Battle lines

Battle lines

By Michael Pickard
June 2, 2023


Twin sisters clash in edgy German-language thriller A Thin Line, which blends hacker activism with the threat of the global climate crisis. But as the creative team behind the series tell DQ, the six-part series might actually be a break-up story.

While scripted series such as The Swarm and Extrapolations take a fantastical look at the repercussions of the global climate crisis, German-language series A Thin Line is an edgy, thrilling take on attempts to tackle environmental crimes and what happens when those efforts become increasingly radical.

Twin sisters Anna and Benni Krohn are determined cyber activists who run an anonymous platform, ClimateLeaks, on which they report environmental crimes. When they are exposed after a hacking attack on the government, the introverted Anna is arrested by the federal police, while the charismatic Benni manages to escape and joins The Last Resistance, a terrorist environmental activist group.

But as Benni becomes more and more radical, Anna is persuaded to work with the police, and the sisters find themselves on opposite sides.

“For me, it was always the story of a break-up,” head writer Stefanie Ren tells DQ. “They love each other so much but, with their different points of view, there’s no way back. At one point, our main protagonist, Anna, has to step away from her sister and say, ‘I won’t join you in this and we have to separate,’ even if it’s so much harder for her than it is for her sister. It’s a bit of a toxic relationship at the beginning; they’re a little too close and she needs to learn how to stay away from her sister.”

Produced by Weydemann Bros as a Paramount+ German original, A Thin Line is the first TV series from film producer brothers Jonas and Jakob Weydemann, who have built a slate of titles that seek to observe and analyse the world we live in. The new show, which was presented at French television festival Series Mania earlier this year, is no different.

“For us, it’s always important there’s a topic, a political or social aspect to the stories that attracts us, and then the genre comes with the story or characters,” Jonas says. “In this case, we were interested in talking about cybercrime, hacking and climate activism, which is the most pressing topic of our time, and how climate activism is driven so much by young people.

“Then we came up with the characters, the twin sisters, and that brought with it the genre of a thriller – but the genre is the vehicle for that drama and those moral conflicts and themes we wanted to talk about.”

It was also those themes – and the depth of the story they wanted to tell – that meant A Thin Line would be made for the small screen. “A couple of years back, we realised series were opening up the kind of interesting storytelling we first discovered in the world of cinema, so we started to develop different kinds of projects, ideas and pitches,” Jonas says. “We presented this one to Paramount+ and then it was a very fast process to put together a team, because we had a rather clear delivery date.”

Jakob picks up: “From my perspective of the German market, at least at the moment, there are certain genres or stories you can do in series and get them made, and I’m not sure if this particular story would have been possible to make currently as a movie.

“Television also gives you all those possibilities to go deeper into the story, and you have more time to tell it. That’s also why it was always planned as a series. It didn’t feel like something you would want to do as a movie.”

Jakob (left) and Jonas Weydemann

Jakob and Jonas created the six-part series, before Jonas and Ren partnered with Nicki Bloom and Sabrina Sarabi to write the scripts. Sarabi also directs with Damian John Harper.

Ren (Cleo, Für Jojo) joined the project after taking a call from Jakob, during which he told her the idea for the story, that Paramount was on board and that shooting was due to begin in just six months. Would she be interested?

“I thought about it for a moment but then I said yes because the topics were so interesting,” she says. “I was very empowered myself by the climate movement, so I really wanted to tell a story about it. But I had no idea about hacking.”

Ren had an advisor she could contact whenever she had questions about that side of the series. But understandably her biggest challenge was the tight timeframe in which to oversee production of all the scripts.

“We had to research a lot of topics while writing six episodes and when we were already producing and casting. That made it difficult but also very energetic somehow,” the writer continues, “because we all knew this goal and we had to have the product finished by then. I didn’t have to think about what I was writing, I was just writing, and it was actually a very freeing and great process. It was a great team effort. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible.”

A Thin Line

In writing the series, Ren channelled a lot of real-life frustration within climate activism into the central characters of Anna (played by Saskia Rosendahl) and Benni (Hanna Hilsdorf).

“Both sisters are very frustrated with the world and how governments are treating this crisis, which is so urgent,” she says. “They’re just frustrated with each other and the world. We just wanted to show how differently they process this. One goes to the extreme and the other just tries to stay hopeful and optimistic and believe in the good of people.”

Facing a race against time to get the scripts completed while pre-production was ramping up, Ren found the fact that she had a room within the production office hugely beneficial, as it meant she was available if other members of the team had questions about the story or the characters.

“It isn’t so common in Germany for a writer to join the production process. It’s more separated, so I loved being there,” she says.

Director Sarabi agrees: “That worked really nicely because I had rehearsals and script readings and I could go to Stefanie when we were discussing some of the scenes and the character development with the actors. It was really nice that we were in one place.”

“It really was a great process for me,” Ren adds. “I only want to work like this now, because I got immediate feedback from everyone and just put it in [the scripts]. And when I had an idea, I just went to the line producer and asked, ‘Is this actually possible?’ – and he would be like, ‘No!’ But it was a great process.”

A Thin Line

Sarabi had previously worked with the Weydemann brothers on features such as Prelude and Niemand ist bei den Kälbern (No One’s with the Calves), the latter also starring Rosendahl. She found the production to be a extremely fluid process as she moved from the writers room to location scouting and casting – which took on an extra dimension thanks to the fact the scripts were not locked down.

“It was interesting because we would have an interesting actor during casting and we would watch what they were like and talk about how it would work in a scene,” she says. “Usually the script is pretty much closed, but here it was different, so that made it very fluid, as they [the actor and the script] could react to each other.”

But how did the team seek to balance an entertaining and thrilling premise with the noble message at the show’s heart? “For me, entertainment always has to say something and mean something,” Jonas says. “It needs to do something to you or change you emotionally after you’ve watched it, and of course that’s what we tried to do.

“It’s about how frustrated an existential threat makes you, how you react and get separated from people you love because you have a different view of the world, which isn’t limited to the climate topic but the many angry topics we have at the moment.”

Ren laughs. “It was a thin line.”

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