Amazon Prime Video Takes U.S., Most of Europe on ‘We Children From Bahnhof Zoo’ After Fremantle Deal

We Children from Bahnhof Zoo
Courtesy of Fremantle

Fremantle has near sold the world outside Asia on “We Children From Bahnhof Zoo” – thanks to a raft of sales that include a worldwide deal with Amazon Prime Video for the U.S., English-speaking territories and all Europe’s outstanding major markets.

Taking in further sales to HBO Europe, NENT Group and Russia’s More TV, the series, produced by Constantin Television and Amazon Studios and a modern reworking of the story of Christiane F., has currently closed more than 40 territories, Fremantle announced Monday.

Co-produced by the Czech Republic’s Wilma Film and Italy’s Cattleya, “We Children From Bahnhof Zoo” will open on Prime Video in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain and Benelux from April 9, and Italy on May 7.

HBO Europe has licensed 15 territories in Central and Eastern Europe, where it operates channels and streaming services, led by Poland and Hungary and the Baltic States. It has also closed Portugal.

More TV has acquired rights to Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and CIS territories. Further distribution partners take in BluTV (Turkey) and Cosmote TV (Greece). The series has already launched on Amazon Prime Video in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to critical acclaim.

Fremantle is about to close Latin America and Korea, while parts of Asia and Africa will also be licensed, said Fremantle’s CEO of international Jens Richter.

“This is pretty much first-window global coverage straight out of the gate. It also shows that the series sits well with premium platforms, which is fantastic,” he added.

“We Children From Bahnhof Zoo” is created by the series’ director, Intl. Emmy Award winner Philipp Kadelbach (“Perfume,” “Generation War”), head writer Annette Hess (“Weissensee,” “Ku’damm 56”), Sophie von Uslar (“NSU: German History X,” “Tannbach – Line of Separation”) and fellow producer Oliver Berben (“The Typist,” “Perfume,” “Shadowhunters”).

It is far more of an ensemble piece than the movie, charting how Christiane, Stella, Babsi, Axel, Michi and Benno encounter together the first adrenalin rush, hedonism and kinship of youth, found first at a night club and then through drug use.

They end up shooting heroin, paid for by prostitution, as the group unravels. The friends’ individual traumas, as the series’ synopsis says, drag them into a tailspin, which some will never escape.

The topics covered in the show are universal issues that many audiences can relate to while it’s being inspired by a true story makes it easier to digest, said Richter.

He added: “Fremantle also loves high-end production quality, shows that come with built-in awareness from IP or true events, but what’s really, really important is that when you bring premium shows to the market now, you have to aim for the highest possible level of quality.”

The original book, “Zoo Station: The Story of Christiane F.,” based on interviews with a then 15-year old former teen drug addict and prostitute Christiane F., shattered cosy illusions of a post-WWII world that protected its children. It proved Germany’s biggest non-fiction bestseller since WWII, and was published in 20 languages.

Produced by Bernd Eichinger, written by Herman Weigel and directed by Uli Edel in a neo-documentary style, the movie “Christine F.” sold nearly five million tickets in Germany and was a major export hit.

“This is global IP,” said Richter. “Brazilian and Korean buyers know the book and movie which had a big impact: A true, deep and sticking story plus David Bowie music.”

Variety talked to Oliver Berben just before Fremantle confirmed global sales.

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Jens Richter and Oliver Berben Courtesy: Fremantle/Constantin Film

At first, the series looks late ‘70s, but there’s no Berlin Wall and, just before Christiane and Benno first kiss, you see that Berlin’s backed by what looks like the Alps. Could you comment?

Berben: We call it world creation. The series plays off a very strong IP that is very, very well known in Germany, Europe, beyond. The series’ basic subject is the impactful true story of Christiane F., but the key to telling the story again 40 years later is to portray the timeless struggle of young people to become adults, finding their place in life and society. That struggle – and sometimes failure – is the same today. It may even be harder.

Did the series’ format influence story development? 

Berben: Yes. We could drive far deeper into character than in a 90-minute movie. But the key immediate question was how strictly we stuck to the original story. The moment you do that, you have to be historically accurate. We came up with the idea of creating our own time zone that included Berlin, David Bowie and Christiane F.’s true story but is fiction. Young audiences who don’t know the IP can connect far easier to the protagonists when they have elements they can identify with, linking to their lives today.

The series stands out in part for its scale, production values, 120-day shoot and big set pieces. How big is the series for Constantin? Is scale these days a necessity and virtue, one way to cut through the crunch?

Berben: It’s a very good question, and related to Constantin’s goals for  the future. “We Children” is Constantin’s biggest ever German-language show and the biggest German-language show ever produced. Five years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to finance and produce a German-language show of this €25 million [$30 million] size.

What’s changed?

Berben: A couple of things. Recent productions – “Babylon Berlin,” for example – have opened up markets, allowing German-language shows to travel the world on big streamers. To finance the show, we made a first deal with Amazon Studios for just Germany, Austria and Switzerland. For the first time, we decided to use a film business model and invest a lot of money ourselves, about 40% of the budget. Fremantle has near sold out the world via single and multi-territory deals. This was an big eye opener for us – showing how local-language European productions with an international-standard look and production value can compete globally with big shows.

Is this one future direction for Constantin TV?

Berben: I’d call “We Children” a European international production. It’s a story coming out of Europe with the chance to travel the world. And that’s a new way we’d like to go. We’re doing a lot of German and English-language shows and features. What we hadn’t done was create European stories with a strong look, based on known IP with really high production levels to connect strongly abroad. One of our next shows is “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” which invites U.K., Scandinavian and German input, with characters speaking Danish and Greenlandic, German and their native tongues. We love that. It’s one way Constantin’s moving forward.

“We Children From Bahnhof Zoo” features teen heroin addiction, sex, prostitution, parental alcoholism and domestic violence. Would that have been possible a decade ago? 

Berben: Not as a TV show, nor in storytelling. Normally, huge cliffhangers drive viewers to the next episode. Here it’s the characters. They suck you into a story seen from their POV. Our idea of world creation played out over costume wardrobe, location and tone. For example, at first Bahnhof Zoo Station is resplendent, multi-colored, filmed to great music. Later, it’s sad, grey and ruined.

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“We Children From Bahnhof Zoo” Courtesy: Fremantle