German entertainment giant UFA is continuing its push into feature films with a slew of high-profile projects, including an upcoming Siegfried and Roy biopic and a sequel to the 2014 historical epic “The Physician,” starring Tom Payne (“Prodigal Son”).
The ramp-up follows the huge box office success last year of Oscar winner Caroline Link’s “All About Me,” based on the childhood memoir of German comedian Hape Kerkeling, which became 2019’s second biggest local box-office hit with €31.25 million ($35.34 million) via Warner Bros.
Other upcoming titles include Leander Haussmann’s highly anticipated Cold War laffer “A Stasi Comedy,” which Constantin Film is set to release next year. Set in the 1980s, the film centers on a young agent of East Germany’s infamous state security service, played by David Kross (“Balloon”), who is sent to infiltrate East Berlin’s counterculture scene and who, years later, is confronted with the possibility of his secret Stasi past coming to light.
Set for release this year is Leonine’s family drama “God You’re Such a P–ck” from director André Erkau and starring Til Schweiger.
The company also produced its first feature for Netflix, Cüneyt Kaya’s “Rising High,” about three fraudsters who set out to make it big by manipulating Berlin’s booming real estate market. The pic also features Kross alongside Frederick Lau and Janina Uhse.
While UFA remains largely dedicated to television, with between 70% and 80% of its productions for the small screen, the focus on feature film is intensifying, according to UFA CEO Nico Hofmann.
“There’s a big appetite at the moment for feature film productions,” he says, adding that feature films for the big screen and streaming services will increase in the next two to three years.
“Netflix is pushing a lot of money in the so-called one-off mini-movies, so that could be a market for the future,” he adds. There’s a lot going on at the moment.”
UFA also enjoys a strong relationship with Amazon, which took over the company’s hit Cold War franchise with “Deutschland 86” and the upcoming “Deutschland 89,” Hofmann points out. “Netflix is now stepping in and we also have a huge partnership with [RTL’s OTT service] TV Now.”
The group is currently producing two to three features a year, says UFA Fiction managing director Sebastian Werninger, who oversees the company’s theatrical production division.
UFA has tapped multihyphenate Michael Bully Herbig (“Balloon”) to write and direct its upcoming Siegfried and Roy biopic, one of the company’s highest profile projects to date. Hofmann secured rights to Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Uwe Horn’s life story in 2016, beating out a number of other high-profile offers. The biopic, which has been in development for more than two years, is planned as a theatrical release that will be expanded to a limited TV series.
Hofmann, who became personal friends with the two stars, says he was deeply affected by Horn’s recent death.
Before shooting the Siegfried and Roy pic, Herbig will first helm another feature for UFA, “Der Fall Claas Relotius” (which translates as “The Case of Claas Relotius”), about the disgraced former journalist of the title who was forced to resign from German newsweekly Der Spiegel after admitting numerous instances of journalistic fraud.
“For Bully, they will be back-to-back projects,” says Werninger.
“The Physican 2,” meanwhile, is set to shoot next year after being delayed by the COVID-19 lockdown. Katja von Garnier, director of Constantin’s hit “Ostwind” young adult franchise, succeeds Philipp Stölzl, who helmed the original and remains on board as creative executive producer. Based on a screenplay by Stewart Harcourt, “The Physician 2” sees the story’s hero, Rob Cole, returning from Persia to his native England and hired by the king to heal his mentally ill daughter.
Payne is set to reprise his role in the sequel, which was due to shoot this year but has been postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the new film is only partly based on the first book of Noah Gordon’s Cole Family series, the author has been involved in the development of the screenplay and provided his input. “The Physician 2” includes the final chapters of the novel, which were left out of the first film, and continues in the spirit of the original, Werninger adds.