Tag Archives: Christoph Silber

German writers raise their game

Germany’s leading broadcasters have always spent heavily on TV drama. But until recently there was a feeling that their work was too domestic in character to travel.

Shows like Generation War and Deutschland 83 have changed that perception. This week, we shine a light on the writers who are driving Germany’s TV exports.

kolditzStefan Kolditz studied theatre in Berlin then taught in universities until 2002. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he wrote numerous projects for theatre, film and television. After honing his TV skills with classic German dramas such as Tatort and Polizeiruf 110, he had a major breakthrough in 2014 with the UFA/ZDF miniseries Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (Generation War). He followed this with an acclaimed adaptation of Bruno Aptiz’s classic novel Naked among Wolves, which aired on ARD and is distributed internationally by Global Screen. More recent projects include the film biopic Paula and TV movies for pubcasters ZDF (Ein Mann Unter Verdacht) and ARD (Mutter Reicht’s Jetzt). He has also managed to fit in two new episodes of Tatort.

annette-hessAnnette Hess studied playwriting in the 1990s in Berlin and then worked at ARD in various executive roles. Her life as a screenwriter began in earnest at the start of the last decade, with TV movie credits for her previous employer. Like Kolditz, she cut her teeth on long-running scripted franchises like SOKO (Cologne) and Polizeiruf 110. However, the big turning point came in 2010 with the acclaimed drama series Weissensee, which has now run for three seasons (one every two years). Since then, she has had another big hit with Ku’damm 56, a ZDF series about female emancipation in the 1950s. The UFA-produced show was good enough to secure a follow up called Ku’damm 59, which is now in the works. In 2016, Hess also wrote episodes of Der Kommissar Und Das Meer, a ZDF crime series that has been running since 2007.

philipp-jessenPhilipp Jessen is a new voice to TV having previously worked as the editor of online newspaper service Stern.de. His TV debut came in 2016 with Giftschrank, which has been described as a cross between House of Cards and Kir Royal. The series, which in English translates roughly as Poison Cabinet, goes behind the scenes at a glossy tabloid-style magazine. Joachim Kosack, producer and MD at UFA Fiction, said of the show: “I have rarely seen a script that is so captivating from the first to the last page. Giftschrank gives a fascinating insight into tabloid journalism. High tension is not only the inner view, but also the ever-recurring question of morality in journalism. You get a sense of how editorial works. It is sharp, entertaining and wise.”

thewingersJoerg & Anna Winger burst onto the scene with Deutschland 83, a Cold War drama that aired on RTL in Germany and has attracted a lot of attention internationally. The two  are now working on a sequel called Deutschland 86, which will premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in Germany in 2018 before airing on RTL. Anna Winger is actually from the US, making her part of a growing trend for foreign writers to get involved in German series (others include Paula Milne and Rachael Turk). She is also developing a series for BBC America set in contemporary Berlin.

dorotheeschon1Dorothee Schön grew up in Bonn then studied film in Munich. She has written a number of TV movies and is another to have contributed to the Tatort juggernaut. After two decades working on TV movies, her next big project is a UFA-produced miniseries for ARD called Charité. A six-parter, the show tells the story of Berlin’s legendary Charité hospital, which many credit with inventing modern medical research. Schon is also lined up to write a miniseries for UFA called The Porsche Saga, which is based on a book about the car manufacturer by Stefan Aust and Thomas Ammann.

tomtykwerTom Tykwer is writing Babylon Berlin with Hendrik Handleoegten and Achim Von Borries for a 2017 launch on Sky Deutschland. The lavish period piece will focus on life in 1920s Berlin. Writer/director Tykwer is best known for his movies, which include Run Lola Run, Perfume and Cloud Atlas. It’s not clear yet whether this is the start of a career in TV or a one-off project.

silberChristoph Silber wrote Rivals Forever – The Sneaker Battle, a period piece about the rivalry between Adi and Rudi Dassler, the founders of Adidas and Puma. A British-German producer, director and writer based in LA, Silber has been working across film and TV since the start of the last decade. Like many of his counterparts, he has written episodes of Tatort. Among his better-known TV movies is Das Wunder von Kärnten (written with Thorsten Wettcke), which tells the true story of a three-year-old girl from Austria, who fell into the lake behind her parents’ house in 1998 and had been underwater for 30 minutes before being found. A young cardiovascular surgeon takes up the seemingly hopeless fight for the young girl’s life, and remarkably saves her. More recently, Silber has been working on the miniseries Honigfrauen, which will see the light of day on ZDF in 2017. Set in 1986, it tells the story of two young women who go on holiday to Hungary’s Lake Balaton from East Germany.

basedow-photo-ardthorsten-janderRolf Basedow is one of a team of writers who scripted Beta Film’s NSU Germany History X, a series about far-right German nationalists produced this year. Active in the TV business since the 1970s, he has contributed to dramas like Tatort and has also written series such as Sperling and the acclaimed 10-part series Im Angesicht des Verbrechens (2010), which looked at the interplay of police and gangsters in Berlin. Following NSU, he is back to writing TV movies including Zielfahnder: Flucht in die Karpaten.

jan-bergerJan Berger had a major international hit with The Physician, which was directed by Philipp Stolzl. The Berger/Stolzl combination has subsequently come to be regarded as something of a dream ticket. The pair reteamed for Beta Film’s updated version of western adventure Winnetou and are also working with UFA Fiction on a TV biopic of magicians Siegfried and Roy.

niki-steinNiki Stein and Hark Bohm are writing Hitler, a high-end drama series from Beta Film that will air on RTL and has been sold to French broadcaster TF1. The 10-hour event series is based on the biography Hitler’s First War by the internationally renowned historian Thomas Weber and will “shed an unprecedented light on the most closely examined figure of modern history,” according to Beta Film. Stein (pictured), another Tatort alumnus, has written numerous TV movies. One of his best-known works is the 2012 TV movie Rommel, about the famed Second World War general. The film attracted controversy, so it will be interesting to see how Stein handles this subject.

marcterjungMarc Terjung and Benedikt Gollhardt created the hit Sat1 comedy series Danni Lowinski, about a hairdresser who becomes an unconventional lawyer. The German series ran for five seasons and spawned a Dutch adaptation. Terjung (pictured) also created comedy series Edel & Starck and has written for SOKO. After working on legal dramedy Danni Lowinski, he wrote Josephine Klick – Allein Unter Cops, about a female police officer who moves from a small town to Berlin, whereupon she encounters resistance from her new colleagues.

friese-jantje-01Jantje Friese recently secured the job of writing Dark, Netflix’s first German original series. The 10-part show, directed by Baran bo Odar, is set in a German town where the disappearance of two children exposes the double lives and fractured relationships among four families. Friese studied in Munich then started her career as a commercials director. Subsequently she went into production and writing. Together with Odar, she wrote the film Who Am I?, a well-received political/cyber thriller.

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Running in the family

The rivalry between two brothers that led to the creation of sportswear giants Adidas and Puma is brought to life in a new German miniseries. DQ speaks to its creators.

They’re two of the biggest rivals in the world of sport – but this battle doesn’t take place in a stadium or arena. Instead, the origins of the conflict between sportswear giants Adidas and Puma can be found within a single German family as the story of two brothers is retold in miniseries Rivals Forever – The Sneaker Battle.

Set in the early 20th century, the show follows the Dassler brothers as their initial partnership sees them launch the sports shoe to international fame. But long-standing differences lead to mistrust and when they fall out, their relationship unravels and the business they founded together is split into companies that become two of the world’s biggest sports labels – Adidas, led by Adi Dassler, and Puma, run by Rudi Dassler.

Written by Christoph Silber and produced by Quirin Berg, Rivals Forever stars Hanno Koffler, Christian Friedel, Alina Levshin and Hannah Herzsprung. It comes from Wiedemann & Berg Television (The Lives of Others) in coproduction with ARD Degeto for German broadcaster ARD, and is distributed internationally by Global Screen.

Rivals Forever
Rivals Forever focuses on brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler

“As producers, we’re always looking for strong topics and headlines that draw attention and create a reaction,” Berg explains. “The Dassler story is certainly one of the biggest family sagas recent German history has to offer, besides the fact we’re dealing with two extremely well-known brands that are loved around the globe.

“Most people in Germany have heard about the story without really knowing too much about it. That creates a perfect level of mystery and interest for a TV project. The true story itself is thrilling, dramatic and truly tragic – two brothers who share a vision and drive that vision almost to extremes but fail big time when it comes to keeping their family together. They change an industry but at the same time create a war within their family.”

In contrast with other biopics, where real-life stories are often fictionalised to inject extra drama or tension, Berg says the story of the Adidas-Puma battle needed no extra excitement as the Dasslers’ story is retold over a 50-year period.

Silber picks up: “The advantage we get from the brothers’ conflict is twofold: on the one hand, there’s an element of surprise because hardly anybody knows that behind these huge brands are two brothers who fought pretty much all their lives; and on the other is the narrative gain, because rather than having a typical biopic, you know from minute one to the end there’s always one element that holds everything together, the brothers, and that’s perfect for me as a writer.”

Berg says he was also fascinated by the story on a personal level, as he could relate to the central relationship: “I have a business partner who co-owns my company and he is my oldest friend as well. We went to school together and started to do films 20 years ago. So I could really relate to the brothers sharing one vision and fighting for it, building a company – and I was wondering what could happen to tear them apart? We’re sure it won’t happen to us and that’s something we definitely take from the story. The Dasslers paid a high price for being so competitive and successful. They sacrificed their brotherhood, their family.”

Adidas and Puma were 'very welcoming' over the project about their respective founders
Adidas and Puma were ‘very welcoming’ of the project about their respective founders

In terms of research for the three-hour series, Silber says there was already a lot of material concerning the brothers’ relationship in the public domain, adding that Adidas and Puma were very welcoming of the project.

“Those companies are no longer owned by the family, they’re owned by investors and shareholders,” Berg says, “so they are still competitors but today the big enemy is Nike. They were very open, collaborative and fair. The families are no longer involved and all the material is out there. There are hundreds of interviews and documentaries, so there’s a rich pool of information available for anybody who is interested.

“But, from a writer’s perspective, it’s always rewarding to meet people who are actually part of the story and it provides the benefit of adding details you wouldn’t find on the internet. Within the companies, we were lucky to find people who knew the brothers personally and had worked with them for years. That was very helpful – we wanted to find out as much as possible about the real characters.”

Silber’s television credits include crime series Tatort and Der Kriminalist. He also won an International Emmy for 2011 German-Austrian TV movie Das Wunder von Kärnten (A Day for a Miracle). Describing himself as a history and sports buff, he admits he doesn’t like “typical” period dramas, despite frequently working in the genre.

“I always want to peel away the veil of history and get close to the characters, which is why a sports-themed period film with the brothers aspect was so appealing. It already looks like you can’t have that veil over it,” he explains. “I did a lot of reading and talked to a few people, but it was a very collaborative process with Quirin. We’ve worked together for many years, we’re very hands-on with our work on stories. I need to be writing to get into a story so I do a lot of drafts. We work very well together.”

Directors Cyrill Boss and Philipp Stennert then joined the production, into which the creative team sought to inject a sense of speed and urgency, as if the brothers are racing each other against a backdrop of 50 years of history.

Rivals Forever
The series covers a 50-year period in the brothers’ lives

Berg says: “There are many examples of movies that have a great character and depict one crucial year or focus on a short episode in their life, and that has many advantages. But we wanted to tell the whole story, to give the big picture – so we decided to cover 50 years. And it’s so great to see not only the characters change over time but German society as well.

“Politics, fashion, quality of life – all those things that make and define a country changed over those years. We start shortly after World War One and end in the mid-1970s. That’s an interesting USP and not many German TV series offer that range. It’s not only about the brothers, it’s a ride through several Olympics and soccer World Cups, through German history, and we feel it’s something people will love.”

As such, one of the challenges faced by Berg and his production partner Max Wiedemann – who are behind Netflix’s first original German production, the supernatural thriller Dark – was to get every euro in the budget on screen while recreating half a century of time periods.

“There are several very crucial and budget-intensive sequences but our focus is on the family,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges was changing the production design and sets across the years. And obviously we have actors playing the same role over 50 years, so we had a great make-up team to make that happen. You want to stick with the same actor for all those decades so when it comes to make-up, it’s a tricky task but it worked well. You follow the same person and you almost feel part of the family at the end because they shared so many moments of their lives with you.”

Rivals Forever is the latest German drama set to warrant international attention, following in the footsteps of Deutschland 83, Generation War and Naked Among Wolves. Coincidentally, another German broadcaster, RTL, also ordered its own version the Dasslers’ story, with TV movie Duel of the Brothers – The story of Adidas and Puma. It premiered in March this year.

Berg says the self-financing German market is now opening up to seek investment from other territories, increasing the opportunity for German stories to be made for an international audience. “The whole industry is globalising more,” he notes. “In every country you will find amazing local stories that have a global scale. That certainly applies to the true story of Adidas and Puma and I’m glad we were able to pull this project off for ARD and an audience all around the world.”

Silber adds that 10 or 20 years ago, plans to tell the origin story of the two sportswear labels might have run into hostility, but those tensions have now cooled: “There’s been a generational change and the heat of that conflict isn’t so high any more. They’ve pretty much made peace and they can co-exist as two strong brands. Today it’s easier to tell the story, but the market has also changed. Germany is more eager to tell stories that reach out to an international market and don’t just focus on one audience. This story is ideal for that.”

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