Tag Archives: Joerg Winger

Welcome to Hackerville

The cast and crew behind HBO Europe’s first international coproduction, Hackerville, explain why the drama is as much about relationships and culture as computers.

Outside, it’s a bright, early summer’s afternoon in the Romanian town of Timisoara, the setting for HBO Europe’s first international coproduction. Behind the tinted windows of the gaming café location of today’s shoot, however, it’s an altogether darker, stuffier atmosphere as computer fans whir and teenagers fidget impatiently.

Hackerville is the latest venture into Romanian drama for HBO Europe after the likes of gangster series Umbre. While it might not be tackling an entirely new subject matter – ostensibly police searching for computer hackers – the rich framework on which the story is laid down allows the plot to foray into the cultures and histories of two different countries.

On the surface, that story follows two police investigators who are tasked with tracking down the perpetrators of a hacking attack on a German bank. Delve a little deeper, however, and this seems to be as much an exploration of the differing cultures of Romania and Germany as it is about the havoc that can be wreaked by talented hackers.

Reflecting this wider premise, HBO Europe has German cablenet TNT Serie on board to coproduce – and the cross-country relationships don’t end there. The story itself comes from Deutschland 83’s Joerg Winger and Ralph Martin for UFA Fiction, while Tudor Reu and Cristian Mungiu produce through Romania’s Mobra Films.

The series will air on HBO Europe across Central Europe, Scandinavia and Spain, and on TNT Serie in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and launches this Sunday, November 4. Turner International is handling sales outside the HBO Europe, TNT Serie and US territories.

Anna Schumacher, who was born in Bucharest before moving to Germany after the Romanian revolution in 1989, leads the cast as Lisa, alongside Romania’s Andi Vasluianu, who plays Adam. Voicu Dumitras (pictured above) is Cipi, the young boy seemingly at the centre of the story.

Hackerville stars Anna Schumacher and Voicu Dumitras

The roots of the show lie in an article from tech magazine Wired about the global exploits of a group of hackers. “Ralf approached me with this story he had read about the real ‘Hackerville’ in Romania,” Winger explains. “He told me he had been thinking about new ideas and I said to go check it out, so he spent five days there and came back with a whole lot of stories.

“We thought it was so fascinating. All this hacking was coming from a town in Romania – not even the capital, but a rather small city, yet they could be so effective in their actions globally. This type of story is right up my alley. I’m really interested in international collaboration and exploring new territories and cultures, so we started to develop it.”

It helped that HBO had just aired a documentary exploring the mass migration of Romanians into Germany following the 1989 revolution. And when Antony Root, HBO Europe’s exec VP of original programming, suggested that rather than having an FBI chief flying to Romania, it should be a German, a rounded vision for the show came together.

Winger admits he did not have great knowledge of Romania, so local writers were drafted in to help pen the script. “We then had a lot of discussions about Romania, Germany, Romanians in Germany, Europe. I always think these discussions that can be controversial are great food for the scripts.”

Unlike dramas driven by a single showrunner or creative lead, numerous voices had their say on the Hackerville scripts and, indeed, the production as a whole. They delivered what HBO Europe VP of original programming and production Johnathan Young describes as a “layered cake” approach to production, allowing the show to make the most of local expertise in both Romania and Germany and adding to its authenticity.

It’s a point neatly highlighted by Anca Miruna Lazarescu, from Germany but born in Romania, who directs alongside Romania’s Igor Cobileanski (Shadows). “We had to decide about Lisa’s watch, for example,” she says. “We were on the same page with the big decisions – the cast, locations – but this fucking watch kept coming up week after week.

Actor Andi Vasluianu receives instruction from co-director Anca Miruna Lăzărescu

“Lisa was supposed to wear a Casio. It was a bit of a vintage, old-fashioned digital thing. But when Igor saw it, he took one look and said, ‘This is not hip, this is not hip at all, you can get it for like 10 leu [US$2.50] at the piazza.’ I thought it was totally hip. These things are great in Berlin. It’s über hip.

“You’ll see what happens in the end, but things like this tell you so much about what is hip there and what’s cool here, and what could be boring here and what could be boring there. Things I think could be so Romanian, he’ll say, ‘No, it’s not Romanian at all, it’s a cliché about Romania.’ And I have to realise that I left 20 years ago so perhaps it’s not real and it is clichéd.”

Having been born in Romania herself, Schumacher also had some knowledge of the country, and took her experiences into the show. “Lisa speaks two languages – Romanian and German – and funnily enough it is kind of my life story too, because I was born in Romania but have lived in Germany for 28 years now,” explains the actor, who also has scenes with her actor father, Ovidiu Schumacher, in Hackerville.

“It’s amazing to balance German and Romanian cultures and languages, and a nice part of it all is that what my character is experiencing, I too am experiencing myself,” Schumacher adds.

The premise, the actor explains, is that a German bank’s IT systems have been attacked by someone based in Romania, with her character then sent to Timisoara to sort out the problem. The town of just over 300,000 people, tucked to the south of Hungary and to the East of Serbia, offers both stunning Gothic architecture and more brutal Communist-era constructions and is, as Young puts it, “very colourful with layers of history.”

“We’ve been shooting since the beginning of March, going from winter to summer in about two weeks,” he jokes, with scenes being filmed “more or less” chronologically.

“Lisa is the right person to do the job, as she speaks both languages and cyber crime is her specialism,” Schumacher says of her character. “She comes here and finds herself having more challenges than just doing her job, particularly having challenges with the culture that she’d left behind that was still inside of her.

Schumacher on set with co-director Igor Cobileanski (centre)

“She’s trying to find new ways to adapt to the person she really is,” she continues, “and maybe who she forgot she was when she was in Germany. She finds her roots and where she really comes from, she finds out things she didn’t know about herself. That changes her.”

For Young, Hackerville is “both about homecoming and a culture clash story.” It also allows Schumacher to tap into her real-life experiences – Vasluianu, who plays her male counterpart in Romania, says that when they started shooting in Romania, certain smells would evoke childhood memories for the female lead.

For the young Dumitras, who plays Cipi, these are the scents of home. Although shooting has taken in locations in Bucharest and Frankfurt, it is Timisoara – Dumitras’s home town – that has been the main hub for the production. He describes his character as a boy “with a good heart but like the genius who does stuff and doesn’t realise it has consequences.”

“He spends most of his time playing and hacking, but not many people know about the hacking. He kind of loses track of the world. He’s just playing with his games and doesn’t realise his actions may lead to unexpected effects.”

The show also explores the non-existent boundaries of being online, both in terms of hacking and playing games against others regardless of their actual location. A first-person computer game has already been created – set in Timisoara – that features in the show, and the story delves deeper into this theme of freedom.

“The juxtaposition of what you see on the ground and where you can be in the online space is really interesting,” says Young. “You can be in a basement on a computer, but in your head you could be anywhere in the world. That is a big part of the hacking and gaming story.”

Hackerville comes from Deutschland 83’s Joerg Winger and Ralph Martin of UFA Fiction

But the show, set for a November launch on both HBO Europe and TNT Serie, also includes elements of comedy and humour that differentiate it from other hacking-focused programmes.

“We started with a fear of being another hacking show; fear because they tend to centre on doomsday scenarios involving bringing down a satellite or blowing up a nuclear power station. I won’t tell you where Hackerville goes, but it doesn’t go there,” Young says.

“We wanted to make it much more of a human story, and we’ve achieved that. Part of why we’ve been able to do so is because the gaming strand parallels the hacking strand.” Both activities involve similar mindsets, he adds, offering an element of “play fun alongside the more serious undercurrent of the real world.”

The show has been largely edited alongside filming, with musical elements being added concurrently. This has meant everyone is involved in the process together at the same time, according to Young. “It’s part of this layered cake process and that is making it a very rich, collaborative experience.

“We’re very much brought up on this notion of a showrunner and writers division, and actually this is something we believe in and that we are developing in almost every other instance. But this show has evolved in a very different way. There was the idea from Ralf and Joerg, and then we had Romanian writer input.

“It wasn’t immediately apparent where the overlaps between cultures came, and it took a little bit of time to find common ground, which is why I think of it as a layer cake. We had Joerg and Ralf come in, then the Romanians and we kept building it up like that. But then when you slice through it, you have a coherent show.”

What makes it coherent, Young adds, is Schumacher, who is “an absolutely authentic German-Romanian lead who is fascinating to watch. She flips from speaking German to Romanian, and I find that magic. It’s unfakeable.”

Such authenticity underlines HBO Europe’s wider remit, according to Root, who says the company “defines itself by its localism.” Certainly, emerging from that dingy internet café in Timisoara and back onto the breezy streets after the shoot, the world of internet gaming and hacking seems a million miles away. And perhaps that’s the point.

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Writing shows with mass audience appeal

Peter Lenkov
Peter Lenkov

In this golden age of TV, it’s easy to fixate on the high-end limited series that dominate cable and SVoD schedules. But spare a thought for the mainstream scripted series that deliver huge ratings and ad revenues week after week for networks.

A good example is CBS crime procedural Hawaii Five-0, which is currently dominating Friday nights at 21.00 in the US with an audience of approximately 10 million, compared with the meagre 1.7 million that Fox’s The Exorcist is currently attracting – and the 500,000 that prefer to watch The CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

A reboot of the classic 1960s/1970s series, the new Hawaii Five-0 has performed consistently well for CBS since it launched in 2010, usually averaging around 11-12 million viewers a season. At time of writing it is up to 150 episodes, which just goes to show the immense commercial value of the franchise. Keep in mind that it has also been licensed around the world to the likes of AXN Asia, Cuatro in Spain and Rai Due in Italy. It also performs a key role in handing over a big audience to 22.00 drama Blue Bloods.

The first episode of CBS's Macgyver reboot picked up almost 11 million viewers
The first episode of CBS’s Macgyver reboot picked up almost 11 million viewers

With around 25 episodes a year, the show sucks in a lot of writing talent. All told, more than 50 scribes have been involved in writing episodes since the start. One name, however, is ever-present – Peter Lenkov. Lenkov wrote the season one pilot and still writes the first and last episodes of every new season, usually in tandem with another writer such as Eric Guggenheim or Matt Wheeler.

Canadian Lenkov’s credits prior to Hawaii Five-0 included TV series 24 and CSI: NY, plus films RIPD and Demolition Man. He’s also played a central role in the reboot of MacGyver on CBS this year. Although the show hasn’t received a good response from critics, it has rated well enough to secure a full-season order of 22 episodes. If it can keep its ratings at the 7.5-8 million mark then it stands a good chance of getting a second season.

Another writer who has reason to feel pleased with himself this week is Stuart Urban, whose four-part drama The Secret for ITV has just been named best drama at the Royal Television Society NI Programme Awards. The show, which stars James Nesbitt, tells the story of a real-life murderous pact between a dentist and his mistress. Produced by Hat Trick, it is based on Deric Henderson’s non-fiction account of the story, Let This Be Our Secret.

James Nesbitt in The Secret
James Nesbitt in The Secret

Now 58, Urban’s career dates back to Bergerac in the 1980s. He subsequently won a Bafta for An Ungentlemanly Act, his dramatisation of the first 36 hours of The Falklands War. In 1993, Urban created his own production company, Cyclops Vision, under which he produced a range of feature films and documentaries including the black-comedy movie May I Kill U?.

Still on the awards front, it has also been a good week for Anna and Joerg Winger, whose German-language series Deutschland 83 has just been named best drama at the International Emmy Awards in New York. We featured the Wingers in our focus on German writers last week.

The winner of the TV movie/miniseries category was the Kudos/BBC1 production Capital. Based on John Lanchester’s novel Capital, this three-parter was written by Peter Bowker, who has since gone on to have a hit with The A Word, a BBC drama based on an Israeli show.

Walcyr Carrasco
Walcyr Carrasco

Best telenovela went to Globo’s Hidden Truths, written by Walcyr Carrasco and directed by Mauro Mendonça Filho. The show, which aired last year, explores the fashion underworld. Carrasco has been writing telenovelas since the late 1980s. Among his more recent titles was an adaptation of the Jorge Amado novel Gabriela and 2016’s popular Eta Mundo Bom!.

This week has also seen US pay TV channel BBC America greenlight a second season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a series based on the books by Douglas Adams. The show has been adapted for TV by Max Landis, an American multi-hyphenate who has written several movie screenplays including Chronicle, American Ultra and Victor Frankenstein. He is also an executive producer of SyFy’s horror anthology series Channel Zero.

Landis is currently writing Bright, a supernatural cop thriller starring Will Smith that has received US$90m backing from Netflix.

Elsewhere, cable network TNT is piloting Snowpiercer, a futuristic thriller based on the 2013 film about a huge train that travels around a post-apocalyptic frozen world with the remnants of humanity on board. The TV version will be written by Josh Friedman, whose credits include Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and War of the Worlds.

Frog Stone
Frog Stone

“Snowpiercer has one of the most original concepts to hit the screen in the last decade, and it’s one that offers numerous opportunities for deeper exploration in a series format,” explained Sarah Aubrey, exec VP of original programming at TNT.

At the other end of the budgetary scale, BBC4 in the UK has ordered a bittersweet comedy about a reserved schoolteacher who agrees to go on a road trip with her mother when she learns that the latter is dying. Entitled Bucket, the show is written by Frog Stone, who will also star alongside Miriam Margolyes. Stone began writing comedy with the Footlights at Cambridge University and has honed her craft writing comedy sketches for Radio 4.

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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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Deutschland duo discuss national differences

Two members of the creative team behind German Cold War thriller Deutschland 83 have revealed all about working between television markets in Germany and the US. Michael Pickard reports.

On the back of scripts mostly written by Anna Winger alone, Deutschland 83 became the first ever German-language series to air on a US network when it debuted earlier this year – yet the co-creator says she prefers working alongside other writers.

The show, which is produced by UFA Fiction for RTL, is described as a suspenseful coming-of-age story set against the real culture wars and political events of Germany in the 1980s.

Married duo Joerg and Anna Winger co-created Deutschland 83
Married duo Joerg and Anna Winger co-created Deutschland 83

The story follows Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay, pictured above) as a 24-year-old East Germany native who is sent to the West as an undercover spy for the Stasi foreign service. Hiding in plain sight in the West German army, he must gather the secrets of NATO military strategy.

“The whole development was extremely condensed,” explains Winger, an American novelist who worked alongside her husband, German producer Joerg Winger, to bring the series to life. “I started writing the pilot just before Christmas 2013 and we finished shooting just before Christmas 2014. One year, soup to nuts.

“German TV isn’t set up financially to support an American-style writers room, where writers work full-time on a show. Four other writers came on after I had written the pilot and the season arc, all friends: Steve Bailie, Andrea Willson, Ralph Martin and Georg Hartmann. We brainstormed together for about a week, which was great. Then each of them wrote one episode and I wrote the other four. After a few drafts, I took over all the scripts to bring the season together into one voice. Then the two directors came on board as we started to prepare for production.

“Joerg was involved from day one, of course. He’s a really experienced showrunner, so I couldn’t have had a better partner my first time out. This project has been a great collaboration for the two of us. And because I wrote the original scripts in English, he did the German polish.”

The show launched on SundanceTV in the US last month
The show launched on SundanceTV in the US last month

In future, however, Winger says she would much rather work with a writers room, where she enjoys the sense of collaboration.

“I have my writing office in the former Tempelhof airport terminal – the (former) fourth biggest building in the world – where sometimes I don’t see anyone else for a week,” she says. “So I loved working with other people on this project: producers, directors, actors and especially the other writers.

“If budget would allow for it, I would always work with a writers room. Stories get so much richer through collaboration.”

Meanwhile, Edward Berger, who directed the first five episodes of Deutschland 83, has opened up about the differences between German and US television.

“In Germany, television production has traditionally been very focused on 90-minute movies,” he says. “The idea of serialised drama that was started in the US was completely overslept by the German TV industry. I remember situations from just a few years ago, where we tried to pitch an idea for a series with a horizontal storyline, and the producers and networks kept saying, ‘This doesn’t work in Germany. People want a finished plot at the end of the night. They don’t want to worry about how it continues.’

Berger: 'I really liked the characters – they seemed very real and vivid'
Berger: ‘I really liked the characters – they seemed very real and vivid’

“All the while shows from Denmark, Sweden, England and the US were having massive success around the globe. I couldn’t believe it. So Deutschland 83 is part of a fairly new development in German TV.

Writer/director Berger joined the series at a very early stage after he was contacted by Joerg Winger. He adds: “I really liked the characters – they seemed very real and vivid to me. So I said yes, and from then on we had continuous story meetings while Anna kept writing the scripts.

“It’s great to have a writer whose style you can trust. I can sit back and relax and wait until I get the next draft to critique. I can keep my distance and really judge the script from an outside perspective. When I write and direct, the danger is that I get too close to the subject matter. What I can’t stand, however, is to sit around and wait for that writer to appear. So, in the meantime when I don’t meet someone like Anna, I spend my time writing.”

FremantleMedia International secured the landmark deal to send Deutschland 83 to SundanceTV, which launched the eight-part series to US viewers on June 17.

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