Deutschland 2007 Spielfilm

A Man of many Parts

A portrait of Til Schweiger, German Films Quarterly 4/2013

Over more than two decades German actor Til Schweiger has drawn millions of cinemagoers into the theaters with his performances in such locally produced box-office hits as "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door", "Barfuss" ("Barefoot"), "KeinOhrHasen" ("Rabbit Without Ears") as well as international productions ranging from "Lara Croft Tomb Raider" and "Die Daltons gegen Lucky Luke" ("Lucky Luke and the Daltons") and through "Inglorious Basterds" and "Das gibt Ärger" ("This means War") to "Die drei Musketiere" ("The Three Musketeers") and "Lang Lebe Charlie Countryman" ("The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman").

Indeed, statistics collated by the German Federal Film Board (FFA) since it began operations in 1968 show that no other German actor has been more successful than Schweiger at the national box office with more than 51 million tickets sold for films with him in the cast … and still counting! Apart from Schweiger’s busy acting career, which has recently seen him joining the revered line-up of detectives on Germany’s hallowed "Tatort" series, he has become a formidable force in the German film landscape as a director and producer who is also involved in the writing of his films’ screenplays and can in - variably be seen in the editing suite during a shoot when he is not in the director’s chair or in front of the camera.

But, what made him decide to get into production?

"It was my wife who encouraged me at the time to get into production," Schweiger recalls. "I had been working on the screenplay for 'Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door' with Thomas Jahn, whom I’d met in a bookshop, but I had no idea how one produced a film. She suggested that I ask my friend Bernd [Eichinger], and so there we were sitting on his terrace in L.A., and I asked him over a glass of red wine about being a producer. Basically, he said that what makes a good producer is that they have the right instinct for good stories. And that you have to find people who will look after the technical aspects like putting the financing together."

Back in Germany, he spoke with acting colleague André Hennicke about his ambitions to move into production and was put in contact with Tom Zickler who was fresh out of film school in Babelsberg and had already founded a production company with Hennicke.

"I met up with Tom and we immediately got on well together and were on the same wavelength," Schweiger continues. This led to the creation of Mr Brown Entertainment to produce "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door" in 1996 – and the rest, as they say, is history.

The company has gone on to produce Schweiger’s first film as director – "Der Eisbär" ("The Polar Bear"), which was co-directed with Granz Henman in 1998, as well as co-producing such box-office hits as Lars Büchel’s "Jetzt oder nie: Zeit ist Geld" ("Now or Never") and Markus Goller’s "Friendship!", which was based on Zickler’s real-life experiences of travelling across America with a friend shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"I am the creative brains," says Schweiger when describing the division of labor between him and Zickler at Mr Brown Entertainment and their second company, Barefoot Films, which was set up in 2004 to produce the comedy "Barfuss" ("Barefoot").

"And Tom is responsible for the business side, including the financing of the films and keeping an eye on the production budget," he continues. "When I am directing and also appearing in a film, there’s no way that I can be keeping an eye on that side, so Tom is the physical producer during a shoot. But that’s not to say that he doesn’t give some creative input to the screenplays and the decisions on the casting."

Asked about how he decides which projects to realize, Schweiger explains that "the most important thing for me when selecting which project to take is that I must like a screenplay. In the most cases, I have been writing the screenplay myself together with other authors, so that decision is easier."

"A couple of years ago, I gave a workshop at the [German Film] Academy about my films and the filmmakers wanted to know the secret of my success. Initially, I said that there isn’t any secret there! But then I suggested that a screenplay shouldn’t be allowed to be boring. Of course, this is a matter of taste, but I read so many screenplays where I often feel after five pages that they aren’t going anywhere. And then you have cases where the screenplay is good and you just hope that the author can keep up the level."

"The authenticity of a film’s characters is also important," Schweiger suggests. "I have often heard from cinemagoers, who went to see 'KeinOhrHasen' ('Rabbit Without Ears') or 'Kokowääh', saying that the characters were drawn as if from real life. At the same time, I am not aiming for stark realism, but showing how one would like things to be."

"That’s the reason why I like going to the cinema: ideally, to go on a journey and forget my daily routine for a couple of hours. And that’s what I also try to do in our films," he says.

Schweiger and Zickler’s two production outfits have hit the boxoffice jackpot with their comedies, ranging from "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’s" 3.5 million admissions through the 4.2 and 4.3 million tickets sold for "KeinOhrHasen 2" ("Rabbit Without Ears 2") and "Kokowääh", respectively, to the first "KeinOhrHasen" ("Rabbit Without Ears") which posted over 6.2 million admissions.

While Schweiger has branched out into animation with "KeinOhrHase und ZweiOhrKüken", based on his co-penned children’s book, his experience with the action drama "Schutzengel" ("Guardians") was symptomatic of the fate of the action genre at the German box-office.

"The film was caught between two stools," he admits. "There wasn’t enough action for action fans and too much for those who prefer drama. Nevertheless, we had a respectable performance with 720,000 admissions. Germany is internationally the territory where action films perform the worst, and German action films have an even harder time, especially when you compare their budgets with those for the American ones. But I am not deterred and could return to the action genre in the future."

While third installments of the "KeinOhrHasen" ("Rabbit Without Ears") and "Kokowääh" franchises are on the drawing board, Schweiger’s next project is set to be an as-yet-untitled film about a grandfather going on a journey with his granddaughter. "It will be something like 'Barfuss' ('Barefoot') meets 'Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door' and we plan to shoot in spring 2014. I won’t play the lead, but will appear as the girl’s father," he says.

Author: Martin Blaney

Source: German Films Service & Marketing GmbH