Moritz, Das Boot is inspired by Wolfgang Petersen’s movie which is based on the novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. Have you had the chance to consult with Mr. Petersen while shooting the project?
Before we started shooting the project, our director Andreas Prochaska reached out to Wolfgang Petersen and they discussed the old movie and challenges for the series. It’s absolutely correct to say that the series was inspired by the book and the movie, it’s not a sequel or a remake, it is set in the world of Das Boot, just like the series Fargo is set in the world of Fargo the movie.
The original is considered one of the best World War II movies so you have big shoes to fill with the new series. What were the main elements from the Oscar-nominated feature that you tried to recreate in your project?
What the movie reproduced incredibly well were the intense moments of claustrophobia inside the U-boat and the feeling of actually being inside one of those vessels. That’s what we tried to replicate, or at least we wanted to reach a similar level of claustrophobia as the movie had. The other groundbreaking device that the movie delivered was a story of German U-boat sailors that didn’t present them as Nazis or as just evil people. This is something that we have reaffirmed in our series.
Tell us a little bit more about the plot of the series which is set months after the original movie. What are the main storylines?
It is set roughly 9 months after the movie finishes, so in the autumn of 1942 and we have two main storylines. One is the story of the people on the U-boat and the other is set in the harbor of La Rochelle, and this narrative chronicles the German occupation, the French collaboration and the resistance. We have opened up the world that was created by Buchheim and used these two scenarios to create our 8-part series. We jumped back and forth to tell these two very different stories and have created tension and speeded up the momentum by doing so.
The international cast of Das Boot features Lizzy Caplan, August Wittgenstein, Tom Wlaschiha, Vincent Kartheiser, Thierry Fremont, James D’Arcy; etc. Was the casting process difficult?
We started the casting process by looking at the German U-boat crew and we did that with our German casting director. We decided to have an open casting call and we had a lot of people sending in tapes because in Germany everyone knows the movie and everyone wanted to be part of the series. This meant we took a long time to hone down so many good actors to eventually produce the brilliant cast that we have on the U-boat. That’s where we wanted the cast to be fairly unknown and actually make some talent discoveries ourselves. We wanted great characterful faces and strong actors who didn’t need to be well-known and recognizable.
For the land story, we wanted something slightly different and decided to cast people that are more well-known. We began this process once we knew who our U-boat crew was and built this group of performers around it. We had casting directors in France, in the UK and in the US, alongside our German casting director and between the partners it was very easy to come to an agreement on who we wanted for the lead role. Lizzy Caplan was someone who very early on we knew would be completely right for the part of Carla because she’s an extraordinary character who is also very well known, and carries a certain authenticity with her and has a unique quality to shine in dramas of this kind, as she has proven with Masters of Sex. It was Sonar and Bavaria Fiction together who secured her, and similarly, the same happened for the rest of the cast. For example, Vincent Kartheiser is another of our internationally known actors from his success in Mad Men.
Following her role in Phantom Thread, Vicky Krieps has become really big internationally and when we cast her she was actually shooting that Oscar-nominated movie in London. It was very fortunate that we were able to meet with her because she was right in the middle of shooting. She speaks both German and French. She grew up in Luxembourg and she has a history that connects her to the character she plays as she can look back into her family’s ancestry.
Das Boot was shot in four countries: Czech Republic, Germany, France and Malta, for a total of 105 days. How was your experience shooting in four different countries? What were the most memorable moments for you during production?
Whenever you do a show like this, it is all about authenticity. We wanted to bring all the accuracy and credibility to the drama that we could, so traveling to La Rochelle and shooting there was a must. The mayor was very helpful in getting us permission to do whatever we needed to do in order to turn the current streets back into the streets of 1942. We had people walking up to us during the shoot, who chatted to us about the original movie, remembering (positively so) of the time when Petersen was there. We filmed at the same bunkers, we were parking in the same streets and we had families that had worked on the original that marked our work on the series decades later, so that was quite something.
We actually shot the U-boat scenes both in Malta and in La Rochelle, and that in itself was very memorable, to see this huge power ship come with the U-boat on top of it and lift it up and drop it in the water was unforgettable. You could see when the cast first set foot on our U-boat, their eyes lit up, because there’s nothing like having a full-size U-boat to actually get you into your character and to make you feel closer to what it must have felt like to live through something like that. It’s definitely the star of our show - that U-boat.
David, Sonar came on board as co-producer and distributor of Das Boot, joining Bavaria and Sky in late 2016. What attracted you to this project?
Wolfgang Petersen’s epic movie is a classic and a global success, so it’s a high benchmark to hurdle. But what attracted us was the vision that Bavaria Fiction and Sky shared for the project, explaining that this is neither a remake nor a sequel. We were immediately enthused about the project.
We like to work with partners collaboratively. We have projects that we’ve produced both in the US and co-produced internationally. We saw Das Boot as a project that is universal in subject matter, not just something for the German audience. Das Boot also works very well with Sonar’s strategy, because we are always looking for big, epic stories to tell.
The event series has a huge budget - $32.8 million for its eight episodes. What makes it so expensive, besides the fact that it is a period drama? How was this budget distributed between the co-producers?
The budget was split between ourselves and Sky. Sky is taking rights for Germany, Italy, and the UK, so it’s the European Sky footprint. Bavaria put money in as well. There were tax credits we received in the number of the territories where we produced the show, and we handled the deficit against international.
When you’re producing in four different countries in Europe and you’re producing on water, and the star of the show is a U-boat - all of these things are not cheap to do. We worked very closely with Sky and Bavaria on the budget and genuinely felt that with the scope of what we were trying to make, the budget was about right. When you see it - the money is on the screen, it looks great! Sky is looking at the fall/ winter period for a premiere across their channels.
On top of excellent production, the series boasts a great international which will surely drive interest for the show. Do you have closed any deals outside of Sky’s territories?
From an international perspective, it’s great to have young talent on the U-boat and rightly so because the storyline demands it and probably faces that are not necessarily known outside the German market and that’s great, it’s a balance that adds certainly for the international marketplace but for the US as well. As Moritz said, to have Lizzy and Vincent, who are known through crime series and theatrical films, certainly gave us faces that were familiar to a lot of the international buyers. Above all else, the casting was about being authentic to the characters they were playing was absolutely crucial for the series.
This is a European production. It’s possibly one of the largest-budgeted TV productions of 2017/2018 and in terms of canvas, one of the biggest stories being told. So yes, of course, there is interest and we have made pre-sales in markets in Eastern Europe. We’ve also closed deals in The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and are in negotiations with a number of other markets within the European continent. We have pre-sold in the US, Australia and New Zealand and we will soon be able to announce those deals.
Sonar Entertainment has many new projects in the pipeline, i.e. The Fifth Beatle, Rift, Watchdog and you also announced your move into non-scripted and kids and family content last year. What else are you currently busy with?
Our focus is primarily in the scripted drama space. We have a whole slate of dramas that are in active development with networks. The Fifth Beatle is one of the projects that we have taken to market. We’ve just completed Season 2 of The Son with Pierce Brosnan. We are greenlit on Season 2 of Taboo with Tom Hardy and executive producer Ridley Scott. We have Mr. Mercedes, Season 2, which is just being delivered.
We continue to develop projects off-shore with different international partners. We have projects with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, and we also have shows with cable platforms, everybody from Nat Geo to Showtime.
In the children’s and family space, we have Go Away, Unicorn!, which we announced a few months ago. It’s an animated, 52 x 11 aimed at the pre-school market. We’re licensing that to a number of Disney channels in the international market place as well as Disney Channel in the US.
On the factual side, YouTube just announced its order for a new series on artificial intelligence to be executive produced by Robert Downey Jr.’s Team Downey, with whom Sonar has a first look deal.
We also have multiple projects with Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, including a non-scripted project called Lorena and a scripted series named The Hunt, both with Amazon.