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European Screenwriters and Designers Discuss Collaboration in Film and TV

Top: Leo Barraclough (Moderator), Jacqueline Abrahams (Production Designer, "The Lobster," "How I Live Now"), Hanno Hackfort (Writer, "You Are Wanted," "4 Blocks")

Bottom: Jana Burbach (Writer, "Bad Banks," "Breaking Even"), Simon Weisse (Modeler & Propmaker, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs)

(Courtesy of PMC)

Creators and screenwriters from Europe discussed the importance of collaboration in filmmaking during a panel in the Variety Streaming Room.

Hosted by international features editor Leo Barraclough, the conversation, titled “Lost in Translation? Visual Story Development from Script to Screen,” included creators from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival’s Black Room and writers from the Face to Face program. Prop maker and modeler Simon Weisse, production designer Jacqueline Abrahams, and writers Jana Burbach and Hanno Hackfort took part in the panel.

Collaborative endeavors have seen an increase in European filmmaking, said Hackfort, since teams have begun to see that different departments — writers, designers, directors — often have ideas that aren’t limited to just the part of the film or television project they’re working on.

This concept of showrunner becomes more and more important in Germany,” he said.

“Then you’re not just a writer, but you can also work together with the others. It has nothing to do with controlling the others, or to be sure that your vision is transferred exactly on screen. But it’s the joy of this collaborative way of working.”

Burbach, who has a theater background, said that working on small theatrical projects instilled a sense of togetherness in her that is uncommon to bigger projects. Writing for stage, she also helped with set design and was involved in various other aspects of the production, which she carried over into working on film and television shows. Weisse said smaller, more independent projects allow such collaboration.

On a big blockbuster production, mostly with Americans, you have to follow what is coming from the top, and you can give some ideas, but you need to be careful and to be sure that what you propose is really good,” Weisse said. “On smaller productions, on low-budget productions, you need to find solutions to make it as cheap, but as good as possible, to make good for the audience.”

But another trend in European storytelling has been a diversification of form. Burbach said that tradition in the country often involved simple storylines and explanations of plot through dialogue. But with the industry’s shift toward streaming sites has opened up new avenues for success in filming.

Pointing to her series “Bad Banks,” Burbach said people reached out and expressed their appreciation for its complexities. Tradition is difficult to break, but the filmmaking is slowly opening up to a wider range of content in the country.

“I still have these discussions sometimes with broadcasters that they’re very afraid that the audience won’t understand things,” she said. “There’s really the assumption that you have to explain everything really clearly, and that stories shouldn’t be too complex. And, so many people said to me, ‘[Bad Banks] was just amazing because it was challenging, it was confusing, it was complicated.'”

She added that young people’s shift toward streaming has forced big broadcast networks to diversify, as well. In order to keep up with the shift, companies have had to reconsider their more traditional approaches to creating shows for a European audience.

“I think that was, a very fruitful kind of disruption or panic almost when all these streaming platforms started arriving because the traditional broadcasters were really afraid to lose audience — especially young audience,” Burbach said. “So, I think it’s not only that the new players are doing different kinds of shows in different genres, with different budget. It’s not just them, but I think everybody else has also been sort of shaken up and thought about how they’re doing things, what kind of stories they’re telling.”

Variety's Eli Countryman contributed to this post.

Watch the full stream via the link below.


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