Steven Spielberg brings Hollywood to the Bernese Oberland

Location manager, Stefan Zürcher, checks out the actors' wardrobe. Unicorn Media

The Bernese Oberland is benefiting from the success of the Hollywood blockbuster film, "Saving Private Ryan". A television mini-series, based on the movie, is being shot in the region, providing a boost to the local economy.

This content was published on September 9, 2000 minutes

The series, called "Band of Brothers", is partly set in Bavaria during the Second World War and continues the story begun in "Saving Private Ryan". The reason it's being shot in Switzerland is because the Bernese Oberland was thought to resemble more closely the Bavaria and Obersalzburg of the 1940s than do the actual places today.

The series is being produced by Steven Spielberg's film company, Dreamworks. The company's Swiss producer, Leonard Gmür, says he convinced Dreamworks to choose the Bernese Oberland.

"It's in our interest obviously to bring productions to Switzerland. Not a lot of money is being invested, but because we're bringing so many people here we need much in the way of logistics - we need transport and hotels, we need food supplies, we need extras."

Gmür's production company, Unicorn Media, had to organise accommodation for the 200-strong film crew for at least two weeks. Around 25 Swiss are working in the production, and that does not include the 300 extras, who have been hired, for the most part, to play American soldiers.

"Within a shooting period of about 10 days we have a turnover of something like SFr3 million ($1.74 million)," Gmür adds. "That's about half the budget of a Swiss film production, and it's spent locally. It is in our interest to make Switzerland attractive; we have competitive prices, and we have the co-operation of the local authorities."

The total budget for the 10-part mini-series is $100 million, which sparked rumours that cost was no object in turning back the clock to wartime Europe. The Swiss media had a field day when it heard that Dreamworks had wanted to darken the freshly painted town hall in the village of Unterseen.

Gmür is fed up with the rumours. "We simply asked how much it would cost to repaint the town hall in Unterseen. In our job, we have to have the answers. If a director asks me 'can you paint that?' I say, 'yes, I can paint that' for so and so much, and then the producer tells me if that's acceptable or not. It wasn't acceptable in this case."

The mayor of Unterseen, Hans Schutz, said it would cost as much as SFr100,000 to alter the town hall. The village beside the resort of Interlaken is one of the main stages for the film shoot. Schutz says about a third of the money invested in the Swiss part of the production is being spent in Unterseen.

"Local people are being employed, and the film company is covering all the expenses," Schutz says. "People have been staying at hotels here since April, and they're spending lots of money."

A few scenes are also being shot at the Grand Hotel Giessbach, which was built on the shores of Lake Brienz in the 19th century. A handful of films are made there every year but, according to assistant manager, Thomas Lüthy, there's little financial incentive for the hotel.

"They're only compensating us for what we would have made if we didn't have to close the terrace, for example. It's free publicity; nothing more. This house doesn't exist to make a lot of money."

The Swiss location manager, Stefan Zürcher, feels his expertise, and that of Gmür's company will make it possible to attract more film productions to Switzerland. Zürcher began his career in the industry as a stuntman, and as such, is used to doing the extraordinary to please his employers.

"I know from many international productions I've worked on what [filmmakers] want, and that's probably why I'm here," Zürcher says. "I meet their demands and they're very happy with what we've provided them."

by Dale Bechtel

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