LOCARNO–The breakout success of “Toni Erdmann” put Germany’s Komplizen Film on the map, earning the production house an Oscar nomination while paving the way for a remarkable string of international hits. Now the company is producing its first Netflix series, set to bow this fall, offering a glimpse of what a rapidly changing market means for independent European producers, the group said in Locarno on Friday.
Appearing in conversation with film critic Frederic Jaeger, Komplizen’s Maren Ade, Janine Jackowski and Jonas Dornbach discussed the changes they’ve witnessed across 20 years in the industry while talking about what Netflix represents for the company’s ongoing evolution. “It’s a different way of working—very different from what we had in the past,” said Dornbach. “From time to development to post…. This is a whole different way of developing a movie.”
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Produced by Komplizen and StickUp Films, “Skylines” is the story of a young and gifted German hip-hop producer who gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he signs with a red-hot record group, only to find his life upended when the worlds of music, organized crime and high finance collide.
Working in the fast-paced world of streaming has posed new challenges for the Komplizen trio. “Now you have a deadline that you have to meet,” said Dornbach. “It’s really timed to the minute. It’s a very strong relationship, but it’s also a big change for all of us.”
“Our series is a daring series, but it’s still a series that has to comply with certain rules—with a lot of protagonists, with a lot of stories that are intertwined,” said Jackowski. “There’s a lot of suspense also—what is happening in the next part of the series.”
She added: “You still have risks, but they are different. Dramaturgy is still there.”
The group are in Locarno to receive the Premio Raimondo Rezzonico, a prize awarded to the best independent producer. Komplizen also has two films premiering in Locarno this year: “A Febre” (“The Fever”), by Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin, a minority co-production that’s screening in the festival’s international competition; and “Giraffe,” by Germany’s Anna Sofie Hartmann, which is screening out of competition.
On Friday, the three described the changing film landscape for independent European producers, crediting networks like EAVE and Ace for helping them create a series of award-winning features. “You meet many companies and producers who have similar interests,” said Jackowski. “For arthouse movies, there’s only one way to do it. You need to have a co-producer.”
“These are companies that back filmmakers,” said Dornbach. “They look into the format and what directors want to do and expect to do. They’re really director-driven companies, and they want to really implement their visions. And we have the same vision….It’s a mutual trust.”
Komplizen was founded in 1999 and quickly built its reputation behind a string of indie hits. But “Toni Erdmann” changed everything when it landed the producers a coveted Cannes competition premiere.
The film was still in post-production on the eve of the festival. “We finished the movie just one second before going to Cannes,” said Ade. “It was a difficult movie, so we were still changing things and improving them on paper.”
“We were so surprised about the reactions, because we had been closed in a dark room for months, and then we were in the spotlight,” said Jackowski. “It was just a new door that opened.”
Sony Pictures Classics approached the producers in Cannes and acquired North America and Latin America rights for the film. That deal would be a critical springboard for the company’s growth. “We wanted to understand the system. You have to understand how they make films, and how they market and sell them,” said Jackowski. “With Sony Classics, we learned a lot. We had experts working side by side with us.”
The sudden success didn’t come without hurdles. “We had a ‘black hole’ in our development,” said Jackowski. “We worked so hard for one movie and didn’t have time to do other things. This was the zero hour for us. We started from scratch.”
The company’s catalog has grown rapidly since then, including acclaimed features like foreign-language Oscar winner “A Fantastic Woman,” by Chile’s Sebastian Lelio; Berlin Golden Bear winner “Synonyms,” by Israel’s Nadav Lapid; and Cannes player “The Whistlers,” by Romania’s Corneliu Porumboiu.
Komplizen currently has six projects in development and has expanded in recent years, adding new hires and working with outside consultants for everything from finding co-production partners to applying for funds to dealing with the fine points of foreign bureaucracy. “You work like a hamster running in his wheel, and you never get out of this working rhythm,” said Jackowski. “It’s really important to decide on just one project—to go along with it, and to really trust people. We are still just a small team, because it’s important for us to be free, to be flexible, and to work as we want.”
The producers are nevertheless determined to maintain creative control over their projects. “We have much more possibilities in doing movies, we can choose the directors,” said Dornbach. “We can choose the movies that we want to do.”
Komplizen is only taking its “first steps” when it comes to producing for streaming services, according to Dornbach, and Netflix is still a relatively new player in the German market. But the streamer’s decision to greenlight a slate of original films and drama series in the last year is a sign of more to come.
“It’s very exciting that things are happening, that things are changing,” said Jackowski. “This is a process also that nourishes and gives rise to new things.”