Sensitive and without hypocrisy, with a clear focus on the essential! With this praise, weekly magazine Stern introduced filmmaker Florian Froschmayer to its more than five million readers in 2009. Today, not yet fifty years old, but with more than 50 successful cinema and TV films in his list of works, the director has had a successful career in the German-speaking world that is without equal. Especially since Florian Froschmayer taught himself the craft of film making.
FILMPULS:Florian, in an interview eleven years ago (on the occasion of your first crime scene) you said you were a “head person”. Isn’t directing primarily a matter of gut feeling?
Florian Froschmayer:No, I disagree. Directing is a creative process that requires a lot of empathy and feeling for situations and atmospheres. Of course, the gut often decides whether it’s good or bad, who to cast or whether a take needs to be repeated. But the rest, in my opinion, is craft, which has to do not only with experience but also with foresight, inner peace and a cool head. If I were to decide only and exclusively on the basis of my gut, I would be taking quite a risk for productions. I always have a very clear plan, which requires a lot of mental work. On the basis of this structure I can then sometimes fall back on a gut decision and follow it. But basically I am a “head person” who questions everything and is always looking for the best way for everyone.
FILMPULS:Can you illustrate this with an example?
Florian Froschmayer:A script says: Sophie jumps into the water and swims to the shore. It is the emotional climax of the film, because Sophie swims to her love interest and they finally find each other. But now it’s only zero degrees on the day of shooting, the actress already has a cold and we still have 15 days of shooting ahead of us. It is 2.00 a.m. and we are about to start working overtime. So how do I get to my scene without endangering the quality of the film or the health of the actress and at the same time jeopardizing the production? These must not be gut decisions!
FILMPULS:The series “Der Zurich Krimi”, which you as a director are shaping, was co-developed in 2016 by Christian Kohlund, who also plays the leading role as uncompromising ex-lawyer Thomas Borchert. Which of you two is the boss on the set?
Florian Froschmayer:The director is the creative director on the set. The actor plays his role and from my experience is always grateful to have a director who takes care of the character and the film. Christian is a very experienced actor with many ideas and a clear attitude towards his character. My job is to channel these ideas so that they fit perfectly into the whole. During the shooting of “Der Zurich Krimi”, Christian and I have always been very harmonious. We see ourselves as a team.
FILMPULS:You taught yourself the craft of directing by yourself. Would you recommend that to a newcomer today?
Florian Froschmayer:I recommend every newcomer to find his or her way! Whether school or autodidact, it is also type dependent. For me it was the right way. I think the inner fire is much more important. Do I really want that? There are many who burn just like me then and now! If you don’t burn for directing at least inwardly like this, you won’t be able to position yourself sustainably. Too many people are pushing into the market. But: Those who really want to do it, will succeed, just like me! In whatever way.
I was and am a passionate doer!
FILMPULS:Usually directors for television films and series dream of the cinema. Your path was the other way round, from cinema (Exclusive, L.A. X) to TV. How was that?
Florian Froschmayer:I come from Switzerland. They didn’t have a lot of TV movies there in the ’90s. In a small country, you can do almost only cinema. I love the cinema and I’d go back any time. The financing process can only be very long, sometimes it takes years. I’m rather an impatient person and just love to shoot. Continuity is easier on TV, because more is produced in Germany. For me, without film school, it was also a great school to be able to work industrially for a long time after two independent cinema films.
FILMPULS:Honestly: Don’t you have a script next to or under the bed that you want to realize for the big screen?
Florian Froschmayer:Honestly, for a long time, not at all. (laughs) I was and am a passionate doer and I always get fully involved in the projects. So for years I didn’t have the time to develop a book on my own, because I was very intensively dedicated to my TV work. In the 2000s, TV work was often described as something inferior. I could not understand that even then. The best way to learn the craft is on television. There are tight budgets, tight deadlines and great flexibility is required. But since NETFLIX at the latest, the view of TV has changed dramatically and everyone wants to make series. Many people who have no experience with this are overstrained at the beginning because the conditions are often different from those of a cinema film. Back then I already loved series like NYYPD BLUE, 24, ALIES or WEST WING, which were basically forerunners of the productions you see in streamers today.
A film should above all entertain and touch me, and under no circumstances should it be pleasing.
FILMPULS:You deserted to Berlin early on, but you also shot in Switzerland again and again. Can you feel any differences when working on the set?
Florian Froschmayer:I shot my first feature film EXCLUSIVE in Switzerland in 1998, the Lucerne TATORT “Ihr werden richten” in 2014 and last year for the ARD Degeto production “Der Zürich Krimi”. Apart from that I directed in Germany or in other countries for German clients. I have also shot films in the Czech Republic, Austria, Holland, Italy and Mexico. The sets are always a bit different in terms of organisation and of course the mentalities of the people also play a role in the work. But I think it’s really exciting to work in other countries, because then you can live a little bit there and immerse yourself deeper.
FILMPULS:Christian Jungen, the new artistic director of the Zurich Film Festival ZFF, said at this year’s Berlinale that he heard time and again that the Swiss were not prepared to go to extremes in film. Everyone so nice? Is that so?
Florian Froschmayer:I cannot judge that, I am too far away from Switzerland for that. The Swiss is not the most extroverted and rather a polite contemporary. But what does “going to the extreme” mean? I think that a film should above all entertain and touch me, and under no circumstances should it be pleasing. But this is often the problem. Subsidies and also broadcasters – this also applies to Germany, by the way – often try to create films or series that are capable of winning a majority. As a result, one often has to make compromises. Formats such as BREAKING BAD, STRANGE THINGS or even then 24 were actually special interest formats for a very special audience. That’s why they can also “go to the extreme” and be consistent.
FILMPULS:When does your work as a director start with “Der Zurich Krimi”? When does it end?
Florian Froschmayer:The work as a director begins with preparation. I receive a script to which I commit myself. There are then many questions and precise arrangements with the station, the production and in the case of “Der Zürich Krimi” also with the main actors. Finally, motives are sought, the other roles are cast. Then the film is shot and then edited. The acceptance of the rough cut for a normal TV film takes place about 3-4 months after the start of the preparation. After that it takes another 3-4 months for the sound editing and if necessary dubbing, colour correction, music composition and final mixing. However, a director is only involved at certain points.
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I treat everyone as I would like to be treated myself.
FILMPULS:Do you have to strive for power in the profession of a director? Want power?
Florian Froschmayer:No, on the contrary. You have to be a team player, but of course you must not be afraid to lead people. On TV, the director is the head of the set and has a big responsibility. Of course he also has a say, but in the end it’s all about making a good film together with the cast and team. In cinema you certainly have a bit more influence, but there you also have to keep to deadlines and budgets.
FILMPULS:Ingmar Bergmann has said of himself that as a director he is a child with genitals. In the age of #MeToo, this statement must be interpreted with childlike openness to see things in a new way, combined with the fact that people can’t avoid sex. How do you deal with these two things in your work?
Florian Froschmayer:Common sense. At the end of the day, it does, after all, address the question of power. I treat everyone the way I’d like to be treated myself. I’ve been doing very well with this attitude for years. If I have to shoot a scene that involves sex or violence, I always seek a detailed discussion with the actors and team members involved before I do it. I see my task as a director – not only for intimate or delicate scenes – as creating a pleasant situation on the set and being able to react to the feelings and sensitivities of the others. Of course, I can still remain a child in spirit and am happy about every play with the camera or funny nonsense beside work. The perpetrators of the #MeToo debate are often power mongers, who neither have the team spirit nor a sense of decency and common sense, and who clearly overstep boundaries and have to be held accountable accordingly. Assaults of any kind, whether psychological or physical, against women or men, must be reported and punished accordingly.
FILMPULS:Unlike Netflix or HBO, the TV audience in the DACH region is on average well over 50 years old. So you are getting closer and closer to your target audience and understand it better and better? Or have you always been making films for your parents?
Florian Froschmayer:I was born in 1972, so I’m really close. (laughs). I make movies that I like. I think less about the target audience. My parents are in their mid/late 70’s. My 78-year-old father hardly watches linear TV anymore and has seen more Netflix formats than I have. Age has become a secondary consideration. The interests are the decisive factor.
FILMPULS:The question is as old as the profession of scriptwriter and director: can you only tell what you have experienced or felt yourself?
Florian Froschmayer:As a director, I must say quite clearly: I hope not! (laughs) I’ve made over 50 crime novels with the darkest abysses and murderers, but I can honestly say that I’ve never killed a human being. I think life experience certainly helps as a director and gives you more insight into abysses, fears but also solutions. As an author it is certainly the case that at least themes, characters or single scenes of a story are connected with own experiences. An author is always something individual. He writes down something that is very personal for that alone. As a director, I read the book, have my own view of it, but first and foremost I try to understand the author and implement his experiences in the film. I may then be able to supplement and specify them with my own view or insights.
FILMPULS:Let’s get a little philosophical: for a TV movie you shoot in about 22 days and give four to six months of life. A commercial is shot within 1 to 2 days, and is finished two weeks after shooting – but still you earn a lot more money as a director of commercials! Because you sell your soul?
Florian Froschmayer:A TV film and a commercial are two completely different products. The one (TV film) is financed by fee money, subscription fees or sometimes by advertising. A TV film is at best a zero bill. In the private sector it should cost as little as possible so that the advertising revenue is as high as possible and the company makes a profit. A commercial advert advertises a product. Take a new iPhone, for example. With a good spot that lasts 20 seconds, Apple will make billions in sales. Why should you not be involved in any way?
FILMPULS:A single (!) sentence on what you have learned about TV and film in the last twenty years?
Florian Froschmayer:If it was easy, everybody would do it.
FILMPULS:A secret only directors know?
Florian Froschmayer:I have no secrets, you can ask me anything.
FILMPULS:Three wishes to your writers?
Florian Froschmayer:To understand the work on a TV film as a cooperation. To have patience to deal with my questions in order to be able to discuss the script together. I think it would be great if the writers were on the set and you could consult them directly if you have questions and they could then talk personally with the actors about the dialogues.
FILMPULS:Two wishes to your producers?
Florian Froschmayer:To create sustainable fair working conditions for the whole team and to see the director as a partner. Both things that I experienced extraordinarily well in “The Zurich Thriller”! I would like to make one more request to the broadcasters: to align the budgets with the content wishes in order to give the producers the chance to create fair working conditions for everyone. However, Corona puts us in an exceptional situation, where the health of all participants should be the first priority. That is why I would like to see a responsible approach to the current situation and hope for appropriate regulations so that the livelihoods of film-makers are secured.
FILMPULS:A wish to your TV audience?
Florian Froschmayer:Just look at the things that entertain you! If you don’t like something, switch over. If you like something: enjoy it and tell others!
Our thanks for this great interview go to director Florian Froschmayer, who took time for us and our questions. We would also like to thank Johanna Bartsch from the agency 17durch2. | The current episodes of “Der Zurich Krimi” will be broadcast in German-speaking countries on April 30, 2020 and May 7, 2020, both at 8:15 pm. From 27 April and 4 May, they can be seen in advance in the ARD media library.