Joerg Winger, producer and co-creator of the hit three-season “Deutschland” Cold War spy series, has launched a new outfit aimed at developing, producing and distributing high-end drama formats, including English-language and international productions.
Berlin-based Big Window Productions, set up between original “Deutschland” producer UFA Fiction and parent group Fremantle, will focus “on a small portfolio of extraordinary stories with high entertainment value, often inspired by real events,” Winger said.
Projects currently in development include a limited series about a scandalous COVID-19 outbreak and an English-language thriller set in Berlin.
“Because our focus is so much on international and English-language productions, the relationship with Fremantle makes a lot of sense,” Winger told Variety.
Winger will head Big Window with UFA execs Sebastian Werninger and Philipp Driessen, who, among other duties, oversee UFA Distribution.
A longtime UFA producer, Winger will now be doing less managing and more storytelling and showrunning. While he’s creating and co-creating some of the new company’s upcoming series, other shows will be “run by writers from around the world, whose voices we are excited about,” he explained. “Our motto is ‘from Berlin, into the world.’ There is great international talent in Berlin, even more so recently because of Brexit and the current situation in the U.S.”
The cultural diversity of Big Window’s international team brings new perspectives to the German market, as well as a fresh vision for the company, he added.
The shingle has a number of series in the works, including “Der Dschungel,” a timely four-part drama for WarnerMedia’s German pay TV channel TNT Serie, inspired by a major coronavirus outbreak at Germany’s largest meat processing plant.
“It’s a very sick system, the German meat industry. But we’ve all contributed to the system. The German sausage is a cultural icon,” said Winger.
The coronavirus crisis has exposed a number of dire issues, he noted. “COVID-19 has brought no joy, but it has been like an X-ray to shed light on certain phenomena in our society, things no one ever wants to talk about — a catalyst for important conversations. The meat industry is a great example. The COVID-19 crisis shone an unforgiving light on it. This rings a special bell in Germany, but of course the same things are happening in meat factories all over the world.”
The story will offer a surprising, tragicomic and unexpected take on the subject matter. “The longer I do fiction, the more I’m drawn to stories that are inspired by real events,” Winger added.
Also in the works is the English-language political thriller “Oculus,” co-created by Winger and Ralph Martin, who also teamed on HBO Europe and TNT Serie’s cyber thriller “Hackerville.”
Set in Berlin’s English-speaking community, “Oculus” deals with corporate power. “The German bureaucracy strikes back at an American data company, to darkly comic effect. The smackdown between governments and global corporations all over the world is reaching a boiling point. Who’s really in charge? It’s such fertile ground for a thriller series,” explained Winger.
The show is a prime example of the vein of productions Big Window is aiming to make.
“One thing we’re really focusing on is English-language shows that we can produce in Germany or somewhere else in Europe,” Winger said. “I think the market is ripe for more English-language shows coming to the U.S. from Europe.
“The craft of storytelling is advancing a lot here. And there’s the economic argument, which is basically that it’s more cost-efficient to create the same production value. I think what we’re doing is very attractive for American broadcasters and streamers.”
Big Window is also benefitting from UFA’s early adoption of safety measures for its productions during the pandemic. “Sadly, we’re a little bit ahead of the learning curve on how to shoot with COVID-19 measures,” Winger said. “We’re learning very fast to design our sets and our productions to produce in a safe way.”
Big Window’s other upcoming projects include:
• “Deutschland 89,” the final season of the East German spy show created by Winger and wife Anna Winger (“Unorthodox”). Co-produced with UFA Fiction, it’s set to premiere on Amazon’s Prime Video in Germany this fall and on Sundance TV in the U.S.
• “Ouija,” a French-German 1980s-set supernatural thriller for France Télévisions, co-produced with Thomas Bourguignon’s Paris-based Kwaï — like UFA, a subsidiary of Fremantle.
• The tentatively titled “Bloody Tennis,” about an elite European tennis academy with well-kept secrets in its basement and boasting a global cast.
• “A Saxon,” based on the true story of Afro-German police officer Samuel Meffire and co-produced with actor-producer Tyron Ricketts and his Berlin-based Panthertainment.
Commenting on Winger’s work and his new company, UFA CEO Nico Hofmann said: “Joerg, through his production brilliance with ‘Deutschland 83,’ not only won the International Emmy for UFA but also opened the door for German drama to the world market. In this spirit I see Big Window as a material building block of our UFA strategy, a strategy of European and international linkage — borne on the wish for cooperation. In times such as these, this is more important than ever.”
Big Window’s production team includes head of development Imran Khan and creative producers Naomi Marne and Yakira Traub. On the Fremantle side, global drama director Sarah Doole and executive VP and global drama creative director Christian Vesper will support the company internationally.