Full steam ahead through Graubünden
Stuls station. A quiet little place between Filisur and Bergün. It's been some time since trains stopped here. Occasionally a few hikers go by. A perfect idyll in the Graubünden mountains. Under normal circumstances. But not on 8 September 2014.
But let me start from the beginning: months beforehand, RhB had received an inquiry about filming there. There was to be a new film version of Heidi, the world-famous story by Johanna Spyri. They were looking for a historic train with a steam engine. And a suitable place for Heidi to board the train and travel off on it.
Sounded feasible. And where else should filming take place but in Graubünden with the help of RhB?
People started clarifying the details. The composition of the special train and the shooting location were determined. And the date for filming was also decided. And then there were the minor details to be sorted. And that was when it started to get difficult:
The historic coaches had to be made to look older than they actually were before filming could start. The steam engine could not actually produce steam during filming. The locations had to be transposed back to a former time. And anyone familiar with Stuls station rightly asked themselves why this was actually necessary. But the devil is in the detail. Particularly with the overhead contact lines.
Because when Heidi ‘was alive’, there was no such thing as overhead contact lines. So naturally movie makers could not allow them to be seen in the film. So in Stuls, all the contact line masts that might have appeared in the film were clad with wood. That made the retouching work on the computer later much easier. And that is exactly why the steam engine could not hiss and smoke during filming. Because greater quantities of steam would have made the subsequent removal of the overhead contact lines on the computer more expensive. Adding the steam later on the computer was a much cheaper alternative. So at this point I have to disappoint everybody who thought the steam in the film was genuine. It definitely wasn't.
But now I want to talk about the actual shooting. It was a Sunday evening when the film team dressers came to the workshops in Landquart. The steam engine was already being heated up, the historic coaches were already standing in the right formation. The dressers started working. With a patina, an artificial surface, on one side, the historic rolling stock was made to look older than it actually is. It took them until just before five in the morning to get everything finished. Then this special train started its journey towards Stuls. The day's filming began.
There was a lot of excitement at Stuls station when the train arrived at half past nine. The film team, some extras and a few RhB employees made the otherwise quiet place into a film set of 100 people. We quickly had to hand out some safety jackets, then take the five-metre-long camera rails out of the special train, position them and then get started. There was not a second to lose because the schedule was tight.
The film team gave Walter from RhB's Railservice a radio. That meant there was direct contact to the location manager. From then on, the train drivers and the Railservice team were kept on their toes: “Walter, we need the train two metres further forward.” “Walter, we’re going to have to shoot that scene again. When can the train leave the station again?” “Walter, why was there so much steam coming out of the steam train? We need the shots without steam.”
The hours passed by in fantastic weather until they had every scene in the can. The film team shushed anyone who even whispered just one word dozens of metres away from the film set while filming was taking place. Everything had to be perfect. And what wasn't quite right was made to fit. “Don't worry, we’ll put that right,” was the standard comment
It was just after 4 pm when the last wrap was made in Stuls. Things became hectic. In just fifteen minutes, the special train had to be loaded up and ready to set off. It was virtually impossible for everyone to keep the bigger picture in mind. Everybody simply picked up what they could put their hands on. The torrential rain at the time did not really help either. But somehow it all worked out. The material and the film team were all on the train on time.
But it wasn't time for them to go home. Twenty minutes later, in full sunshine, they started setting everything up for the shooting of the indoor scenes on platform 1 in Bergün. Shooting took place against a green wall in a stationary coach. The film team got on quickly and they also managed to shoot the scene where the train travels between Bergün and Preda, which had been scheduled for later, while the train was actually standing. That turned out to be a good decision. Because when the special train left Bergün station for Samedan at 7 pm it was already too dark outside to film.
There was a quick stop in Muot and an impressive trip over the Albula viaducts. Heidi was now only of secondary importance. All the members of the film team suddenly turned into cameramen and women themselves. Hundreds of private photos and videos were made of the landscape on their smartphones. A special experience for the film team which was quickly brought down to earth with a bump: “Get everything ready. We need to get all the material off. We're getting out in Preda. End of filming.”
Commotion once again, but for the last time. And then the film team had gone. Along with the two train drivers, I was then the only person left on the train. I was sitting in one of the historic coaches. The light was switched off. We continued in the dark through the Albula Tunnel and on to Samedan station. It was coming up to 9 pm as we pulled into the station. No sign of cameras or actors. The station was dark, calm and virtually empty of people. A total contrast to the rest of the day.