Need for Seed

Need for Seed

By Michael Pickard
December 4, 2023


In Norwegian-German coproduction The Seed, the future of food production falls into the hands of two detectives who inadvertently land in the middle of a global conspiracy. DQ meets the cast and creative team to find out more.

When an environmental journalist goes missing in northern Norway, two detectives are forced to team up in an effort to find him. As they delve deeper into the mystery, German detective Max Grosz, uncle to the missing man, and his Norwegian counterpart Thea Koren find themselves pitted against agrichemical conglomerates as corporate conspiracies and political machinations put the future of the global food supply chain at risk.

This is The Seed, a six-hour eco-thriller that begins at the doors of one of the most intriguing settings ever used in a television drama – the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It’s here that Max and Thea begin their investigation, one that reaches from the desolate Arctic landscapes of Spitsbergen to the heart of the European Parliament in Brussels.

It’s a topical and timely subject for a series, not least in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has exacerbated the existing food crisis around the world. 

“It’s so real, it’s so present,” says Heino Ferch (Downfall), who plays Max. “It’s exactly the subject we are exploring [in The Seed] – who is responsible and how do people get the food?”

“It felt really meaningful, getting to do a story like this in the chaotic situation we have on this planet – and have been having for a long time,” adds Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Westworld), who stars as Thea. “It’s as if it’s just getting more and more focused and concentrated, always fighting for resources, and also what people are willing to do to make a profit.

Ingrid Bolsø Berdal and Heino Ferch play the detectives at the centre of The Seed

“It’s mind-boggling to realise how the world is run in some areas, so it felt really meaningful to be a part of a show that really uncovers how business and politics sometimes go hand in hand.”

Contrasted with the political plot line is the relationship between Max and Thea, who start off at odds with each other but come to build a bond as their investigation takes them deeper into bureaucratic waters.

“They both come from a situation in their past that has been tough for them, and it felt really nice, in this corporate and brutal, cynical world, to also have a story where two people try to get to know each other more and, by the end, show their humanity,” Berdal says.

Representing the corporate machine is young, charismatic CEO Sven Benjamin, played by Seumas Sargent. “He’s a character who believes he’s really doing good. He wants to do good and he does do good. But he’s constantly faced with making decisions that push his own moral compass in a direction that may not necessarily be where he would want it to go from the heart,” the actor says. “His arc is really about discovering himself and how far he will go to do what’s necessary for business and necessary for what might be best for the planet.”

Produced by Odeon Fiction and Rein Film, the series partners director Alexander Dierbach with writers Christian Jeltsch and Axel Hellstenius. The German-Norwegian coproduction launched on ARD Mediathek on Saturday, with its linear debut coming on December 9, began as an idea from Jeltsch, who had read about a break-in at a seed vault and then started researching the subject.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is key to the story

“The more you read about it, the more you understand that it concerns all of us,” says Odeon head of international coproductions Britta Meyermann. “Of course, if you hear about seeds and stuff like that, it’s not the sexiest pitch. But then Christian managed to create a story around it and found out about the seed vault in Svalbard.”

With so much at stake, Max and Thea might not seem best suited to work the case together – at least initially. “They’re two strangers, and at the beginning they hate each other because he thinks she’s a lousy cop and she thinks he’s rude,” Meyermann says. “But the more they talk and work together, the more they develop respect and like each other.”

Both characters also find something they share in their past that creates a common bond. “We find out that they both had some not-so-nice experiences and they’re both hurt in a way,” she continues. “They’re trying to hide this, of course, and be professional, and they become a wonderful team. Then being in Brussels, in this new world and growing together, it’s really amazing to see. They work very well on screen together.”

The majority of filming took place in Prague, alongside shooting days in Munich and Svalbard, while just two days were spent in Brussels to secure establishing shots of the European Parliament. The exterior of the seed vault itself was shot on location in Svalbard, while the interior was built in Prague, based on how it looks in real life – a huge room with rows upon rows of boxes of seeds.

“Shooting in Svalbard was quite hard because we had 24 hours of daylight,” recalls Dierbach. “After shooting in Munich and Prague to find the constant sun, it was not so easy. And when we had started to scout Svalbard in February, it was -20°C and a lot of snow. In August, when we came back, it was 16°C and no snow. It was incredible to see that.”

Most of the filming for The Seed took place in Prague

It wasn’t just the weather that kept Dierbach, who directs all six episodes, on his toes. Each location brought a different style and rhythm to the series, from the high-pressured company lifestyle in Brussels to the calm and stillness of nature beside the sea in Svalbard.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life,” he continues. “I’ve done several TV shows and also 85 days of constant shooting, but most of the time I’m in one country. Working in different languages was also really hard.

“I have a Norwegian actor and we spoke in English but the lines between two Norwegian characters are in Norwegian, so I had one guy translating to me. You want to get a special connection to the characters and so I had to ask [the actors], ‘How does it feel to you?’ because I didn’t know. But it was a really special experience.”

Meyermann describes the series, which is distributed by Leonine Studios, as a “super emotional story” that begins with a man looking for his nephew – a search that leads him into an international scandal. “That’s what gets you invested. This is what hooks you,” she says. “It’s suspenseful and thrilling.”

The wider subject matter also struck a chord with the exec – and she hopes it will hit home with viewers as well. The series has already won two awards following its world premiere at this year’s Monte-Carlo Television Festival, where it won the prizes for Best Creation, recognising creative achievement, and the Betaseries audience award.

“This is one of the most important subjects we have right now, especially with situations like climate change and wars,” she notes. “You just realise how vulnerable we all are and how dependent we become on these few corporations. It’s a little scary. Feeding the world, it’s one of the most important subjects at the moment.

“We are not telling this in a detective way. It’s an ecological, political, suspenseful thriller. What the creators managed to do very well is give an insight into how politics and economics are intertwined. Not everything is done for the greater good.”

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