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On the set of "Stoertebeker" (photo © Bavaria Film/Stefan Falke)

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 03/2005

There is going to be much swashbuckling and derring-do on German television next year with the airing of Bavaria Film's TV two-parter Stoertebeker, but it has been a long time in the preparation.

As producer Stephan Bechtle recalls, the figure of the fearless pirate, who came to be known as the "German Robin Hood of the high seas" in the North and Baltic Seas in the 14th century, had inspired several producers within the Bavaria Film Group in recent years to consider bringing his adventures to the television screens, however to no avail until now. Even feature film directors of the caliber of someone like Wolfgang Petersen had worked on their own “Stoertebeker” projects at one time or other, and there are still German production companies toying with the idea of giving this colorful character the big screen treatment.

The fact that Bavaria Film made the running is down to the successful collaboration between Bechtle and screenwriter Walter Kaerger on another historical subject with the two-parter Trenck - Zwei Herzen gegen die Krone. This new project attracted the support of Degeto Film and the other pieces of the financing puzzle subsequently fell into place for the international co-production with broadcasters from Austria, France, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Catalonia, Hungary and the Czech Republic all coming onboard.

"It was the quality of the project and the screenplay, the universal story that can be understood by everyone rather than the specific figure of Stoertebeker which attracted them," Bechtle notes, pointing out that the choice of Miguel Alexandre as director came after a recommendation from the lead actor Ken Duken who plays Stoertebeker.

"I saw that we have a similar vision," says Bechtle about the director who had previously worked with Duken on his feature Gran Paradiso and received an Adolf Grimme Award for his TV movie Gruesse aus Kaschmir this March. Duken also impressed him with his total commitment to the project, and this went so far as to spend three weeks training for the stunts which he performed practically without any stand-in.

"Emotions are writ large in this production: there is a strong love story and a strong motivation for the figure of Stoertebeker to avenge the death of his parents," Bechtle adds. "There is action, humor, tragedy and finally a happy ending. Real family entertainment."

The cast was drawn from six countries – Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Lithuania and the Czech Republic – with such well-known German actors as Gottfried John, Frank Giering, Jochen Nickel, Antonio Wannek and Gudrun Landgrebe, while Stoertebeker's sweetheart is played by French TV star Claire Keim who has more than 30 TV movies to her name. It was also very international behind the camera with the crew members hailing from four countries – Germany, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Switzerland – including a team of stuntmen from Prague whose previous credits had included Troy, Titanic, xXx, and Gladiator.

While the CGI work and other post-production will be done in Munich, the actual shoot was spread over three months at locations in Lithuania. "Basically, we had two key locations: the castle at Trakai where sets were built to recreate medieval Hamburg and Copenhagen, and then the location on the Baltic coast where the 40 meter-long pirate ship and the pirate village were built," Bechtle says, recalling that the production had its fair share of problems, for example, with a plague of mosquitoes that stopped filming one day and some actors being injured in the stunt sequences.

Germany's ARD network will show the two-parter in early 2006, although Bechtle could imagine that an edited feature-length version might be released theatrically in some territories. Moreover, if this production hits it off with the viewers, further adventures of Stoertebeker could be coming to a TV screen near you....

Genre Adventure

Year of Production 2005
Director Miguel Alexandre
Screenplay Walter Kaerger
Cinematography Peter Indergand
Andreas Herzog
Petra Heim, Mathias Heinze
Cast Ken Duken, Gottfried John, Stephan Luca, Frank Giering, Jochen Nickel, Claire Keim, Gudrun Landgrebe, Timo Dierkes, Antonio Wannek, Paula Riemann
Producer Stephan Bechtle
Production Company Bavaria Film, in co-production with ARD Degeto, NDR/Hamburg, MDR, WDR, SWR, BR, ORF/Vienna
Format 35 mm, color
 German, Lithuanian, English, Spanish
Shooting Dates Trakai, Nida, Kleipeda, Kaunas (Lithuania), May – August 2005
Sound Technology Dolby SR
With backing from FilmFernsehFonds Bayern

World Sales
Bavaria Media GmbH