What does it take to get a film out there? Find out one way with Ben Knight as he follows filmmakers through the European Film Market at the Berlinale as they try to sell their movies. First, it’s Jan Stahlberg and his salacious reality TV project “Pornstars”.
Jan Stahlberg, actor, screenwriter, and director, sits in his kitchen and explains his idea to me. “It’s a reality TV show called Pornstars. Eight boys and eight girls – they audition and then they go to the Pornhouse in Mallorca, where they’re filmed having sex and doing challenges,” he says. “I think HBO Europe might be interested.”
I start to worry. “Is it a real show? Are you really going to do it?”
“No, they’ll all be actors,” he says. I relax a bit. “It’s satire. It’s much more interesting. Anyway, how else are we going to get an Israeli woman to have sex with an Iranian refugee?”
Jan has had some success. His 2004 documentary style movie about vigilante justice Muxmäuschenstill played at the Berlinale and won a few awards and nominations, and Bye Bye Berlusconi from 2006 – featuring a pretty eerie performance from a Berlusconi lookalike – also gathered much attention.
But he has bigger plans for Pornstars – it’s either going to be a German film – he has applied for cash to write the script – or it will be a 12-14 part TV series. “I wouldn’t mind doing it in English,” he says. “There’s no way you could do this kind of thing in Germany. You know Charlie Brooker?” Jan starts telling me about an episode of Brooker’s Dark Mirror, in which an artist kidnaps “Princess Susannah” and demands that the British prime minister has sex with a pig live on television or else the much-loved princess will die. “That was co-produced by the BBC! If you pitched that idea in Germany – ‘I want to do this thing where Merkel has to have sex with a farm animal,’ – they’d say, ‘You are mentally ill.’ ”
Jan is pretty down on the general state of German film, in fact. “It’s either really shit comedy – people pulling funny faces. Or it’s arthouse, where you know after half an hour what it’s about and it still goes on.” Jan looks at me – mockumentary, he insists, is not a form that has broken in Germany. “Okay, they had Stromberg, but that was just a terrible rip-off of The Office – you know the one by Ricky Gervais.”
It’s becoming clear that Gervais and Brooker are Jan’s heroes. “Someone told me that Brooker’s people are at the EFM. And I might go to London and try and meet Ricky Gervais. I think Pornstars could be something he might be interested in. Maybe he could be in it.” I look through the 17-page treatment. One of the contestant characters is described as “a fat Englishman, Daniel, from Sheffield.” I guess this would be Ricky’s role if he wanted it.
Reading on, even with my hard British sensibilities to satire, I’m feeling a bit uneasy about the funding chances. For instance, apart from the encounter between the Israeli woman and the Iranian refugee, one of the contestants on Pornstars is Tim (29) from Texas: “After serving in Afghanistan, Tim will be traumatized by war. That is the reason why he will be very violent and aggressive during the sex scenes. He is gay and will come out of the closet in the most unexpected moment of the series.”
And the character of Olga (17) from St. Petersburg might give a few backers cold feet too: “She is a minor and in order to be able to travel to the ‘Pornhouse’ she will have to be accompanied by her father Igor.” Olga will also “fabricate a lie” to increase her ratings: “that she was abused by her father when she was 10 years old.”
I’m meeting Jan on Sunday for his first foray into the European Film Market – alongside the designated director and maybe someone from production company Schiwago Films. There are no meetings yet – the plan, so far, is just to wing it.
“We need between €1 and €5 million,” Jan tells me confidently. “Or just €100,000 for now, to write the script.”