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Filming inside an airplane

Read in: Deutsch

Shooting a movie scene inside an airplane sounds both easy and exciting. But with room to move very limited, an aircraft cabin can prove to be a real challenge when it comes to positioning film equipment. For an aircraft scene in the feature-length movie DER GROSSE SOMMER we were permitted to observe director Stefan Jäger and producer Katrin Renz of tellfilm GmbH and their team and report on SWISS’s involvement in the shoot.

From time to time, filmmakers and photographers approach us with a request to shoot scenes or take pictures in and around our aircraft. These ideas are feasible as long as the concept is compatible with the SWISS brand strategy and Marcel Benz, Head of Brand Development, is able to make the resources available. But given the complexity that movie-making generates, the job of preparing an aircraft for a supposedly “fun assignment” takes some doing. Rebekka Hofstetter of our Global Marketing team has handled numerous such assignments. With her customary efficiency, Rebekka worked together with the Flight Planning and Flight Dispatch team to reserve an aircraft for early November on behalf of director Stefan Jäger and producer Katrin Renz of tellfilm GmbH. But there is never a guarantee when it comes to having an aircraft ready and available for a film crew’s benefit. If the aircraft is required for flight operations because another member of the fleet is out of service, plans have to be altered or another date found. Flight safety and flight operations always take priority.

Once the aircraft has been secured, specialists are needed to access it and perform various operations. This is where our mechanics from Line Maintenance come in. They know how to respond on the spot to the basic requests of a film crew. For example, how is the rear light switched on? How can the air conditioning be activated for a brief period to provide some fresh air? Where is the power socket for the camera lights, which require a specific wattage? The ability to handle the numerous switches in an airplane cockpit requires years of training, regular refresher courses and licensing. Daniel Frank, Production Manager at SWISS Line Maintenance, reserved this particular day in his own calendar.

Food and beverage catering is another requirements, which Rebekka arranged through Gate Gourmet, SWISS’s own caterer. Obtaining the necessary permits and visitor badges for people to access the airside zone of Zurich Airport is another task in the process. These are issued by the Zurich Airport Authority. When these technicalities have been taken care off, the movie-making can begin

The big day arrived at the beginning of November. Very early one morning the aircraft was occupied by film producer Katrin Renz, director Stefan Jäger, their crew and cast members. The part of Anton Sommer, a former sumo wrestler, is played by Mathias Gnädinger, a well-known Swiss actor, whose credits include “Downfall” and “The Boat is Full”. His career is ended by a tragic incident that robs of him his zest for life. His descent into misery is disrupted by 10-year-old Hiro, played by Loïc Sho Güntensperger. The youngster lives with his grandmother, who just happens to be Sommer’s landlady. When the grandmother dies, Sommer reluctantly agrees to look after the boy, who senses an opportunity: namely that the former sumo wrestler will accompany him to Japan, the country of his birth, where he hopes to become a famous sumo wrestler himself. Hiro sets about cajoling grumpy Sommer into making the journey. They eventually set off for Japan, with a few surprises in store along the way for Sommer. A great friendship develops and bridge-building between the two cultures takes place, an appropriate outcome given that this year marks the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Switzerland.

The inflight scenes of the characters en route to Japan are filmed in SWISS Economy. The film crew is busy setting up equipment, manoeuvring the big lights, heavy cameras with tripods and the reflectors into position. The challenge is heightened by the shortage of available space. As usual in the filmmaking business, there is considerable waiting involved. Fortunately, in this aircraft today we can sit wherever we wish, so I make myself comfortable in Business Class alongside a couple of extras of Japanese ancestry.

And suddenly things get going. “And Action!“ shouts director Stefan Jäger. “Armed” with a set of headphones, he studies the monitor intently. On screen at this moment Mathias and Loïc sit side by side and play their parts expertly as the action is captured by the camera operated by Knut Schmitz, assisted by his Japanese 1st AC Tetsuhiro Kato. Next to Stefan stands Reto Stamm, also wearing headphones, calmly manipulating the boom microphone. Cameras and lights are repeatedly heaved over the seats and adjusted. The lights give off intense heat. Daniel Frank is called in to activate the air conditioning for a few minutes. Such intense activity is tiring. It’s necessary to take a break from time to time. Stefan takes advantage of the pause to see how much film experience Loïc has absorbed during their week together. “What does ‘It’s a wrap’ mean?“ asks Stefan. Loïc answers promptly: “Filming is complete.“

Next up is an exterior shot. The film crew is supplied with scaffolding and a ladder. For the authentic flight scenes, ambient sound is recorded. Cabin crew member Katrin Laasner walks down the aisle with a trolley and, on command, serves drinks to the extras. Stefan shouts “Roll sound … and, action!” The final scenes will be “in the can” by the end of the day. We look forward to the film’s premiere with great anticipation.

DER GROSSE SOMMER is distributed by Impuls Pictures AG and will be screened in cinemas across Switzerland in the autumn of 2015. The script was a collaborative effort by Theo Plakoudakis and Marco Salituro. Other actors appearing in the film are Sonja Riesen, Reto Stalder and Jonathan Loosli.

For further information about the movie: http://tellfilm.ch/