Gaumont Germany is bowing its first major production this month with the premiere of the historical action series “Barbarians” on Netflix.
The six-part miniseries promises to take viewers to the blood-drenched Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, in which Germanic warriors halted the northward advance of the Roman Empire in A.D. 9.
Part of French film and TV studio Gaumont and launched in 2018, Gaumont Germany has benefited from its parent group’s well established ties with the streaming giant.
“Our long close partnership with Netflix with productions like ‘Narcos,’ ‘Hemlock Grove’ and ‘F is for Family’ led us to early discussions with them when they expanded in Europe a few years ago,” Gaumont Germany president Sabine de Mardt told Variety.
“[Gaumont Vice CEO] Christophe Riandée knew what Netflix was looking for even before I joined the company and we opened Gaumont Germany,” de Mardt explained.
Indeed, the new division had already been looking for “a brilliant series to fit this genre,” she added.
Created by Jan-Martin Scharf, Arne Nolting and Andreas Heckmann, “Barbarians” fit the bill.
“When we met with Arne, Jan-Martin and Andreas, they pitched us the story of quarreling Germanic tribes, friendship and love under the ruling Roman empire, which had all the ingredients for the ambitious and highly original series that we were looking for,” de Mardt said.
“The original pitch was set 200 years after the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, which was one of the greatest defeats of the Roman empire. We then closely collaborated over a period of months together – the series now is a result of that collaboration.”
De Mardt added: “‘Barbarians’ is the perfect series to establish our young company in a prominent way. We were very fortunate to have this show, which took us from zero to 100 in no time.”
It was nevertheless a challenge. “We had just opened the company and bam, ‘Babarians’ arrived. Many things had to happen simultaneously: office structure, staff, etc. When we, the EP team with Andreas Bareiss, Rainer Marquass and myself, had our first meetings with Netflix [director of international originals] Rachel Eggebeen, we didn’t even have proper offices.”
The series, which shot entirely in Hungary, is based on historic facts and tells the story of the famous battle in A.D. 9, which saw rival Germanic tribes unite to end Roman expansion in the Germanic territories. The story looks set to continue in future seasons.
“We are delving into the very personal psychological conflicts of our main characters only some of which will be resolved in the first season, leaving plenty of material for seasons to come,” de Mardt said.
The creative team took pains to make a German series for the global market.
“Our story is the perfect universal David versus Goliath plot,” she added, noting that the characters and their personal challenges, moral dilemmas and inner conflicts makes for a show that has international appeal.
“We had to make some important decisions right at the start: whose perspective did we want to choose for the story and which screen language? As we were making a German Netflix Original we wanted to tell the story fundamentally through the eyes of the Germanic tribes, which is also the least familiar aspect of this story and one that hasn’t been explored in other shows. I think this makes our show feel fresh and unique.”
The decision to use Latin as the language for the Romans was made in order to provide greater authenticity to the series, she said.
“Only the feeling of an authentic world combined with emotional and truthful stories brings the magic that will draw in an international audience and make sure they follow us into this compelling world. This is universal. And this has very little to do with production budgets that are clearly higher for big international shows. Like David with Goliath, you just have to be a little clever about what you choose to show on screen and what you elegantly leave out.”
“Barbarians” premieres on Netflix on Oct. 23.
Gaumont Germany is shooting the six-part miniseries “Westwall,” based on Benedikt Gollhardt’s novel. The story follows a young police officer (Emma Bading) who becomes entangled in a right-wing extremist conspiracy after falling for a secretive young man (Jannik Schümann) who, despite having a large swastika tattoo on his back, claims to have left his previous life behind. Gollhardt, who also wrote the script, is serving as showrunner. Global Screen is handling world sales.
The company also produced the upcoming TV movie “Die Bewährungshelferin,” about a probation officer in Cologne, for German pubcaster ARD and is also co-producing the French dramedy series “Nona and Her Daughters” for Arte and German regional pubcaster SWR along with Gaumont in France and Paris-based Rectangle Productions.
Gaumont Germany is open for all genres and has series and feature film projects in development, de Mardt said, noting that in Germany, movies of the week also remain very popular.