Sonar Entertainment’s David Ellender and Bavaria Fiction’s Moritz Polter discuss with TV Drama the co-production Das Boot.
Three powerhouses in the television landscape—Sonar Entertainment, Bavaria Fiction and Sky Deutschland—have come together for Das Boot, an event series inspired by Wolfgang Petersen’s Academy Award– and Golden Globe–nominated film and Lothar Günther Buchheim’s best-selling novel of the same name.
“With three strong partners working in close collaboration in every sense, the series has many selling points: iconic, instantly recognizable source material; an epic, universal storyline with a compelling and tense dramatic arc; a feature-film-level budget; the highest possible production values; and a strong international cast and production team,” says David Ellender, the president of global distribution and co-productions at Sonar Entertainment.
“It’s such a great property, an incredible brand, and it absolutely fits Sonar’s strategy, which is looking for drama in the convergence of theatrical film and TV fiction,” he adds. “There are many elements of this particular project that we felt suited us creatively as well as commercially, so obviously, it was a tremendous opportunity that we grabbed straightaway.”
The eight-part event series picks up shortly after the 1981 feature film leaves off. It is set in fall 1942 in occupied France, as U-612, led by Commander Hoffmann, is about to make its maiden voyage into battle. Das Boot also follows a storyline on land, as Simone Strasser’s world begins to spiral out of control when she finds herself tangled in a love affair that has her torn between the two sides of the war.
The central storylines of Das Boot were shot in La Rochelle, France, one of the locations where the original movie was filmed. Filming also took place in Prague, Munich and Malta, both on the open sea as well as in a water studio, and a period-era U-boat was transported from Malta for the project. The series was filmed almost equally in three languages, with a budget of nearly $33 million.
Ellender adds that shooting in La Rochelle brought authenticity to the event series. “Some of the back streets of La Rochelle are like a movie set,” he says. “You believe you’re actually back in the 1940s, and it’s not constructed; it’s part of the city. From a cinematography standpoint, there are some stunning visuals.”
“We thought it would be best to do a sequel rather than a remake, because why remake a masterpiece?” says Moritz Polter, executive producer of international TV series at Bavaria Fiction. After deciding to move forward with Das Boot, the company sought partners to help bring the project to fruition.
“Sky Deutschland was the first to come on board, and they very quickly said their sister companies in the U.K. and Italy were also interested,” Polter explains. “That [partnership] covered the main territories in Europe outside of France, and we were able to get a nice portion of the financing settled.” The next step for Bavaria Fiction was to find a U.S. collaborator that could serve as a production and distribution partner.
Sonar Entertainment was the clear choice. “Sonar aligned perfectly in terms of the themes that we wanted to touch on,” Polter says. “I had prior relationships with Sonar. We approached them because we felt they were perfect as a distributor since they have a lot of tentpole projects such as Taboo and The Son, but also because they are a real producer in their own right, and we wanted a North American view to help create and better the project.” He notes that Sonar was instrumental in securing top American talent for in front of the camera, adding to the creative role the U.S. company played in the co-production.
“The experience that Sonar has in international production means we have a better understanding of different cultures and ways of approaching things,” Ellender says. “Having that appreciation for different methods makes it, to some degree, slightly easier and smoother. There was alignment on the creative issues, so there were fewer areas where we were bumping heads, and therefore it was a great experience.”
Ellender emphasizes that when producing a project with the scope of Das Boot, it is critical to work with “like-minded entities, because you don’t want to be in a position where you have to compromise. Further, a co-production model is an inevitability with a project that has a scale of this nature—this is a Europe-wide story. You need partners from creative and commercial standpoints.”
Both Ellender and Polter credit a strong storyline and script for drawing leading international talent such as Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men), Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread), Tom Wlaschiha (Game of Thrones) and August Wittgenstein (The Crown). Other cast members include Thierry Frémont, Rainer Bock, Robert Stadlober, Stefan Konarske and Rick Okon, who stars as the new commander of U-612.
Ellender and Polter are hopeful that the project will return for future seasons.