The event series “Sisi”, a new take on Empress Elizabeth of Austria from RTL, Beta Film and Story House Productions, stood out from the start.
Romy Schneider’s trilogy of cult 1950s movies turned a historical icon into a proper pop legend. Launched in 1854, “Sisi”, the new series, features scenes of breathtaking glamor, as when the camera slowly rises to expose the grandeur of Sisi’s house, a castle by a lake.
But his realism – sexual, political and psychological – brings an advantage to these period money shots. A declaration of intentions, Sisi begins with the teenage heroine (Dominique Devenport), sneaking pleasure in her bed until her sister barges in through the door. After a family dinner scene, cut to dashing young Emperor Franz Josef (Jannik Schümann) on horseback, riding – a reverse shot reveals – towards a scaffolding where he will personally authorize the public hanging of the Hungarian rebels, his horse trampling a free Hungary flag under the hoof.
A six-part flagship series for RTL Plus produced by Story House Pictures and supported and sold by Beta Film, “Sisi” is a symbol of the revolution that is laying the foundations for once-conservative German television.
This raises a big opportunity: About 25 minutes from the first episode of “Sisi”, the fiction obviously begins when Sisi and Franz gallop on horseback through a forest, then are attacked by Hungarian rebels in a brutal forest scene whose Layered sexual adrenaline speeds up the relationship, but as an equal.
Bringing modern candor and more psychological acuity to Franz and Sissi’s relationship, the show can ask how great love stories really go and let audiences guess the answer.
Variety chatted with “Sisi” showrunner Andreas Gutzeit, at Story House Pictures, director Sven Bohse (“Ku’damm 56”, “Ku’damm 59”) and Hauke Bartel, head of drama at RTL, on the one of the great pieces of this year Canneseries.
The first scene, then the executions, immediately set “Sisi” apart….
Gutzeit: We want to present a modern woman in a story told for the modern 21st century. With Sven directing we have found a way to tastefully, but bravely show how this will tell the classic Sissi story but of course involves sexuality and a modern take on the role of a woman under pressure, in a situation political, and a modern approach. on what can be the modern relations between Sissi and Franz. It is also important.
You do it from the start….
Gutzeit: Yeah, we wanted to make sure that right off the bat, right from the first scene, everyone knew that we weren’t looking for or inviting any comparisons to classic Romy Schneider films. Our star, Dominique Devenport, told us that she neither knew nor watched the films. There was no reason to do it, because our point of view is new, fresh. It’s just the greatest European love story of all time, which we choose to tell in modern ways.
Its modernity allows us to get closer to the way in which this love story could really unfold.
Gutzeit: Yes. About historical accuracy. Most of the events that are outward looking – engagement, marriage, Sissi’s travels – people can read them on Wikipedia, although we present them fresh and new. Anything you close the door – when they’re alone in the woods, or anywhere else – is 100% fresh and fictional. But the pain my fellow writers Elena Hell and Robert Krause and I put into interpreting the characters in a fresh, modern way meant that we often found ourselves, I guess, being more true to the story, a little bit. closer than the director of the film trilogy Ernst Marischka 70 years since.
Sven, the directing, from what I’ve seen of the series, mixes different styles. The dramatic calm of the classical period, against mottled backgrounds; cinematography on the big screen; nervier manual work, like when Sisi first meets Franz, for tea, with his family.
Bohse: I think you sort of succeeded. On the one hand, we wanted to meet the expectations of the public, with beautiful visuals with a cinematic impact, far from the sensation of digital formats. So we shot with anamorphic lenses, which alter the color and depth of field a bit, making the backgrounds less defined, giving an impression of painting and a certain elegance to the images.
There is also a nervousness in some scenes, however….
Bohse: Yes, the anamorphosis gives you more space left and right, helping to arrange the actors, telling more in one shot without much editing. But it can get too steep, too scenic. We still needed to give a direct impression, which is what you expect from modern series, so every once in a while we took the camera and ran. It created a strong choreography, a sense of spontaneity, brought you closer to the characters, immersing you in the story, making it fresher.
You’ve had some spectacular shots like Sisi and Franz galloping across a field of grass towards the camera as she charges towards them…
Bohse: It was a cablecam, where you mounted the camera on a wire, controlled by remote control. Someone said on set that there wasn’t a single camera move that we didn’t try to use on the show.
Yes, “Sisi” reminds me of “La Fortuna” by Alejandro Amenábar, where, as Domingo Corral of Movistar Plus said, the dramatic structure is television, but the direction of pure cinema. Hauke, “Sisi” is both premium family entertainment and events. How can you accommodate the two on release?
Bartel: What makes this program so special for us is that we believe it can work on both of these outlets. As you know, we are launching TVNow under the name RTL Plus, a free-to-air SVOD free-to-air network, on November 3rd. something that people will get a subscription to, but also something where the family gathers around Christmas and watches our show because “Sisi’s” creative way of revisiting the story will generate a lot of discussion.
Do you see RTL as a kind of revolution in terms of expanding its range of entertainment in a scripted space and “Sisi” being part of it?
Bartel: Absolutely. we launched a new drama initiative in february at the berlinale when we announced 12 new shows ranging from three or four other very big budget event shows outside of “sisi” to “faking hitler” and also author’s shows from Really smaller niche that will generate range of subscribers in the short term. If you look at the slate that we have in development right now and put on the platform over the next three, four, five months, that’s the complete opposite of what RTL scripted programming has represented for many years.
What is changing?
Bartel: It is becoming more and more difficult to launch one-hour procedural broadcasts or weekly police broadcasts in linear broadcast, especially in commercial linear broadcast. I wouldn’t say that if we find the perfect crime series, we won’t start developing it. But I think a show like “Sisi” will generate VOD subscribers and prove to be essential for broadcast. When “Sisi” comes out, everyone will be talking about it.
I caught “Germinal” at Series Mania, made by Banijay Studios for Alliance France Télévisions partners and Italian RAI, and was impressed with how they tried to step up a classic, introducing a rhythm and a sense of physical danger. The other highly publicized piece from Canneseries is “Around the World in 80 Days”, another great Alliance title. Do you think that as one of the main European broadcasters, RTL needs to have event series in its identity?
Bartel: Right now, it’s an absolute necessity for big entertainment brands like RTL to have this kind of programming. Not just to keep up with international standards, both in terms of storytelling and budget, but to try to take it a step further. I can only speak for RTL, but in 25 months we have quadrupled our investment in scripted programming. Drama is still the genre that truly creates an emotional connection with entertainment brands.