‘Girl You Know It’s True,’ ‘The Gryphon’ Among Top German Projects by Leonine Studios

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With some of Germany’s most successful production companies in its stable, Leonine Studios is reaping the rewards with such feature film and television hits as “School of Magical Animals,” “Nightlife,” “Dark” and “Pagan Peak.”

Leonine’s production division includes such well-established companies as Wiedemann & Berg Film, which focuses on theatrical features, W&B Television and Odeon Fiction, which produce movies and series for all broadcasters and streaming platforms in Germany, documentary outfit Gebrueder Beetz and format maker I&U TV.

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“We are in for high creative quality and commercial success,” explains Quirin Berg, who, along with Max Wiedemann, serves as Leonine’s chief production officer and managing director of Wiedemann & Berg Film.

“The parameters in each segment we are operating in may be different, but the agenda is not. And that was already the profile when we started out as producers some 20 years ago.”

Indeed, Wiedemann & Berg’s first feature film, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “The Lives of Others,” won the best foreign-language film Oscar in 2007.

While “The Lives of Others” marked “a very motivating start” for  Wiedemann & Berg Film, the company started out with more of a focus on comedies, later moving into other genres with films like the 2014 techno-thriller “Who Am I” from Baran bo Odar and writing partner Jantje Friese – the creative minds behind “Dark.” It was that film “that opened the doors at Netflix for our series ‘Dark’ later,” Berg notes.

Wiedemann & Berg re-teamed with Henckel von Donnersmarck on the Oscar-nominated 2018 drama “Never Look Away” and it has also continued to work with close collaborators.

“We started with many young filmmakers – growing up together over the years. So, for example we had a first box-office hit with a comedy from Simon Verhoeven some 15 years ago and kept on working together since. He brought ‘Welcome to Germany’ to us.”

That film, about a German family that takes in a Nigerian refugee, is so far Wiedemann & Berg’s highest grossing film in Germany with some 4 million admissions.

Verhoeven, who also directed the 2020 hit comedy “Nightlife,” most recently wrote and directed Leonine’s forthcoming English-language “Girl You Know It’s True,” the highly anticipated film about the 1980s pop band Milli Vanilli and frontmen Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus.

The film is a perfect Leonine Studios project, Berg adds.

“If we would not produce it, we would certainly buy it. The story about two talented dancers that become world stars as pop duo Milli Vanilli in the late 1980s happens to start in Germany but quickly moves to London, New York and L.A., where they delivered three No. 1 hits in the U.S. and won a Grammy Award — before it was revealed they never sang, just lip-synced to the voices of two other artists. It was the biggest scandal in the music business ever.”

“Most of the film takes place in the U.S., but it has this European quality and certainly appeals to audiences all around the globe.”

The film, currently in post-production, had a first test screening with excellent results across all target groups, Berg adds. Leonine will release the film on Dec. 21.

Leonine and Wiedemann & Berg have slightly increased their output of German-language movies while looking at opportunities to produce more English-language film, Berg says.

Leonine’s forthcoming productions and co-productions also include:

  • UFA Fiction’s “The Flying Classroom,” a modern adaptation of Erich Kästner’s classic children’s book written and directed by Swedish filmmaker Carolina Hellsgård (“Sunburned”). It stars Tom Schilling, Trystan Pütter (“Toni Erdmann”) and Hannah Herzsprung;

  • Marc Rothemund’s family dramedy “Weekend Rebels,” about a father (Florian David Fitz) who helps his young autistic son find a favorite soccer team;

  • “Lassie – A New Adventure,” Hanno Olderdissen’s sequel to “Lassie Come Home,” his 2019 German-language reboot based on Eric Knight’s 1940 children’s classic about the heroic collie.

The films are likely to continue the company’s winning streak.

Leonine Studios companies produced or co-produced the highest-grossing German-language movies in 2020, 2021 and 2022, with Verhoeven’s romantic comedy “Nightlife,” Gregor Schnitzler’s “School of Magical Animals” and Sven Unterwaldt Jr.’s “School of Magical Animals 2,” respectively.

Wiedemann & Berg Film also produced Tim Dünschede’s hit kids’ adventure “The Three Investigators: Legacy of the Dragon,” released in January by Sony Pictures.

“Looking ahead, Wiedemann & Berg Film will continue to produce about three films a year, from arthouse to broad comedy, from thriller to family entertainment,” Berg adds.

On the television side, W&B Television and Odeon Fiction remain some of German television’s most prolific producers.

“When it comes to high-end drama W&B Television was the first company to produce a German pay-TV series, the first company to produce a local Netflix Original and among the first to produce for Amazon Prime Video, Sky and now Paramount+ in Germany,” Berg says. “We are looking at an outstanding slate of projects in the last couple of years and a very strong line-up in 2023.”

Mark (Jeremias Meyer), Yezariael (Paul Schröder) in 'The Gryphon'
“The Gryphon”

W&B Television’s new series include “The Gryphon,” an adaptation of Wolfgang Hohlbein’s fantasy bestseller premiering this year on Amazon Prime Video.

Set in the 1990s, the six-part show follows three young misfits, played by Jeremias Meyer, Lea Drinda and Zoran Pingel, as they discover a fantastic world known as the Black Tower, where the gryphon, a world-devouring monster, mercilessly subjugates all living creatures. It turns out that one of the kids, an unlikely hero, is the only one who can defeat it.

“It is the biggest show Prime Video has made in Germany so far,” Berg notes.

W&B Television is also producing “One Trillion Dollars,” “the biggest project for Paramount+ so far since their roll-out in Germany last year,” he adds. Based on Andreas Eschbach’s bestselling book, the series, which premieres later this year, follows a young bicycle courier in Berlin suddenly discovers that he is the sole heir to a fortune invested more than 500 years ago, the amount of which has grown to a trillion dollars over the years.

Heading to Netflix is “Criminel,” the new series from Marvin Kren, writer and director of W&B Television’s Berlin-set crime drama “4 Blocks.” Berg describes the show as “a thrilling crime trip from Berlin to Vienna to Marseille, starring Frederick Lau.”

Odeon Fiction, meanwhile, is producing a number of series for German broadcasters, including new instalment of ARD’s long-running detective movie series “Tatort,” the ninth season of crime drama “Ein Fall für Zwei” for ZDF, new show “Meme Girls” for RTL+ and drama series “37 Seconds” for ARD.

Premiering this year on Warner TV Serie is the six-part “Boom Boom Bruno,” starring Ben Becker and Vincent zur Linden as mismatched Berlin cops; and on ARD the near-future drama “Morin,” about a boy who begins to undergo changes at a corporate-financed school promising fun learning and the highest standards.

While W&B Television’s currently produces more for streamers, most of Odeon Fiction’s output is for broadcasters.

In addition to a number of projects on linear TV, W&B Television has six streaming series launching this year: the second season of “Para – We Are King,” about four young women in Berlin trying to make it while staying out of trouble, on Warner TV Serie; “German Genius,” starring Kida Ramadan (“4 Blocks”) as a version of himself who produces a German version of Ricky Gervais’ “Extras”; and Season 3 of hit crime series “Pagan Peak,” starring Nicholas Ofczarek and Julia Jentsch.

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