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About The Filmmaking

Filmmaking in such extreme conditions called for extraordinary safety measures and the knowledge of specialists. Producer Lloyd Phillips devised a safety structure consisting of four departments: mountain rigging, mountain safety, aerial safety and talent safety.

Mountain rigging prepared all the mountain locations, maximizing options for camera positions and camera movement while minimizing risk for the crew and cast. Mountain safety monitored and assessed weather conditions on the mountain and ensured the safe operation of the set. The aerial department was responsible for the helicopters working on the film, ensuring safe flying, loading and unloading.

Talent safety looked after the actors: training and preparing them for work on the mountain, as well as advising the actors and the director on correct climbing procedure to be portrayed on screen. Working at altitude involves dangers beyond falling rocks and yawning precipices, and Vertical Limit, both in telling the story and in producing the film, addressed these dangers.

Climbing too fast at high altitudes does not allow the human body to adjust or acclimatize, and this lack of physical adjustment can lead to a series of symptoms referred to as altitude sickness. Among the symptoms of altitude sickness, which is suffered by several characters in the film, is a continuous dry cough, shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, confusion and fatigue. A watery swelling of the lungs (known as "pulmonary edema") and even the brain tissues ("cerebral edema") can occur, leading to cardiac arrest and death. The film refers to more people dying on the mountain from edema than from falls.

Dexamethasone (or "Dex," as it is referred to by climbers) by injection can temporarily treat altitude sickness until the sufferer can reach a lower altitude. In Vertical Limit, a race against time makes "Dex" a valuable commodity that could mean the difference between life and death for Tom, Annie and Elliot.

In keeping with its commitment to operate safely and authentically on the mountain, the production hired several of the world's pre-eminent climbers, including Canadian Barry Blanchard and New Zealanders Guy Cotter, Kim Logan and Mark Whetu. Altogether, around 50 climbers were involved with the film, including climbing doubles for the lead actors.

The actors went through a one-month training period with the climbers in the talent safety department, headed by Blanchard, whose film work includes Cliffhanger, K2 and The Edge. The goal of the training was to familiarize the actors with the equipment and help them to play their characters confidently and convincingly, especially in the real mountain locations. It also turned out to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the project for many of the actors.

"Mountain climbing was something I hadn't done, and it was a great experience to go to New Zealand and be paid to learn how to climb," says Chris O'Donnell.

Robin Tunney was also an enthusiastic student. "We were trained by these incredibly famous climbers. I can't believe the things I've done. I'm proud of myself."

"The only climbing I had ever done before this movie was a three-foot step ladder," jokes Scott Glenn. "I was told ahead of time that all the actors had to be fit and not afraid of heights, and that we would be training with some of the best climbers in the world. That was exciting. This was the most fun I ever had on a movie.

Glenn became passionate about ice climbing and devoted much of his spare time to new ice challenges. "Ice climbing is a glorious, transcendental experience. It completely erases the past and the future because, when you're climbing, all you can think about is the present. It was really exciting to go climbing with these incredible, world-class ice clim

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