A hallmark of Germany’s flourishing TV production industry, drama series “Echos” was unveiled at the Berlinale’s newly established Series Market Selects label this week.
A coming-of-age show of six one-hour episodes, “Echos” tells the story of Max, Nellie and Janosch, three privileged twenty-somethings from Munich. Always in search of new thrills, they head to an illegal rave party in the Munich catacombs. But things turn horribly wrong when a fire breaks out and some of the ravers go missing, including Nellie’s brother, Max. Nellie and Janosch gradually uncover an invisible web that spins together the story’s different characters, from a real estate tycoon to the investigating police inspector and the shadowy figures living in the bowels of the rich Bavarian city.
The latest offering of Munich-based outfit Neuesuper, “Echos” epitomizes the ambitions of a young generation of filmmakers keen to offer an alternative to Germany’s traditionally conservative content to hungry broadcasters both at home and abroad.
The series is the brainchild of producer and writer Florian Kamhuber (“8 Tage,” 2018), who was inspired by an article he read in a local newspaper.
“On the one hand Munich is such a beautiful city and people tend to be rather well off, but on the other it’s a bit boring if you compare it to other cities like Berlin, and when I read in this article that underneath the very center of the city there are these catacombs where drug dealers and hookers and all sorts of people dwell, that really intrigued me – it was so typical for a city like Munich to be perfect on the outside and less so on the inside.”
Kamhuber went on to write the show together with director Jakob M. Erwa, and enlisted the help of two writer friends, Johanna Tahlmann and Romina Ecker.
Shooting started in January 2020 but came to a halt three and a half weeks before completion due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Production wasn’t able to resume until July, but there was a problem.
“The huge challenge was that the show is set in winter (…) We had an amazing special effects team on set each day with fire hoses for the rain, and we had a lot of artificial snow. In the end, the winter in the series looks so much better than the actual winter we had in January because it wasn’t very cold. The winter we had in July looked amazing,” smiles Kamhuber. He nevertheless managed to keep productions costs low – “way less than a million an episode,” he says.
Another major challenge was getting authorization to shoot in the catacombs. “We had permission but we had to fight for months, it was extremely difficult, they were afraid and didn’t want us to shoot there. In the end we managed with a lot of restrictions,” explains Kamhuber, who adds that they stole a few scenes with a handheld camera.
Much of the series, including the rave scene, was shot in another underground location: the tunnels beneath Munich’s infamous Olympic stadium. “No one had filmed there before,” explains Kamhuber, “people at the PR department there didn’t know they existed. There was no problem getting authorization to shoot as nothing else was happening there at the time.”
Before shooting could start in the actual catacombs, the team had to clean out the location, which was littered with dirty needles and other dangerous objects.
“We have a saying in Munich,” says Kamhuber. “Heroin is not allowed, and that’s why it doesn’t exist. That’s the whole doctrine of policy-makers not only in Munich but in Bavaria, which is very conservative. Even if you are carrying weed, the police are so strict, there’s just no room for that.
“Many cities have places like the catacombs, but in other cities, like Hamburg or Berlin, it’s just so much more open. For example, it’s not that unusual to see people taking drugs at the central station. But in Munich you won’t see that: that’s why this place is so interesting.”
Up-and-coming German actress Lilly Charlotte Dreesen (“Druk,” 2018-2019), who takes on the lead role of Nellie, says she was bowled over by the script.
“I had heard of the catacombs before and thought it was a very important topic: poverty is often ignored, people don’t know about how these people live, and this film shows that gap between rich and poor symbolized by the catacombs.
“In other cities, there are drug consumption rooms where people can get clean needles and methadone under the supervision of health professionals. But in Munich, that’s not the case,” she adds.
There is a social responsibility that comes with creating these shows aimed at young adults which has to be lived up to, according to Kamhuber.
“We have a great responsibility in the way we tell stories because it shapes the world view of many people who watch them. I am White and I am a man and this shapes my gaze on the world. And you really have to include it in your script from the very beginning if you want a diverse cast,” he explains, referring to the decision to cast an actor of Asian origin to play the prosecutor and to create Janosch’s character as openly gay. “The fact that he’s gay is not at an issue whatsoever. We hope viewers will just take in the information, and that’s it,” he says.
Dreesen echoes these thoughts: “I think the industry needs to get away from the beauty standards, the way a woman has to look. We need more diversity, in body shape, skin color and background. It has to be about the people and not where they’re from.”
Most important for Kamhuber was “to make a show that is fun to watch. (…) A lot of German films and dramas are so depressing from the start. So that was something I wanted to avoid,” says Kamhuber, who brought in award-winning composer David Reichelt to create the show’s atmospheric sound.
“He loves to experiment: for ‘Echos,’ he created an instrument made of a metal tube with strings attached to it, which you can hit, play like violin or use in many other ways. It’s made with materials that you can find down in the real catacombs. David also recorded a lot of sounds there, so the whole music feels very electronic and synthetic but, in fact, it’s very mechanical.”
“It’s an amazing time (to be working in production),” says Kamhuber. “I would love to have a second brain and a second body to be able to be more productive. The players are all different and many of them are shifting strategy every two to three months, it’s hard to keep track, but it’s possible if you talk to them often. I love it, I wouldn’t want to change it for the world.”
Produced for ProSieben’s Joyn, “Echos” will premiere on the streaming platform from March 11. Beta Film is handling worldwide sales.