Tag Archives: Constantin Film

Scent of a killer

Constantin Film producer Oliver Berben tells DQ about making Parfum (Perfume), an inventive German crime drama for ZDFneo and Netflix that uses both the book and film on which the show is based as plot points.

Oliver Berben

While book and film adaptations are key cornerstones of the television drama market, it’s rare that the existence of the source material is acknowledged within the show on which it is based.

But this is the case with German series Parfum (Perfume), with both the book and film that inspired the series appearing during the story, providing clues that help the detectives solve the mystery at the heart of this particularly gruesome crime drama.

Perfume begins with the discovery of the body of a woman on the Lower Rhine river, whose hair – pubic and axillary – have been removed. The investigators, played by Friederike Becht, Wotan Wilke Möhring and Juergen Maurer, then come across five people who knew the victim from their time at boarding school together.

It transpires that the group were interested in human scents, having been inspired by Patrick Süskind’s real-life 1985 novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. To help understand the case, the lead profiler subsequently reads the book and watches the 2006 feature adaptation that was directed by Tom Tykwer and starred Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood and Dustin Hoffman.

Here, producer Oliver Berben from Constantin Film breaks down the making of the series and talks about how the original book and the movie became integral to the plot of the drama.

What are the origins of the project?
The show originates from the idea of exploring, in a serial form, the fundamental premise of the novel and the movie of the same title: How far can humans be manipulated through their sense of smell? Constantin Film had acquired the film rights and produced Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of the novel, which became an international success. But with the serial, we wanted to take the historical ‘story of a murderer’ to another level and transfer it to our time.

What were your first impressions of the book?
I read the novel more or less when it first came out, as a teenager, and was completely overwhelmed by it. Perfume is one of the most fascinating and obscure books I know; it’s complex and intriguing, like a strange perfume. Süskind made me – and so many other people around the world – think about odours and scents in a very different way.

How did the novel and the movie inform the series?
They both served as inspirational starting points and as a reference throughout the series. They turn out to be a key element of the investigation. The novel, in particular, forms part of the backstory of our modern-day protagonists: They read the book when they were at boarding school together in the 1990s, and it inspired them to start experimenting with smells, like Süskind’s protagonist Grenouille in the early 18th century. The profiler who investigates the actual murder case, in the present, reads the book and watches the movie in order to learn about the possible motives behind the crime.

How are they related and why did you decide to take this route, rather than a straight adaptation or remake?
Tom Tykwer’s 2006 movie is a congenial adaptation of Süskind’s novel, in every sense. We did not see the point of trying to copy or simply repeat this approach in a TV show more than a decade later. Instead, we thought it would be interesting to ask ourselves: What makes this story so fascinating and relevant to us today? How can it be translated from 18th century France to our own world, where smells and perfumes are being perceived differently but may still have the same power over people’s emotions and behaviour?

Perfume’s meta approach sees the source material acknowledged within the plot

What was writer Eva Kranenburg’s process?
Eva started developing the idea for the show, the plot and the characters in close collaboration with me, and continued to write a concept that we closely discussed and worked on as a team over the course of several months. The process of writing the scripts for the six episodes was also aided by Philipp Kadelbach, the director, at a later stage.

How was the series developed with ZDFneo?
ZDFneo series are typically supervised, in the development stage, by a commissioning editor from ZDF. For Perfume, this was Günther van Endert, with whom we had worked on a number of great projects before, so there was a lot of mutual trust and understanding. Günther knew the scripts from a relatively early stage and really liked them.

When did Netflix join the show?
Netflix was on board from the very beginning. I explained the idea to Kai Finke [Netflix’s director of German-language content acquisitions and coproductions] in the early development stage and he was on board from day one. We found a deal together that could do justice to the complexity of the book, which had been translated and sold around the world, and also meet the needs of the broadcaster and a worldwide streamer on the other side.

How does Perfume stand apart from other crime series?
Perfume is unlike other crime series in that it combines a thrilling modern crime story, a deep psychodrama and a seemingly esoteric topic such as the mystical power of smell. It is also unusually original in terms of its visual and narrative style: beautiful but bleak, psychological but also extravagant, fantastical and hyper-realistic at the same time. We tried to create something without using existing patterns or paragons, something with its very own look and feel.

How are the detectives portrayed?
Our main character, Nadja Simon (Friederike Becht), is a young profiler. She leads the investigation but finds herself in a constant power struggle with the prosecuting attorney, Grünberg (Wotan Wilke Möhring), with whom she is having an affair. Köhler (Juergen Maurer), a detective with the local police, supports Nadja’s unorthodox investigation techniques and tries, unsuccessfully, to get closer to her.

The series was filmed on location in West Germany

What did director Philipp Kadelbach bring to the drama?
As a director with a clear vision and a legendary talent for working with actors, Philipp brought immense creative input to the series. Without his obsession – with every small detail as important as the entire production – Perfume would never have happened.

Where was the series filmed and how did locations influence its look?
Perfume was filmed on location at the Niederrhein, a rural/suburban region in the far west of Germany, between Cologne and the borders to Belgium and the Netherlands. The landscape is mostly flat and rather bleak, characterised by potato fields and pervaded by slip roads, power poles and run-down industrial areas. But in between, you come across small spots of surprising beauty: an old castle, the ruins of something in a blooming forest, a small river, a patch of moor.
This area, with its vaguely ‘lost’ feel, was the perfect setting for our show, whose protagonists are isolated – located nowhere, so to speak. The landscape also fits the look we were trying to create, with its focus on a kind of beauty that keeps oscillating between loveliness and gloom, between perfection and devastation, between a brutal present and the nostalgic transfiguration of the past.

What were the biggest challenges in development and production and how did you overcome them?
Movie making is always a big challenge overall and it creates tangible smaller problems during each step of the development and production process. It is only with the support of an excellent team, both on the creative side and on the production side, that you can overcome these constant challenges.

Why did you think Perfume would appeal to both German and global viewers?
Now that the series has come out [it debuted in November 2018 on ZDFneo and in December worldwide on Netflix], it is very exciting for us to see that German viewers and audiences around the world are reacting so strongly to it. Perfume has turned out as we had hoped – it is unlike anything people have seen before, and it has a sort of suction effect, a tight grip. So we are not surprised but very happy that it provokes and fascinates so many people at the same time, in so many different countries.

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Making a Fortune: Christian Schwochow and Robin von der Leyen

A Dangerous Fortune director Christian Schwochow and producer Robin von der Leyen tell Michael Pickard why Ken Follett’s novel was perfect for an adaptation.

Dublin is making a habit of doubling for Victorian-era London. From crime drama Ripper Street to horror Penny Dreadful, the Irish capital has become a popular filming location for 19th century period dramas thanks to its narrow lanes and surviving period architecture.

More recently, it became home to the production of Die Pfeiler der Macht (A Dangerous Fortune), an adaptation of Ken Follett’s best-selling novel for German broadcaster ZDF.

Described as a story of love, greed, power and politics, it follows Hugh Pilaster (Dominic Thorburn), the son of a banker who is orphaned by his father and left at the mercy of his beautiful but power-hungry aunt Augusta.

Hugh and his best friend Solly (Albrecht Schuch) both fall in love with working-class Maisie (Laura de Boer) – but when Solly proposes to Maisie, Hugh leaves for America. Six years later, he returns rich and successful, only to find his feelings for Maisie haven’t changed.

Directed by Christian Schwochow (The Tower), the three-hour miniseries is produced by Kerstin Schmidbauer, Robin von der Leyen and Wolfgang Cimera for Constantin Television and Network Movie. Global Screen is distributing the drama worldwide.

A Dangerous Fortune
A Dangerous Fortune was adapted from Ken Follett’s book of the same name

“Making the film was one of the most spectacular and intense experiences of my working life,” Schwochow recalls. “We lived in Dublin for five or six months. I worked with an amazing Irish crew. Everyone had very impressive CVs and had worked on international productions before. Just three or four people came with me from Germany, including my director of photography, and some actors. Living in Dublin, working in Dublin was fantastic. It was a wonderful experience.”

Location scouting took place all over Europe, taking in Prague, Belgium and parts of England. But Constantin Film had previously set up in Dublin – for 2014 feature film Love, Rosie – and von der Leyen was keen to revisit the city.

“We had an excellent experience with the crew in Ireland,” he says. “The tax credit is also very attractive, but we chose Ireland because you really get the feeling of London of the late 19th century. It was much more authentic shooting on the locations there. All that together made it very easy to go to Ireland. We had a great experience there. We would definitely love to go back sometime.”

A Dangerous Fortune was the result of a 10-year development deal between the producers to build a slate of Follett adaptations. The first results were seen in 2010’s Eisfieber, based on the novel Whiteout, before focus switched to A Dangerous Fortune three years ago.

“What’s special about Ken Follett is the richness of his stories,” Schwochow says. “When you open his books, you’re drawn into a world that’s so colourful and so precisely described because he puts so much effort into the research.

“Of course, there’s a lot of imagination and creativity in the storytelling but, on the other hand, the characters and the setting are so rich. It’s a great pleasure finding such strong, rich and colourful poetic material.”

A Dangerous Fortune
Laura de Boer and Dominic Thorburn share a clinch

In particular, the director describes A Dangerous Fortune as a gift for filmmakers: “You open the script and you drown in a world that is completely unknown and very rich because you have so many settings. You have the world of the rich, noble people and the poor – it’s like a big playground. And you have characters who, even though they live in a very distant period, feel so close.

“In a way it’s a story about young people trying to find a different way in life from their parents and the difficulties, and the struggle to find your own identity in a world that seems very free and open but actually has lots of limits and boundaries. That’s what I found very interesting and is something that comes back again and again in my films.”

American writer Annette Simon penned the scripts, working with Schwochow to create a vision of Victorian London that avoided the serious tones often adopted by other period dramas.

“Telling the story in a very naturalistic, realistic way isn’t something that interests me so much,” Schwochow admits. “Too many stories from the Victorian period are told in a very serious way and I tried to find a way with Annette to go over the top.

“You find so many crazy things when you start investigating the Victorian period – the way people acted, how they communicated – there was so much pretending and hiding of the truth. And this is why we tried to find a style that’s more fairytale, crazy and over the top.”

Though many European dramas with international ambitions choose to shoot in English – Borgia being just one example – the production team decided A Dangerous Fortune would air in German, even though some of the actors spoke English on set, with their lines later being dubbed into German.

A Dangerous Fortune
The drama was filmed in Ireland capital Dublin

Von der Leyen explains: “If you shoot abroad, you usually have the main cast you bring from home and all other roles you cast locally. In this case, we had them speaking in their native language so they knew what they were saying. If they spoke German, then they wouldn’t have understood what they were saying and their acting wouldn’t match what they were saying. So we decided this would make more sense and give the cast the chance to give it their best. We were very happy about the decision.”

Schwochow, who is attached to direct Letterbox Filmproducktion’s finance miniseries Bad Banks for ZDF and Arte this fall, continues: “Everybody spoke their mother language – in one scene, Dominic would speak English and the German actor would speak German.

“Because you can’t rely on the language, you have to have actors who understand that they have to listen to and look at each other, to find eye contact with each other and help each other. Dominic always knew what the scene was about and we even tried a little bit of improv. It was different from when you have actors who speak the same language but it was very easy.

“It got more difficult when I had to find the German voices for the dubbing. That process was more intense than finding Dominic.”

The cast also contributed to the cheerful mood on set, which Schwochow describes as one of the aspects of the production of which he is most proud.

“After the second shooting day we were a big creative family and no matter if people had seen my work or worked with Ridley Scott or Steven Spielberg, they were giving everything,” he says. “There was a great partnership between the German, Irish and English actors.

“And even though we had a very tight schedule, shooting in just 49 days, we worked so well that we didn’t feel in a hurry. We had an open creative atmosphere. The whole production felt very free and open-minded with not much pressure. I’m very happy it went this way.”

Praise is also reserved for Irish costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, whose work contributed to the high production values afforded by the €8m (US$9m) budget.

“The opulence of what you can see, the costumes, the locations – that’s something we’re proud of,”adds von der Leyen. “We had a great crew.”

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Stepping out of the big screen’s shadow

If a feature film fails to meet expectations on the big screen, could it successfully transition to television? Shadowhunters shines a light on this new trend.

When BBC1 last year unveiled plans to adapt Philip Pullman’s celebrated novel trilogy His Dark Materials, it was not forgotten that this was once a series that had big-screen ambitions.

The Golden Compass, based on Northern Lights – the first book in Pullman’s trilogy – received mixed reviews when it was released in 2007 and failed to set the box office alight. The sequels never materialised.

However, announcing the BBC project and his partnership with producer Bad Wolf, Pullman himself noted the promise TV now offers to complex stories that film often cannot. “In recent years we’ve seen the way that long stories on television, whether adaptations or originals, can reach depths of characterisation and heights of suspense by taking the time for events to make their proper impact and for consequences to unravel.”

Gary Marenzi
Gary Marenzi

The path of Pullman’s novels to TV follows that of Shadowhunters, a new fantasy drama now showing on Freeform, the US cable channel recently rebranded from ABC Family.

Opening on January 12 to 1.82 million total viewers – marking the channel’s biggest series debut for two years – Shadowhunters is based on the bestselling young-adult book series The Mortal Instruments, which is written by Cassandra Clare and once also had a future on the big screen. A movie called The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, based on the first of six books in the series, was released in 2013, with plans for a sequel based on the second book, City of Ashes, widely reported.

That too failed to materialise, allowing Freeform to develop its own version of the story, which follows 18-year-old Clary Fray, who discovers she comes from a long line of Shadowhunters – human-angel hybrids who hunt down demons.

When her mother Jocelyn is kidnapped, Clary is thrown into the world of demon hunting with the mysterious Jace and her best friend, Simon. Now living among faeries, warlocks, vampires and werewolves, she begins a journey of self-discovery as she learns about her past and how it will shape her future.

Shadowhunters is produced by Constantin Film and executive produced by Ed Decter and McG, who also directed the first episode.

It stars Katherine McNamara as Clary, with Dominic Sherwood as Jace and Alberto Rosende as Simon. The cast also includes Emeraude Toubia, Matthew Daddario, Isaiah and Harry Shum Jr.

“Constantin had owned the rights to the IP and developed the film. It did OK,” explains Gary Marenzi, who has been working as an adviser to the production company for the last two years. “But we sat down and said it’s perfect for a TV series because it’s a huge ecosystem. You have the shadow world, the shadowhunters and the demons, and in between you have warlocks, werewolves and other myths and legends.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the big-screen adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s work

“It’s set in an urban setting where people look real. It’s not some complete fantasy world so it’s really that urban realism this show brings. We were fortunate enough to find Ed Decter as a showrunner. He had read the books and was passionate about the project. However, the protagonist is only 15 in the books so we had to age that up. Ed and his team outlined stories that we liked and, based on the first draft of Ed’s first script, Karey Burke (exec VP of programming and development) at ABC Family – who knew Ed and the books –  said, ‘We’re rebranding, this is perfect. Can you come in?’ So they went in and, boom, we got a 13-episode order right away.”

Any fans of the film who are expecting the show to continue where it left off will be disappointed, however, as the first episode of Shadowhunters serves as a fresh entry point into Clary’s world.

“It will follow book one and zig and zag, plus there’s new characters and situations created that are inspired by the books,” Marenzi says. “Then when we brought in McG to direct the first episode; he brought a whole new level of energy to the proceedings.

“The combination of Ed, his talented writers room, McG and the guys at Constantin, who know the IP, was great. We were very comfortable with our line producer, Don Carmody, and we set up in Toronto. The sets and locations are perfect for urban drama.”

Marenzi is keen to stress that the big-budget series is not a kids' show
Marenzi is keen to stress that the big-budget series is not a kids’ show

With Shadowhunters’ budget coming in at a hefty US$3.5m an hour, Marenzi stresses “this a big show, it’s not a kids’ show.”

He continues: “The interesting challenge is that when you tell people it’s based on The Mortal Instruments and it’s for ABC Family, people automatically assume it’s a kids’ show. It’s not – it’s a 21.00 show.”

In terms of Shadowhunters’ visual style, Marenzi says the creative team wanted it to have a modern look, “not gothic like Harry Potter.” He adds: “We wanted to make it look like these guys are going out to a club every night, just with vampires and werewolves.

“I was also involved in MTV’s Teen Wolf. It’s a much smaller show but it succeeded because people loved those characters – and they’ll love these characters too. They’re going to root for them every week and that’s the heart of a good TV show. Then it’s just a question of scale. This is bigger; there’s more drama, more jeopardy.”

While Freeform will be hoping Shadowhunters can join its roster of young-adult hits including Pretty Little Liars and Stitchers, other producers will be keen to see whether this former big-screen franchise can successfully transition to television.

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