Constantin Film, Germany’s leading film producer and the company behind international sci-fi horror franchise Resident Evil, is taking aim at the small screen.
A pioneering deal with Netflix, unveiled last week, to co-produce Constantin’s German-language crime thriller Perfume marks a new direction for the Munich-based mini-major. By leveraging its position as one of Europe’s leading production companies and exploiting its deep library of brands and literary titles, Constantin is looking to carve out a position as a top indie in the TV drama space.
Constantin has long dabbled in German TV, but cinema has always been its primary focus, with local-language blockbusters from Downfall and Look Who’s Back and comedy franchise Suck Me Shakespeer to international titles including The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and the Resident Evil films.
It’s first major venture into international drama series was Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, based, like the first Mortal Instruments film, on the series of fantasy novels by Cassandra Clare. The series, which is currently shooting its third season, airs on Freeform in the U.S. and on Netflix worldwide.
Perfume, which is currently in post-production, will be Constantin’s first co-production with Netflix. The series, which German public broadcaster ZDFNeo is also backing, is a modern-day crime drama inspired by Patrick Suskind’s best-selling novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.
Constantin produced the 2006 film adaptation of Perfume, directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas). The film was an international hit, grossing more than $135 million worldwide.
The feature, and the novel, are set in 18th-century France and follow Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (played in the movie by Ben Whishaw), a man with a superhuman sense of smell who becomes the world’s greatest perfumer. But he becomes obsessed with creating the perfect perfume and begins killing beautiful young women to distill their olfactory essence. Constantin’s TV version will take the book’s core ideas of a scent-obsessed serial killer and the use of smell to control emotions, but will shift the action to present-day Germany. It will be set in an international boarding school where young women begin turning up dead, murdered in a way eerily similar to the manner described in Suskind’s book.
In an unique setup, Netflix will take worldwide rights to the Perfume series outside of German-speaking Europe while ZDFNeo will have exclusive German rights — for TV and online — for the series’ first window, starting with the series launch this fall. Netflix will bow the story day-and-date globally with ZDFNeo in Germany. After the first German window, Netflix will have second-window rights within German-speaking territories. Following the Netflix window, sales group Beta Film will sell rights to traditional broadcasters in free and pay TV worldwide.
Oliver Berben, the board member who heads up TV, digital media and entertainment at Constantin, says the company was reluctant to do an all-rights deal with Netflix. “With such a strong brand — Perfume is one of our crown jewels — we didn’t want to give up all the rights,” he says. “Netflix was immediately open to this…. We took the time to make sure we could find a model that would be beneficial to everyone.”
For Constantin, partnering with Netflix “allowed us to achieve a production budget and look on par with international standards,” says Berben, noting that the budget for Perfume was at eight figures for the first, six-episode season. For Netflix, which is moving to boost its local-language offerings, Perfume offers built-in brand recognition — Suskind’s book is a modern-day classic in Germany, and Tykwer’s film version earned a jaw-dropping $53 million in its home market — as well as a homegrown touch. “For Netflix it was also very important that it be a local series,” Berben says of Perfume, “that it not be in English, that the connection to the location, the cast and the language be very strong.”
The Perfume series boasts a who’s-who list of German stars, including Wotan Wilke Mohring (Valkyrie), August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds), Friederike Becht (The Reader), Christian Friedel (The White Ribbon) and Ken Duken (Inglourious Basterds). Philipp Kadelbach, a director on International Emmy-winning series Generation War and BBC drama SS-GB, helmed the first season.
Constantin is ramping up its TV drama business and developing TV serial versions of books it its rights catalog, including Peter Hoeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (adapted as a 1997 film starring Julia Ormond) and Christiane F., Kai Hermann and Horst Rieck’s expose of Berlin’s 1970s drug scene (turned into a feature film by Uli Edel in 1981). With Netflix, Berben said Constantin is in talks for co-productions on the Perfume model, but also straight-up commissioned productions.
“We see a lot of potential to grow our non-theatrical business,” Berben says, “particularly in the sphere of large German and European co-productions. We expect to significantly increase the number and volume of TV series, and we expect to be hiring on more people to expand our German and European production operation.”
Berben says the German group is looking at a possible serial adaptation of the Resident Evil franchise and a TV revival of Marvel superhero brands the Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer, for which Constantin holds the rights.