While October is usually a time for darker entertainment fare, offering up grim and sometimes spookier films and series for viewers to enjoy as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, it's also a time for celebrations, such as Halloween and, for many Oktoberfest. In Netflix's latest original series Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood, both of those things come together. The series, while not exactly a horror offering, explores the violent and gritty history of the now-famous German folk festival as brewer Curt Prank arrives and begins to capitalize on the beer industry in Munich and envision what he thinks Oktoberfest should be.
For director Hannu Salonen and cinematographer Felix Cramer, the story is one that offered an opportunity to share the origin of Oktoberfest as the world now knows it, shedding a bit of light on the history of things while also sharing a bit of German culture and history more generally. ComicBook.com recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Salonen and Cramer about the series, the history and research that went into creating a world that is both historically accurate and original at the same time as well as about the challenges of creating such a rich and immersive experience on a budget -- including how they had to "moonwalk" to get certain shots for the series.
Read on for our interview with Salonen and Cramer below.
ComicBook.com: As somebody of German heritage, of course Oktoberfest is a thing. So this was just even more fun. But I have to ask, how did Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood come about? What was the inspiration origin for the series?
Hannu Salonen: I mean, neither Felix nor I am from Munich or Bavaria. So, obviously it kind of takes one or two guys to have the idea, "Hey, let's start digging into the history and origins of the Oktoberfest." In our case, there were two producers, Alexis von Wittgenstein and Felix von Poser, two guys in Munich, others, they are from Munich. There was kind of thinking, "Come on." But no one really knows the origins, nothing. This is really true. The Germans don't know much about it. Felix and I, in the northern Germany you hear nothing about that. You know, the basic nowadays thing that we have, and the worldwide big thing going on, but about the history, no, nothing. They started to dig into this history and came up with this very intriguing character, Georg Lang. It was amazing, because obviously they immediately understood this might be something, because there is a kind of hushed up about this man too in Munich, even nowadays, nobody knows about him. And still he changed everything. So this was basically the beginning of the whole thing.prevnext
Oktoberfest become kind of a well-known and celebrated thing around the world in recent years. Was there anything specific about Oktoberfest that drew you into that? Or is it just you got this great character and, like you said, just kind of dove in from there?
Felix Cramer: I think from our perspective it's one of the two really important things that we have in Germany. One thing is of course this dark part of our history, everybody knows about it, but it's so funny, because I also sometimes in Los Angeles and have a lot of friends there, and they're always talking about celebrating the Oktoberfest because it's something they really like to do, especially in October, or of course the end of October, they celebrate that. So obviously there is a meaning to it also in the other countries. For me it was really a great opportunity to make this movie, because on the one side we have this really great, I would say, great topic we can talk about, on the other side we have this extremely nice and dark story that is around this Oktoberfest. The Oktoberfest is part of it but it reflects, of course, Germany in that time, especially Munich in that time. It was really interesting seeing all these artists, they develop their new art. I mean we are ending in that time in the late romantic hour, then coming to the expressionists. There was a lot of movement in that time. So for me it was extremely interesting on both sides. On the one side, to see this Oktoberfest, but also on the other side to see the change in the social life at that time.
Salonen: Also the social-economic... Of course, 1900 was like the '20s in Berlin or in New York. The Golden Twenties were actually 20 years earlier in Munich. This is really amazing to study that a little bit, the bohemian scene and the whole thing. But there was also a social-economic side to it, because Munich and the whole of tradition was being changed. The whole modern times basically just broke into that city and changed everything. Basically, Prank is like this type of guy who's coming and taking over all the traditional breweries... That really changed everything. Ten years before that, they had like 150 breweries in Munich. 1890, they had 150 breweries, little, traditional, wonderful breweries. 1910, they had only 15. Nowadays, they only have one which is privately owned. So this was the tendency of the time, which basically is like a incredible revolution that is going through and being lived up by the people there. Interesting time.prevnext
Very interesting time. Speaking to that history and that time frame, how historically accurate are some of those details, like the costumes, the art, and things like that? Because there's some incredible details in this program.
Salonen: I'm not certain of this because we did take a lot of liberties with failings, distancing ourselves from any reality in a way, and going fully into the genre. But, the production design and the costume design are mostly, and for most of the parts, especially for the Oktoberfest, very, very truthful. It's amazing what kind of a job they did by researching, and really digging very deep into the reality. In that sense I kind of had the feeling that Felix and I, we are allowed to go away from that in try to fly into another dimension that's probably needed for this kind of like bigger-than-life type of stories that we have there. But it's very truthful. Felix, you might tell them something about the topic also.
Cramer: Yeah, sure. I mean, for us, we got a lot of inspiration, especially by the artists of that time. So we saw paintings from different artists from the late romantic time, from the expressionists. Especially the expressionists are interesting because they're also in this bohemian part of our series, so you see them already. We talk about guys like Vladimir Kandinski or Franz Marc, people that were connected to the Neue Künstlervereinigung, the New Artists' Community in Munich. I mean, we tried to base our colors, for example, on that artist, on these paintings. So I think we are, yeah, we tried to be very accurate on one side, regarding costumes and the production design. On the other side, what Hannu already said, we freed ourself and tried to be more in a artistic way doing this movie and less in this kind of history, period-piece feeling movie that you often see in these period tone or bluish tone movies. We totally tried to be more like artists, more like painters, and made our images like paintings of that time.prevnext
One of the things I really loved about Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood was it literally looks like nothing else I'd ever seen in terms of you got those rich details, but there's some incredible technical shots as well. It looks like such a huge production. How did you pull that off?
Cramer: Honestly, the production value looks really big. On the other side, we used every technique that is available today. So for example, we had a lot of drone shots, and the drone, we did specific shots where you see the drone goes down, flies down into the crowd of people, and then we walk through. I would say, 10 years ago the only way to achieve that would have been static cam operators standing on a crane, what is really a big effort. You have to build a crane that is maybe 30 feet high, or 40 feet high in our case, even higher, and then it takes two or three hours to achieve that shot. You have the steady-cam operator, he goes down on the crane platform and then he walks through the people. Now, what we did, it was just we had this simple drone, we flew down with the drone and our trainee, he catched the drone and then he walked through this crowd of people.
The first time we exercised that, it was absolutely shaking impossible. But our trainee was very good, and he achieved a very interesting kind of walking method, I would say, maybe something that Michael Jackson did before. It was really, really perfectly walking through this crowd of people, and then it looked like a static cam. So we achieved these shots that might be very, very expensive 10 years ago. In our case, it was really very easy and cheap to do. I think the good thing is that we were really good prepared. We had the storyboard, boarded a third of all scenes. So we knew exactly what we want to do, and then we had some smart solutions to compete with this short amount of shooting time. Because we had only 66 days of shooting time for the whole series.prevnext
Salonen: Yeah, it's really actually amazing. I have to tell you a small anecdote about this drone thing. Because obviously we were on weekends, we didn't get away from Prague, we were all the time there. So we kept... I didn't keep training, I was just watching this, but Felix was training with this drone and flying it and whatever. And he wanted to catch it. But once he made a little mistake and almost lost all of his fingers.
Cramer: Not really.
Salonen: Well, no. At least one was like really bleeding and someone said, "This is not without any problems." You did practice a lot and prepared a lot for the whole thing, because obviously we don't have, that you have to know, we are not in that sense a Netflix Original in Germany because we are a co-production picture. Our budgets are not to compare with any other historical US show. But of course, it mustn't show. So we have to accept we are poor, but we've got to be better in that sense. We've got to improve ourselves, to be really smart about how to do this. This is really a... basically. Basically, you get... I had planned it for myself, the movie's ready. It is done. I just have to shoot is anymore. That was the Hitchcock way of approaching it, and basically we took that approach, in a way. We had the movie, the show, in our heads before we actually started shooting.prevnext
What would you say the most challenging element of making Oktoberfest was?
Cramer: From my perspective it was really the timing, but we already talked about. Another really interesting aspect was that we had this big scenery, this exterior of the Oktoberfest, we had to bring it into a city because when you see these scenes, you see that we had many, many extras every day. We're talking about 500 extras, 400 extras a day. So our team, the whole crew, was maybe like 700 people, 600, whatever. You are not able to shoot these scenes somewhere in, I mean, in the middle of nowhere. So we had to bring that all into the city and then we shot actually in Prague, in Czech Republic. What we did, we found an old goods station. It was flat, so we built everything there. It was really good to make our Oktoberfest, but the problem was that it was surrounded by modern buildings. So what we had to achieve is that every single angle, that there was no modern building behind. It took quite a while to make this model working so we had never a problem. And even if there was a modern building, then we used fog for the background, a lot of fog, to hide these buildings. Just a big post-production budget, of course. We had of course post-production, when you see the big sceneries, the big wide shots, they are CGI. But many, many shots are really real in camera, and there's no CGI at all.
Salonen: And the thing is, with these big productions, with hundreds of peoples on the set, you tend to be kind of like awestruck by the machinery, which means for a director, which means that you are standing there, stiff like shit, and you can't be creative anymore. Basically, I did not want to be afraid of the machinery. So you have to free yourself of this thing and try to... Because our idea was, just to begin with, to really dive into the events, be middle in there, with the characters, and not like being documenting or observing it from the distance, like a lot of historical period pieces are like, "Just, now, we are here, the film makers, and you guys are just there and we're observing you being there, somehow." But now we wanted to get onto the stage with them, which means forget the machinery, forget everything around you, basically, but still keep in mind all this, "By the way, this shot, if we'll show these modern buildings, we're up to... and it costs so much money, we can't do this." And all the time you are thinking, "This." But it can't be having the brakes on, so you have to be accelerating still all the time in away.
And being part of this, also camera-wise, the camera becomes then one of the leading characters in a way. The visual style that we chose for ourselves was the camera becoming one of the leading characters and say, "I'm here, I'm the camera. I'm telling the story. I don't hide myself." That is quite difficult if you have this big... Since you have this big machinery behind you, having this feeling of a student movie, a student film in a way, like, Felix, we did a lot of the time just took the camera and just ran with the people in a way. Having this feeling, this is really freeing yourself from that. It's great. Actually it's great energy. I mean keeping up this energy, this is actually my most difficult task, in a way. Every day.prevnext
Sounds like such a unique experience too, professionally, on a lot of levels.
Cramer: Definitely. It was maybe one of the... From my perspective, it was really one of the greatest project I ever did. The good thing is we had a lot of fun at the shooting, so it was not really hard to shoot. It was really fun to make this movie. And this is really honest. I know other movies where you have less fun, but this one, absolutely. I can tell you. No, I really had a lot of fun. It was a great experience. We had so much passion at film makers, the production designer, Benedikt Herforth, he did a fantastic job, and the costume designer. Everybody on this movie was absolutely fantastic, really. That helped us to face all these challenges.prevnext
What do you hope audiences take away from Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood?
Cramer: I mean, I think, first of all, it should be a lot of fun, even if it's a very dark story. But when I watched it the first time, of course the first time when you watch it, you don't have the distance. But when you watched it several times to get more into this kind of distance, and I think it has this really funny moments, even if it's really dark. I hope that people are entertained by it, mainly, of course. Also, by these visual ideas that we had, because many scenes we have are only visually done, without any dialogue. For me, it was of course a great gift to do that. My hope is that the audience also love this, to be dug in visually in this kind of Oktoberfest. It's not only the Oktoberfest, it's our own created world of Oktoberfest. When we, both Hannu and me, started, I think the books were really, really great, but our ideas and our production and our preparation brought really us more into this world that we are creating now, or that we created. I just hope that everybody likes this and is entertained and has fun and feels in this kind of world. Hopefully everybody likes it so much that we can get a second season.
Salonen: That's exactly... You know, I see myself as much as an entertainer as Felix is. That's basically my main goal, and having a certain kind of playfulness, childishness about this too. Also, not being afraid of things. Being afraid, that's one of the main themes that just interests me a lot, because just right now, we're kind of living through an era that they did at that time, 120 years ago. A lot of changes, the third digital revolution, basically, changes going on. People sticking on, hanging onto to their traditions and people's lives being changes all the time. I kind of have the feeling, perhaps we might show a way and say, "Come on. Try to define your own future for yourself. Work on yourself and try to be open for certain things." Stick to your traditions. You have to stick to some things, obviously, but try to be open for certain other things so you don't get rolled over the history or something like this.
I don't know if Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood helps, because in our case the characters kind of like step over, well, to the dark side a bit at the end. There was always, of course, an excuse for this kind of behavior, but I would of course wish that our audiences stick to the moral and say, "Wait a minute. Is it good to pursue your own benefit all the time, or would it be okay to think about the humanity here or something?" I'm not the preacher, but of course there are big themes that are behind and beyond all of this that we've done.prevnext
Because of the pandemic, real Oktoberfest was canceled. Not only the proper one in Germany, but little cultural popups that are everywhere in the world. What have you done to celebrate or keep the festive spirit alive despite these trying times?
Salonen: I might tell on my behalf, I were at home as on the first of October Netflix put it on online. I was with my wife, opened a beer, poured it in, and drank the beer, and that's it, basically. We actually wanted to have a premier in Munich at the Oktoberfest. Well, didn't work out, so... That's my part of that premier. Felix, what did you do?
Cramer: I had to shoot, actually.
Salonen: You were actually shooting.
Cramer: Yeah. I mean this is life. You never... Before the movie is after the movie, so it's like... otherwise, after the movie is before the movie, so you all just sometimes just work and do the next step. But for me it was really... Again, I watched that also before, when it was finished and had a beer and really had fun with it. Yeah, it was great. But I would like to go to the real Oktoberfest next year again, hopefully we can do it.
I can tell you one interesting story... Yeah, yeah, right. I can tell you one interesting story because when I was young, my father, he was really working a lot. I had not many, many time with my father. But every year, he went with me to the Volksfest, what is a kind of Oktoberfest by Stuttgart. Every year I had one day with my father and then I'd used all these carousels, all these things, and I was so happy, I know. That was my every year event with my father. So I was not at the Oktoberfest, but we had in Stuttgart a same kind of Oktoberfest. This is what I remind, of course, to the Oktoberfest. Because I was in my youth very used to is, I mean, at least to some kind of Oktoberfest. Volksfest, but still.
Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood is now streaming on Netflix.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.prev