Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood is a Netflix series about passions driving people to make drastic decisions that will change the lives of everyone around them. Director Hannu Salonen and Cinematographer Felix Cramer made a layered six-episode story that mixes period pieces, horror, and westerns.
The overarching theme of Oktoberfest: Beer And Blood is Curt Prank’s (Mišel Matičevićdesire) to build a giant tent at this year’s festival in Munich. However, the idea is unheard of and impossible because all the other vendor stalls stand in the way. Curt’s extreme idea requires extreme measures to accomplish. Caught up in Curt’s plan is his daughter, Clara (Mercedes Müller), who begins relationships that will threaten her father’s ambitions. Oktoberfest brews a mix of Murder, mayhem, and love with the slightest hint of humor into a compelling Netflix narrative.
PopAxiom hopped on Zoom for a chat with Hannu and Felix about becoming filmmakers and making Oktoberfest: Beer and Blood.
What roads did Hannu and Felix take to get into the film and television industry?
Felix: “I was not really into filmmaking when I was young. I started making movies because of my father. He was a teacher and made a documentary about the guy who made charcoal. He did a one-shot movie. He placed a camera at one angle, and then he shot the whole documentary over several days like that. I told him, ‘That doesn’t work at all.’ I made my first documentary with my father, and I suddenly knew exactly what I had to do. Afterward, I went to film school …”
Hannu: “I come from Finland. I was always into magical things. I grew up near the graveyards of a group of Vikings. It was a few hundred meters away in some woods with a lake. My life as a child was a magic one. Around 12 or 13, I understood that movies could convey this feeling — the magic. That’s when I decided I needed to be a director and make movies. I went to a film academy in Germany at around 19 or 20.”
Combining their work in their respective role, Hannu and Felix have 76 credits. Who influences their work?
Felix: It’s hard to say just one. I love movies from Stanley Kubrick and Roger Deakins … so many great artists.”
Hannu: “I was born in 1972, so Kubrick, Scorcese, and the like were at the top of their game. I saw movies from Andrei Tarkovsky that influenced me when I was around 13. If this guy can create these kinds of worlds, then that’s amazing.”
Felix: “For me, it’s also music. I wanted to study music before I came into the film business. I love classical music. So hearing and feeling the music and the different rhythms help me. But there are so many influences, photographers, painters, and more.”
Hannu: “I also started with music. A lot of classical, but a lot of heavy music. Darker, northern heavy sound. But my youth was more the 80s. Michael Mann, Miami Vice, Oliver Stone’s Platoon. I was an exchange student for a year in the United States, and my host father was a Vietnam vet.”
About Oktoberfest: Beer And Blood
Hannu and Felix worked together once before. How did the director and cinematographer reunite in Oktoberfest?
Hannu: “I was editing my Nordic series, Arctic Circle in Finland. I got a call from one of the producers, and he pitched me Oktoberfest. At first, I got images of drunk people. But then he said something about favelas, these poor little huts and this guy with this big dream. I got excited. Then I read the outlines, and it was great. It has everything that I want to do, all the predicaments, conflicts, and these characters of Shakespeare and nature.”
Hannu: “That’s when I came to Felix. He’s so great. He knows how to plan things so well. But he also reacts to things and does things instead of thinking of them or trying to show off his ego.”
Felix: “Thank you for the flowers.”
Hannu: “You’re welcome.”
What was Felix’s reaction to the initial pitch for Oktoberfest?
Felix: “When Hannu asked me to do this, I was extremely surprised. I thought it was about Oktoberfest, but it’s more like a historical piece. It takes place in the early 20th century, and we tried to stay as accurate as possible, but on the other side, the feeling of the story is absolutely modern. It borrows elements from westerns and horror. When I read it, I thought it was so completely different from other period pieces. I started talking with Hannu, and we had all these creative ideas, and I fell in love with the project. I couldn’t say no.”
Making Oktoberfest: Beer And Blood
Oktoberfest is equal parts gritty series with a western vibe and period drama. But there’s a thread of humor tying it all together. Or am I crazy?
Hannu: “Funny what you’re talking about because it’s not necessarily being understood in Germany. I saw a chance at mixing different genres and tonality. A little bit of irony. German audiences, particularly journalists, don’t see that and take it totally seriously.”
Hannu and Felix share a vision of finding rhythms within stories. How did the rhythm for Oktoberfest come about?
Felix: “It starts from the script. In the case of Oktoberfest, we story-boarded a lot of the scenes. So, we knew exactly what we wanted to do in every scene with very concrete shot designs.
Hannu: “In Oktoberfest, we have these quickly edited scenes, and on the other side, we have very long takes. We tried to find the right rhythm for each scene. I think it’s great if you have a chance to achieve that.”
Felix: “From my perspective, Hannu is a great director because he dares to do these one-shots. There are not that many directors willing to do that.”
Hannu: “Editing was so important. Our editor, Ronny Mattas, brought everything together, and he’s also extremely into music. He’s great at rhythm.”
Felix: “It was great shooting. Every day we had a lot of fun. The crew was so passionate. It’s this modern story on this Oktoberfest island where everything is reflected, the social life and artists. It’s an interesting time between late-romantic art and expressionists. And a time where people used gas lamps and candles to electric lamps.”
Hannu: “We were a little over-budget, and one of the producers said, ‘C’mon, man, it’s just a soap!’ There are soap opera elements, just like there were in Shakespeare, but Felix and I wanted this look to it that we fought for to go beyond a soap.”
The slight budget issue caused another issue — a lack of time.
Hannu: “They promised us 70 or 80 shooting days, but in the end, we had 66. We survived.”
What did Oktoberfest creators Christian Limmer, Ronny Schalk, and Alexis Wittgenstein first discuss for the show’s look and feel?
Felix: “The creators had many period pieces in mind like Peaky Blinders, The Nick, and Godless. We watched all these kinds of movies to figure out if we could use them as a guideline. But we realized Oktoberfest was so different that we turned more to the art and the period; its music and colors. The creators also wanted it to look modern. They did not want to use filters to blow everything out. We wanted things like the slow camera movement you’ll see in a horror movie or the high angle, low angle of Westerns.”
Hannu: “I got to read outlines from the creators and writers which had a lot of the tonality.”
How did planning help tighten the production?
Hannu: “We were shooting in three countries, and getting this all to work, it had to be well planned. In Prague, we were bringing 300 to 400 extras on buses.”
Felix: “There’s a great toothache scene. The same character is also conducting his band. It was written pretty simple in the script. We put it on the storyboard, and it looked completely different. This idea was transferred to the script.”
Hannu: “The actors were happy that we were sticking to the script. We could improvise, but we didn’t have to because the scripts were so great.
Oktoberfest delivers dozens of attractive, vivid characters. But who are the other characters that Hannu and Felix think about?
Felix: “Hannu says it a lot, the camera is its own character.”
Hannu: “The setting is its own character. Also, the sound design and the music are commenting on certain things and conveying a different perspective. All these means of storytelling do not hide. They say, ‘I’m here and taking part in the event.’ They’re not passive, but taking part in the storytelling. Especially in the mix of genres we had.”
Felix: “I love these kinds of things, and they already have to be in the screenplay a little bit.”
What’s a dream project for Hannu and Felix?
Hannu: “For me, it’s really about strong characters in visual fictional worlds.”
Felix: “I would love to do a Zorro movie right now. I would love to do a horror movie or science fiction. I’d love to fly into the future.”
Oktoberfest: Beer And Blood is out on Netflix. So, what’s next for the director and cinematographer?
Felix: “COVID changed a lot. Hannu and I were on a project together, and it was just postponed. I’m working on a history movie in Poland.”
Hannu: “Forget 2020, the silver lining now is about taking the time to develop several projects. One of them is science fiction, by the way, Felix. We can dig a bit deeper than when we’re busy shooting all the time. So, it’s been good in that sense. But I can’t talk much about those projects. We’re in talks. So, something will be coming.”
Is Oktoberfest: Beer And Blood on your watch list?
Thanks to Hannu Salonen and Felix Cramer and Impact24 PR
for making this interview possible.
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