Comedy is of course the most difficult of genres to sell internationally. Something that Germans find uproariously funny leaves English speakers stony-faced – and vice-versa. Yet Oscar-winning German producers Max Wiedemann and Quirin Berg are currently shooting Girl On a Bicycle, their first venture into English language production, starring Vincenzo Amato (Did You Hear About the Morgans?), Nora Tschirner, Louise Monot, and Paddy Considine. The director is Don Juan De Marco’s Jeremy Leven, writer of The Notebook and The Legend of Bagger Vance. “We always had it in mind to produce English-language movies. Our aim is to produce one English-language film every year or every 2 years and at least one feature for the German market a year,” co-founder Wiedemann tells me.
This strategy follows the pair’s worldwide success with their first movie The Lives of Others, which won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2007. It was directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck whom they had known since film school days. Though he’s now been swallowed up by Hollywood, they they hope to work with Von Donnersmarck again, possibly on an English-language film. Von Donnersmarck is currently in post on The Tourist for GK Films, Studio Canal and Sony.
Girl On a Bicycle was fully financed out of Germany and France using soft money from both countries including the new French tax break for foreign productions. Backers include German state film fund the DFFF. Wiedemann & Berg covered the gap in the budget themselves, hoping to get higher prices for a finished film rather than rely on pre-sales. A sales agent has yet to be appointed. The pair picked Leven for their first English project because “We’re very much on the same page when it comes to our understanding of comedy and its tonality,” says Quirin Berg. “I think Girl On a Bicycle can be another good example that a comedy which appeals to a broad audience in the best sense can be placed outside the U.S. and find its way to an international audience.”
Production begins on Wiedemann & Berg’s second production this year on September 21. Men In the City 2 is the sequel to the 2009 German-language comedy, starring local star Til Schweiger, which racked up 2.1 million admissions in Germany, putting it fractionally behind The Hangover (2.13 million). Its latest production, Friendship!, the second feature by Markus Goller has been the most successful German-language film of the year so far, with 1.6 million admissions. The Sony release has grossed €10.4 million ($13.5 million) to date. Friendship! — shot on location in the US — follows two East Germans who flee to America in the wake of the Berlin Wall coming down.
Wiedemann & Berg also have launched a scripted TV division, a joint venture with European TV giant Endemol, in January. Endemol is a shareholder alongside the German producers. The TV arm is remaking Argentinian telenovela Don Juan y su bella dama for German public broadcaster ZDF, which means producing 45 minutes of soap drama daily. Production on Lena – Liebe Meines Lebens began in July and the show will run for an initial 240 episodes. Lena begins airing on September 20. “Don Juan was a huge success in Argentina and Endemol Argentinia gave us exclusive adaption rights,” Berg says.