Special 26 was an underrated film

"Production designers see themselves as part of the storyteller"

Status: May 3rd, 2021 5:42 pm

Production designers work behind the scenes per se and are hardly known. Uli Hanisch explains the profession using the example of "Babylon Berlin" - the largest film set in Europe, Anja Badeck using the example of Tatort.

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by Walli Müller

Production designers are not exactly the ones who make it to star fame. Her job is perhaps the most underrated profession in the film industry, and without her work, not a single feature film would be made. Two examples from the industry.

At the Academy Awards on Sunday, outstanding actors and actresses, screenwriters and the best director - Chloé Zhao were again celebrated. And of course there was also an Oscar for the best production design. But can you still remember the name ...? By the way, it was Jan Pascale for set design and Donald Graham Burt for production design on the film "Mank".

Production designer Uli Hanisch on "Babylon Berlin"

- Homicide squad, good afternoon.
- murder? It was an accident. I mean we all saw it!
We are here to clear that up. Dialogue from the series "Babylon Berlin"

A film studio in which the acting star has just been killed by the spotlight - that is one of hundreds of motifs that Uli Hanisch had to prepare for the series "Babylon Berlin". The film or series set is considered Europe's largest. As a "set designer", Hanisch is responsible for the appearance of the film or series. He and his team have to find and set up the right locations. When the audience plunges into the fictional world and doesn't even see all the work behind it, Hanisch has achieved his goal.

It only annoys him when he is dismissed as an "artisan". "First and foremost, the production designer sees himself as part of the storyteller, the filmmaker!" You start very early on to talk to a director and a screenwriter about a story and then think up "how you can transport it from the world of thought into an actual world," says Uli Hanisch.

Work for the production design begins with thorough research

Director Hendrick Handloegten (from left to right) instructs actors Volker Bruch and Karl Markovics on a scene on the set of "Babylon Berlin".

Work on each scene begins with thorough research on the respective epoch. Uli Hanisch, who studied visual communication and started out as a commercial artist, has been traveling through time with films for over 30 years: For Das Parfum "to Paris in the 18th century, for" Das Wunder von Bern "to the 1950s - and for the fourth "Babylon Berlin" season he is currently reconstructing the Berlin of the Weimar Republic.

Close cooperation with props, graphics and construction crews

It was not Uli Hanisch alone, of course, who reconstructed this epoch! 60 to 80 people are employed: graphic artists and props masters, construction and painting teams. "We have to set up at least one new apartment every day. Sometimes two. The next day again, and the one from the previous day will be handled again. That means we have between five and 15 moves a week." so Hanisch.

Production design assistant Anja Badeck shoots the crime scene episode

It's a few sizes smaller in Bremen, where a new Tatort episode is currently being filmed. Anja Badeck is part of a five-person equipment team as assistant production designer. Her career shows what you ideally need for the job: manual, technical skill - she trained as a car electrician - and an artistic streak. She is also a dance teacher with a degree in film directing.

Director Anja Badeck has worked as a production design assistant for many Tatort, for example for "Borowski and the land between the seas".

The rooms that Anja Badeck sets up always characterize the characters who live or work in them. "For example, we had a villa that we furnished. That tells a very long family tradition. Old meets modern, so to speak, and tells an incredible amount about the characters we choose for an interior. In that case it was a very long tradition : Tobacco craft. ", So Badeck.

The production design team toiled for nine weeks to prepare the motifs for 21 days of shooting the crime scene. Most of the furniture is borrowed from the film and theater fund, or sometimes from used furniture stores. In the end, the tobacco trader's villa is so lifelike that you could move in immediately! "So the closets are filled with clothes, you can open everything, you can sit on them anywhere. You could drink the water and even smoke our cigars in that case." tells Anja Badeck.

"Babylon Berlin" set: no paper mache, but steel

No paper mache: Europe's largest set processed 5,000 tons and real glass for the windows. The walls are really plastered.

What the production designer Uli Hanisch then also very amused is the idea that outsiders often have of sets: Because of paper mache! The Berlin street in Studio Babelsberg really couldn't have been built from that, he says. "5,000 tons of steel were used as the substructure. And windows are of course made of glass and so on. So these are very real and very heavy elements. Then it always seems so strange to us why someone imagines everything there." made of paper mache. How is that supposed to hold? "

Hanisch is not worried that real landscapes in Hollywood have recently been replaced by huge LED screen walls. Technology can complement his activity, but never replace it - he is certain of that.

And because he knows that he has a share in the art of film, he is serene with the fact that the work of the production designers is seldom properly appreciated: "The fact that nobody apart from the main actors and directors is actually taken into account is part of the process It's a little silly, but it's also a little normal. I wouldn't expect the audience to think in detail about who was involved in producing this work. "

However, he is sometimes astonished that even the specialist critic is not able to take note of someone other than the director or, in the best of cases, even a camera person who was involved. "I think to myself: 'You should know better!'", Says Uli Hanisch.

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NDR Info | Culture | 05/03/2021 | 07:55 am