Friday, 20 June 2008


Forget Wisteria Lane, forget Gilligan’s Lost Island and The Others, forget « ordinary » people with super-powers, or CTU… If the best tv series today come from United Kingdom, Germany come in second place with the latest television action-packed quality thriller series, GSG9 (Special Unit in English) – the german answer to Spooks. Busy with the shooting of the season 2 of this sensation from Typhoon (an extremely dynamic film and television production company) for Sat.1 – the network behind Verliebt in Berlin, Friedrich Wildfeuer and Karsten Rühle, showrunners of GSG9 answer to our questions.

Friedrich Wildfeuer, Karsten Rühle, thank you very much for accepting this interview. Typhoon AG is a very active television and movie production company. Could you please tell us some words about your respective careers before working under the Typhoon banner, and about the creation of the company.

Friedrich Wildfeuer : After studying law and passing the bar exam I started as Head of Business affairs at VPS Filmdistribution in Munich. Thereafter I worked for a good year for ZDF and then went on for over 7 years to RTL, where I worked in series development, fiction programming and marketing. My major project there was the successful series Hinter Gittern [Note : Hit prison soap opera inspired from the australian mega-cult show Prisoner : Cell Block H]. I left RTL together with Marc Conrad and we founded Typhoon in 1999.

Karsten Rühle : After my Master of Arts in Mass Communication at the University of Leicester (Great Britain) I did a workshop on Independent Film Producing at the UCLA, before entering the Entertainment industry back in Germany as Assistant Producer of a daily Soap with UFA. I joined Typhoon as producer of a weekly show and of the latest seasons of Abschnitt 40. GSG 9 is my first show that I produce with Friedrich Wildfeuer from the very beginning of the first idea.

11 years ago, RTL revolutionized the perception of television fiction programming in Germany by giving the contract of Alarm für Cobra 11 to Hermann Joha – who literally invented a genre with his production company action concept. Now, since two years, Sat.1 seems to set the pace for the new trends for german television fictions.

How do you perceive the evolution of these trends since 1995 ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : I believe Alarm is a very unique show and actually there was never a successful attempt to duplicate this genre in Germany. The reason is definitely based on the costs of a Action show and on a very unique simple concept : Fast Cars, The « Autobahn », Cops and furious stunts.

Sat.1 tried over the last years many new formats with mixed results. One reason is the strong comeback of the US Series in Germany lead by the CSI franchise. Also the US shows come with a high number of episodes. This is a big advantage because the network is able to programm a timeslot the whole year. The show can build their fan community much easier with a fixed timeslot over a year. TV is a habitual media.

The German Series come with numbers of maximal 13 new episodes a year. Additionally we have 30 Free TV channels, so the concurrence is strong. However Sat.1 tried hard to set new trends and I believe the time of payback for this investment will come.

GSG9 is the good surprise of this season in Germany. Could you tell us about the creation of the show and how you sold it to Sat.1 ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : The format took a long way in development. I created a series about the Bundesgrenzschutz, renamed Bundespolizei in 2005 – The GSG9 is a special unit of the Bundespolizei. Sat.1 liked the concept but prefered to focus the show around the people of GSG 9. In the beginning I was a bit sceptical if we can meet the challenge to tell stories about a special unit which basically just comes into and solves a dangerous situation which normally takes only a few minutes.

We decided to center the show around the headline GSG9 – The men behind the masks. What kind of people risk their life for poor money ? They are a very elite circle. It is extremely difficult to get into the GSG9. Therefore we try to bring as much characters as possible in a plot driven show. We also casted our maincast very thoroughful.

Karsten Rühle : We had to do our homework in getting all the information on the GSG 9. Doing this I was concerned what stories we could tell in a one-hour show, as the day to day live of the GSG 9 is not as interesting as it might seem. Compared to the expectation of the audience the daily routine is boring, in fact. The next step was to create stories with both action and drama. The authors had to work very hard to find the balance, but I considered it vital, to find a subject to each episode. We called it the « dramatic spine ».

One of the most interesting elements in the production of GSG9 is that the series is not another german attempt to duplicate US hits of the genre or even action concept entries but rather a classy effort to equal the quality standards of a show like Spooks, especially with scripts providing intelligent thriller entertainment and efficient narrative use of « off screen » action – like the shooting of the terrorist in the bus in episode 3.

What were your references during the conception of the show ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : Actually we did not have any other series as examples or for inspiration. We did not know the US Series The Unit – some people in Germany criticized us, arguying our series was copying this show. We saw episodes of The Unit shortly before we started shooting the first season of GSG 9. Karsten Rühle and I never watched one episode of Spooks. We created the format from scratch and used a lot of the experience of our cop show Abschnitt 40, a series we produced for RTL which received several major Awards.

Karsten Rühle : It’s funny that you mention the sequence of the shooting of the terrorist in episode 3 as this sequence actually is one of the most important to the show for me. I knew that if we do this sequence as Jorgo Papavassiliou shot it, and the audience accepts and believes that Geb is doing the right thing as a policeman to shoot the terrorist in the face – otherwise the bus will be blown up – the show would be accepted. On the other hand this sequence tells a lot about the tactics of the GSG 9 : use the weapon only if there’s no alternative. However, this decision has to be made in seconds and that is a lot of responsibility.

Let’s talk about the cast and characters. What were your requisites while working with the writers on the characters and how did you choose the actors with these elements in mind ?

Besides of relatively « fresh » faces (of excellent actors) for non-german viewers, we can note the presence in the casting of André Hennicke, one of the most finest living actor in Germany, and the revelation of Bülent Sharif and Marc Benjamin Puch. Can you talk to us about them and tell us about the rest of the regular cast.

Friedrich Wildfeuer : Beside the script the cast is an extremely important element for the success of a show. For Geb we looked for an actor with warmth and dignity and not so much a tough guy. In Ben Puch we found the perfect Geb. Strong, believable and with a warm touch. Bülent in the role of Demir is the sunny boy who not always has his emotions in control.

Karsten Rühle : As Friedrich Wildfeuer and I did some other series together, we both know how important the ensemble is. The cast, from the very beginning, had to be a « boy group ». Different characters, different nationalities, different looks – but all cool and loveable. Casting was fun, because nobody of us know how a GSG 9 guy looks like, however everybody had an image in mind. The director of the first episode, Hans Günther Bücking, did shoot with the « real » GSG 9.

Together with the Casting Director Sabine Weimann he spent more than 4 months putting together the ensemble, because we all knew that the success of the first episode could be endangered if the audience would not believe the actors being members of the GSG 9. Credibility was one reason why we insisted on « unkown talent », except for André Hennicke.

Terrorism is one of the major issues of the show, especially islamic radicalism. In the US, a show like 24 is a long-time motive of preoccupation for the representants of the Islamic community. Do you have reactions of the turkish or, more largely, the Muslim community, about the way some storylines of GSG9 could be interpretated ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : Our stories focus on all kind of terrorism not only islamic motivated one. We also deal with Neonazis or the Kosovo conflict. We always try to have a balance of opinions in our scripts and different points of view. In one episode we dealt with the so-called CIA flights which was a big issue in Germany.

Karsten Rühle : We have no reaction, except that some members of the Turkish community like that we invented a turkish character in a german elite-force.

Was the character of Demir created to counter-balance a possible misunderstanding or is it simply that since Erdogan Atalay in Cobra 11 german tv series integrate the social realities of the country ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : Demir’s Character was created because the real GSG 9 people have different ethnic backgrounds.

Karsten Rühle : We use the character for both, that is true. More important is the character as counter-balance to the religious terrorism, however. We found it the best way to get a key to the religious world of Islam, and the problems of this community in Germany confronted with the islamic radicalism and the biased picture of the media in dealing with the islamic radicalism.

Demir gives us also the possibility to ask inconvenient questions – not only about Islam, also about the official german way dealing with the islamic religion and the islamic radicalism. I love to leave the answers to the audience, especially as we found it hard to find answers for ourselves to some of the moral questions posed in the show, e.g. is it allowed to torture one to save many ?

How do you manage to find the balance between credible stories, action sequences, humor and emotional moments (with the personal lives of members of the team) ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer :
There is no other recipe than hard work and always checking are all elements well balanced in the script.

Karsten Rühle : Because all the team is inspired by the idea to create a new format, the balance is what we are working on most. Although we do have very experienced directors and writers, creating a format takes time. The episode with the bus-shooting you mentioned before took 12 months from the first idea to the final script. The idea was there from the very beginning of the show, but in this episode it was extremely complicated to find the balance and make it shootable in eleven days.

We are getting faster and faster, though, as the authors, directors and actors are getting more self-confident with the balance and the format. Typhoon and Friedrich Wildfeuer always gives my the possibility to check and re-do things, even during shooting.

Credibility is one of the attractive aspects of GSG9. Do you have technical consultants and do the actors have to train for action sequences ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : We do have a former member of the GSG 9 in our development team who reads all scripts and checks all aspects in regard with the real world. The actors did have a training with real special force members.

How long does it take to shoot an episode ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : In the first season we had 11,5 days for shooting one episode.

Karsten Rühle : The budget allows us eleven days and a half day of principal photography. The consultants are on the set for the action sequences. However the main work of our GSG 9 consultant is done together with the writer before the final version of the script is released.

What are the ratings of the show ? Is a second season in discussion ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : After a good start with 13 percent in the target groups the ratings went down due to strong concurrence by soccer especially Champions league games. The last 4 episodes went up and we finished with a higher rating than the first episode. We just started shooting the second season with 12 new episodes.

Could you please present us the other television or movie productions of Typhoon AG. The company has a solid backround in television production but do you intend to expand your activities in cinema ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : You can get a good impression of the typhoon productions if you go to our homepage. We also produce feature films. Our first one was The Experiment which was very successful with 1.7 million admissions and also critically acclaimed. The second one was Bluthochzeit based on the Belgic comic Lune de Guerre. Currently we have Freischwimmer in postproduction.

Typhoon produced also a very successful comedy show called Freitag Nacht News for RTL for many years. This program was cancelled last year. We now focus on high quality fiction program, Feature Films, tv movies and Series.

What are the things you are the most proud of in your careers and with GSG9 ? On what are you working currently ?

Friedrich Wildfeuer : I am proud of all Typhoon productions but especially of The Experiment and Abschnitt 40, a cop show which we produced for RTL. Also the miniseries Blackout is a highlight. GSG9 is special because it is very difficult to create a show about a special unit which goes further than just pure action. This was our goal and we are on a good way .

Karsten Rühle : I am working on the second season of GSG9 and on the development of a movie for Pro7 based on the novel Le cercle de sang by Jérôme Delafosse.

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