Odeon Fiction’s Britta Meyermann

The Seed is a thriller that deals with the newsworthy subject of the fight for food, the machinations of multinational agrochemical conglomerates and the political bodies meant to regulate them. Last week at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival, the series won two awards: best creation in the fiction category, voted by the festival’s jury, and the BetaSeries Public Prize, voted by the audience. The Seed is a co-production led by Odeon Fiction, part of LEONINE Studios. Britta Meyermann, one of the show’s producers, is in charge of co-productions at Odeon. She talks to TV Drama about the company’s slate, its strategy for working with partners and its desire to tell stories that entertain while shedding light on relevant topics.

***Image***TV DRAMA: What types of stories does Odeon Fiction want to tell?
MEYERMANN: We are quite a diversified production house, one of the largest and most established in Germany, and still run by its founder, Mischa Hofmann. It still feels very personal even though we are in the LEONINE universe, which is great. We have about 20 wonderful producers, each with a different taste and background and working quite independently, so our slate is very versatile. The backbone of the company was always long-running prime-time TV shows for German broadcasters, which gives us a lot of flexibility and stability. During the last few years, we’ve been developing and producing more and more for the newer players in Germany, such as WarnerTV Serie, Netflix, Amazon, Sky Deutschland and Disney.

The types of stories we want to tell are very versatile, but what unites us all is that we aim to create shows that reach a broad audience and can entertain, but always looking for relevance and zeitgeist and trying to explore new ways of storytelling.

I can give you some examples: Bonn for ARD, which LEONINE Studios is selling, is about the beginnings of the secret service in Germany and how it was built after World War II. Tender Hearts, for Sky, is set in the near future and is about a woman who falls in love with her android partner and the discrimination she is facing in the world. Boom Boom Bruno, for WarnerTV Serie, is about a wanna-be womanizer and sheriff from Brandenburg, an “old white man,” so to speak, who gets a new partner, a young policeman, Mark. Together they have to investigate the murder of a drag queen, which neither of them likes one bit. 37 Seconds, which I produced for ARD last year, is about a #MeToo scandal. It’s a very sensitive series that deals with the important subject of when is rape a rape and when is no a no. The Seed, our current production, also has a zeitgeisty, important topic. All these are examples of how we are trying to create entertaining shows that also have some relevance.

TV DRAMA: Do co-productions make more or different stories possible?
MEYERMANN: Co-productions definitely make more expensive stories possible, maybe not more in general. All the shows with higher budgets get much easier to finance if you have more partners on board. I wouldn’t necessarily say that different genres or very edgy shows are easier as co-productions. In my view, this is getting harder now because more and more streamers and partners are getting more risk-averse. So, co-productions tend to be in the genres we know, like crime or thrillers or period shows, while the more innovative, edgy, niche shows are more and more local.

TV DRAMA: What are some co-production models you have used?
MEYERMANN: We tend to use two models. Most of the projects we develop ourselves in-house. That was the case with Spy City and The Seed. We develop. Then the most important step is to get a broadcaster in your home territory on board as an anchor. Without that, it’s going to be hard to move forward. This is what we always do. Then, depending on the project and story, we try to put the other pieces of the puzzle together, finding additional partners abroad, establishing a strategy for funding and accessing soft money. We also do it the other way around. We have been co-producers on existing projects from international partners. This can have various forms. For example, we can only bring financing from Germany by getting a German broadcaster attached or by raising soft money, if we spend money in Germany. In addition, we can, of course, co-produce by realizing the shoot in Germany or be a service producer if shooting in Germany is needed, so all these models are possible. We have a great in-house team; we can be flexible about co-productions and servicing.

TV DRAMA: Some partners, depending on the country they are based in, can bring financing or soft money, as well.
MEYERMANN: That’s the goal! A good way of starting is always the home territory, and then, depending on the story, we can get other territories on board—for The Seed, which is set in Norway, we got money from NRK in Norway, which became a co-producer, and the local fund in northern Norway, Filmfond Nord. A very important piece of the financing for our co-productions has always been the sales agent, and for The Seed, it was LEONINE. This helps to move a project forward. It’s also a good sign in the market if you have a competitive sales agent on board.

TV DRAMA: Besides sharing financial risks, can co-productions provide other advantages, maybe locations or access?
MEYERMANN: Locations definitely, and in some cases, the incentives that come with locations. It’s also not so much about reducing the financial risk; maybe it’s more about joining forces to create something more ambitious and bigger than you could create on your own. For some topics and stories, it’s indispensable to have an authentic view from the territory. In general, with co-productions, I find it very rewarding and interesting to have this exchange with different countries and partners to create the best series you can imagine.

TV DRAMA: How do you ensure all partners share the same creative vision? I hear that can be a problem at times.
MEYERMANN: I keep hearing that. I think it’s more about how many partners are on a project, not so much about co-production. I’ve mostly had good experiences so far. I think it’s more about whether there is a vision right from the start. If there is a strong vision and the writers and the lead producer have a strong vision, and if only partners come on board who share this vision, I think it should be fine. It’s more about tiny cultural differences, maybe. Or things that are different from the perspective of some countries. But I find this rewarding—discussing and thinking things through with people can only help the project. What can be difficult is if there is no clear vision or if partners come on board who think, OK, the setting is nice, maybe we can shape the story this way or that way. It’s probably not going to happen if, from the start, they want to see it in a different way. It’s all about clarifying the vision right from the start, and if it’s a well-written and universal story, it should be fine for all partners.

TV DRAMA: You mentioned The Seed. How did that come about? Those landscapes are gorgeous!
MEYERMANN: It was so nice shooting on the island of Spitsbergen in Norway. Tough, but very nice, and strange because it never got dark!
It was a new experience for all of us. We started developing The Seed nearly eight years ago; that was the first time we met with the creator writer, Christian Jeltsch. I remember that we talked about global food supply and how it was becoming more and more of an issue but somewhat is still under the radar. It was when the giant German company Bayer took over Monsanto, the U.S. company, for $63 billion, and I heard about farmers in India who were committing suicide because they couldn’t take care of their families anymore because they were buying manipulated seeds. There were so many issues around this subject that affected all of us that we thought we should make something about this. It’s difficult if you have a topic and you want to turn it into a TV series, but Christian Jeltsch managed to create a very emotional and entertaining story with engaging characters so that it has become a wonderful show that is still dealing with the subject.

We had an anchor broadcaster on board first, ARD in Germany, with Sebastian Lückel as commissioning editor, who was a great supporter of the project from the very beginning. Once we had them on board, I talked to NRK—Ivar Køhn, who was still head of drama at the time, and later Elisabeth Tangen as Executive Producer, who was wonderful. NRK came on board, and then Leonine Studios and the rest was some soft money and tax incentives. We got Film Fund North on board in Norway through our local co-producer, Rein Film, because Spitsbergen is part of northern Norway. Then we got German Motion Picture Fund on board and received Czech Tax Incentive, and our local fund in Bavaria, FilmFernsehFonds Bayern, supported us generously and stood behind us despite some changes. There were many ups and downs throughout the process! But we ended up shooting, and we’re very happy with the show now.

TV DRAMA: Speaking of shooting, in general, are there enough crews and talent in Germany and Europe?
MEYERMANN: There definitely is a shortage. That’s a huge issue for everyone at the moment. Somehow all projects get the teams they need sooner or later, but it is an issue. If you aim to work with certain people that you find perfect for a project, you sometimes have to wait. If you have talent on board that many people want to work with, then it gets easier to get the teams together. The advantage of international co-productions is that you can choose from various countries. For example, for The Seed, which we shot in English and whose story is very international, we could look everywhere for crew members and actors. Actors like Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, who is amazing, would not have done a German-language show.

TV DRAMA: What have been the biggest changes in the German market in the last few years? Obviously, the global streamers have come in, but what else do you see?
MEYERMANN: Definitely, the streamers arriving some years ago was a huge change and chance. I think the German market is relatively stable compared to what I hear from Euro colleagues. There are still many players we can talk to, even though some are commissioning less, which is maybe not too bad because it’s not always about quantity! The streamers are changing a bit what they are looking for. When they entered the market, they were the ones you went to for very new, daring, edgy stories. Now they are becoming more mainstream and broader, while surprisingly, the German public broadcasters are now the ones commissioning super-daring and different new stories, especially for their online services. That was a little unexpected for us. Some shows that we thought would have been for the streamers are now being commissioned by public broadcasters, which I think is a great move for them to attract a different and younger audience. There are more and more co-productions because the money is getting less, not only multinational co-productions but also between streamers and public broadcasters and free TV. These are very new models that you would not have thought possible a few years ago. Everyone is collaborating with everyone.