EXCLUSIVE: German director Tom Tykwer is to direct his first TV series, Babylon Berlin, as an internationally financed, German-language production.
The 12-part series is based on a series of books by German writer Volker Kutscher and centre on the figure of Inspector Gereon Rath who hails from Cologne and arrives in the Berlin of 1920s, the epicentre of politicial and social changes of those years.
Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily, series producer Stefan Arndt of Berlin production powerhouse X Filme Creative Pool explained that Tykwer is working with screenwriters Achim von Borries (4 Tage im Mai) and Hendrik Handloegten (Fenster zum Sommer) on the adaptation of Kutscher’s novels for the small screen.
Last year, X Filme acquired the rights to the four existing Gereon Rath novels and any future books in the books series from publisher Kiepenheuer & Witsch against rival bids from other production houses.
Two of the novels - The Wet Fish and The Silent Death - have already been translated and published in such countries as the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Spain or Japan.
“We are aiming artistically and narratively for the top end of what is possible in German television,“ Arndt said.
“We have decided to shoot in German because Berlin has such magnetic appeal internationally and so many people have been coming here in recent years that they want to see the city as it really was.”
“The first series will be based on cases from the first two novels,“ he continued, pointing out that a storyline of murders set against the background of the transition from silent films to talkies [in The Silent Death] will be kept until the second series of Babylon Berlin.
“The series practically begins on Black Friday, the day of stock market crash, when the Nazi movement was still small and nobody could have predicted what was going to happen.”
Arndt intends to shoot as much of the series in Berlin as possible: “The possibilities these days with digital technology mean that we will be able to recreate Berlin of that time with an authenticity through the combination of real locations and digital visual effects. When you look at a film like Gravity, you see what can be done.”
Moreover, location scouting for another of X Filme’s productions, actor Vincent Perez’s adaptation of Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel Alone In Berlin (Jeder stirbt für sich allein) from a screenplay by von Borries, has proven useful for the preparations of Babylon Berlin.
TV series after Hanks feature
Arndt explained that Tykwer would be able to begin shooting the TV series once he has finished work on his next planned feature film, A Hologram For The King, which will see him reunited with his Cloud Atlas star Tom Hanks.
Dave Eggers eponymous book was published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch in German last February and is being adapted by Tykwer for the big screen to be produced with Hanks’ and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone.
On the eve of the world premiere of The International at the 2009 Berlinale, Tykwer had told ScreenDaily that he was developing a mini-series based on Eggers’ 2006 novel What Is The What, based on the real-life story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee and member of the Lost Boys of Sudan relocation programme.
Arndt confirmed that the Eggers TV project is still on Tykwer and X Filme’s development slate.
Feel of The Wire
The inspector’s creator, Volker Kutscher, commented that he is “more than happy” to know that Gereon Rath and his world are in the hands of X Filme and Tom Tykwer and looks forward to seeing this world being adapted in the tradition of such international titles as The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad or Boardwalk Empire.
While Babylon Berlin will be X Filme’s first foray into large-scale TV series production, the company has developed a TV production strand over the past few years alongside its main activity of producing such feature films as Heaven, Alles auf Zucker and Cloud Atlas.
X Filme has been commissioned, for example, by ARD network member stations to produce episodes of the long-running Tatort detective series and is now developing its first German eight-part crime comedy TV series Unter Gaunern…Oder wie rette ich meine Familie?, written by Christina Jeltsch, about a young policewoman with a perfect insight into the criminal mind as her family have been crooks for generations.
2013 has been another busy year for X Filme producers Arndt and Uwe Schott with an eclectic mix of projects before the camera ranging from Michael Sturminger’s English-language The Giacomo Variations, starring John Malkovich and Veronica Ferres, and Andreas Prochaska’s Alpine Western Das finstere Tal, with Sam Riley and Tobias Moretti, to Wolfgang Becker’s tragicomedy Me & Kaminski, his first feature since 2003 hit Good Bye, Lenin!.