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Constantin TV Chief Oliver Berben on Building Drama Brands for a Global Audience

'The Typist' is in competition at Canneseries

Screening at Canneseries as part of the Official Competition selection, “The Typist” follows Freya Becker, a typist with the homicide division of the Berlin police. Freya’s daughter, Marie, disappeared 11 years ago without a trace, but Freya is determined to uncover the truth, whatever the cost. The series is produced by Constantin Film’s Moovie, and is being sold by Beta Film. Oliver Berben, who heads up Constantin’s TV, Entertainment and Digital Media division, says that although a crime is at the center of the show, the series is “more a drama than a crime story,” and what “gets you hooked are the dramatic and character elements rather than just the suspense parts of the show.”

He adds: “What makes it special in my opinion is that it creates its own language and temperature for the audience. If you look at the German market in particular it is quite unusual because normally we are used to a strict divide between the different genres, but here you are taking the crime format and transforming it into a more personalized drama. It still has the elements of a typical crime story, but they are not the main driving parts that keep you connected to the show, and that is something I liked from the very beginning when [writers] Friedrich Ani and Nina Grosse developed the idea: That we were trying to set up a drama show within a crime scene.”

Constantin’s main focus is on strengthening its existing big brands, Berben says, such as the TV show based on the novel and feature film “Perfume,” the series based on the video-game and movie “Resident Evil,” and “Shadowhunters,” which is based on Cassandra Clare’s novel series “The Mortal Instruments,” and is in its third season on Freeform. Constantin is also trying to create new brands, such as “The Typist,” and is working on a TV adaptation of Clare’s novels “The Infernal Devices.”

A year and a half ago, Constantin set up a substantial fund for the development of high-end drama series, and since then its output of scripted shows has been on the rise, Berben says. “This gave us the possibility of creating ideas, scripts and bibles without any interference from broadcasters or streamers, and for that reason we didn’t have any time pressures nor financial pressures. When I see the outcome of the first shows after these 12 to 18 months this is absolutely the way I would want Constantin Film’s future slate to be developed.”

He adds: “It has a lot of advantages. It costs a lot of money, I know, but on the other hand you have the possibility to find the right creative personnel, you are not bound by timing schedules, you can focus purely on the development, and create the show the way you or the creative team wants to have it. That makes it a lot easier to get the show to the market.” Both “The Typist” and “Perfume” were developed in this way, he says.

The company is now developing “Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo” (We Children of Bahnhof Zoo), based on a non-fiction book portraying the drug scene in Berlin in the 1970s, which previously spawned the 1981 feature film “Christiane F.” Berben says: “We are building a writing team around [the project] led by Annette Hess [best known for ‘Ku’damm 56’]. She has five other writers involved, and they are creating the whole show, and are completely absorbed by it. They don’t have any other commitments… This is the future for the development of shows at Constantin.”

As the demand for drama has grown the competition for writers of Hess’ caliber has intensified. “Writers are the old and new stars of today. They are the ones we need,” Berben says. He cites a recently signed exclusive three-year deal with Eva Kranenburg, the writer on the “Perfume” series, as an example of the company’s commitment to top scribes. “By taking such a step you can enable them to focus on a specific show [and nothing else],” he says.

Perfume

Constantin has signed an exclusive three-year deal with Eva Kranenburg, the writer on ‘Perfume’ (above). Copyright: Jakub Bejnarowicz, Constantin Film

While some might claim the international market for drama has become saturated, Berben says the German market is different. “The market is still young in Germany when you look at these kind of [high-end] shows we are talking about,” he says. “The hunger for new [scripted] programming is huge. It’s not going to stop soon.”

Even in the international market the demand for high-end serialized drama will continue to grow, Berben says, and comes from both the traditional broadcasters and the streaming platforms, like Netflix and Amazon, as well as new players like the telecoms companies, such as Deutsche Telekom in Germany.

He is flexible about how the deals for his shows are structured. “You have to be open these days to various possibilities for production combinations,” he says. ZDF has rights for Germany on “The Typist,” while Constantin kept all the international rights, which Beta is handling. On “Perfume,” ZDFNeo has German-speaking rights in the first window, while Netflix will bow the show worldwide day-and-date outside of those territories. Beta will sell the shows to international broadcasters after Netflix’s first window. “We are trying to maximize the possibilities for our productions,” Berben says.

One initiative that Constantin is seeking to build on is linking fiction and reality-show elements, such as they did with terrorism-themed show “The Verdict,” where the viewers vote on the guilt of the protagonist. The company is in talks with a U.S. production company to produce an international version of the show, as well as working on two other formats that “allow us to combine different kinds of media and different storytelling elements across traditional and new media in one show,” Berben says.

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