As the German series industry continues to change rapidly, young filmmakers who decided to leave the country are coming back, ready to tell their stories.
“I had to return and use my voice. That’s why my [production] company is called Third Culture Kids. That’s what I am and what many people around the world are,” said Perso German actor and writer Sara Fazilat during the Face to Face with German Filmmakers: Serious about Series event at Series Mania in Lille, France.
The session was powered by German Films, an institution dedicated to promoting German films abroad.
Currently, Fazilat is developing the show “Underdogs” about people who turn their supposed weaknesses into superpowers.
As pointed out by actor Jerry Hoffmann, who recently wrapped up Netflix’s original series “A Submarine Story” in Turkey, the concept of what counts as “German” continues to be questioned.
“Normally, when you have one German character in an international production, he is always white, tall, with blue eyes. But now, they cast me,” he said. In his 2021 short “I Am,” he insisted on having two Black female protagonists.
“When we were casting, so many people went: ‘The script is amazing, but how are you going to find them?!’ For years, I felt like an outsider trying to get in. Now, I have suddenly become the new norm,” furthered Hoffmann.
Apart from the ongoing diversification, thanks to streamers, demand for local stories has increased, observed writer Jana Burbach, also behind the series “Bad Banks.”
“The fact that you can find a global audience, if you get it right, means that you can be more ‘niche’ in your own territory. For many storytellers, it’s liberating,” she explained.
But there are still battles to be fought, as having more women in the writers’ room or more diversity in the cast can be insincere.
“I am ashamed to say, but I got many offers: ‘Hey, we have this project, everything is finished, and now we need one woman in the team.’ You just need to tick a box, but we are in the middle of restructuring,” Burbach added.
Just like their European colleagues, German series creators are trying to go beyond the ever-popular crime series, but the dust hasn’t settled enough for all the rules to suddenly disappear, they note.
“Before, we had this feeling that we had to reach everyone, so it had to be a ‘Berlin story’ or something about two white men in crisis over a woman. The next step is to think about what kind of stories we tell, why, who is included and who is not,” said Hoffmann.
The decision makers are changing as well, observed director Matthias Luthardt, now working on his feature “The Fox” and “Gold Train,” presented at 2021 Series Mania.
“The ones who are coming up grew up with Netflix and Amazon, they also grew up with public television. I feel that ‘Jerks,’ for example, it is a product of public TV, but it’s completely different from what you usually see on a Sunday evening,” he said, mentioning a comedy series about two friends, created by Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam. “Doppelhaushälfte,” a series about diverse families living next to each other, was also praised for approaching sensitive subjects with humor.
Apart from the tendency to “milk the brand,” as noted by Burbach, ongoing competition improves the quality of German series, but it also “creates chaos.” As the market is eager for more content, there is less time to properly work on the projects.
“I don’t even have time to be here [in Lille]! There is so much demand for stories and young writers get many opportunities, but these shows are supposed to be created quickly,” she said.
“Not everything needs eight years to be good, but in order to have this almost industrial creative system, you need to establish certain routines. In Germany, that’s where we have a gap. A certain speed is required from people who are not used to it and quality does suffer,” she lamented.
As the German series industry heats up, the market of stories and financiers, currently thrown out of equilibrium, looks to change dramatically before settling into a new balance.