EXCLUSIVE: The execs behind Prime Video Germany’s big-budget fantasy epic Der Gryphon have opened up about forging what originals boss Philip Pratt has dubbed “the biggest [German fantasy] project since The NeverEnding Story.”
Der Gryphon has been almost five years in the making, going back to the days when Head of German Originals Pratt was first heading up a small, local team. The show is being previewed at Series Mania this morning.
From Dark producer W&B TV and Dog Haus, Der Gryphon is based on fantasy novelist Wolfgang Hohlbein’s book series that has sold more than 40M copies worldwide over four decades.
It follows three outsiders, Mark, Memo and Becky, who come into contact with a fantastic world called the Black Tower. There, the Griffin, a world-devouring monster, has been mercilessly plundering and subjugating all living creatures for centuries and the three friends, of all people, seem destined to end this reign of terror. Showrunners Erol Yesilkaya (writer) and Sebastian Marka (director) adapted the book into six episodes and EPs are Quirin Berg, Max Wiedemann, and André Zoch.
Pratt described Amazon Prime Video’s biggest German original to date as “the biggest [German fantasy] project since The NeverEnding Story” – the Michael Ende adaptation that premiered in 1984.
“This is a really big one and is one of those projects that doesn’t happen very often in Germany,” he told Deadline.
Exec producer Berg, who runs W&B and was also an EP on Netflix smash Dark, was one of the first producers to pitch to Pratt in his new role, at which point Pratt was “still trying to figure out how to do things in the streaming world and was looking for a flagship project.”
“We started out with this vision for one of the most fantastical novels in the German book market,” he added. “Wolfgang has millions of fans and it felt time for something like this to be done.”
Berg said Der Gryphon’s ambition was always in line with the budget, although he wouldn’t be drawn on how much the show cost to make.
“Structurally, the process on both the creative and budget side has really developed over four-and-a-half years,” he added. “The storytelling has always been there but we needed the ability to do it within budget and have that expertise. Thinking about budget from the first second can be very limiting but you can really see every euro on the screen.”
Over the past four-and-a-half years, Berg pointed out the whole industry has changed beyond recognition, which makes it more impressive that “we were able to pull something like this off.”
The greatest challenge was “creating something really unique delivered on time and within budget,” added Berg.
The team settled on using both VFX and prosthetics for the supernatural creatures and this concept was helmed by several people who have previously worked on celebrated Mexican auteur Guillermo Del Toro’s projects.
Another key decision was to set the show in the 1990s, allowing it to draw on multiple cultural references from the era, in a similar vein to fantasy successes such as Stranger Things and Dark.
“From the beginning the producers were talking about this vision of an ‘Amblin TV style’ and wanted to make it feel authentically 90s,” added Pratt. “They paid so much attention when creating the characters.”
Hohlbein was fully behind the adaptation and gave the EPs the “freedom to fictionalize,” added Pratt, who praised in particular the decision to root the show within a decade that is full of cultural specificity.
Der Gryphon is vastly different in tone from Dark, Berg clarified, although he hopes it will have a similar impact by resonating both locally and around the world.
“There are a tonne of shows out there that have the potential to work internationally with a local setting and universal dimension,” he added. “No matter your nationality or age, you can identify with these characters and understand what they are feeling.”
Pratt said the show’s overarching theme – that “we cannot drive out hate with more hate” – will resonate globally and “hold up a mirror to our society.”
The show previews at Series Mania this morning and will launch on Amazon Prime Video in May.