Were you just waiting for the right script to come along?
Yeah, but I mean All the Queen’s Men was not an international film, it wasn’t a Hollywood production, we shot it in Hungary and Austria. Whereas this was by all standards a regular Hollywood movie, so this definitely was an interesting thing. The big differences between making a Hollywood movie and making movies in Germany and Austria, is mainly the whole process and how a movie comes together. Here it is much more civilised and you get your public funding and the support of public TV and you can plan it for the next year, unlike an independently financed movie like Deadfall.
You still live in Austria, but do you have any plans to one day move to Hollywood?
It’s an option, why not? But I’ve got a family with two teenage daughters, so it’s not a decision to make easily, as a director. I think it is a different thing when you’re an actor because you have to be in LA to meet directors and to constantly go castings, but as a director you can do a lot with Skype conferences and travelling in once in a way. I was in LA last year in November and I think that’s enough, but if I ever have a big career in LA then of course it’s an option to move that.
So finally, you’re to be involved in Caught Stealing with Alec Baldwin, how is that coming along?
There is some truth in that, but one has to say that there are a couple of projects I am working on and trying to get cast and money, but you never know which of these projects are going to make it, and whether some films it’s strategically better to run a press release, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this project is more likely to happen than others. I mean it’s true, and the project with Alec does exist, but you have to interpret it in the right way, and I have no idea how soon it may happen or how big it is going to be and all these things.