Third Prize: Berlin – Grundy UFA

Christian, a member of the third-place Talent Meets Bertelsmann team, tells us about his trip to Berlin.

"Berlin, Berlin, wir fahren nach Berlin"

Talent Meets Bertelsmann 2012 – third prize: A workshop at Grundy UFA on the daily drama production, a visit to the set of the famous daily drama GZSZ, followed by dinner. The winners: The Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (BDMI) team.
October 4 was the big day. We were scheduled to meet at 9:45 a.m. at Berlin’s imposing, glass-roofed main train station. After a chance to get reacquainted with our teammates and words of welcome from Nico Rose and Marie Scherer, we made our way to Track 16 to catch the train to Potsdam-Babelsberg. When we arrived at Grundy UFA headquarters, we were welcomed by Thea Wulff, Head of HR Development, and offered refreshments. As we helped ourselves to coffee, cookies and fruits, she gave us an overview of the film world and shared some of the secrets of daily drama production.

"Ich seh in dein Herz..."

Most people in Germany are familiar with the theme song of the popular daily drama Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten. Even today, more than 20 years after its first broadcast, GZSZ still attracts millions of viewers every evening – although it was anything but certain that the daily drama format would prove to be successful in Germany. Jan Diepers, Executive Producer at Grundy UFA, explained content development and described the challenges of producing a show that runs every day. Grundy UFA was founded in 1991 as a German-Australian joint venture, and it faced a daunting task. While weekly series like Lindenstrasse had already become very popular, it was anyone’s guess whether viewers would embrace a show that was broadcast every day. The very next year, on May 11, 1992, RTL aired the first episode of Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten, and after struggling at first, it eventually became the most successful daily series on the German market. In addition to producing GZSZ, Alles was zählt and Unter Uns for RTL, Grundy UFA provides content for other broadcasters, including ARD (Verbotene Liebe) and Sat.1 (Verliebt in Berlin). As part of Fremantle Media, Grundy UFA is now Europe’s leading producer of soap operas and its productions are very successful outside of Germany as well.

“The action never stops”

Thea made that comment several times that day. Each episode has a lead time of about six weeks. This is the period when ideas are generated, scripts are written, and filming and post-production work take place. Approximately 70 episodes of GZSZ are in simultaneous production each week. A good overview is crucial, and it is particularly important to avoid double-booking sets or actors. There’s no making allowances for adverse conditions like illness or bad weather – which means that when the script specifies an “outing on a sunny day,” the scene may turn into an “outing interrupted by a sudden shower.” Or if much of the cast is laid low by the flu, the restaurant in the story may be quarantined because of a South African virus. Such changes require scriptwriters to work overtime – sometimes the script isn’t finished until filming is in progress – but they don’t delay production.

Lights, camera, action!

After a break for lunch in the cafeteria, we visited the set of GZSZ. Scenes are filmed on two levels, in enormous halls. Actual products cannot be shown – with the exception of trucks and cars – so fictional logos are created and attached to all of the products that appear on screen. Whether it’s a milk carton, a corn flakes box or a television set – products are not allowed to carry the name of the actual manufacturer. Unfortunately, bad weather prevented us from touring the outdoor sets, known as the “Kiez”. We headed back to the main building, where Simone Wack of the UFA research department discussed ratings and cross-media entertainment, which will play an increasingly important role in the future.

An amazing “dining in the dark” experience

Still processing all we had experienced, we returned to Berlin. We checked in to the Mani Hotel at Rosental Square, where we had time to relax for a few minutes. Dinner was going to be a challenge – for all of our senses except one. It was a short walk to a restaurant called the “Unsicht-Bar.” Menus were waiting for us in the reception area. But the intriguing names revealed only the main ingredients, such as fish or beef. After ordering our meals, we were introduced to our blind waiter, Omar. He explained what was going to happen and the rules to be followed. Then, in a kind of conga line, we made our way into the restaurant. It was totally dark, and our eyes had trouble adjusting. An occasional glass or plate was shattered in the course of our meal. After a while, however, we all found a method that worked for us as we ate in the dark – with techniques changing from one course to the next. Laughter greeted some of the business ideas that were suggested – everything from literal “blind dates” to speed dating in the dark. When we were finished, Omar led us back out of the restaurant, and we learned more about the dishes we had just eaten. Our last stop was the trendy bar “Mein Haus am See,” where we finished off the evening with Moscow Mule cocktails.

Bye bye Berlin ...

On Friday morning it was time to say goodbye. After a delicious breakfast, we left for the airport or train station. We were already thinking about our next meeting – at the Talent Meets Bertelsmann 2013 alumni reunion.
 
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