Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky is best known for his movies Anatomy and Anatomy 2, and he won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for The Counterfeiters. His latest directorial effort is Deadfall, a crime drama which stars Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde as brother and sister who have robbed a casino and are now on the run. The movie has earned high marks for its beautiful cinematography, courtesy of Shane Hurlbut which captures the snowy landscapes of Canada like few others have before, and Bana delivers a terrifying performance as a man determined to make it across the border at any cost.
Throughout Deadfall’s 95 minute running time, Ruzowitzky maintains a high level of intensity right up to the movie’s violent conclusion. Recently, I got the opportunity to speak with him one on one when Magnolia Pictures held a press conference for the film at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. He spoke about the cinematography, his shooting schedule, filming in the cold weather and more.
Check it out below.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS INTERVIEW DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS.
We Got This Covered: I understand that the movie had a couple of titles under consideration before everyone decided on Deadfall. What made you decide to go with Deadfall instead of the other choices?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: Initially it was Kin which I liked. When I read it and shot it for the first time it was Kin, but it was world sales who said “Kin is difficult for non-English speaking territories to understand and we’ve got to change it.” In Germany it’s Cold Blood, in France it’s Blackbird and out here it’s Deadfall. I’m still sentimental about Kin because I think it made sense.
We Got This Covered: The cinematography by Shane Hurlbut is incredible to look at. You feel that cold weather coming out at you from the screen. What made you choose Shane as the director of photography?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: We were lucky with Shane because I didn’t know him before. What I love about him is that while on set he is as enthusiastic and energized as I am. We were really like two children allowed to play with our favorite toys. What I also like about him is that he’s always ready to try something new and be experimental in a way which is helpful.
What I hadn’t been aware of was how all these snow landscapes have a very graphic quality that work well with very wide shots. You could never do that in an urban environment because it’s just too busy visually.
I found a photographer called Todd Hido who did some very interesting photos about snow landscapes and houses in the snow, and that was our visual reference. With his photos he’s working a lot with fluorescent lights and they turn the snow into something colorful. That became a visual guideline for us.
We Got This Covered: I read that this movie’s budget was $12 million dollars. What was the shooting schedule like and did the low budget affect the way you made the movie?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: Yes, it affected first and foremost the number of shooting days we had, and I think finally we had 34 which is really not much given that we have some action sequences. But I think what we achieved is to make good use of the money we had, and you don’t feel that it looks poor. What we did I think we did in a proper way and with high quality standards, but yeah it was a limited budget.
We Got This Covered: Eric Bana is very effective in this movie as he is at times funny and other times really scary. What made you want to work with him on this
Stefan Ruzowitzky: Eric’s a very intelligent actor which is always great to have. He has this comic talent which most people don’t know about. He’s not funny like those funny people who keep joking all the time, that’s not what he’s doing. I’ve had dinner with him a couple of times and if he decides to be funny then he’s really funny. That’s a quality which really helps with this character, and Bana also has this elegance which I like. I was looking for somebody who people can sympathize with because he (Addison, the character Bana plays in Deadfall) is not a “bad villain.” Yes he is a psycho and a killer but he does it all with style and elegance, and he is a damaged soul at the end of the day. He’s not somebody who enjoys the kill or harming people, so I was looking for someone people would like and sympathize with.
We Got This Covered: One of my favorite moments in Deadfall is when Bana’s character strikes up a friendly conversation with the daughter of the abused woman. That was something I did not expect to see in a movie like this. How did that scene come about for you?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: In the script development process you are streamlining a script to an extent that it’s losing all its uniqueness and personality, and then it’s only clichés and standard situations that you have seen many times. But I think we were able to keep that edginess and things you don’t expect to happen which are so out of the ordinary like the scene with the child. So I take credit for that in a way.
We Got This Covered: Another scene which stands out is when Jay (Charlie Hunnam) meets Liza (Olivia Wilde) for the first time, and I read that she was only wearing a miniskirt while standing there in the freezing cold. How did you go about shooting that scene and how long did Olivia stay out in the cold dressed like that?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: At the end of the day shooting a movie is repeating scenes again and again, and of course there’s somebody there with a warm jacket for her when I say “cut.” But still she is spending some time in the cold, and with this miniskirt you can’t hide anything. It was much easier for the guys because they had long johns on underneath their trousers, but she didn’t have the chance so physically it was challenging for her, there’s no doubt about it.
To a certain extent I think actors like the physical challenge (of a role) and it also helps them in a way, and to suffer a bit to get the emotion is fine. You just have to take care that it’s not getting to be too much. You don’t want your star to get sick on the first day of shooting.
We Got This Covered: Charlie Hunnam is best known for his work on the TV show Sons of Anarchy, but many still don’t know of him outside of it. What made you want to cast him in the role of Jay?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: He was recommended to us by our casting director, and he could relate to the part because of the boxing. He really wanted to do it which is always great because then you have an actor who you don’t have to persuade or talk into doing it. We felt that that enthusiasm is always great to have because it’s a good start for our cooperation.
We Got This Covered: The ending of the movie is interesting because the fates of certain characters are left up in the air. Was it your attention to end the movie that way?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: I have to admit that there was another ending and we shot it, and there was an additional two minutes with everybody hugging and all those loose ends being solved. But then we found out that it is much more powerful to let it end when it is really intense and with our most powerful scene. We did tell to some degree that this former boxing manager (from the beginning of the movie) is not dead, but as soon as you start to explain about what’s going to happen with Liza in how she didn’t do anything but that she should have called the police then it becomes all complicated and boring. Emotionally what’s important is that she overcame this relationship (with Addison) in a very radical way because it wasn’t possible in any other way. As for all the legal problems which might come up, who wants to know?
We Got This Covered: That makes perfect sense. The whole point at the end is that Liza has freed herself of Addison which is important. If she had not then they both would have ended up dead eventually.
Stefan Ruzowitzky: Yes. And again this ending we had was such a lot of explaining. When you start to explain a little bit then… We’re pretty sure that it’s better this way.
That concludes the interview but we’d like to thank Stefan for talking with us. Be sure to check out Deadfall, in theatres December 7th.