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‘Das Boot’ Sets Course for Overseas Success

When Bavaria Fiction executive producer Moritz Polter looks out at the company’s backlot from his office window, he can see the original sets built for “Das Boot,” the classic 1981 movie set in the belly of a German U-boat that’s been recently rebooted with stellar results.

The Oscar-nominated anti-war pic, directed by Wolfgang Petersen and based on Lothar-Gunther Buchheim’s autobiographical bestsellers, was the most expensive feature film to come out of postwar Germany at the time; now “Das Boot” has undergone a major refit and resurfaced as one of the country’s most expensive TV shows and a ratings hit wherever it has aired.

Budgeted at roughly $32 million, and shot over 105 days in Munich, La Rochelle, Prague and Malta, the eight-episode series directed by Andreas Prochaska stems from brainstorming among Bavaria Fiction (a subsidiary of Bavaria Film and ZDF Enterprises), paybox Sky Deutschland and Sonar Entertainment, which has sold it to more than 100 territories.

The “Das Boot” reboot effort “all began with discussions about what we wanted to do, meaning: Do we do a remake? Do we do a sequel? Do we do eight parts?, six, 10?… Do we do a movie at the same time?,” Polter says.

It was decided to make it a sequel of sorts. But when they sat down with writers Johannes W. Betz and Tony Saint, “we very quickly realized that actually doing a real sequel would probably also be fairly problematic, given where the story of ‘Das Boot’ ends, meaning pretty much everyone being dead,” he says. They “needed to find an intro into the series that would hook the audience that was expecting to get ‘Das Boot’ [the movie] and at the same time start a completely new show.”

Thus the revived “Das Boot” is set in fall 1942, months after Petersen’s movie ended. The tide is turning against the German war effort after the Allies solve the Enigma code and opposition to the Nazis intensifies. It tells dual stories: there is the journey of the U-boat, and the story of the Resistance movement in La Rochelle.

This dual storyline generates a momentum in viewers “of always missing the other [storyline],” says Polter, who boasts that “creating that binge-watching urge was something I wanted to achieve, and looking at the numbers it seems as though that worked.” In its most recent outing “Das Boot” debuted in January on Sky in Italy, scoring the best ratings ever for a European production on the paybox.

Sky Deutschland senior VP of original productions Marcus Ammon says it was more or less a no-brainer to greenlight the second season. “It happens once every 10 years that you have the opportunity to build on a brand like that,” he says, and underlines that “the story is written in such a way that you can go on until the war is over.”

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