Three of Germany’s hottest filmmakers — David Wnendt, Julia von Heinz and Erik Schmitt — and leading producer Fabian Gasmia have joined forces to set up production company Seven Elephants, and have revealed the first project on its 10-strong slate set to go into production.
All four founders have won German Film Awards, and have produced films that have, collectively, sold more than 10 million tickets in Germany alone.
Wnendt’s “Combat Girls” won three Lolas, “Wetlands” was in competition at Sundance, and his Hitler satire “Look Who’s Back” grossed $22 million in Germany, and sold to Netflix for multiple international territories.
Von Heinz’s credits include Lola winner “Nothing Else Matters,” “Hanni and Nanni 2,” which grossed $5.7 million in Germany, and “I’m Off Then,” which grossed $15.2 million at home.
Schnitt’s short films have won more than 300 awards and have played at more than 1,000 festivals, including the Berlinale. His style has been compared with Gondry and Jeunet. His highly anticipated debut feature “Story of Berlin” is in post-production, and will be released in Germany by Neue Visionen.
Gasmia was the founder of Detailfilm and CEO of Zentropa Hamburg. He co-produced Mia Hansen-Love’s Berlin Silver Bear winner “Things to Come,” and “Personal Shopper,” which won best director in Cannes for Olivier Assayas. He is presently co-producing “Annette” by Leos Carax, starring Adam Driver and Michelle Williams.
Seven Elephants’ first film to go into production is set to be Von Heinz’s “Tomorrow the Whole World,” which it is in financing. Alamode is attached as its German distributor, and the film has backing from regional fund FFF Bayern. It follows a young woman, played by rising star Mala Emde, who dives into the world of the radical left. “With a far-right party on the rise she is challenged by the existential question: What has she done to to prevent what is, in her opinion, a new Adolf Hitler for Germany? Is violence the only answer she can find?” according to a statement.
Also on the slate is Von Heinz’s “Iron Box,” which is based on the autobiographical novel “Too Many Men” from New York-based bestselling author Lily Brett. The film, which takes place in 1995, centers on Ruth, a neurotic businesswoman from New York. She takes her father, Edek, a Holocaust survivor, on a trip to Poland so she can make sense of their family’s past.
The company will have a similar approach to United Artists, X-Filme and Zentropa, the founders told Variety, in that the filmmakers will retain control over the commercial decisions affecting their projects. “It will be a home for auteur-driven but also commercially successful movies that are developed under the full control of the respective creators,” Gasmia said.
Wnendt said the priority was to maximize creative freedom. “As a director I am so dependent on the way productions are set up and how the money is spent. It isn’t about making more money but about having more influence over the way the money is spent during filming; to make sure it is spent in the most efficient way, and control the way the story is told,” he said. For example, the filmmakers could keep crew sizes down and the number of shooting days up to maximize the time the director spends with the actors.
The filmmakers also intend to develop TV series that they can collaborate on as writers and directors in a similar way to how X-Filme produced “Babylon Berlin.” “The intention is to share honest feedback on everything we are working on,” Wnendt said.
Schmitt said they wanted “to create something that is more like a family – some kind of safe room where creativity can thrive; where it is not just about business but also about the ideas, and putting the auteur at the center of things.”
Von Heinz said it was the perfect time in her career to form the company. “I have had a lot of good experiences with other producers and so I really know what I’m doing when I say I want to be my own producer. I want the control, but I’m also ready to take the responsibility.”
Although no formal relationships have been struck with other entities, the company is likely to build on the existing relationships the four have built up over their careers, Gasmia said.
Photo shows (from left to right): Erik Schmitt, Julia von Heinz, Fabian Gasmia, Isabel Śuba, David Wnendt