Friday, 27 June 2008


Off for a month and a half, effective tomorrow.

Till our return a great thanks for those who make us the honour to visit this humble house.


Congratulations to Behind the Sofa ( for the most elegant, funny and appropriate wallpaper based on a tv-series for this year 2008.

For those who may ignore what is Behind the Sofa, it's a fantastic blog on Doctor Who and its spin-offs (Torchwood, Sarah Jane adventures, etc).

The originality of Behind the Sofa is to cover the whoniverse with a great intellectual Honesty, lucidity, wit and a solid dose of typical british humour. This week the blog was announcing the first half of Doctor Who's season 4 final (The stolen Earth, on BBC One this saturday) with a very funny skin of the Doctor and his friends... behind a sofa.

Due to a (justified) demand of its visitors, the skin has been turned into a wallpaper available in the usual sizes ( Needless to say that this wonder has replaced the Doctor, Donna and the Supreme Dalek (« Donne le meilleur de toi-même, et tu trouveras... le Dalek Suprême ») on the computer screen of your humble and devoted servant.

In French:

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.

Thursday, 19 June 2008


Comedian Michael Herbig - better known as « Bully » - is the number one superstar in Germany, where he is the equivalent of Mike Myers, Alain Chabat (Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra) and Mel Brooks in one single person. His TV comedy shows are very popular and his blockbuster movies smash historical records of the german box office. Manitou’s shoe and Dreamship Surprise - Period 1, respectively parodies of the Winnetou movies and of the Star Trek universe, are two monuments of the comedy genre on film.

Michael Herbig, younger, you wanted to study at the Münchener Filmhochschule. Did you want to become a filmmaker ?

Michael Herbig : Unfortunately I was rejected from the Münchener Filmhochschule. So I am a perfect autodidact and have been for over 24 years. I started making films at the age of 12. You could say I invented « Dogma » back then : no light, no sound and a shaky camera.

What are your favorite movies and your favorite directors ? Why ?

Michael Herbig : In principle, when I pay for my movie ticket, I want to be entertained. I love the old Hitchcock films. When I watched Psycho and The Birds, I wanted to become a director from that moment on. I also admire Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. E.T. and Forrest Gump definitely belong to my all-time-favourites.

Your career started with a morning show, Langemann und die Morgencrew, on a local radio station in Munich. Could you tell us a few words about your work on this show ?

Michael Herbig : After my rejection from film school, I landed in the radio business, but as I neither saw a presenter, nor a journalist in myself, I started developing my first comedy-series. In 1991 I started in the morning show as a comedy-sidekick and produced the show until 1995.

Is Radio a good training for aquiring the feeling of timing and situation necessary for comedy ?

Michael Herbig : For me the daily radioshow was an ideal training for timing and the development of characters - sort of « movies for the ears » !

What did you do after radio and before jumping into the world of television ?

Michael Herbig : In fact, the jump into the world of television started parallel during working for radio. When the TV-show Bullyparade began on the ProSieben channel in 1997, I was still producing a weekly comedy-show for radio, that was broadcasted nationwide.

There is a contemporary german style of comedy which is very close of the spirit of Saturday Night Live with a great sense of parody. Have you models or references in this kind of humor ?

Michael Herbig : I grew up with Mel Brooks and the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker movies, like Airplane.These films hit my taste of humor exactly and have certainly inspired and influenced me.

Your first success on german television was the adaptation of your radio show Die Bayern Cops...

Michael Herbig : At first Die Bayern Cops was a sketch-show for radio with more than 800 episodes each about 2 minutes long. Later we shot 75 episodes under the title Die Männer von Isar 3 for a local TV-station. The series is about two loveable policemen, who try to avoid any kind of assignment day after day. I am very proud, that even the Munich Police laughed about Die Bayern Cops.

In 1996 you created herbX Medienproduktion GmbH, your own production company.

Michael Herbig : The first major production was the first season of the comedy show Bullyparade for ProSieben. Basically I created the production company to be able to work in peace (laughs).

Bullyparade is a great comedy show that spun off the characters of your movies Manitou’s shoe and Dreamship Surprise - Period 1. On this show you worked with a wonderful team of comedians like Christian Tramitz and Rick Kavanian. How did you meet them ?

Michael Herbig : I’ve known Rick Kavanian for almost 18 years. We are close friends, have the same humor and enjoy working together, which is very fortunate. When Rick went to New York for a year in 1995 I looked for a replacement for Die Bayern Cops and found Christian Tramitz, which worked out fine from the very first moment.

When Rick came back we naturally worked as a trio. That was the beginning of Bullyparade. We just worked on what we really had fun with.

You directed the comic duo Erkan & Stefan (Erkan Maria Moosleitner and Stefan Lust) in their first movie, The Bunnyguards (Erkan & Stefan), which can be described as « Wayne’s World meets James Bond ». How were you chosen to direct such a production ?

Michael Herbig : Until then I had only directed sketches, no full length movie. One day producer Philip Voges offered me the job as director for the movie Erkan & Stefan. Voges liked the sketches of Bullyparade so much, that he was confident I could manage a movie. It was a great opportunity and I am still glad that everything went so well.

Manitou’s shoe is more than a parody, it’s a tribute to genre and to major cinematographic influences. Was it important for you to go further than the Bullyparade skits to create a movie that could be enjoyable as a parody but also as a genre movie less the parody ?

Michael Herbig : The main characters were well-established through the TV-show Bullyparade, but the sketches had a kind of trashy look about them. It was very important for me from the beginning that the version for the big screen to look like a real Western. Credible actors and locations, a big orchestra, Cinemascope and absolutely no trash !

The main idea was to put two charming characters into a world, where they don’t really belong.

A comedian like Mike Myers was amazing in 54. Would you like to play a non-comic role and to direct a non-comic movie or a more intimate project ?

Michael Herbig : At the moment I feel quite at home in the world of comedy. Below the line it is mainly about entertainment and emotions. Who knows, maybe I will shoot a thriller someday. To stick spectators in their seats, to frighten them, can be funny too.

Dreamship Surprise - Period 1 is your latest movie. Your main target is the Star Trek universe, so appreciated in Germany that there was even a german response called Space Patrol (Raumpatrouille Orion). According to you why is Trek so popular in german-speaking countries ?

Michael Herbig : Probably because it has been repeated on TV for 40 years.

Was it hard to choose the subject of your next movie after such a success as Manitou ? Why Unser (T)Raumschiff and not Sissi ?(1)

Michael Herbig : Dreamship Surprise - Period 1 was the first democratically chosen film in the world ! I let the audience of Bullyparade vote via internet for 13 weeks, which movie I should make next. (2) If Dreamship Surprise had bombed, I could have said, it wasn’t my decision (laughs).

Have you seen french parodies such as La Tour Montparnasse Infernale and Asterix et Obelix : Mission Cleopatre ? Do you know french comedian and filmmaker Alain Chabat and his work for TV and cinema ?

Michael Herbig : Of course I know the Asterix. Although I must confess, that I don’t have the opportunity to watch what is done for French TV very often. But I love the Louis de Funès movies very much !

On what are you working currently ?

Michael Herbig : Currently I am wrapping Christmas presents.

Director Frank Coraci (Around the world in 80 days) explained us that for him comedy is the art of the created the unexpected funny effect. what is your own definition of comedy ?

Michael Herbig : One can make fun about anything or anyone, as long as the people it concerns, can laugh. Comedy should never be offending.

(1) Unser (T)Raumschiff is a series of sketches of Bullyparade (like the Sissi parody with Michael Herbig as the empress) in which the characters from Dreamship Surprise - Period 1 were born.

(2) The public had to choose between entre Manitou’s shoe 2, Sissi - The Menopaused years of an Empress, A Movie nobody expects anything from and Dreamship Surprise !

(Interview done in 2004)

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Since 25 years, the future of the Movie and TV soundtrack industry is invariably written in Germany.

When Hermann Joha, the producer who pushed the limits of action sequences at a level never reached before, needed a totally original musical universe for the feature film adapted from the hit tv series The Clown, he naturally asked Kay Skerra to conceive it. Encounter with one of the most promising, creative and talented german film and television composer.

Kay Skerra, thank you very much for accepting this interview. Long before becoming a composer for film and television, you founded a band, Anchorage. Could you please tell us a few words about your work with this group and the kind of music you were playing.

Kay Skerra : I started my musical career as a drummer in several projects. Anchorage was my first experience in working with a real band. In the very beginning it was only bass guitar (Heiko Nitsche), guitar (Kai Saffran) and me - playing drums. Later on and influenced by Olaf Parusel and his musical project Stoa, I bought my first Atari computer and several sound modules.

We worked a lot with it, especially adding orchestral elements to the music and it changed our ways of composing dramatically. It was astounding to see how easily ideas out of my head could turn into results.

What were your musical influences at the time ?

Kay Skerra : We were influenced by bands like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, The Swans, Dead can dance or And also the trees. Anchorage mostly played some kind of Wave music with symphonic influences. Film music very soon became a major source of inspiration.

You have a solid theorical and practical backround in music. What did you learn from your studies in musicology, film music and sound design that you consider most important and still have in mind today in your work for movies and TV ?

Kay Skerra : I always try to be open to new influences and experiments and I try to avoid to use the same structures everytime - even if it may seem the easiest way. So I can have a fresh look at every new project with its different needs and - hopefully - find something special that fits and supports the mood of the scene.

But nevertheless I think it is important to always remember your roots - the reason and the feeling, why one started composing music at all.

Since 2001 you have worked for major tv productions and in 2004 you wrote the score for your first theatrical movie, The Clown - Payday, the film adaptation of the Clown tv series. This is a totally original soundtrack with no relation to the musical universe of the series (especially the theme composed by Helmut Zerlett, not used in the feature film - which is a very clever idea).

What kind of atmosphere Hermann Joha, the producer, and Sebastian Vigg, the director, were looking for with this score ?

Kay Skerra : They both wanted to untie The Clown from its television background, renew it and lift it to a cinematic level. So they wanted the music to deepen the emotion and dramatic parts of the main character and the story in an epic scale, and of course the music should support the elaborate action scenes and make them « fast and furious ».

How did you work with them on the conception of the score during the shooting of the movie ?

Kay Skerra : I joined the project after the final cuts were done. From the beginning it was clear, that we would work with a big orchestra. So after Hermann Joha and Sebastian Vigg told me what they wanted the music to do for the movie, I made some suggestions for special scenes. After they heard the music, they were enthusiastic about it and the sound for the movie was set.

What had you in mind while reinventing a main theme for The Clown ? What were your personal demands on this effective, impressive and epic theme ?

Kay Skerra : We wanted a theme that underlines on the one hand the heroic aspects and on the other hand the tragic, broken moment of the main character (only in this movie, in the TV-series there are some storyline based differences). It should add emotional depth to the character. And it had to be a theme that functions in various ways : for dramatic action scenes as well as for epic or emotional moments... because the main character is drawn between a lot of different feelings, like despair - loosing his best friend/lover, rage - hunting down the bad guy, falling in love again...

Find my love by Dare, illustrates one of the highest dramatic moments of the movie (unfortunately, the song has been replaced for some foreign markets). Did you work directly on this song and were you consulted for the choice of the song by Exilia as the End title ?

Kay Skerra : Dare is a group of friends : Gabriela Carasusán, who wrote the text and the vocal line, Dirk Leupolz, who wrote and programmed the playback together with me and played the guitar and Kerim König, who did the vocals, and we wrote and performed the song together specifically for this scene. For the other songs I was asked to make suggestions on a certain basis, because - of course - there was a record company involved and a marketing plan behind it.

Could you please tell us some few words about Gabriela Carasusan and your work with her and about your others collaborations, with composers Kai Saffran or Andreas Koslik ?

Kay Skerra : Gabriela and I met during our film music studies, worked together, fell in love and married. Since then we worked on several projects together as co-composers. We have our studios wall to wall - that makes co-working easy and efficient. She as well composed some additional music for The Clown.

Kai Saffran is a friend and colleague whom I know for a very long time. He was part of Anchorage too. For the moment we have no joint projects, but we are still in contact. I have heard a lot of Andreas Koslik before I met him, and he heard a lot of me and then finally we met on a friends party. We liked each other from the beginning and he invited me to work with him on Mauer des Schweigens (a TV-thriller by Jorgo Papavassiliou). By the way, I really enjoy collaborations. It is very inspiring and most of the time much more fun, than working alone.

One of your most notable entry for television is the theme for the Millennium Mann series. This show was the epitome of a trend to emulate US TV hits but you succeeded in creating a completely original tone. Is it difficult to be innovative in composing a signature theme for a series which, to say the least, is not so innovative ?

Kay Skerra : It always is a challenge to be innovative. But what was special in this case was that I had to work on the base of a written synopsis of the series and sketches, graphics and storyboards (because the titles hadn’t been finished at that time), which were really inspiring.

Talking about innovation, your name is associated to action concept, the company which revolutionized the production of tv-series in Germany. How did you start working with Hermann Joha ?

Kay Skerra : The first movie I did for action concept (AC) was Megalodon (2004), but I did’t meet Hermann Joha personally. The Clown was the major project for the company at that time and a kind of special « obsession » to him, so he was much more involved. When he visited me in my studio in Berlin the first time, I was quite a bit nervous, but when we met, I found out that he really is a down-to-the-ground normal man, who can burn with passion when he is in love with a particular project.

I am really thankful, that a company like AC exists in Germany, because - besides their normal business - they take on the challenge to produce movies almost no other company would dare to make, because there is no secure market - for instance, action movies or genre productions like Megalodon. And the success of their work is showing that it is worth the risk.

It has been announced that you will score Alarm for Cobra 11, their most glorious title if not an institution of german television. What do you want to bring musically to this institution ?

Kay Skerra : I was asked to modernize the sound of the music on the base of the style the former composers Reinhard Scheuregger and Klaus Garternicht have created. This is great fun, because it allows me to experiment with sounds and techniques, that would hardly fit into a german television movie format.

Who are your favourite film and television composers ? Are there composers that influence your work and your artistic conception of your work ?

Kay Skerra : To establish the list of my favourite composers would be very long, if we would try to deal with this task seriously. For example I like the work of James Newton Howard (for the noblesse and a certain stylishness in his music), Alan Silvestri (for the great impact of his music), Howard Shore (especially his dark night-pieces for Fincher movies like Seven or The Game) or Elliot Goldenthal. These are the « classical » favourites, but besides that, there is quite a lot of « young » composers, whose work I watch with great interest, e.g. Roque Banos or Alexandre Desplat. But I think I am influenced by almost all the music I listen to.

Which themes marked you the most when you were younger ?

Kay Skerra :
When I was about 14 years old, I was interested in arts especially in the work of H.R. Giger. Then one day I watched a television documentary about him, where pictures of the movie Alien were shown. Some days later the first Alien movie was on TV. I even missed a party because I was so strained to see it - and was struck by the score of Jerry Goldsmith.

I wasn’t very interested in film scores or classical music before but since that moment something grew inside me. A little later I discovered Scriabin’s The Poem Of Extasy and Prometheus/Poem of Fire and this and the first Alien score showed me a world of sound, which illustrated magically this Giger world of artwork. For me this experience was the beginning of my passion for film music and illustrative music.

Do the german TV and movie industry offer to the artist you are all the personal and professional satisfaction you wish ? Would you like to have the opportunity to work in the US and, maybe, contribute to change the film score conception and production there, like Hans Zimmer or Klaus Badelt did ?

Kay Skerra : Since I always have new dreams and ideas, it is not that easy to be satisfied completely - but I think that’s not dependent to the country or specific film industry you live or work in, but would be the same everywhere else, in every situation. I would always long for the next project and dream of this or that.

Actually I would like to work more for cinema productions, but in Germany only very few movies are produced per year. That’s sad, but the number will only increase if a good job is done here. And I think, that’s happening at the moment.

Anyway what about Europe ? I also would be happy to have the opportunity to work for french, british, italian... productions. A lot of really interesting and ambitioned movies are produced here in Europe, I think it is a very interesting market. Of course I wouldn’t reject to work in the U.S. since they have the biggest film industry, a lot of very interesting productions are done there.

But finally I would work everywhere if there is an interesting and challenging project.

As a spectator, what kind of movies do you prefer ? What is the last movie you’ve recently watched ?

Kay Skerra : I like movies that have an emotional impact on me. For example most of David Lynch’s movies or Alejandro Amenabar’s Abre los ojos or Brian de Palma’s work - I am very impatient to see his adaption of the novel Black Dahlia from James Ellroy.

Recently I saw Stay on DVD. It is a very mysterious movie with fantastic photography, an innovative edit, a beautiful music from Asche and Spencer and a story that still occupies my mind.

What are the themes you’re most proud of ?

Kay Skerra : It is always difficult to be proud of one’s own work - at least for me, because I always look for improvement and I am never completely satisfied. And because there’s a constant development in one’s abilities, the recent work is always nearer to what for the moment seems to be « perfect ». When the person I work with - e.g. the director or producer of a movie - leaves my studio happy and inspired and satisfied, then I feel proud for the work I have done.

On what are you working currently and what are your next professional projects ?

Kay Skerra : Currently I work on the Cobra 11 Series. Additionally we are in discussion for two really interesting television movies, but they are not confirmed yet, so I cannot give you more information about that at the moment.

(Interview done in 2006)



« TIMING IST ALLES » (Tatjana Sassmann in Adrenalin,1996)

Hermann Joha has literally invented a genre, beyond all the limits of what have been done before with stunts and action sequences for movies and television. The name of his production company, action concept, is the signature of this new genre. Der Clown, one of his hits for television has become a major feature film directed by Sebastian Vigg.

Before being a full-time tv and movie producer you are a renowned Stunt artist and Stunt designer. How did you become involved in the world of stunts ?

Hermann Joha : After school, I trained as forwarding merchant. But this was far away from what I had in mind for creating my future. So at the age of 17, I decided to leave home and join the famous London « Hells Drivers » stuntmen. At that time I became popular as the youngest stuntman ever in Europe.

The name of your company, action concept, is very well chosen, as you have an approach of the action stunts so unique that in some countries like France, viewers talk about « action concept style ». What conception of action did you have in mind when you created this company ?

Hermann Joha : Since we provide all services of a film production within one company, we will soon refresh our logo. It will say : « action concept - More than entertainment ». The company name together with the slogan is going to express all we represent : a professional full service film production for action formats.

You were the Stunt coordinator of an excellent thriller called Adrenaline...

Hermann Joha : Thank you !

Adrenaline contains all the ingredients of what makes your style a reference today. Could you please tell us some words about how you devised the action sequences of this movie ?

Hermann Joha :
Both the story and the scenery inspired us to move one step forward and create new stunts. Til Schweiger was at that time and still is one of the most popular actors in Germany - he played the main character. There was also the colourful setting and the exciting backstage labyrinth of roller coasters in the leisure park Phantasialand where most of the shooting was realised.

As a movie spectator what are, in the history of Cinema, your favourite action sequences ?

Hermann Joha : One of my favourite sequences is in Ronin where there is a hide and seek sequence in real traffic, accompanied by on board cameras and several cameras on the sideway.

Who are the Stunt artists you admire most ?

Hermann Joha : I admire every member of our stunt crew - they give the best in for every sequence and belong to the most professional stuntmen and stuntwomen worldwide. But... being a professional helicopter pilot myself, my personal favourite is Rainer Wilke. He is an artist in the air and does spectacular stunts with a helicopter.

The Alarm für Cobra 11 series is probably the most popular action concept title. The show was first produced by another company. How did action concept jump from action sequences producer to producer of the series itself ?

Hermann Joha :
Yes, action concept started as a 2nd Unit production for Alarm für Cobra 11. At this time, again, I decided to move a step forward and offered RTL a full service production. They had enough faith in us - and placed the order !

Your company has created a totally new genre of tv series, without equivalent even in the US, with blockbuster-style action every week cleverly integrated in well built and well performed stories. How do the writers and the Stunt artists collaborate to succeed in this integration ?

Hermann Joha : When RTL mandated us with Alarm für Cobra 11, we expanded rapidly to a full-service film production, providing a professional content development team, which is responsible for the script and the storyboards and the stunt production. All our departments, the post production, VFX, SFX, etc... are situated in one building. That makes both cooperation and coordination much easier and effective.

You are a stunt artist and a producer but also a skilled director. Your work has given the opportunity to reveal numerous acting talents to a wide audience.

Hermann Joha : We have wonderful casting specialists who have the sensitivity to find the right « faces » and characters.

How do the actors prepare themselves to the action part of the job when necessary ?

Hermann Joha : If the actors are chosen, they have to go through a tough training at our stunt school - with our experienced stuntmen.

The Clown feature film has been waited with impatience by the fans of the Clown TV-series and those who enjoy the action concept style. The Clown seems to be a natural choice for a transition from the small to the big screen. How was it decided to put the show on hiatus to produce the feature film ?

Hermann Joha : Several years ago, it was decided to pause with Der Clown. Many fans asked for new episodes and we were thinking of producing a high-action TV-movie of Der Clown . When we discussed the topic, the idea took shape to experience further development - so we decided to set up a cinema movie.

Could you talk to us about the production, the casting and the shooting ?

Hermann Joha : We were very lucky that we could engage the original casting crew for the movie. Unfortunately, Diana Frank had to fulfil a committed for another project so that she was not available. With Götz Otto (Tomorrow never dies) and Xenia Seeberg (Lexx) we could convince two wonderful actors with international experience and credibility to participate in the project. We realised the shooting within 38 days. The stunt sequences were shot within 12 days with 10 stuntmen and 2 stuntwomen. The post-production was completely done in-house.

About the casting we cannot avoid to talk about the fate of the character of Claudia Diehl in the movie as Diana Frank is very appreciated in France. Her replacement Eva Habermann (as Claudia’s sister) one of the stars of your 3 Wild Angels TV-show, is a very good choice. How did the idea of the death of Claudia surface ?

Hermann Joha : The fans wouldn’t have accepted another story because Claudia would have never left the team for any reason. Eva Habermann was our first choice to replace Diana - and luckily available at that time. She is one of the most popular actresses in Germany.

3 Wild Angels (Wilde Engel) was not given any chance to prove its qualities, due to comparison to the Charlie’s Angels movies, but this TV-series was very enjoyable and entertaining. Will you propose the format again with some changes ?

Hermann Joha : We already brushed up the format. The « new » Wilde Engel are more modern, sexier and much cooler and have more fun. They are three young women each specialised in a certain field. One is an expert in adopting different personalities. In order to work undercover, she is able, like a chameleon, to switch immediately into different roles. The second « angel » is martial-arts expert and knows how to defend herself and her friends. The third « angel » is a technical freak and knows everything about machines and computers.

Last but not least there is Udo Kier as their boss. He is one of the most well known faces in Hollywood. It was not easy to bring him back to Germany, but when he read the script he was very surprised and excited that a German company is capable to set up an exceptional project such as Wilde Engel.

The German TV market is very competitive. With Alarm für Cobra 11 and Der Clown you have set the standards of a new genre that your other titles are condemned to equal and transcend.

Hermann Joha : Our team is constantly developing new stories and unexpected stunts. We are experts in producing stunt formats - and will continue and improve in that field.

With the Clown movie action concept is definitely a major actor in the action movie industry. Your company offers action sequences never seen elsewhere. Can we expect you to launch someday a franchise that could be the German answer to James Bond ?

Hermann Joha : We are working on it ... Early April GRB Worlwide and action concept made public that it has formed a partnership in order to develop, finance, produce and distribute on-hour action series to be shot in English. The first project to be announced under this new agreement is the one-hour action series entitled Ronin, which is based on the successful 1998 theatrical film starring Robert De Niro and Natacha McElhone. We are very much looking forward to this cooperation.

As we told you are a director. Beyond the action genre what are your favourite movies and directors.

Hermann Joha : My favourite movies are Speed, True Lies, Lethal Weapon , and Terminator and the director I admire most is Mr. Steven Spielberg.

On what are you working currently and what are the next TV or movie projects of action concept ?

Hermann Joha : We are working on a number of different projects. There is, of course, Alarm für Cobra 11 and I already mentioned Ronin earlier. We are preparing several TV-movies in English - with a high-class cast. For example for Dark Ride (shooting in Berlin) we could engage Drew Fuller (Charmed), Ken Bones - member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (Wing Commander, Lasko), Tanja Wenzel (Wilde Engel), Alison King (Submerged, Shanghai Knights).

(Interview done in 2005)


Friday, 13 June 2008


Germany, in a future not so far. In a land where chaos and brutal force rule, Jonas Klingenberg (Mathis Landwehr) must get back a venerable and mysterious book containing the secrets of all the ancient martial arts in a world where all fire weapons have disappeared. This book has been stolen to his old master, murdered by Bosco (Christian Monz) and Kleo (Zora Holt) - the ruthless and deadly heirs of a cruel warlord. With the help of Vinzent Lakotta (Volkram Zschiesche), his sister Marie (Sinta Weisz) and their group of refugees, Jonas seeks the book and challenges the dictatorship of Bosco.

« My disciple. In year 2045 had the war of the cities spread all over Europe. The future had become the past. The government ceased to exist [...] All the country sank into chaos and destruction. » (Master Tach)

« Like I always say, if you run fast enough you’ll fly » (Master Dobbs)


The genesis of The Challenge begins in summer 1999. Johannes Jaeger, Tobias Hartmann, Volkram Zschiesche, Mathis Landwehr and Christian Monz are members of the Ehrenwerte Gesellschaft aka Ehge (The Honorable Society), a group of martial artists. They have the project to shoot a martial arts movie in Stuttgart, the title : Kampfansage.

The project materializes under the form of a short film (10 minutes) shot in MiniDV in 21 days with 150 shots, over 2000 takes, hard work, faith and the sense of timing of its director-writer Johannes Jaeger. The story : three friends (Volkram Zschiesche, Mathis Landwehr and Christian Monz) are hanging out on a sofa watching the video of a kung fu movie. They fall asleep and dream that they are part of the movie but is it a dream ?

« As the proverb say : you should dig your well before you become thirsty. » (Master Tach, dead but wise)

The look of the production, the effective choreography of the fights and the quality of the result allow the team to add another chapter to the Kampfansage saga. With a different story and different characters but the same main cast and fight sequences still packed with style by Jaeger, Kampfansage 2 (2002) impresses and is shown on a german cable channel and through festivals where the short film gets two awards.

The two Kampfansage shorts catch the attention of Hermann Joha, producer, founder and CEO of the german company action concept, stunt artist, professional helicopter pilot, director, and the genius who has literally invented a new action genre with some tv series such as Alarm for Cobra 11 and The Clown. At the time, action concept is working on the development of its cinema unit with The Clown - The movie. Ehrenwerte Gesellschaft and Joha join forces to push the Kampfansage spirit to limits never reached before.


« It was still the same city, yet a dark shadow seemed to have descended over the ruins. » (Jonas)

With a financing of 300 000 euros by action concept and about 40 days of shooting (between september and november 2003), Kampfansage’s resident visionary and scribe Johannes Jaeger imagines Kampfansage - Der letzte Schüler, and creates a Berlin revisited by Ken Fist of the North Star or A boy and its dog with the assistance of, the Online-Community for Digital Filmmaking founded by Steffen Hacker and Daniel Nolde.

The honorable martial artists, choreographers and acting members of of the Ehrenwerte Gesellschaft are back : Mathis Landwehr is the hero, Jonas Klingenberg, left dead (« I’ve been away for a while ») thanks to vicious Kleo but eager to find the book stolen to his master. Jonas is a german modern Kwaï Chang Caine less the naiveness - « Isn’t it a bit unfair, six versus one » - and with a touch of Clint Eastwood and Remo Williams (a blond Remo - Think about it, James Bond is blond too now).

Christian Monz is Bosco, Kleo’s brother and murderer of Jonas’ Master, a cross between Darth Vader (his lieutenants should pray for Bosco to follow an anger management program) and Master Nuihc of The Destroyer books. Volkram Zschiesche is Vinzent Lakotta, the martial artist leader of gang of street kids, a Mel Gibson made in Germany with a concern about food and a solid sense of humor (« Shit, I thought it was some kind of cookbook »).

Fortunately, the leading ladies equal the male characters in personality. Zora Holt plays Kleo, sister dearest of Bosco (« You go through your men even faster than me ») and the last girl in Germany who uses a gun instead of martial art chops (and this is not a Derringer) and Sinta Weisz is Marie, Vinzent’s sister and the love interest of Jonas.


« But if you don’t stop ruining my good mood with all this shit, then I’ll kill you. » (Bosco, Zen not included)

Up to 80 people on the set, up to 15 office employees and 20 people working for the stunt team, more than 350 visual effects shots (created by Hackermovies and Unexpected Gmbh), more than 100 hours of unedited material (excluding Making Of) needed to be reduced to 90 minutes, and production values extraordinary for such a budget and for a movie filmed in Mini35 DV. To find action concept attached to such a project is not a surprise.

« You really enjoy war games.
- Who talks about games ? » (Malte - Cypher, anyone ? - and Jonas)

With The Challenge, Johannes Jaeger delivers not only Germany’s first martial arts movie but above all a damn good movie which owes to the best of Hong Kong entries, but also in some ways to Spaghetti western, US blockbusters or classics such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (« As soon as you touch the ground roll »), Flash Gordon, Luc Besson’s movies (« He’ll never pull out ») or Pulp Fiction (with « Men are like dog » Kleo as Uma Thurman).

Splendid art martial fights, action, humor, anthologic scenes (the « disco » attack, the confrontation between Vinzent and Kleo, among many others...), cult dialogue lines (« That’s what happens when you fight against midgets »), a great score (by Alex Pfeffer and Marco Jovic) and martial artists who can act too. The Challenge - The last apprentice has all and more.

We expect with the highest interest and the greatest impatience the next project of the Ehrenwerte Gesellschaft and praise the name of action concept and the flair of Hermann Joha.

« But this is the way to Mastery : learning to fight, then fighting, then no longer having to fight, and then - forgetting everything » (Master Jonas)

(c) Thierry Attard

Thursday, 5 June 2008


To insufflate a true artistic vision is not easy for a director when he must head a multi-million dollars production. Known till then for his two comedies with Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer, and The Waterboy), Frank Coraci offers us with his remake of Around the world in 80 days, not only an excellent entertaining moment but also an arresting, imaginative and funny movie close to the spirit of The Great Race.

Interview with the Master of Ceremony of Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan’s fabulous journey.

You have an obvious talent in orchestrating comedies but, interestingly, your first movie as a director was a remarked thriller called Murdered Innocence.

Frank Coraci : I was 26 when I made that film. A producer approached me at a video store in New York, Fred Carpenter. He had made a few other indies. He knew I was a director. Since graduating New York University I had shot a number of short films. He took a look at my reel and was impressed enough to offer me the opportunity to direct a script he had raised $200 000 to make. He was to star in it.

You also co-wrote the script...

Frank Coraci : I read the script which was very derivative of a 70’s TV police drama. It needed work so I said I would do the film if I could rewrite it. We agreed on the terms that I would complete the rewrite in two weeks and then we would start shooting.

I immediately called one of my good friends and fellow classmates from NYU, Steven Peros. Both of us had a love for noir films from the 40s and realized the script lent itself to that genre with a detective haunted by his past put into a morally ambiguous situation.

Corny police exposition could be turned into stylized dialogue. Guns, flashbacks, murder, a Femme fatale - it all fell into place and we had a script in 2 weeks.

Could you tell us some words about the shooting ?

The movie was mostly cast by the time I was involved. Jason Miller (The Exorcist) was set to be the lead. The rest was true independent casting - FX/make-up artist was the villain and Miller’s friends the other detectives. Nobody really got paid. Most of the crew was from Hofstra film school on Long Island. It was a true independent in that way.

Our 14 day planned shooting schedule turned into 33 days. It wouldn’t be uncommon that the caterer would show up and pull my producer and actor Carpenter off the set to rough him up to collect money we didn’t have. We somehow managed to pull it off on budget and sold it to Columbia/Tri-star home video. The film went on to win the Long Island Film Festival in NY. And was showcased at the Sao Paolo festival in Brazil.

On that film I met my producer, Phyllis Alia, who has been involved on all my films since. My good friend Tom Lewis was my editor on that film and has cut all my films to date.

The spirit of Mr Blake Edwards flies over Around the world in 80 days. More than of the 1956 movie your version is reminiscent of The Great Race. Did you have some classics in mind during the preparation of the film and when you directed it ?

Frank Coraci : Thank you for comparing the film to the work of Blake Edwards. I’m flattered. I did love to see the Pink Panther films back when I was younger, so I guess that’s where the Blake Edwards influence may have come from.

I didn’t have any one classic in mind when remaking it. But I did feel that the tone should be somewhere between Indiana Jones and a Monty Python film, with the imagination of Willie Wonka tossed in. I just knew I wanted this remake of Around the world in 80 days to be the kind of film I could have seen when I was a kid.

In an interview you said that if you were not a director you would be a professional DJ. One of your distinctive trademarks as a director is precisely your sense of rhythm and timing. According to you what needs a comic situation to be efficient ?

Frank Coraci : The most efficient thing you can do to a comic situation is make sure it’s funny. I believe in comedy you have to be extremely self-critical. One joke falling flat can ruin the next six good jokes.

I also believe comedy is about not doing the expected. If the audience sees a punch line coming and they get the one they expected you just made a really hackie joke. That will cause people to groan, not laugh. But if they don’t see it coming or it’s not what they were predicting, you got them.

As far as timing, it’s such a strange phenomenon how literally 3 frames - 3/24ths of a second - has the power to make something funny. It’s something you just have to feel. I guess it is like spinning records. You never want to clear the dancefloor by picking the wrong song, or missing your beat match.

Your Phileas Fogg, performed with subtlety by Steve Coogan, owes more to Doctor Who, Buster Keaton or Monsieur Hulot than to David Niven and shows a vast palette of emotions. Was it important for you that Fogg be more realistic and more than the « sidekick » of Passepartout, especially when Passepartout is played by a big star such as Jackie Chan ?

Frank Coraci : I never viewed Phileas in this remake as the sidekick. It was always important that his character had a strong arc and the most important difference between this Phileas and the 1956 version is that in Niven’s version he was a confident man. He never doubted he would win the bet. It was important to me that Phileas was a man with big dreams, but also big insecurities.

I believe Coogan did an amazing job bringing true vulnerability to Phileas. In turn, I believe it added drama to him winning the bet and even more importantly, it made the audience identify with and root for him. So I guess the emotional and realistic performance comes first and then the comedy can hang on that. And what’s great about Coogan is that his comedic ability can range from silly slapstick to intelligent British wit. It’s that range that makes me feel he is truly is one of the best comedic actors making films.

It has been widely written that your first job was to film travel documentaries and that this is a useful experience to helm Around the world in 80 days. On the other side did you try to have a cinematographic vision when you directed these documentaries ? Were you thinking sometimes about certains of your favorite movies when you were abroad behind your camera ?

Frank Coraci : When I was abroad behind the camera I was always thinking « How the hell did I get so lucky to have this job ?! » But yes, all I could think of was « I can’t wait until I can make a movie and put these amazing, awe inspiring visuals in a film ». I literally thought that when I filmed with a HI-8 video camera a shot of the Great wall of China. On the production of 80 days I went to the same section of the wall I had filmed 10 years earlier, but this time with a 35mm film camera and a helicopter. I actually got to live my dream.

The whole cast of Around the world is marvelous. Cecile De France plays a character à la Shirley MacLaine. How did you choose her ?

Frank Coraci : I love the cast because it’s truly international. I went to Paris to find an actress who could play the role of the French artist, Monique. I had auditioned most of the top actresses in Paris. The level of talent there was overwhelming. But still, Cecile sparkled with an energy beyond all the others. She has this amazing ability to be strong, yet lovable, feminine and really funny. She’s like a beautiful Lucille Ball.

About French speaking actors, Michaël Youn is very funny as the art gallery manager. Who got the idea to cast him ? Do you know that he is a famous moneymaking comedian in France ?

Frank Coraci : My casting director from Paris, Sylvie Brochère had made me aware of him. I had only seen him on an audition tape, but immediately realized he was a talent I wanted to work with. I didn’t realize he was a famous moneymaking comedian, but it doesn’t surprise me. I think he will be an actor that continues to grow worldwide.

You were born and raised in New York and Martin Scorsese is one of your favourites directors. Would you like to shoot in your hometown a movie more intimate than your precedents in a pure « scorcesian » mood with « scorcesian » stars ?

Frank Coraci : I am a lover of small, dark, arty movies. I never expected my career to land me making such big commercial films. I hope it’s my love of smaller films that helps my wider audience movies to stand out.

I would love to do a smaller movie. I would try to put a pure « Coracian » mood on it and be sure to tip my hat to the great Marty. I would also like to take actors from other genres and collaboratively help them to give deeper and darker performances. But I also wouldn’t mind Deniro or Keitel in one of my movies either.

The cameos of Around the world in 80 days are appropriate and elegants. Arnold Schwarzenegger is fantastic as the narcissic turkish prince whose jewel of the crown is a statue of him. These cameos (Kathy Bates, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, etc...) were quasi-obligations due to the 1956 version but this time they are not a gimmick...

Frank Coraci : The cameos seemed like a natural thing to borrow from the original. When you travel you’re not only see interesting places, but you’re also going to meet interesting people. Arnold was a sport to make fun of himself. I love that scene. Everyone just had fun with the roles.

Sammo was the only person I could imagine Jackie having as his Wong Fei Hung. Jackie is know as « Big Brother » to the martial artists in Hong Kong. Sammo is the only one that is his « Big Brother ». So I guess « Big Big Brother » to everyone else. There are also some sprinkled in for the fun of it like Macy Gray and Richard Branson.

Can you tell us about the way the production and yourself conceived these scenes ? Did you want some names in particular ?

Frank Coraci : We didn’t have most of the cameos when we started shooting, so much of the rewriting was done a few days before so many of the cameos showed up. If Prince Hapi was played by anyone other than Arnold the whole scene would have to be different.

Kathy Bates was someone I had wanted from the beginning. She just seemed like she would be a perfect Queen Victoria. I knew she would be funny, but command the utmost respect. It was fun to work with her again since The Waterboy.

Rob Schneider is a friend of mine and really wanted to do the « San Francisco Hobo » role. I originally wrote the Steamer Captain for him, but everyone was afraid to leave the country to go to Thailand because the war in Iraq had just begun. Luckily, Mark Addy had the courage to come, because his comedic timing of that character gets some of the biggest laughs.

Micha Klein has created wonderful title and visual transition designs for the film. His creations remind those of the Monty Python (John Cleese appears in Around the world) with a touch of Dr Seuss. You will work again with this artist on a sci-fi project.

Frank Coraci : Micha and I had met in Miami at the Winter Music Conference in 1998. He first started out in Amsterdam as a VJ. He was one of the first artists to make and play artful video images at raves and clubs. I was thoroughly impressed by these projected images in a club in Miami and later was introduced to Micha. Upon chatting I learned he was the creator of the images I had previously seen. and we have become good friends since then.

When I envisioned how to travel from country to country I knew I wanted to pull out to the globe and really get a sense of where we were going. I felt realistic CGI would never look realistic. So I thought go to a magical, hyper-reality. And I thought there’s no one better to bring you to a hyper-reality than Micha.

Currently, I am in the development stage of a sci-fi, Human. Micha and his team are helping me to create a visual world that will be more unique than anything we’ve seen before. It will also be a video game beacause I’m a video game fanatic.

You have formed your own production company, which co-produced Around the world in 80 days. What kind of projects do you wish to develop with your company ? On what are you currently working on as a director and as a producer ?

Frank Coraci : At my film company, Spanknyce (also my DJ name), we are developing for me to direct scripts that range from Sci-fi, Horror, to small, little dark comedies. For me to produce there are more mainstream comedies. I’m also writing a Hollywood satire of the industry called Mac Roberts. I want to share my comedically dark insight into Hollywoodland.

I’m also just starting to delve a bit into developing some TV. In the States recently, TV has truly pushed the boundaries of how good TV can really be.

The director, novelist and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer told us that his definition of a good story is that once you hear it, you understand why someone wanted to tell it to you. What is your definition of a good story and what type of stories do you like to hear, read, see and tell ?

Frank Coraci : I think the best stories to tell are the ones that are personal and tonally unique. If it’s truly personal to the storyteller, than it will be more honest and personal to the audience members. I believe the true art comes in film when the personal story is recreated by setting it in a new world with characters that mask or exaggerate the original story.

It’s the tone of a story that distinguishes it from all others. Film is a great medium because it has the most variables to create an original tone.

(Interview done in 2003)


Robert Brinkmann is one of Hollywood’s most talented and innovative cinematographers. In the eighties he formed his own company to produce music videos on which he was also director of photography (for prestigious artists like Celine Dion or Placido Domingo). In 1988 he contributed to the History of Rock music, working with director Phil Joanou on the rockumentary U2 : Rattle and Hum.

His filmography includes films directed by Ben Stiller, Michael Lehman or John McNaughton. Now Robert Brinkmann offers us his first movie as a director, Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, a magnificent moment of pure cinema.

You were born in Germany. Could you please tell us a few words of your life before your arrival in the US ?

Robert Brinkmann : I have always wanted to get away and escape. As a young child, I developed a habit of going to the weekend movie matinees at one of the local theatres - I was too young to go in the evening - and watched japanese monster movies there every Sunday at 10:00. I guess you could say it was my church.

When I was 15, I moved out of my parents house and was old enough to go to the local revival house almost every day. I spent so much time there, that they offered me a job. As soon as I had finished school, I was on a plane to New York. I lived there for a year and saw an average of two films a day in the beautiful revival houses that were there back then.

At the time what were your favorite US and german movies ?

Robert Brinkmann : The first film, which made me realize that there was more to films than monsters, was Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. I was 15 at the time and remember the moment I understood that there can be poetry in cinema. My favourite filmmaker back then was neither german nor american - I loved, and still do, everything that Roman Polanski did (and does.) I also adored the films of Werner Herzog, particularly Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Woyzeck, and Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road and Alice in the Cities.

At the University of Southern California you specialized in cinematography. Why were you attracted by this speciality ? Did you plan to become a director then ?

Robert Brinkmann : Like every film student entering film school, I wanted to be a director. Unfortunately, I am a lazy writer. The films I did make were very esoteric and hard for people to relate to, but they always looked good. Eventually I realized, that not every film student can be a director ; there have to be editors, sound mixers and cinematographers as well.

Can you please talk to us of your encounter with director Phil Joanou and how you worked on his student film ?

Robert Brinkmann : I had decided to become a cinematographer and knew that my final film would have to be my showpiece. The film I had originally planned to shoot for another friend of mine was not accepted by the faculty, and I didn’t have a final project to work on. Instead of taking just any available film, I decided to wait for a better script and talented director. I didn’t shoot a film that semester, but went to the screenings of all the upcoming directors, who would do a final project during the next one. Phil Joanou’s film stood out and I convinced him to let me be his cinematographer on The Last Chance Dance.

In 1985, you formed a company to produce music videos. Music videos were just at their beginning at the time. How did you feel their potential and the growing importance they would later have in the music industry ?

Robert Brinkmann : After shooting The Last Chance Dance, which prompted Steven Spielberg to give Phil an office at Amblin and back him as a director, I soon learned that any producer hiring young directors out of film school would then pair them up with the oldest, most experienced cinematographers they could find. There weren’t many opportunities for young cinematographers back then. Music Videos were a new field with low budgets and few restrictions, where innovation counted more than experience.

What did interest you with music videos from your esthetic and artistic point of view ?

They were short and could be completely different in style. It was a wonderful training ground for a whole new generation of filmmakers. Since not even music video producers hired cinematographers fresh out of film school, I started a production company and hired myself.

In the music industry you worked with a lot of important personnalities. As a director and producer of their videos what did you try to bring to their music ? What are your personal tastes in music ?

Robert Brinkmann :
I love music and I can appreciate almost anything, except Country and Western. There is a mystical relationship between moving pictures and music. Putting together pictures and music can enhance both. Of course, if you have amazing music, as in U2’s One, you can simply shoot a close up of Bono singing and it makes a good video. It is harder to make a good video out of a bad song, no matter how exciting the visuals.

In 1987 you make an important encounter. You are the cinematographer of Two Idiots in Hollywood, a movie directed by one of the most interesting american actors : Stephen Tobolowsky. The movie is reputed in some circles for its sense of satire.

Robert Brinkmann : I had met a great producer, Ginny Nugent, who was working with Stephen and suggested me to him. I think Stephen trusted her implicitly and hired me on the spot. The difficult aspect of this film was that it was supposed to be a bad film, i.e. it was meant to have been made by one of the characters in the film, who is, of course, not very good at making movies. Jack DeGovia, our very famous production designer, relished giving us the worst sets. The cinematography had to be of a similar nature. It was hard, but it is funny.

The same year you collaborate with Phil Joanou again on one of the milestones of the music documentary genre : U2 : Rattle and Hum. How did this project emerged ? How were you invited to work on the film ? Could you tell us about your participation in the preparation and in the shooting ?

Robert Brinkmann : Phil is a big fan of U2 and a very persuasive human being. He flew out to meet the band and convinced them to let him direct their documentary. He had tried to hire me on his first feature film, Three O’Clock High, but had been turned down by the studio. In this case, U2 was the studio (Paramount bought the film later) and let him hire whoever he wanted.

I was working with Stephen Tobolowsky on Two Idiots in Hollywood, when I received a call from Phil asking me to come and shoot Rattle and Hum. Two days later, when the shoot was finished, I was on a plane to Boston. There was no preparation whatsoever. I stepped out of the car that had picked my up from the airport, put a camera on my shoulder and started shooting...

Your first movie as a director, Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party (2005) is one the purest moments of cinema ever. This wonderful documentary on the venerable art of storytelling use your friend, actor and director Stephen Tobolowsky, as a medium. Through the eye of your camera, we are invited at this home, along his guests at a birthday party, and we listen him telling us stories about his life and his rich and creative career.

We discussed of the movie with Stephen Tobolowsky but can you recall us shortly the genesis of this simple and beautiful idea ?

Robert Brinkmann : Stephen and I became friends during the shooting of Two Idiots in Hollywood. I remember being at a party of his and seeing him surrounded by nearly everyone there, telling a story. At that moment, I thought we should make a movie about him. I brought up the idea to him some time later, but it took us 15 years to finally do it. I had always insisted on painting this project on a big canvas and wanted to shoot 35mm film, which we couldn’t afford. Once HD technology had advanced to the point where it is now, I saw it as an alternative and we went ahead.

As a specialist in the art of devising a picture in order to produce an impact, an effect, or a tonality, how did you transform your camera into a servant to the magic of words ?

Robert Brinkmann : I knew that the key to the success of STBP was to stay out of Stephen’s way and let him connect with the audience. Nothing could be in between the film audience and the actor. I put the cameras and myself in the beginning and the end to show the audience the process and be totally honest, so that not even that bit of artifice would stand in the way.

I looked at the shoot as a concert shoot, much like Rattle and Hum. Stephen gave a performance, which had been structured and rehearsed before, and I had to capture it on the first try without interfering. That’s essentially what I did for U2.

What does fascinate you in the amazing way Stephen Tobolowsky is able to rivet us with his anecdotes ?

Robert Brinkmann : Stephen is a masterful storyteller, who understands structure, can improvise, and can act. When he tells a story, it’s like watching a movie in your head. That’s why 90 minutes of him never get boring. To this day, whenever I watch STBP, I feel I’ve watched a film with exotic locations, action, and lots of characters, because those are the things he talks about and they unfold in my mind like a film.

I like to quote Stephen Tobolowsky on this, who likes to say : « Audiences like special effects a lot less than they think and they like stories a lot more than they think ». I think the reaction to our movie proves him right.

In 1993 you worked as director of photography on 3 episodes of a very ambitious tv-series called Fallen Angels. What was the concept of the show and what were the visual demands of this concept ?

Robert Brinkmann : The show was an anthology series of film noir stories set in Hollywood in the 1930’s. It was a very ambitious undertaking, which turned out beautifully, but didn’t get noticed very much. Rick Heinrich, the famous production designer, created incredible sets. Stuart Cornfeld, the producer, brought in fantastic talent, and it was all done with very little money.

Who were the directors you worked with and how did you work with them and with the production ?

Robert Brinkmann : I worked with Agnieszka Holland, Peter Bogdanovich, Michael Lehmann, and Jim McBride. It was a unique opportunity to work with famous film directors in a matter of weeks, whereas working with them on films would normally take many months and might not have happened at all. I consider this one of the greatest experiences I have had and am very proud of the results.

Let’s go back to Birthday and talk about the editing process. How did your partner Andrew Putschoegl and yourself (editors of the movie) conceive the « visual narration » of the movie ?

Robert Brinkmann : STBP was structured before we started to shoot. It starts out in the morning on a beach in Malibu, continues in Stephen’s kitchen, then in the back yard, then the guests arrive for the party in the living room and we finish outside at night. We wanted to break up the locations : outdoor - indoor - outdoor - indoor and day - night, so that there is a progression and natural arc. I felt that being in one location might be claustrophobic after a while. That is also the reason for the helicopter shots. I wanted the audience to feel that being in Stephen’s living room is a choice, and that we could cut to a helicopter shot any time it was needed.

How can you tell with pictures the story of a man who tells stories with his words ?

Robert Brinkmann : Since the overall structure was a given, the editing decisions were about which stories to keep and which ones to cut. We had over 4 hours of material. First we edited all the stories in a rough fashion, so we could judge how they work. Then we played with the structure and using different stories. Finally we fine-tuned the stories we ended up using and cut them internally for time.

We shot with two, sometimes three, cameras. Andy and I put the different cameras on different monitors and watched them in sync. When you do that, it is so obvious which angle is working, that it is very easy to cut. That is another thing I learned from Rattle and Hum. Phil Joanou cut the entire movie that way on a very expensive editing system. The difference now is that we can do it on an Apple computer at home.

As a director of photography, you worked with talented directors. What are the most important things you learned from them ? Among these things, which did you use for your own movie ?

Robert Brinkmann : I have had the privilege of working with some great directors. Roger Avary, Peter Bogdanovich, Agnieszka Holland, Reggie Hudlin, Liam Lynch, and Ben Stiller have all taught me a lot. I think most importantly, I learned to trust my vision and my actor.

Could you tell us some words about all the technical aspects of your movie ? Could Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party have been possible without the emergence of digital technology ?

Robert Brinkmann : I always wanted to shoot this film on 35mm. I was concerned, that a smaller canvas would give the film less weight and make it feel almost like a home movie. Unfortunately, it was cost prohibitive for a self financed film, and I was unlikely to get several hundred thousand dollars to film Stephen in his living room. I was very sceptical of the early HD technology, and it wasn’t until Sony came out with the F 900/3 upgrade, that I was satisfied with the look. Without the huge improvement in HD technology, it might have taken us another 15 years to finally do it.

Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party will certainly be considered retrospectively in the History of cinema, not only as a coup de maitre but also a breath of fresh air as your movie recalls us that stories are fundamentals to make a film truly entertaining .

Robert Brinkmann : If STBP is even a footnote in the History of cinema, our film will have received more attention than I thought. I thank you for your kind words.

What are your favorite stories in the movie ?

Robert Brinkmann : My favorite stories change all the time. Right now, I love the dolphin story in the beginning for its magic and for the fact that it hooks the audience. I also love the story of the stunt man, Dick, because it is so moving. The story of Joshua on the set of Mississippi Burning is another favourite, because that truly is film history.

What are your favorite movies and who are your favorite directors ?

Robert Brinkmann : My favorite (working) directors now are Michael Mann and Curtis Hanson. They are perfect craftsmen and manage to tell great stories in a way that mass audiences can relate to without compromising their vision. They are the closest to the great movies of the 70s, made by Coppola, Scorsese, Friedkin, Ashby, which made me want to get into film in the first place.

Do you keep an eye on the german movie industry ? The productions of Bernd Eichinger (CEO of Constantin) equal the budget and quality standards of those of Hollywood. Would you like to work on a german production as a director of photography or director ?

Robert Brinkmann : I would love to work as a DP on a German production (Mr. Eichinger, I hope you are reading this...) Though I have worked on commercials in many countries in Europe, including France, Italy, Ireland and England, I have never worked in Germany. I hope that I will one day be able to shoot a German film, whether a Bernd Eichinger production or a small independent doesn’t really matter.

What are your projects after the promotion of Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party ? Your movie is highly praised by those who have been given the privilege to watch it. Was it difficult for you to work on something completely different after such an experience ?

Robert Brinkmann : It wasn’t difficult to go back to my day job. I recently finished shooting Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, a movie with Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D. It was a great experience working with an immensely talented new director, Liam Lynch, who made a very original and funny film. When you have a chance to work on such a wonderful project, it is very satisfying to play any part in it.

I am also trying something completely new. Stephen Tobolowsky and I have decided to release STBP on DVD ourselves. We are in the process of forming a distribution company and preparing for the May 30th, 2006, release of Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party on Stephen Tobolowsky’s birthday (Needless to say, there will be a big party !) It is a new adventure for Stephen, Andy and myself, which we are very excited about, and a new chapter for STBP.

(Interview done in 2006)