Teuton helmer enjoys making audience-friendly films
Til Schweiger had just spent half the night editing the previous day’s shooting for his new comedy “Kokowaa” but the German filmmaker with a decidedly commercial touch was still full of energy as he led his cast through the morning’s scenes in an abandoned factory in Berlin. Before spending his lunch break in a mobile editing suite, the actor-turned-director-producer was attempting to explain how his films have attracted boffo Teuton biz.
“Maybe the first secret is, ‘Don’t bore people,’?” Schweiger tells Variety, showing no sign of fatigue despite sleepless nights spent editing his comedy about a down-on-his-luck screenwriter.
“I don’t think German films have to be heavy or intellectual the way they sometimes used to be,” he says.
Schweiger, 46, is almost gleeful about his longstanding — and highly entertaining — feud with German film critics. He refuses to show critics his films in advance and insists that if they want to see them in order to review them, they should go and buy tickets on opening day.
“They’ve been bashing me since I started making films,” Schweiger says of the Teuton critics, who also influenced Roland Emmerich and other German filmmakers to work outside the country earlier in their careers.
Schweiger has been confounding critics with one hit after another — especially since returning home to Germany in 2004 after seven years working in Hollywood. Originally an actor, Schweiger now directs, produces, writes and edits — and he has built his Barefoot Films shingle into one of the country’s leading independents.
Schweiger’s “Keinohrhasen” (Rabbit Without Ears) was one of the most successful German films in recent years, with $51 million at the B.O. and 6.5 million admissions, a handsome return for the $5.7 million romantic comedy about a sleazy tabloid journalist who changes his ways after falling in love with a fast-talking kindergarten teacher. The sequel “Zweiohrkuecken” (Rabbit Without Ears 2) grossed $38 million.
Though Schweiger’s pics haven’t caught on outside German-speaking countries, Newmarket Films acquired English-language remake rights to “Rabbit” earlier this year.
Schweiger moved to Malibu in 1997 with his American wife. They now have four children — all of whom have appeared in his productions. In fact, his 8-year-old daughter Emma Tiger Schweiger has one of the leading roles in “Kokowaa.”
Schweiger had become a household name in Germany in the mid-’90s with “Maybe, Maybe Not” but branched out into other parts of filmmaking with “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” in 1997, which he produced and wrote together with director Thomas Jahn.
While appearing in supporting roles in productions including “Driven” and “Lara Croft: Tom Raider: The Cradle of Life” and later “Inglourious Basterds,” Schweiger tried to soak up as much filmmaking knowledge as possible.
“What I appreciated the most was the chance to work with different cultures, with different people and different actors,” he says, mentioning Nick Nolte, Alan Arkin, Emma Thompson and Chazz Palminteri, “I learned a lot just watching those guys.”
Eager to get back to the editing suite attached to his trailer, Schweiger talked up the nearly instant editing system he has used for most of his films, pointing out it that he can make quick changes the next day if the script doesn’t work, the lighting’s off or the timing is bad. It also makes it possible to deliver a rough cut just a day after wrapping production.
“The only disadvantage — you’re always tired.”