It’s Day 4 of Ben Knight’s EFM Diary, and he follows Ralf Stadler around the Berlinale as he pitches his serious zombie script Season of the Dead, or, Zombies on Vacation.
“Right, I see that this isn’t working, I suggest we switch to plan B,” says Ralf Stadler. I hadn’t realized that we were doing a plan. But it turns out that plan A consisted of Ralf, his screenwriter Christoph and a mysterious lanky bearded friend sitting in a small circle in the German section of the European Film Market and waiting for a film producer to come by, guess that they have a script for a groundbreaking Italian-German horror film about symbolic zombies, and offer to pay for them to make it.
“Let’s look round and see if there is anyone making similar films and ask if they want to make our one,” says Ralf.
“Maybe we should go to the Italian section?” I suggest, breaking the rules of journalism.
“Good idea,” he replies. “The good thing is that because there are so many of us, it makes us look official. I’m going to say we are from Stadler Film.”
I think that’s a good idea, but actually Ralf ends up introducing us as “a bunch of filmmakers”, which I think makes us sound less of a professional outfit. “I didn’t want to be too formal,” he says.
We hang around in the Italian film section for a while. The wall behind us is filled with handsome stills from Italy’s many Gold and Silver Berlinale Bear winners – a triumphant chronicle of success that culminates with last year’s Caesar Must Die. We’re feeling a bit awkward. “The problem is, when you’re not here, you feel, ‘if only I were here I’d be able to find someone,’ but now I don’t know what to say,” says Ralf.
But it turns out that Ralf instinctively knows how to pitch his pitch. “We want to make a classic Italian horror film,” he tells an Italian lady at one of the stands, not mentioning his thing about no zombies getting shot, and his zombies being generally more symbolic. “It’s going to be Tarantino style. We are looking for an Italian co-producer.” One of the Italian lady’s eyelids starts twitching.
“I’m sorry, we are distributors, I cannot help you,” she says wearily, and we shuffle to the next stand before she has the chance to collapse in sheer boredom in front of us.
“I’m sorry, we are distributors, I cannot help you,” says the young man at the next stand. “Why don’t you try them?” he waves us to the stand we have just left, where the lady has disappeared. Eventually, after two more similar exchanges with Italians who do not have the remotest connection with filmmaking, all the Italians suddenly cluster together and confer, and decide that the best way to get rid of us is for one of them to print out a list of Italian film producers. It is about six pages long, and includes lots of contact details. I think this is great. Jan Stahlberg only got one email address, and that was after sitting with a glistening, hungover Canadian for 15 minutes.
But Ralf is less enthusiastic. “What if they say they want to put aliens in instead of zombies, or something?” he frets. “Don’t forget, the zombie is a special symbol for Italian and German history. The way fascism created the waking dead.”
Christoph is similarly cynical. “I’ve seen it so often with other screenwriters,” he says. “Some production company buys the script for €500 or €1,000. Then the screenwriter gets put under contract, and the producer keeps saying ‘change this, change that, we need a new draft’ and then two years later he decides to drop the whole thing, because it’s so different he’s forgotten why he liked it in the first place.”
But I’m getting into this now, and I go over to another stand and find a card of someone in “Development”. It has a Hollywood address on it. “Look!” I say, “It says ‘Development’. This man is going to help you, and in Hollywood. And look! They like zombies too.” I point to a poster at this stand. It shows Dolph Lundgren holding an assault rifle above the title Battle of the Damned. There are some zombies in the background. “They look a bit symbolic, don’t they?” I say.