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.
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.”
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.”
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 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.”