When U-boat U-612 sets sail from La Rochelle in France, it will be a major TV moment, the sequel to the iconic 1981 German war film and 1985 TV series “Das Boot.” With a budget topping $30 million over eight episodes, it is one of the priciest series ever out of Germany, and marks the freshly re-named Bavaria Fiction’s biggest-ever push into the waters of international TV.
The German producer is in the elite ranks domestically, making almost 300 hours a year and in the same bracket as UFA and Constantin. As it turns 10, it has gotten a new name and one it wants to resonate in global markets as well as on home turf.
Bavaria Fiction sits within the vast Bavaria Film holding group, a conglomerate that spans film and TV production, distribution and licensing in Germany, Austria and Italy. The wider Bavaria Film is approaching its centenary, while Bavaria Fiction has just hit double figures. It was created as Bavaria Fernsehproduktion in 2007, taking over the TV production business of Bavaria Film, and run as a joint venture with ZDF Enterprises, the commercial arm of German pubcaster ZDF. Based in the Bavarian capital, Munich, the company also has outposts in Cologne, Stuttgart and Berlin.
Colonia Media has been part of Bavaria Fiction since 2014 and worked on the Cologne-produced editions of “Tatort,” the long-running ARD drama, which sees various broadcasters contribute installments to the franchise. The company also has “Tatort: Munster,” which drew 14.6 million viewers in April, making it the fifth most popular edition of the show since ratings started in Germany. Cop show “Soko Stuttgart” and medical series “Dr. Klein” are among the Stuttgart-produced series, and other signature shows include “Storm of Love,” the ARD soap following relationships as they unfold in a five-star Rosenheim hotel, and police procedural “The Rosenheim Cops.”
The Bavaria Fiction rebrand, overseen by marketing supremo Isabelle Fedyk who joined from Tandem this year, goes deeper than applying lick of paint. It underlines the company’s evolution from a producer working Germany’s pubcasters, to a fully-fledged content company, developing and producing for different platforms at home and abroad. Bavaria Fernsehproduktion was also a handle that didn’t trip off the tongue for non-German speakers.
“As you get into the international market, it’s good when people can spell your name,” says Jan S. Kaiser, Bavaria Fiction managing director, alongside Manfred Haus-Pflüger.
The international push has two imperatives: new found opportunities in both domestic pay-TV and the global scripted business, and a challenging free-TV market at home.
“The pay-TV channels in Germany have started commissioning and we are happy that we can do ‘Das Boot’ with them, and we are looking forward to working with Netflix and the other platforms that started in recent years,” Kaiser says from his office at Bavaria Studios, overlooking the original “Das Boot” U-boat. “We do a lot for the broadcasters but their budgets are limited, and while some have said they want to do more, for others, what they want to do in terms of new content is limited.”
“Storm of Love” is Bavaria’s most successful show outside Germany, selling in 25 territories, but the “Das Boot” sequel opens another international chapter.
“We are a company that has a lot of experience across different genres and different formats and this is why we are prepared for the international market,” Kaiser says.
Knowing Bavaria Fiction can handle anything from a daily soap to an event miniseries and has the use of a studio, makes it easier to attract partners as it expands into multi-broadcaster projects. Chief creative officer Oliver Vogel says the international story can include and go beyond the edgier co-productions it is now getting, and include its German series and procedurals. He cites “Dr. Klein,” a medical drama about a female paediatrician with dwarfism that Netflix has in a second window in Germany.
“Think about it, in the United States is there a series like that?” he asks. “Even our long-running series could be interesting for the international market.”
If “Dr. Klein” addresses inclusion, another show touching on social issues is “Bella Germania.” The upcoming ZDF series looks at the wave of Italian migrant workers who came to Germany in the 1960s. Meanwhile, at the cultural end of the Bavaria Fiction line-up there is Heinrich Breloer’s docudrama “Brecht” with original archive footage of the poet and playwright. “Freud,” about the Austrian psychoanalyst, is also in development with Austria’s ORF and will be a co-production running to eight parts, coming in at about $2 million per episode.
“We are a company that has a lot of experience across different genres and different formats and this is why we are prepared for the international market.”
Jan S. Kaiser
Kaiser and Vogel are both Bavaria veterans: the former was general production manager of Bavaria Film, and managing director of film producer Bavaria Pictures, the latter is one of Germany’s best-known TV producers and has been working within the Bavaria team for over two decades. Moritz Polter is a newbie by comparison. He joined Bavaria Fiction in 2016 from “Crossing Lines” production company Tandem to spearhead co-production and drive the international business. By that point “Das Boot” was under way, and he closed the financing, bringing in U.S. partner Sonar Entertainment, and has been closely involved as it heads into production. “Arctic Circle” and “Germanized” have since been added to the roster of international projects, delivering the high-end, edgy, serialized pieces for which the international market thirsts.
“I love living in Munich and the challenge of taking one of the oldest, most established companies into a different time zone and into the international arena was a one I couldn’t refuse,” Polter says.
His plan is to start with Europe-led projects. “Setting up a show for the American market right away is too high risk for us as a new international player,” he says. “Taking established European writers — English, German, French — and creating content that sells internationally is more feasible.”
Culture-clash comedy “Germanized” is set in a French village on the verge of bankruptcy that welcomes a German company and hundreds of German workers. It is Deutsche Telekom’s first original for its EntertainTV service, and Amazon is expected to board it internationally. The French- and German-language show will star Christoph Maria Herbst from “The Office”-inspired ProSieben comedy “Stromberg.”
“Telekom was interesting for us, it’s a new player and ‘Germanized’ will get a lot of attention,” Polter says. “They need a strong brand and Christoph Maria Herbst is that, and it will get a lot of buzz.”
“Arctic Circle” is the first German-Finnish co-production, with Bavaria teaming with Yellow Film & TV to make the series for the Finnish streaming service Elisa, which will launch the show, and pubcaster YLE. A serial-killer drama, the €6.5 million ($7.7 million), 10-part series will move beyond the usual Nordic noir tropes, with a wide, bright and open aesthetic replacing the usual darker tones.
Internationally, momentum is building. “We’re heading in the right direction,” Polter says. “By the May [L.A.] Screenings or MIPTV we’ll be further along and people will be coming to us a lot more when we prove we can sustain what we’re talking about.”
As Bavaria Fiction heads into its second decade, Oliver adds the plan is to expand, but in a measured way. “It’s more important to make good movies and series, not try to be number one or two across all production,” he says. “We want to work with the best people and make the best stories, but we don’t need to be the biggest company.”