“I suffer from a certain illness – I always have ideas,” says fiery German opera and theater director Matthias Hartmann when asked how he came up with the concept for his latest project.
The Internet is an epic “series cycle” – three stand-alone yet connected European co-productions about the global football industry, with interconnecting stories and characters. The dramas are partly in English, partly in local languages: The Internet –
Prometheusproduced in Austria, is currently in post-production; The Net – Promised Land just wrapped filming in Germany; and The Net – Power Play is set to begin rolling in Florence, Italy (see box below for production credits).
The intention is for the Austrian, German and Italian series to be ready before the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off in Qatar in November. Talks are underway for a Portuguese series with a Brazilian story, while Scandinavian and French iterations are under consideration.
Hartmann says he dreaded spending a decade or more assembling the funding for such an ambitious undertaking. Instead, it only took a few meetings. When he first mentioned The Internet to Christopher Reindl, managing director of Red Bull Media House, he was told: “We don’t make series of films. But the producer persevered and Reindl relented, informing Hartmann that if he found a “competent partner”, Red Bull was ready to embark on the project.
Next up was Munich-based Beta Film, the company behind Fall, The lives of others and Babylon Berlin. Beta CEO Jan Mojto is a huge opera fan and was familiar with Hartmann’s work. He took the meeting.
“We sat around a table and I talked for a while,” Hartmann recalled. “Then I had the feeling that if I kept talking they would think I was a crazy bullshit talker.” Mojto took his time to respond. Eventually he told Hartmann that it was indeed a crazy idea, but “I think we should do it”.
“We didn’t know what to expect when Matthias called a meeting,” Beta chief executive Moritz von Kruedener notes of any initial skepticism. “We said, ‘Oh, it’s one of those theater guys again – they all want to end up on TV. [So] we thought it was one of those. Like Mojto, however, von Kruedener was won over by Hartmann’s passion – and the fact that Red Bull Media House was already on board.
To make the series, Beta and Red Bull created the Das Netz joint venture, with Hartmann and von Kruedener as CEOs. Hartmann’s role is to “take care of the projects” – to ensure that the relevant links are made between the different series and that consistency is maintained. Plinio Bachmann, a playwright known to Hartmann from his time as director of Vienna’s Burgtheater, helped refine the ideas. “He is very intellectual, very intelligent, a very informed man with a lot of research [experience]says Hartman. “We have all these problems that we have to solve because no one has done it before.”
Other leaders across Europe have all realized that, as Hartmann says, “Football connects more people than anything – any religion, any movement or any politics in the whole world”. The Internethowever, isn’t specifically about football – it’s about the often murky world behind the game. “It’s like [when] you shape a diamond,” suggests Thomas Schreiber, CEO of ARD Degeto, producer of The Net – Promised Land and co-producer of The Net – Prometheus. “You have different stories, [which] altogether will draw a bigger picture of a criminal structure. In the end, it’s a kind of mafia story.
Volfango De Biasi, director of the Italian series, observes that “each country gives its touch. It’s interesting to see the general idea of the project but also the signature of each culture.
Hartmann himself refers to novels by 19th century authors such as Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens, with their array of characters and extremely complex plots. A TV project like The Internethe thinks, can go even further, portraying its protagonists from multiple points of view, and as they are seen in different cultures – friendly one moment, ruthless and mean the next.
Oliver Auspitz, managing director of the Austrian company MR Film (majority owned by Beta Film), which is the producer of The Net – Prometheus, was determined his streak would shoot first. “As the first, it’s easier for the writer and the director because then all the others [series] has to follow our cast, our story,” he says.
The series is funded by local broadcast partners, Das Netz (which acts as co-producer and controls international rights) and by soft money and tax incentives. The individual series will initially be broadcast by local broadcasters, for example ARD Degeto in Germany. However, Das Netz is also in discussions with several “non-linear” partners locally and globally, including major streamers who could take the rights to all series.
It’s clear that many of the producers and directors involved are avid football fans. Ferdinand Dohna, executive vice president of content at Beta Film, is an AS Roma fan in Italy, while Schreiber is a follower of Bayern Munich in Germany. They all know The Internet exposes the darker and more devious side of the game, with the various series dealing with human trafficking, financial fraud, rogue investors, doping and genetic manipulation. The producers, however, are optimistic that the dramas will appeal to a wide audience.
“For me, female audiences are as important as male audiences, maybe more important,” says MR Film’s Auspitz, whose credits include Blood of Vienna. “Football is the kick off but for me our show is a bit like a James Bond movie. It’s about billionaires, cars, private jets, football. It’s about eternal life .
“We’re not making a series for the football-interested audience,” agrees Schreiber. “We make a series for our audience – and that’s society as a whole. That’s why it’s important for me to point out that this is a series about corruption and the mafia structures that work together.
Red Bull is known for its boldness and marketing ingenuity, but the filmmakers say the Austrian company (involved through Red Bull Media House rather than energy drink company Red Bull) has been quiet in its approach. They insist that the public will not see players drinking cans of energy drink before games.
Auspitz offers an intriguing insight into Red Bull the collaborator. “Everything Red Bull is involved in, they want to do 150%. They want the best partners, always doing their best,” he says. money, they don’t care about problems.”
The Austrian producer recalls that at one point, when Covid-19 restrictions prevented a UK-based actress from flying directly to Vienna, Red Bull sent their private jet to pick her up in Sweden. But Red Bull’s “nothing is impossible” ethos has its downsides – it does not accept failure even if the circumstances are beyond the grower’s control. “If you can’t deliver, they can’t handle it,” Auspitz notes.
Von Kruedener says Red Bull’s expertise in football – the brand has teams in Austria, Germany and the United States – has been an obvious boost. The filmmakers were able to approach representatives from clubs such as RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg to find out if certain plot ideas were plausible. “And it was good that the first financial partner was Red Bull with its broadcast partner ServusTV,” Auspitz says of the confidence the company’s involvement has given to other financiers. “Other partners were very reassured to see them.”
The Internet is just the latest example of an ambitious TV series that aspires to have a strong local identity while working globally. Like Dohna, producer of The Net – Power Game, explains, the parallel series offer something different from the classic pilot used to attract viewers. “We have the advantage of having different entry points for the same brand,” he says. If you like one series, you are more likely to become a fan of them all.
Manufacturing breakdown: The Internet
The Net – Prometheus (Austria)
Located in the UK and the Alps, Prometheus touches on corruption and conspiracy. Now in post, it is produced by MR Film in co-production with ServusTV, ARD Degeto and Das Netz (a joint venture between Red Bull Media House and Beta Film). Directed by Andreas Prochaska, the cast includes Tobias Moretti and Amanda Abbington.
The Net – Promised Land (Germany)
Topics include the proposed formation of a global league and human trafficking. Filming wrapped in February and was produced by Sommerhaus Serien in co-production with Das Netz, and commissioned by ARD Degeto for ARD. The series is directed by Rick Ostermann and stars Tom Wlaschiha and Birgit Minichmayr.
The Net – Power Play (Italy)
the power play follows what happens when a Florentine football club is sold to Chinese owners. The series is produced by Cross Productions in co-production with Das Netz; Volfango De Biasi and Lorenzo Sportiello lead.