Netflix’s Lars Wiebe on the Films He Is Looking for in Germany, Austria, Switzerland

Netflix’s Lars Wiebe on the German
Courtesy of Josef Brunner

Lars Wiebe, Neflix’s newly installed manager of international original film for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, has set out the kind of projects that he is looking for.

Speaking at the Zurich Summit, Wiebe said the streamer leans into “interesting, new and fresh ideas – films that might not have been possible in the old traditional world.”

The streamer has had big international success recently with the release of German vampire and plane hijacking movie “Blood Red Sky.” Coming up is the first ever German language adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

In post for the past two and a half months, Wiebe said that he was looking for a range of projects, and stressed that Netflix had the ability to greenlight films that might previously have struggled to put together funding.

Citing “Blood Red Sky,” he said: “Where else would you find a vampire action film on a plane made out of Germany, in German, by German writers and directors? It turns out it’s the most successful German film on our platform – everybody loves it, people watch it.”

He said such a film might have struggled to get made for cinemas. “I know because I had it on my table six years ago. I really wanted to do it. But there was no free TV station that wanted to do it. And let’s be realistic, in a theatrical release, it might have struggled to find its audience. But with us, it worked fantastically.”

Wiebe also spoke about “All Quiet on the Western Front.” “It’s such a huge enterprise. Again, that’s something that wouldn’t have had an easy way towards the screen.”

Wiebe added that original film projects that he greenlights would “more or less” have to take place in the DACH region, and that it would therefore be a “natural choice that the characters talk in German or in their regional dialects.” However, he noted that German hit series “Unorthodox” has its characters speaking in Yiddish, “so everything is possible.”

Although he is responsible for original productions, he said Netflix was open to co-productions and licensing projects from the region. He said that the streamer was both open to taking pitches from producers for original ideas, and that Netflix developed its own ideas. “We also actively work with writers, and only sometimes in a later process attach a production partner on the project.”

He added that it was never too early for a project from Germany, Austria or Switzerland to be pitched to the streamer. “I’d say the bigger project, logistically, financially but also creatively, the earlier we would probably have to make a decision. But there’s always a way we can develop something, and then decide if we greenlight it at a later process stage.”

Wiebe was speaking a week after Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was in Berlin to open the streamer’s new DACH headquarters. At the event, Hastings confirmed that the streamer would invest €500 million ($590 million) for German-language titles from Germany, Austria and Switzerland between 2021 and 2023.

Netflix now has 80 employees in the region, which counts for some 11 million of its global subscriber base.

Wiebe said: “We’re very open to collaborations; we’re very open with each project to look for a situation that makes sense for the creatives and for the production partners. At the end of the day, everybody should also feel happy about working with us.”

Wiebe joined Netflix from Square One Entertainment, where he was head of German production. Before that he was head of acquisitions and co-production at Millbrook Pictures.

He was speaking on a panel at the Zurich Summit with writer and producer Mats Frey, Turnus Films producer Anita Wasser and Barry Films producer Benito Mueller. The session was moderated by International Screen Institute course director Beatrice Neumann.