Germany’s Maze Pictures has boarded Moscow-based Metrafilm’s KGB comedy series “Pawns,” from writers Michael and Lily Idov, who penned the 2018 Cannes competition screener “Leto.”
The company, which has offices in Munich, Berlin and Lucerne, Switzerland, is also developing a miniseries based on “Ghosts of Berlin,” a book of supernatural stories by filmmaker Rudolf Herzog (son of Werner Herzog), and the tentatively titled mystery series “Parallels.”
On the film front, Maze Pictures is co-producing David Sandberg’s upcoming action-comedy “Kung Fury 2,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender. It also co-produced Abel Ferrara’s “Siberia,” headlining Willem Dafoe, which premiered at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.
“Pawns” is a Russian-German co-production between Maze Pictures, Metrafilm and Latvia’s Tasse Film.
The series has already secured development support from German regional funder Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and the project is set to shoot primarily in Riga and to a lesser extent in Berlin and Moscow.
“I was looking for a commercial project beyond our regular Western European co-production partners to expand our scope and offer we bring to our buyers and audiences,” Maze CEO Philipp Kreuzer told Variety. “When ‘Pawns’ surfaced at the Berlinale Co-Production market, a series from Russia with excellent talent attached clearly aimed at a wider audience and mixing spy, action and comedy genres, it ticked all the boxes and we quickly teamed up.”
Kreuzer and Metrafilms’ Artem Vasilyev have also wanted to work together for some time, he added.
Set in 1965, the series follows Max, a young, shy, asocial chess pro turned KGB agent who, with alpha-male partner Ivan and leftist West German activist Hanna, sets out to foil Western aggression.
“Pawns” will be shot mainly in German and Russian, with characters speaking in their native tongues, including English.
“We are currently packaging and reaching out to a couple of interesting German and international directors,” Kreuzer added. Metrafilm is discussing the series with two Russian VOD platforms. In Germany, the producers are in touch with broadcasters and sales companies.
The Idovs, who also created the hit Russian series “Londongrad” and “The Optimists,” are well known in Germany for their work on “Deutschland 89,” the latest season of Amazon’s hit Cold War spy franchise. The husband and wife team will serve as showrunners and head writers on “Pawns.”
The series is one of a number of high-profile projects at Maze.
“International TV remains one of our core activities,” Kreuzer said.
The company is producing season three of “The Crimson Rivers” with French partner Storia Television for France TV and ZDF.
Kreuzer describes the partnership with Storia as “a great and established collaboration,” adding, “We are happy that despite COVID, we managed to enter into production.”
Maze is also partnering with its affiliated Hamburg-based company Red Balloon (“GR5”) on an adaptation of Tanya Stewner’s bestselling children’s book series “Alea Aquarius,” about a girl who discovers her special connection to the ocean.
It’s likewise co-producing seasons three and four of “Heirs of the Night” with Dutch company Lemming Film. Season one of the vampire clan series premieres on BBC at the end of October.
“With the talent we work with we are also plunging into other genres, comedy and thrillers among others,” Kreuzer noted.
Beyond TV, Maze Pictures is continuing to develop and produce feature films while also expanding its digital content business of shorter formats, such as “Mapping Klee,” a podcast series produced for the Paul Klee Center in Bern and featuring narration in English by Edwin Thomas, who appeared in Rupert Everett’s Maze Pictures production “The Happy Prince.” Its narration in German is by Sebastian Koch (“Shadowplay”), and in French by Carlos Leal (“The L Word: Generation Q”).
Maze Pictures Swiss in Lucerne focuses on the digital business and counts as its clients leading institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Frankfurt’s Städel Museum as well as 10 museums in Switzerland, including the Kunsthaus Zürich and the Kunstmuseum Basel. It makes and produces digital content.
The digital content business has seen a steep increase in demand due to the COVID-19 situation, Kreuzer added.