Tag Archives: Sky Deutschland

Final countdown

The world is ending. As an asteroid hurtles towards Earth, showrunner Rafael Parente and director Stefan Ruzowitzky tell DQ why Sky Deutschland original series Eight Days chose to explore the dilemmas and decisions ordinary people face in a society with no consequences.

If you woke up one morning and discovered a 40km-wide asteroid was racing towards Earth, with no one expected to survive when it strikes the heart of Europe, what would you do?

That’s the question at the heart of German drama Acht Tage (Eight Days), a gritty eight-part thriller starring Christiane Paul, Mark Waschke and Lena Klenke that asks how ordinary people face up to the reality of their mortality.

As the Horus asteroid races towards Earth at 30,000km per hour, it is expected to wipe out the whole of Europe. Then, when US nuclear missile strikes fail to knock the rock off course, the entire continent is on the run.

Rafael Parente

With each episode of this pre-apocalyptic drama counting down another day until the time of expected impact, the story focuses on several people and families living in Berlin, where they suddenly find they can break the speed limit, have wild sex, do all the drugs they want, shop with no money, forget about working and live with no consequences. All that matters in the end is how they want to spend their final days and hours  –  and how they might try to escape the asteroid’s looming shadow.

Produced by Neuesuper for Sky Deutschland, the series originated from an idea by Korbinian Dufter, who produces with Neuesuper partners Rafael Parente and Simon Amberger. It is written by showrunner Parente, Peter Kocyla and Benjamin Seiler, and directed by Oscar winner Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters) and Michael Krummenacher (Wonderland). Florian Kamhuber is the creative producer, with executive producers Marcus Ammon and Frank Jastfelder. Sky Vision is handling international distribution.

While feature films such as Deep Impact and Armageddon have focused on political and military attempts to solve the crisis, from the outset Eight Days was going to focus on the way ordinary people either accept their fates or do everything they can to evade certain death.

“It’s a high-concept pitch but our idea was not to tell the story from the perspective of the people who can really do anything about it,” Parente tells DQ in Berlin, where the series received its international premiere as part of Berlinale’s Drama Series Days. “It’s not like somebody is flying to the asteroid and planting an A-bomb or the president in the Oval Office discussing strategies with all his generals. It’s from the perspective of people seeing this event but they can’t do anything about it.”

Eight Days looks at how ordinary people cope with an impending apocalypse

Sky Deutschland loved the idea in the pitch and picked it up, but then Parente and his co-writers were left to figure out the individual stories facing the characters in the series, who all come to intersect during the show.

Psychics teacher Uli Steiner (Waschke) and his wife Susanne (Paul), a doctor, want to flee with their children Leonie (Klenk) and Jonas (Claude Heinrich) over land to Russia, while her brother Herrmann (Fabian Hinrichs), with the help of his government contacts, tries to evacuate the family with his father Egon (Henry Hübchen) and Herrmann’s pregnant girlfriend Marion (Nora Waldstätten) to the US.

Meanwhile, Klaus Frankenberg (Devid Striesow), the father of Leonie’s girlfriend Nora, has built a bunker — but Nora wants to celebrate the last days of her life with one long party.

“There’s an asteroid and it creates a lot of tension, but then you have to create emotional stories that somehow break down all the different ways you can deal with this situation,” he continues. “We didn’t want to make a show where they’re just talking for eight hours about philosophical questions. For me, the asteroid is just a metaphor for a world where we face a major problem and politics can’t change it, like the climate crisis, the wars going on around the world and the refugee crisis. In the end, it’s about something else. It’s about what’s really important.”

Structurally, Parente says it was important that each episode contained its own story and themes, alongside the overarching serialised element of the asteroid moving increasingly closer to Earth. “There are different steps with dealing with such a thing,” he notes. “First you might have the denial phase, the aggressiveness, then at some point relief. So we have that in different episodes. In one episode we just have war going on; in another, it’s softer with more emotion.”

The show focuses on multiple separate characters whose stories converge

Known as a feature film director, Ruzowitzky decided to make the move into television in 2016. Eight Days, he says, was by far the “freshest” and most original script he read, telling a story about a society where, from the main characters to the extras in the background, every person has been stripped of their normal life.

“They are at the edge of a nervous breakdown because they know in a few days, their world is going to go down and they’re going to die, or their friends and family are going to die,” he explains. “When I first heard about it, there were no scripts but you could see right away this was very strong and you can make these characters larger than life. Because the situation is so special, you’re asking for extreme actions and reactions.”

The three writers wrote the scripts together, with Ruzowitzky and Krummenacher also giving notes. Filming then took place in blocks by location, with both directors often filming at the same time, each working on their own storylines that would then be pieced together in the edit.

“It’s very interwoven. That was very important because we didn’t just want to tell different stories,” Parente says. “You have beats from the A plot interfering with another plot. I really like that complex storytelling. With so many different stories, I think the audience can follow it. It’s something that is a lot of fun because you can create a whole world. Something like this happening would create a lot of different ways of people dealing with it. So we could go into different lives but always tell the story from the perspective of a single character.”

The Sky Deutschland drama came from an idea by producer Korbinian Dufter

The production process, which took place mostly on location in the German capital, actually made front-page news when the Gendarmenmarkt, a popular tourist destination in the Mitte area of Berlin, was turned upside down for the series to make it look like it had been the scene of major rioting. “We totally destroyed it,” Parente recalls. “People were calling me in the office, asking what is going on, is there a war going on?”

Ruzowitzky adds: “It really looked like a war scene but I think it was important we did it in Berlin and not on a stage. It wouldn’t have been that much fun.”

In the end, the show’s creators weren’t seeking to make a documentary-real take on what the end of the world would look like, instead heightening the characters and the choices they make. But they still wanted to make a series that spoke to viewers emotionally while sending them on a thrilling journey through eight hours of television. The drama launches on Sky Deutschland today.

“What we managed and what was important for me was even though the characters are flawed and make really bad decisions in this extreme situation, you like them and you can relate to them,” Ruzowitzky concludes. “You can understand why they are making these decisions and you can identify with them and have hope for them.

“I always have problems with series where everyone is an asshole – you wonder why you’re meant to watch that. Our cast and our characters, you can relate to them because you know about your own flaws and you imagine you wouldn’t make all the right decisions in a situation like that either.”

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All at sea

Inspired by Wolfgang Petersen’s iconic film and Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s bestselling novel, Das Boot brings the reality of the Second World War to life with two storylines running parallel on land and sea.

In autumn 1942 in occupied France, U-612 is ready for its maiden voyage, preparing to head into the increasingly brutal battle with its young crewmen, including new commander Klaus Hoffmann (Rick Okon).

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

In this DQTV interview, Okon (Tatort) and Tom Wlaschiha (Game of Thrones) set the scene for the story and how it reinterprets Petersen’s movie.

They also discuss the mental and physical challenges of filming in claustrophobic conditions, and explain why they believe this is an exciting time for actors in international television.

Das Boot is coproduced by Bavaria Fiction, broadcaster Sky Deutschland and distributor Sonar Entertainment, which has sold the series into more than 100 territories worldwide.

The drama debuts on Sky in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the UK and Ireland tomorrow and in Italy in December. It will air in the US on Hulu.

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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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Sky Deutschland bets big on original drama

Stefan Ruzowitzky

European pay TV broadcaster Sky has been investing in original scripted content for a few years now, but the last 12 months have undoubtedly seen the company increase its ambition in German-speaking territories. This week, for example, it announced an order for eight-episode drama Eight Days.

Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters), the limited series focuses on the reaction to the news that an asteroid is hurtling toward Earth and is predicted to crash somewhere in Europe in eight days’ time. It follows a German family as they live through what they expect will be the last eight days of humanity.

Asteroids are a well-worn theme in the movies but Frank Jastfelder, director of drama production at Sky Deutschland, said this project was different: “We were excited about Eight Days because everyone asked themselves the same question: How would I react in such a situation? In response to this question, Eight Days delivers emotional, always surprising and highly dramatic answers – and steers clear of all the Hollywood clichés.”

Eight Days will begin production midway through next year, by which time Sky Deutschland will have aired another of its big drama investments, Babylon Berlin. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Hendrik Handloegten and Achim von Borries, this US$45m show is a coproduction between Sky Deutschland, ARD Degeto, X Filme and Beta Film. It follows Gereon Rath, a police inspector in 1929 Berlin, a hotbed of politics, art, extremism and drugs.

Babylon Berlin stars Volker Bruch and Liv Lisa Frise

Two seasons (16 episodes in total) of Babylon Berlin have been set up so far, though there is potential for the franchise to run and run because it is based on a popular book series by Volker Kutscher. So far, Kutscher has written six Gereon Rath books but only the first forms the basis of the first two seasons of Babylon Berlin.

Another ambitious project in the works is Das Boot, a €25m (US$26m) coproduction between Sky Deutschland and German producer Bavaria Film adapted from Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s classic 1973 novel of the same name. Based on the wartime experiences of a German U-boat crew, this series will air in 2018 across all the Sky territories: Germany, Austria, the UK, Ireland and Italy.

Sky Deutschland’s investment in new drama is also being backed by the acquisition of international titles. Earlier in December, the company acquired all five seasons of FremantleMedia International’s hit prison drama Wentworth. The deal marks the first time Wentworth will be available to German-speaking viewers. Season one premiered on Sky Deutschland’s recently launched flagship channel Sky1 on December 7.

Trapped represented a breakthrough in terms of French backing for Nordic drama

Elsewhere in the world of European TV drama, YLE Finland and Mediapro of Spain are joining forces to make a Nordic noir drama called The Paradise. The project is the first time that a Spanish production company has collaborated with a Finnish channel.

The Paradise is a thriller set among the Finnish community living on the Costa del Sol. Their peaceful existence is interrupted by a series of crimes that can only be solved by a joint collaboration between the Finnish and Spanish police forces.

The show is being developed by YLE head of drama Jarmo Lampela and Bordertown writer Matti Laine alongside Mediapro’s Ran Tellem and David Troncoso. Although it is the first Finnish/Spanish collaboration, it is part of a much broader trend towards Nordic partnerships with other European countries. The trend was really kicked off by German broadcasters, the first to spot the international appeal of Nordic drama. The Brits then got interested, first in Wallander and more recently Marcella.

A key breakthrough came last year when France TV came on board Icelandic thriller Trapped. Further French backing for Nordic drama has been evident in the cases of Midnight Sun and Bordertown, a YLE crime series coproduced with Federation Entertainment. That show was a hit on YLE1, with a record 1.1 million viewers and a renewal. That bodes well for The Paradise.

Turkey’s Elif has now been sold into 16 territories

Also this week, The Mark Gordon Company and its parent company Entertainment One (eOne) have joined forces with Xavier Marchand’s newly established UK-based production outfit Moonriver Content.

Under the Moonriver banner, Marchand will acquire, develop and produce film and TV projects with a focus on UK and European stories and talent. The move is expected to increase the volume of UK and European projects coming to Mark Gordon and eOne for financing, coproducing and distributing.

Marchand said: “In partnership with Mark Gordon and his superb team, and with the backing of eOne, I look forward to building on existing relationships and fostering new ones in film and TV.”

On the distribution front, Eccho Rights has revealed that two new broadcasters have picked up hit Turkish drama Elif, which airs on Kanal 7 in its home market. Bangladeshi network Deepto TV and Georgian broadcaster Imedi TV take total sales for the show 16 territories including Chile, where it recently debuted on TVN. Produced by Green Yapim, the show’s third season aired in September – with a total run of 250 45-minute episodes.

A spin-off from How I Met Your Mother is likely

Also this week, SVoD service Hulu picked up the US rights to UK drama National Treasure from All3Media International. Written by Jack Thorne, National Treasure follows a popular comedian, played by Robbie Coltrane, whose life is turned upside down when he is charged with sexual assaults alleged to have taken place 20 years ago. The four-parter first aired on Channel 4 in the UK and will debut as a Hulu original series on March 1 next year.

Finally, there are exciting reports for fans of cult CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. According to Deadline, a spin-off entitled How I Met Your Father is now in the works with This Is Us co-executive producers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger in charge. HIMYM ran for nine seasons between 2005 and 2014 racking up 208 episodes. The final episode included a controversial twist ending that didn’t go down well with a lot of fans. But it still attracted an audience of more than 13 million.

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