Tag Archives: Marcus Ammon

Back in deep water

On a British beach that’s doubling for the US coast during the Second World War, DQ hits the sand to watch filming for the second season of Das Boot.

On the sands of Formby beach, north of Liverpool on England’s north-west coast, the view stretches for miles across the Irish sea. But on this sunny spring day, the panorama is punctuated by the sight of eight men bobbing in the water.

A cameraman and a boom operator wade out into the sea to join them, stopping when the waves lap at their knees. Then, when preparations are set and the director calls action, the men – German submariners in military uniform – pull themselves on to their feet and run towards the shore. Once on the beach, they stop only when they reach the large dunes that run parallel to the coastline.

The actors are immediately wrapped in towels to stem the cold, although their costumes hide the layers of neoprene used to insulate them from the chilly water. Once they have caught their breath, they head back into the water for another take.

Further down the beach, large tents house the catering and costume areas and provide some respite from the windy conditions for the cast and crew of German wartime drama Das Boot, which is filming scenes for its second season. Quite how the U-boat crew ended up in the water is being kept secret, although it’s part of a plot that sees U-822 sent to the US to transport three saboteurs.

This is one of three dramatic storylines that make up the action of season two and aim to reveal how the human soul can become twisted by war. The action resumes in December 1942, six weeks after the conclusion of season one, when U-boat ace Johannes von Reinhartz (Clemens Schick) is handed a new secret mission, to carry the saboteurs to the US on board U-822. When his loyalty is questioned, U-612 (the vessel from season one) and its commanding officer Wrangel (Stefan Konarske) is sent in pursuit.

The beach at Formby doubles for the coast of Maine in Das Boot

Meanwhile, having escaped certain death out on the Atlantic, former U-612 CO Klaus Hoffmann (Rick Okon) finds shelter in New York with Sam Greenwood (Vincent Kartheiser), who owes his life to Hoffmann. There he meets sleazy German-born lawyer Berger (Thomas Kretschmann), but will Berger help Hoffmann to return home and clear his name?

Back in La Rochelle, France, Simone (Vicky Krieps) and her roommate Margot (Fleur Geffrier) battle to secure an escape route for a Jewish family, but Forster (Tom Wlaschiha), head of the Gestapo, is watching their every move.

With Formby beach doubling for the Maine coastline, a large 1940s diner called The Bay has also been constructed on the other side of the sand dune and tall grass. Inside, menus advertise eggs any style for 10¢, franks and beans at 25¢ and the intriguing Tropical Hut Special for 50¢.

A long bar runs the length of the building, with booths opposite, each with a view of the sandy surroundings. Postcards for sale stand in a rack in front of a wall-mounted map of Maine, the ‘Pine Tree State.’ The cast and crew also filmed in Prague, La Rochelle and Malta, with another English city, Manchester, standing in for New York.

On the beach, Okon is watching his co-stars rush in and out of the water and taking part in a game of frisbee while wearing full costume. “It’s great to be back on set and shooting in the UK,” he says. “My story in season two takes place in the US, especially in New York. I think that’s all I can say!”

Jazz singer Cassandra Lloyd (Rochelle Neil)  and U-boat captain Klaus Hoffmann (Rick Okon)

Season one saw Hoffmann bring Kartheiser’s Sam aboard U-612, much to the dismay of his crew, who later mutiny against him. Then, after apparently being left to die in the Atlantic, Hoffman inexplicably arrives at Sam’s New York office. “I helped him, and now he’s trying to help me,” Okon says of his character’s relationship with Sam. “And I help him again with some stuff he has going on. So it’s a hand-in-hand relationship. Hoffmann is in New York trying to figure things out and deciding what he’s going to do next. That’s basically his story.”

From the outset, Okon says he was immediately drawn to playing Hoffmann, an honourable but intense and inexperienced U-boat captain who is under pressure to keep his crew in line, and found himself delving into the history books once he was cast. A spell at boot camp and support from a naval advisor also helped to shape his performance.

However, nothing could quite prepare him for filming scenes onboard a submarine. “The real feeling to be underwater in a submarine is like being in a cage,” he says. “I don’t think we can imagine how it really felt for these people in the Second World War being underwater in a submarine. But it was claustrophobic. Sometimes we had 20 or 25 people in a very tiny place, but of course, we had the opportunity to step out and get some fresh air.”

Das Boot, inspired by both Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s 1973 novel and Wolfgang Petersen’s iconic 1981 film, proved to be a massive hit for Sky Deutschland when it debuted in 2018, going on to air in more than 100 countries around the world. Shows in their second seasons tend to return bigger and more ambitious, and Das Boot is no exception, with additional storylines, new characters and an extra U-boat all jostling for screen time. Bavaria Fiction and Sky Deutschland coproduce, with NBCUniversal Global Distribution handling international rights.

“The way the show goes forward is by ending with the end of the Second World War, naturally,” says Marcus Ammon, Sky Deutschland’s director of original production. “But we asked ourselves whether we wanted to continue with a story we established in season one and go on with the characters.

Filming in a claustrophobic submarine interior gave a taste of what life was like for U-boat crews

“We felt from the reaction of the audience that many of these characters became very popular. They fell in love with Vicky Krieps, playing Simone Strasser, and with our U-boat captain Klaus Hoffmann. These were clear signs for us to continue the story and add some new characters.”

But while the production team was, understandably, keen to honour the show’s source material and its reverential place in German culture in season one, did the first run’s success embolden them to take more risks this time around?

“We are bolder in season two, whether that’s just because of the success or the natural progression from one season to the other,” explains Bavaria Fiction executive producer Moritz Polter. “It’s also that we now have to compare ourselves to ourselves. The first season we were compared to the film and the second season will be compared to the first season, so to justify a second season we need to take it a step further. If we don’t, why are we doing it?

“This is a character-driven series, rather than an action or plot-driven series, so we feel it made absolute sense to continue the story because we want to know how they evolve, what [events in] the first season did to them, how they are now changed and can cope with what they go through.”

“We gained a lot of self-confidence,” Ammon continues of Sky Deutschland. “It was our second original production after [period crime drama] Babylon Berlin, which was a coproduction. This was our own thing. There was a lot of criticism in the beginning. ‘How can you possibly touch this huge brand, Das Boot? It will fail.’ There was a lot of stuff going on, and then it became this big success for us.

Thomas Kretschmann plays New York lawyer Berger

“Of course, that gives you some self-confidence that you’ve done the right thing, you’ve done something your audience loves and that was enough reason for us to keep going.”

Season one wasn’t even completed when Matthias Glasner (Blochin) was approached to direct season two alongside Rick Ostermann (Wolfskinder), taking over from Andreas Prochaska (Freud) who steered the first run.

“I was afraid if people hated season one they wouldn’t come back for season two, but I liked it, so I thought if I liked it, others will too,” says Glasner, who is also on writing duties alongside head writer Colin Teevan, Tim Loane and Laura Grace. “It was a relief when the first season was a success and people accepted it as a follow-up to Das Boot [the film].

“You want the whole thing to feel real, which is not always the case in Germany, so that impressed me. We will take that to the second season, so we will not have artificial lighting, artificial camera movements or have the actors playing over the top. We want to keep it real. It will be darker, because the war gets darker and darker and more and more people die. It’s the progression of the war and the natural progression of the show. The dark subtext of humanity is coming out in strange ways, so that’s where the show is heading to.”

Of the new characters, Schick (Casino Royale) joins the cast as renowned U-boat captain Johannes von Reinhartz, who has begun to doubt the war effort. When he is assigned to drop a ‘cargo’ of three SS men in America, he decides to defect, but his plans are discovered and Wrangel is sent after him, leading to a high-stakes race in which one captain tries to outsmart the other.

Clemens Schick (centre) as U-boat ace Johannes von Reinhartz

In the US, jazz singer Cassandra Lloyd (Rochelle Neil) is introduced as a member of the house band at real-life New York club Minton’s. Described as beautiful, self-possessed, confident and determined, she senses Sam is in love with her. But when she meets Hoffmann, she is instantly attracted to him. As their unlikely love story unfolds, Cassandra is unaware of Hoffmann’s true identity but slowly begins to learn the truth.

The introduction of Schick and Cassandra, plus seedy lawyer Berger, helped to shape the themes of the season, which deals with the loss of humanity and how characters are redefined by their actions.

“The war is an external influence, rather than an internal drive,” adds Polter. “What becomes more apparent and what is part of the second season is what is happening to the Jews and what Germany is capable of. That is very important because it puts our characters into the situation of actually understanding what they are fighting for.

“A lot of the people in the military didn’t know what was going on around them in that point. They were ‘fighting the good fight’ and once you understood the good fight was not a good fight – you were shooting down merchant ships and if there were civilians, you had to let them die, or what happened to the Jews who were being transported – that changed the perspective. How do you react to what is happening, and do you follow your orders? Those questions will be in the second season.”

For the characters of Das Boot, the horrors of war will truly be brought home, whether by land or sea.

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War on the waves

Thought working with children and animals was hard? Try a U-Boat. DQ lifts the hatch on forthcoming war drama Das Boot to find out how the series was built, more than 30 years after the iconic film that inspired it.

When HBO miniseries Band of Brothers first aired in 2001, it revolutionised the way war stories were realised on television. From executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, it encapsulated the nerve-shredding tension and dynamic sound and visuals seen in their earlier big-screen collaboration, 1998’s Saving Private Ryan.

More than a decade later, another series is set to change the way we watch war on television all over again. Enter Das Boot, inspired by the Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated film by Wolfgang Petersen, which was based on Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s bestselling novel of the same name.

“This is a very big statement but I think Das Boot could potentially do the same for us now,” Bavaria Fiction’s executive producer Moritz Polter says. “Again and again, you need to reach audiences and show them what war is really like and also show them different aspects of war that one was not able to portray 10 years ago.

“One of the great things about the original movie is it showed Germans as human beings rather than just villains, and that’s something that hasn’t really been done on an international level in the television world ever since.”

Das Boot the series opens in occupied France in autumn 1942. Submarine U-612 is now ready for its maiden voyage, preparing to head into the increasingly brutal conflict with its young crewmen, including new commander Klaus Hoffmann. As the 40 young men take on their first mission, they struggle with the cramped and claustrophobic conditions of life below the surface, and their personalities are pushed to the limit as tensions rise and loyalties begin to shatter.

A scene unfolds within the claustrophobic conditions of the U-boat interior

Meanwhile, at the port of La Rochelle, navy translator Simone Strasser’s world spirals out of control as she is engulfed in a dangerous liaison and forbidden love, torn between the Resistance and her loyalty to Germany.

The origins of the Das Boot series can be traced back to Bavaria Fiction’s decision to mine some of parent company Bavaria Film’s IP. The classic 1981 movie immediately stood out, but then it was a question of how it could possibly be brought to the small screen. With ambitions to tell a serialised story set six months after the film, a pay TV partner was the natural choice and Marcus Ammon, Sky Deutschland’s senior VP of film and entertainment, was “overjoyed” at the prospect of a Das Boot drama.

“We know our history and we are aware of what happened. We are very conscious of our heritage and knew we needed to be very careful with the story we are telling, and we were from day one,” Ammon says. “But Das Boot was a perfect fit for Sky’s European drama strategy, which seeks out properties that are bold enough to play across Germany, Italy and the UK.”

Backing was then sought from an international partner that could also provide a non-German editorial voice, with Sonar Entertainment quick to sign up and put both its production and distribution capabilities into the mix.

Sonar’s David Ellender, president of global distribution and coproductions, counts the Das Boot film among the top 10 Second World War movies of all time. He admits part of the challenge in making the series was to create something new while respecting the heritage of the original feature. “Going into this project of eight hours and two parallel storylines, one 100% German-language and the other story split between French and English, it had to feel really authentic,” he says. “That’s the only way it could be done.”

Hollywood actor Lizzy Caplan is part of the international cast

So at the start of development, the biggest question concerned the relationship between the film and the US$32.8m series. “We thought long and hard about whether we wanted to do a remake, a sequel or something in the vein of Fargo, where basically the series is set in the same world as the film,” Polter says. “We were conscious of the fact it’s a beloved property and, especially for a German audience, it’s iconic and is part of our cultural heritage. So we didn’t want to do a remake; we wanted to create something in the world that would create a buzz for the people who know the film. They will find themselves in the world but they will not compare it to the exact characters of the movie.”

That task was handed to co-head writers Tony Saint (The Interceptor) and Johannes W Betz (Die Cleveren), who agreed they would have been “on a hiding to nothing” had they tried to emulate Petersen’s film.

“We had several thoughts [about the story],” says Betz. “We wanted to start the show in the time when the war changes, 1941/42, before the Battle of Stalingrad, the golden time of U-boat warfare. Then things changed and we wanted to set it in that crisis. And because Das Boot is a man’s movie somewhat, we were also thinking about female characters, as there are no female characters on the boat. So we tried to create a connection between the boat and the town of La Rochelle.”

The action within the story takes place over just a few weeks. But the eight-hour runtime afforded the writers the chance to point the series in new directions that couldn’t be explored in a feature film.

“The thing we grappled with a lot and then embraced was the reality of the U-boat situation,” reveals Saint, who describes his joy at writing ‘Ext – U-boat’ for the first time. “There is absolutely no contact between a U-boat and the people it leaves behind, so when you’re first struck with that reality, trying to construct a drama, you think, ‘What do we do here?’ Then that becomes the USP. These people cannot contact each other. So the fact they have no understanding of the other side of the story means it becomes about hope and fear and all those exciting, dramatic things we like to exploit.”

On set during a torpedo-loading scene

The connection between the two storylines is the relationship between Simone, played by Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) and her brother, who is aboard U-612. They grew up together in Alsace, a region that has historically changed hands between France and Germany over many years, leading the series to raise questions over nationality that will likely strike a chord with modern-day audiences.

The Resistance storyline also confronts the dilemma of who to trust in a world of fake news and propaganda – another contemporary theme. And as with any war drama, Das Boot also serves as a warning to the audience that global conflicts should never be repeated.

“Every good and serious war movie is a big warning to everyone that this should never happen again, particularly for a younger audience represented by our crew on board,” Ammon notes. “They were young and full of enthusiasm, they had their whole lives in front of them and went to a war that couldn’t be won. This is the big warning for young audiences and young people.”

Alongside Krieps, the international cast from Germany, France, UK and the US includes Tom Wlaschiha (Game of Thrones), Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) and James D’Arcy (Marvel’s Agent Carter). Rick Okon (Tatort) plays Captain Hoffmann.

Arguably the biggest star, however, is the sub itself. Across a 105-day shoot, filming took place in Prague and Munich, with scenes featuring the U-boat shot in the harbour at La Rochelle and in Malta.

Game of Thrones’ Tom Wlaschiha in Das Boot

The internal U-Boat set, which was based in Prague and brought to life with hydraulics, took 15 weeks to build. The 45 metre-long set comprised a control room, radio room, torpedo room, petty officer’s bunks, diesel and electric engine rooms, galley, hydrophone room, conning tower and captain’s quarters. The U-boat itself, weighing 240 tonnes, took two months to refurbish before it could take to the water, with scenes off the Mediterranean coast of Malta doubling for the Atlantic Ocean.

Unsurprisingly, these scenes were the most challenging part of the production. At sea, a supply boat with a crane and a drone shadowed the submarine, which itself was wrapped with a frame to support the camera crew on board. “There were different structures on the sub so that we could move around with the handheld camera,” director Andreas Prochaska explains. “But it had to be precisely planned because we couldn’t change it once we were out at sea. We also had a mock-up [of the submarine] in a water tank at the studio in Malta. It was 40 metres long, with the stern, tower and gun for scenes where the submarine was being refuelled and given supplies from a support ship.”

If filming inside a U-boat was challenging, the production team found the right director in Prochaska, who has experience filming in confined spaces. His International Emmy-winning TV movie Das Wunder von Kärnten (A Day for a Miracle) spent its 90-minute running time inside an operating theatre.

To prepare for that film, Prochaska reveals, he researched a lot of submarine movies. But the director says going on to film in an actual sub was “a completely different cup of tea,” due to having 25 actors, a camera and lots of fog in a very confined space.

“I can be honest and say it brought me to my limits in every way,” he says. “It was challenging and rewarding; exhausting and adventurous. When I agreed to do it, I knew it would be long and rough and adventurous but I was willing to do it. Taking this challenge was simply one I had to do.”

Directing all eight episodes, Prochaska created a visual language for the two different storylines, with the scenes in La Rochelle drawing on Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, Psycho) and Paul Greengrass (the Jason Bourne movies) inspiring the action aboard the U-boat. “It was very physical, almost like a documentary,” he says of scenes on the submarine. “We tried to keep it as authentic as possible. In La Rochelle, there was much more psychological tension.”

The course Das Boot has set means it could return for a second season, either as a continuation of the story from season one or as a new story set in the same ‘universe.’ The series will premiere at the end of this year in Sky territories Germany, Austria, Italy, the UK and Ireland, with Sonar selling to the rest of the world.

Ammon concludes: “There is a story that is told to the end so there won’t be any question marks or a prompt desire to keep going. But, of course, as in every Second World War story, there are different options on the table. We are discussing that but no decision has been made yet.”

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