IIt took Pantaleon Films 13 years to get exactly where it always wanted to be. When the producers Dan Maag and Marco Beckman launched the company, then called Pantaleon Entertainment, in 2009 with the German actor Matthias Schweighöferthe idea was to produce films outside Europe for the global market.
But first, Pantaleon had to build a reputation, which he did with German-language feature films, most of them – What a man (2011), The Manny (2015), The most beautiful day (2016) – leveraging Schweighöfer’s star power to become local box office hits. Pantaleon entered television production in 2017 with You are wantedAmazon’s first German series, also starring Schweighöfer, which ran for 12 episodes over two seasons.
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Along the way, the company has grown and diversified, adding a film and television services division, Pantaleon Studios; a VOD platform and VOD services group, Pantaleon Technologies; an advertising and business consulting group with cc15; and, most recently, podcast outfit Pantaleon Sounds. Everything operates under the umbrella of the publicly listed parent group Pantaflix AG.
In 2020, the company produced its first truly international feature film: Resistancefeaturing Jesse Eisenberg as a mime Marcel Marceau, in the true story of his fight with the French Resistance against the Nazis. Last year he followed with army of thievesthe Zack Synder-produced the prequel to army of the dead, directed by and starring Schweighöfer, which reached No. 1 on Netflix in over 90 countries in October. Schweighöfer is notable for his absence from the upcoming German Pantaleon list, which includes Huseyin Tabakit’s a dramatic comedy Oskars Kleidthe Alain Gsponer-directed Wolke Unterm Dach and Sky Original function Orizzonte. “We never wanted to be just Matthias Schweighöfer’s show,” notes Maag.
Ahead of this year’s European Film Market, Pantaleon’s triumvirate of co-directors — Maag, Patrick Zorer and newly appointed Yoko Higuchi-Zitzmann – spoke to The Hollywood Reporter via a video link explaining why, after 13 years, Pantaleon is just getting started.
With Resistance and army of thieves, Pantaleon produced its first two major productions in English. Will this be your goal in the future?
Dan Maag That was always the goal. Matthias and I met during the filming of the red baron [in 2008], which I produced. Already at the time, the idea was to make a German film that could go around the world. We analyzed the market and we saw that in Germany, if you built a business in the right way, it could be internationally successful. We started with [German-language] comedies, which were successful, but understandably don’t travel a lot, but helped us build the business. Now that we’re firmly established, we have a broad talent base – we’re not just the Schweighöfer company anymore – and we can take it to the next level. We knew that we first had to create a solid base, a good infrastructure. Now that we have it, we can enjoy it. These films are therefore the first steps [into the international marketplace] but certainly not the last.
How Matthias Schweighöfer ended up getting the job to not only star, but also direct and, with Pantaleon, also produce army of thieves?
Maag Zack [Snyder] and Matthias got along incredibly well army of the deadand we started talking to Zack and Deborah Snyder on the whole idea of a dead franchise, set in the world they created. And the most interesting role of Matthias became [as German safe cracker Ludwig Dieter] in army of the deadthe clearer it became that the character would work [in the prequel]. At one point, it was suggested that Matthias would direct as well. Netflix watched its [German] films, we talked a lot and finally, we all decided to do this together.
It was a big step for Schweighöfer to take army of thieves his directorial debut in English…
Maag It was a big step. If I remember when he made his first film, What a man , It was crazy. Matthias wasn’t sure what an assistant director was for. He has learned a lot since then. But we also stayed true to the people we worked with [on the German films]of the cameraman [Alexander Berner] to the chief designer [Christian Eisele] and many others behind the camera who accompanied us. All the work we have done in the past is paying off.
The collaboration with Netflix worked really well. And we are looking to develop many other things for English speakers [and] global market. You can expect a few surprises in the weeks and months to come.
Patrick Zorer For example, we are co-producing a high-end series for Sky, directed by Olivier Hirschbiegel [Downfall] with an incredible and truly international cast. We shoot in English with our Italian partners [Indiana Production].
army of thieves was a Netflix production. Resistance was a classic indie film, funded through pre-sales. Which model do you prefer?
Maag On the budget side, the two films are comparable. But if you look at both timelines, the time it takes to put things together is completely different. Resistance took five years to fund and is incredibly complex. You think you have all the funding together, everything is ready, then a part breaks down and you have to start over. It’s the typical story of having to present a project three times to the American film market to get it financed.
For army of thieves, you have some great ideas from Zack and Matthias, Netflix says yes and we can start filming. Then the movie comes out on Netflix and it’s suddenly available worldwide, an incredible number of people can see it.
With Resistance, because it came out during the pandemic when theaters were closed, it was difficult to reach an audience. It was incredibly frustrating. But we are not abandoning cinemas. There are stories we want to tell that work better for the independent market. And there will be a time after the pandemic when people return to the movies. Our structure is such that we can do both and we intend to do so.
Yoko Higuchi-Zitzmann, you just joined the company on February 1st. In your previous jobs at Letterbox, Studio Hamburg and Constantin, you made a name for yourself mainly with German-language mainstream productions. What will your role be at Pantaleon?
Yoko Higuchi-Zitzmann I was so happy when they asked me to join them. Because Patrick and I have the same DNA, we were both students of [legendary German producer] Bernd Eichinger. We both worked for Constantin Film, we have known each other for 20 years and we were breastfed with the same “classic” milk.
We think the same in terms of content: we want to create engaging stories that can reach a wide audience. I am equally enthusiastic about the idea of making feature films and series.
As Dan said, we are passionate about cinema, we believe in cinemas. Cinemas and distributors have struggled during the pandemic, but we believe in the return of cinema, and as creative producers we believe we have a responsibility to be the driving force, to produce popular commercial films and to bring them to theaters.
On the series side, I really want to do a comedy in the workplace. This is a gap in the market here in Germany. There are amazing shows coming from America, like Office Where Emily in Paris, where you have the dramatic, comedic and human conflict in a modern work environment coming together. I would like to develop something similar for Germany. On the film side, we focus on commercial projects aimed at a younger audience. Like The History of Mankind, Slightly Abridgeda comedy that we just finished with the crème de la crème of the German comedy scene — Christopher Marie Herbst, Bastien Pastewka and Caroline Kebekus – that Warner Bros. hits theaters later this year.
What role does Matthias Schweighöfer play in the daily management of the company?
Maag An increasingly small role, and that’s good. That was always the goal. We never wanted to be just Matthias Schweighöfer’s show. In the beginning, of course, we used his position in the industry to open doors for us, especially in the creative community. But now we have these relationships. We are shooting our third film with [German actor-director] Florian David Fitz, for example. Of course, we still have projects that we are developing together, in particular American projects, and he is an integral part of the company, he is its founder and shareholder. We talk every day and he knows everything the three of us do. If we need him, he is there.
We’ve seen a lot of consolidation in the independent production scene over the past year, especially in Europe. Are you getting takeover offers or looking to partner with other production teams?
Maag We are certainly considering acquisitions or collaborations. Especially with other European companies, companies from other German-speaking countries, but also other European outfits. My big dream is to form European alliances. We don’t need American investors, we don’t need investors from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. I look at things from a very European point of view. I think we can build on a lot and achieve a lot, also financially, in Europe. The American partners with whom we discuss are very open to strong alliances. As long as you have the same creative vision and don’t talk bullshit.
Zorer I have worked for many years on the international side of the film industry, and with our setup I think – and we have shown this over the past few years – that both creatively and structurally we promise that we can deliver. If I can quote what the former mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit said about the city: “poor but sexy”. That’s how I see Pantaleon.
Maag It would be much easier to sell the business. We’re just not interested. Every time we have had these discussions, we realize what a good team we have. We don’t have to sell, so why should we? It’s still way too exciting and fun to work together and with the creatives. If we got to the point where we thought, “Well, we’ve tried everything, now we have to sell the store,” [we would]but the funny thing is that at Pantaleon, we always feel that we are just getting started.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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