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From James Bond to Band of Brothers

Leonhard Gmür stands on his great find, the Verzasca Dam (SFDRS) swissinfo video/SFDRS

Location scout Leonhard Gmür helps production teams find the best places for filming in Switzerland and has worked on several James Bond films.

Gmür suggested the Verzasca dam for Pierce Brosnan’s death-defying leap at the beginning of GoldenEye. He has also worked on Steven Spielberg’s Band of Brothers series.

Gmür, 63, has been in the film business for more than 30 years and is well known for his location scout work both in Switzerland and abroad.

The former journalist and photographer from Lucerne says an all-round appreciation of the filming process is a great asset to his work.

“A location scout’s job involves a certain creativity,” he told swissinfo. “It requires a vision of how the director sees his film and also needs an awareness of filmmaking to find out if the location is feasible or not.”

This includes considering whether the film crew can access the site as well as cost factors.

Although he wouldn’t describe himself as the “Mr Switzerland” for film locations, Gmür does have “quite a knowledge of places that other people may not have”.

This came in particularly handy for his work on five Bond films – an association that goes back more than 25 years.

Death-defying leap

One of his greatest successes has been the Verzasca dam, near Locarno in Italian-speaking Switzerland. The site was used for the spectacular opening sequence of GoldenEye, in which Bond bungee-jumps some 220 metres.

“I have a bet with Pierce Brosnan – he hasn’t jumped as he had a double, a very good stuntman, who set a world record with his jump in the film,” said Gmür.

“The bet was if Pierce jumps, I’d jump, but he hasn’t yet to the best of my knowledge,” he admitted.

Another success was working on Band of Brothers, a Second World War television drama which was produced by director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks. The series, which was shown all over the world, cost $120 million (SFr150 million), making it one of the most expensive TV dramas ever produced.

The production team called Gmür to find out where to shoot the end of the Second World War.

“They wanted a little town near a lake and the mountains, so I said why don’t you go to [the Bernese Oberland town of] Interlaken,” said Gmür.

“So we shot all of the Austria and Germany end-of-war scenes in [neutral] Switzerland, which was a little bit of a paradox,” he said.

Long process

Finding locations is quite a long process. After Gmür receives the script, he checks his library of stills which he keeps in his office at his home in Lugano. He must also do research and check the location for its suitability.

Gmür says there is no “ultimate” location and that locations are always a function of the script. However, a dream location would allow a director to shoot several different scenes in one place.

Switzerland offers a wide variety of places for films and commercials as it has Mediterranean-style and alpine locations, as well as deserted high-altitude sites that could pass for countries like Afghanistan.

But the country does suffer from an expensive reputation among filmmakers. Added to this, says Gmür, is the fact that often there is not enough encouragement given to productions to come to the country.

“The Verzasca dam only became famous thanks to GoldenEye. Some people in tourism don’t always understand what effects films can have and how it would be good to promote Switzerland much more,” he said.

“The jump is one of the top Bond stunts ever done, and people talk about that. Some may come and visit the region, maybe not millions but thousands, and that is better than nobody,” said Gmür.

Big business

Filmmaking is also big business. “We could sell Switzerland much better if the film and tourism industry sat down together and thought how we could promote Switzerland and get money into Switzerland.”

But these difficulties have not dampened Gmür’s enthusiasm for the job. Although now semi-retired, he has recently been working on some Swiss films. He is keeping quiet on any involvement in big international pictures.

However, Gmür is still pleased to work in an industry which “keeps him alive and awake”.

“I’ve enjoyed my work. It’s still a pleasure and that’s what it should be – aside from being tough work, it still should be a pleasure.”

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Leonhard Gmür’s Swiss successes:
1982: Five Days One Summer, directed by Fred Zinnemann
1985: A View to a Kill – alpine scenes
1994: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – alpine scenes
1995: GoldenEye – bungee jump at Verzasca Dam
2001: Band of Brothers – TV series produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks – Swiss production management

Leonhard Gmür started location work in the early 1970s while working as an assistant to Austrian-born actor and director Maximilian Schell.

He has been involved in finding locations for Bond films for more than 25 years. He has also found locations abroad from Mongolia to Canada.

Gmür is a member of Film Location Switzerland, which promotes Switzerland as a filmmaking site.

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