In “Dogs of Berlin”, the police, a Turkish family clan, the Croatian betting mafia and a Nazi club meet. All the stories are about the investigators Kurt Grimmer (Felix Kramer) and Erol Birkan (Fahri Yardim), who pursue their own intentions and thus make life difficult for each other.
The first season asks whether one can leave the social milieu into which one was born and decide for oneself who one wants to be. LEAD spoke to director Christian Alvart.
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“Dogs of Berlin”: From the novel to the Netflix series
LEAD: What was the development process for the project?
Christian Alvart: I started writing “Dogs of Berlin” as a novel back in 2009 because the story seemed too complex for a feature film right from the start. But in the middle of the process, the language was no longer visual enough for me. When I thought about a series, I did not even know where this could find its place. Nevertheless, I completed the book for a pilot and a preview of the next nine episodes and stowed it in my ideas drawer.
In the next few years, I continued to work on my career. Together with the NDR, for example, “Banklady” as well as the Borowski and Tschiller “crime scenes” were created. They also found “Dogs of Berlin” exciting, but never really saw a way to pour the stuff into their sender-based structure. Because there are certain budgets and youth protection requirements per time.
When did Netflix join?
In 2015, I received a Facebook message from Erik Barmack, who was responsible for Netflix’s international productions. He wrote me that they are looking for stories in Germany and I could pitch him my elaborated idea. At the time, the first European series was created with “Marseille” – so I was invited to talk with the responsible people on site and met with great interest.
Then there was a big luxury problem: I should next shoot the crime scene two-parter with Til Schweiger, “Tschiller: Off Duty” was already in the starting blocks and my thriller “Steig. Not. Out! “And” cut off “were already in development. So I was constantly trembling as to whether Netflix had not lost interest yet and prioritized quite different projects in the meantime. And when I finally had time for “Dogs of Berlin”, there was still the green light. Phew!
What would the series look like if you still realized it for the NDR?
So I do not think it would have changed so much. Especially in the collaboration with Thomas Schreiber, the entertainment coordinator, things have always emerged that are narrative rather rebellious. But we would have been dependent on the cooperation with another institution and who knows what would have come out then. Since this is my own story, I would never have been willing to change things for an editorial board that I do not like.
The biggest change for Netflix was to remember that not everybody knows our cultural codes internationally. So we had to explain about the imagery or costumes things or clearly assign that it is understood in America or Brazil.
Which part of your work challenges you the most?
That’s definitely the cut for me. When turning myself, I have a super concrete idea of the lengths of different settings and produce exactly what I need. In the editing room, the material then meets the reality – like other opinions of the team or the audience. I always have to learn to let go, to become permeable and to let the result speak for itself.
Please tell me a prejudice about your job, that’s right.
There is one thing that used to be absurd. So, when I am at birthday parties and talking to people who are not from the film industry, they often assume that the director is also holding the camera. But of course there is the profession of cameraman and camerawoman! In my case, their assumption is often enough. (He laughs) Because I am always a camera operator and sometimes even a cameraman. I’m directing through the lens, if you like.
What would be the greatest possible success you would like to achieve with your creative output?
In my Twitter biography it says aptly: “Will make a great movie one day”. I’ve set myself the goal of creating a movie once in a lifetime, starting as a hater to look and in the end have to love. Where it does not matter, with what mood, on what medium or in what environment you look at him – he has to blow you away. In my opinion, I have not done that yet. But I feel that he is in me. For me, for example, “Blade Runner”, “Two glorious scoundrels” or even “Rocky” beyond all doubt.
Thanks! #dogsofberlin https://t.co/33cQAn7LUe
– Christian Alvart (@alvart) December 21, 2018
You know both cinema and television productions with big and small budgets. Where will the streaming settle down?
The scale of the budgets will continue to vary with streaming. Netflix is very clear that historical material such as “The Barbarians”, which is now emerging in Germany, is more expensive than comedies that are very much in their cultural environment. In such large productions, therefore, there is a huge international potential! Basically, in Germany we tend to have too little money for everything and that has not changed by streaming providers. Everything is getting more expensive and especially the demand for visual effects is increasing rapidly – only the budgets do not adapt to that.
How does the apprentice training deal with this?
If a thing works in Germany, then it is the promotion of young film talents through prizes and festivals. It will be problematic as soon as these instruments fall away after the first or second film and the young must face the tough competition. In your fifth movie, you can not hire people and pay them only 70 percent off the fare. That’s where many break away.
If you had one wish, where would the streaming of the future develop?
I would wish that the streaming providers take the cinema much more seriously as a venue. They would also have the potential to impose new standards – for example, that screens are better distributed in rural areas, that advertising stops, or that the sound is played consistently loud. My concern is that the cinema is a magical and worthy of protection experience. And I’m currently experiencing the industry in a state of agony, because you should act as in the theater or the vinyl record by promoting it. It would be the greatest thing for me if streaming giants were actively involved.
“I’d like streaming providers to take cinema a lot more seriously as a venue.”
What are your own streaming habits?
I have set up a small cinema in my home where I am the curator. Then I consciously present my children the diversity of film history, before it is too late and they can no longer record slow stories. Because I think it’s good that they have the peace and patience to look at classics such as “The Time Machine” from the year 1960 and to be thrilled for days.
The earth is spinning so fast today that it’s getting harder and harder to find common ground across generations – simply because you’re experiencing the world in a different way. I believe that you have less in common with your children today than they did 50 or 100 years ago. Who knows which professions there will be in a few years? My passion for the film, however, I can today authentically reflect and share with them.
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At the end I have three quick questions. Do you rather listen to exact data or your gut feeling?
I need the data for the gut feeling.
Movie or series?
Your last streaming tip to a friend?
That was the series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”.
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