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Industry Report: Television

Oliver Hirschbiegel, Paula Milne • Director, writer

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Oliver Hirschbiegel, Paula Milne  • Director, writer

- Cineuropa spoke with director Oliver Hirschbiegel and Paula Milne about their new miniseries The Same Sky, set in Cold War Germany, at the sixth edition of the Série Series festival. The show follows an East German “Romeo” spy as he seduces a woman in West Berlin.

Cineuropa: How did each of you become involved in The Same Sky, and what attracted you to the project?
Paula Milne: I was approached by Jan Mojto, of Beta Film, to write a piece during this period of German history.

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Oliver Hirschbiegel: I was working with Rainmark and Tracey Scoffield on another project that was supposed to be done for the BBC. Tracy spoke to me about a project with the idea of doing something with twins. The idea was interesting to me as I am the father of twins and a German.

What was your research process for writing the screenplay?
PM: I met many people who lived in that era. I also wanted the story to take place in centre of Berlin, but had to find a reason to bring the Romeo spy to Berlin, as they were all in Bonn in that time.  As I was flying out of Tegel airport, I noticed a forest with white domes sticking up out of it. I learned that it was an old listening station that was operating after the war right until the early 80s, run by the NSA. I had now found a reason for him to be placed in Berlin. Research is everything.

OH: I still had to do a lot of research myself. Details regarding locations, what things looked like back at the time. Research is the secret for me.

You’re a renowned director of film. What attracts you to television and how does your process differ between film and television?
OH: It doesn’t really differ that much. For me, it’s always film, regardless of the format. I began in television, the commercials, TV series, and various high-end art house TV movies. The process is always the same. Television is faster. However, the editing for television is different but overall it’s the same thing. It’s telling a story using the medium of film.

How do you think the rise of new distribution platforms will influence the future of series?
PM: I think it’s both good and sanitary, that it provides a form of opportunity, in that you don’t have to go to broadcasters first. You can write a pilot, and a treatment, and set out in creating a dramatic proposal, and that is good. But of course the distributors want to distribute something over many countries, so sometimes you’re approached by a distributor and they say, we’ve got this great idea set in 14 countries, because they want the sales. So it’s great to have more pluralism and to challenge the broadcasters to be more daring, but I think you have to be quite wary at the same time that it’s not all about the presales.

Since there are so many more series being made now, do you find that there is an increase or a decrease in quality?
PM: I think that we might reach a tipping point. Perhaps near 18 months ago there was great excitement, and rightly, because this platform was a whole new opportunity, particularly for young people. But now the market is very crowded, and in order to punch through, the ideas have to be expressed almost like on a poster, like in a movie. Some of the delicacy of writing for television, the unfolding of stories and characters, as Oliver said, can get lost in that process, because of the need to punch through this incredibly crowded marketplace.

What was the co-production structure for this project?
OH: The key producers were English and German, and they teamed up with a Czech service producer. The whole series, set in Berlin, was shot in Prague. It was a great advantage to be able to do that in the Czech Republic.

Do you find that the co-production process and working with artists of different nationalities helps you creatively?
OH: I rather like the co-production process. Many of my movies were co-productions, shot in foreign countries. It’s always good to have as many foreign eyes as possible.

What was the budget of the series?
OH: Roughly €1.3 million per episode, of which a lot goes to production fees, so I had about 1 million for an episode.

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