Studiocanal Rolls Out German Trilogy ‘Woodwalkers’; Execs Talk Ambitions For New Franchise – Cannes Market

EXCLUSIVE: Studiocanal has been rolling out sales on the first instalment of Germany-language film trilogy Woodwalkers in Cannes.

A joint production between Blue Eyes Fiction and Studiocanal Germany, it is one the most ambitious German-language productions to date for both partners.

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The franchise is adapted from the best-selling novels by German writer Katja Brandis about a group of teenagers with secret shapeshifting abilities, known as ‘Woodwalkers’.

Blue Eyes Fiction MD and founder Corinna Mehner is lead producing, with Berlin-based Studiocanal exec Sandrine Mattes, EVP German Production & Acquisition, spearheading her company’s involvement.

Mattes says the Woodwalkers ticks a number of boxes for Studiocanal.

“Studiocanal’s DNA is truly European so we’re always looking for European content that can work on the global market. The ‘Woodwalkers’ books are a perfect fit. They’re one of the biggest IPs we have for family and kids in the German market, both in terms of book sales and fanbase,” she says.

“They’re also published in a number of countries and other territories are coming. We really feel we can achieve a local hit and build an international brand strategy around these films.”

Newcomer Emile Cherif plays 13-year-old protagonist Carag, who is able to shape-shift into a puma and has recently arrived at a secret school for Woodwalkers, sponsored by a wealthy benefactor.

Carag quickly settles in and befriends Brandon (a bison-shifter) and Holly (a red squirrel-shifter) and for the first time in his life feels a sense of belonging.

When a mining operation threatens to destroy the Woodwalkers environment, at the same time as a series of mysterious attacks on humans, Carag and his friends put their powers to use.

Budgeted at around €15M ($16.3M) per instalment, Woodwalkers marks a step-change for Munich-based Blue Eyes Fiction, which previously enjoyed success with family entertainment hits such as Lily The Witch: The Journey To Mandolan and the Help, I Shrunk My Teacher franchise.

“I don’t think any other project was shot in German over the past year with as high a budget,” says Mehner.

The producer, who launched Blue Eyes Fiction in 2003, says Woodwalkers marks a natural progression for the company.

“We’re known for making European-financed, family entertainment movies and our speciality is live action movies with a lot of VFX and/or animation,” says the producer, who believes this know-how helped her secure the rights in the face of fierce competition.

Writer Brandis was a nature journalist prior to focusing on fiction and took inspiration from real animals for her characters. The big challenge, says Mehner, was staying true to this vision.

“The idea came from real animals, so we work with real animals as much as we can. It’s a complex production, mixing digital animals with footage of real animals… we shot nearly 40 days with the actors, and 24 days, only with the animals,” says Mehner, revealing that 25 different types of wild animal appear in the film.

International VFX company Pixomondo, which launched in Germany at around the same time as Blue Eyes Fiction and has collaborated on most of its features, is taking the VFX lead, with House of the Dragon VFX superviser Sven Martin overseeing the work.

Mattes, who also had her eye on the ‘Woodwalkers; novels, boarded the project after a face-to-face meeting with Mehner after the latter had secured the rights.

“We had looked at the book series but it seemed very complicated to pull… I’m so happy that this brand is in Corinna’s hands. I think she is the only one who could pull it off in Germany,” she says.

“We’ve worked on it together since the first teaser trailer, making the creative decisions together around how to transform this magical world of shapeshifters into film.”

Cherif is joined in the cast by established names Oliver Masucci (Fantastic Beasts, Dark, Enfant Terrible), Martina Gedeck (Mostly Martha, The Lives Of Others) and Hannah Herzsprung (Babylon Berlin) as well as emerging actress Lilli Falk (The Zone of Interest) and a host of young newcomers.

Alongside working with established casting agencies, the production also held an open online casting call for younger members of the cast, which generated 20,000 videos and applications from youngsters across Germany.

“Some of the cast members are talents that we found in this casting. They haven’t done anything before but are natural talents,” says Mattes.

The partners admit there was debate on whether to go the German-language or English-language route.

“We could have done an international production but it would have meant other actors and a much bigger budget… but we felt it’s a German IP and decided it would make more sense to move quickly and bring it first to German speaking audiences,” says Mattes.

Studiocanal will theatrically release the first film in the trilogy in Germany on October 24. Pre-production is already underway for the second instalment, which will begin filming at the end of July.

“We have started work on the second one before the release of the first because we really believe in the huge potential of this franchise,” says Mattes.

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