Introducing the new Berlin techno drama, BEAT, with lead actor Jannis Niewöhner and director Marco Kreuzpainter.
“You live in the moment. Nothing else. That’s techno.” At the start of Amazon Prime’s gritty new series, BEAT, pleasure-seeking club promoter Robert “Beat” Schlag likens clubbing culture to the nourishing, comforting experience of being in your mother’s womb.
Yep, if you thought you loved an after-dark sesh, you ain’t seen nothing. The brainchild of German director Marco Kreuzpainter – a Berlin local for 12 years – BEAT channels his years of club knowledge and experience into a dismal love letter to the city.
And all-consuming parties aside, it’s not just fun and games. Our main character Beat is drawn into the dark underbelly of the techno scene when he is enlisted as an undercover agent in a human organ trafficking ring – and he is forced to question his loyalties to his friends and hedonistic lifestyle.
We caught up with filmmaker Marco Kreuzpainter and lead Jannis Niewöhner (Beat) below…
Marco Kreuzpainter, director of BEAT
So tell us how the show came about…
When I start writing something, there’s only one question that occurs to me first: have I seen something like this before? The second is, would I want to watch something like this? I thought it was weird that there’s just never anything about Berlin nightlife. Especially now that’s the reason most people come to Berlin. I moved out of Berlin two years ago and I was missing it a little bit – so it was basically me writing about my 12 years I spent there.
Is BEAT a love letter or a criticism of the city?
It’s a love letter. But if you write honest love letters then there’s always a B-side, even in love. And this show is pretty much about the contrast in our society. Obviously for our hedonism and our will to be entertained and to party, somebody has to pay the price for it. I learned from the head of the Social Democratic Party of Germany that in the refugee camps human organ trafficking is a big issue. They warn people that they really have to watch out on the way into Europe because so many people disappear. Nobody will ever find out. And it is such an outrage that I want to put it into the limelight.
So how much of the show is actually memories and experiences?
Not actual scenes, but obviously situations. Beat is a kind of alter-ego for me but I guess that’s always the case when you start writing something.
What was the craziest scene to film?
All the club scenes were quite crazy. As you can imagine, having 800 extras is pretty huge. All these people were coming in dressed up in fetish, and obviously our costume designer looked at every single one of them because we wanted to give a real authentic feel of Berghain and all these famous clubs.
So you took inspiration from Berghain?
Inspiration, yes. But Berghain is a very special place and obviously you don’t want to rip it off in any kind of way. I felt very strongly about that. It’s inspired by the kind of free spirit that these clubs have.
Are you excited that international audiences will be able to see BEAT?
Very much. You see for a country like Germany, it’s not that easy to get stuff out into the world because obviously we have language barriers. But now, platforms such as Amazon and Netflix really give international filmmakers a chance, because BEAT is going to be available in 220 countries. And you can get it in every language and dubbed in 7 languages if you don’t want to read.
What feedback have you had about BEAT so far?
The owner and residents of the Berghain are friends of mine. They love it, and Marcel Dettman – one of the most famous techno DJs in the world – looked at every detail.
A lot of people have commented on the authentic nature of the club scenes…
There’s nothing more awful than club scenes in films. They never look like they’re having fun, and their clothes look weird, and why are they dancing out of rhythm? It’s hard. I thought fuck it, let’s not do it the way everyone else does it. So I had several great DJs there and the party was at its heat. For 3 days we just had a party, and by the end the extras were giving us a round of applause. They had so much fun.
Jannis Niewöhner, lead actor in BEAT
Tell us how you got involved with the show…
I met Marco at a party and he asked me if I wanted to play the main part in his new show. So first it wasn’t the script, but more the idea of what he wanted to do. When I read the script I thought it was great because it’s very experimental for German TV. It’s something completely new.
Why is it experimental for German television?
In Germany there’s weird rules, like you can’t get too dark, or have really dark roles. And these borders means it’s hard to get into a special world like the clubbing scene.
Tell me about your character, Beat, in the show.
He’s a very loving, warm-hearted, loyal person, and grew up without his parents but then found a new family in the Berlin night scene. And this world gives him the chance to break out of the real world and away from his problems. But then when he’s forced to work with the police, he’s forced to question his loyalties, friends and morals. He is also driven by the uncertainties about his past and the disappearance of his parents. Even though he is running away from it, he learns more about his responsibility to the world and what he can do in the world– and that is a very very interesting thing.
Is this one of your darker roles?
It is, absolutely. This is very dark.
How did you research the role?
I met with friends and clubbers from Berlin and I’d ask them questions. People who are in that scene don’t always know what they’re doing in real life and always have a sadness to them. I have my family and things going on in the real world.
Was it stressful having to do the lines and scenes in such a busy clubbing environment?
For me it was just great. It was like this big playground and we had this one shot, a 4-minute one-taker, and it just goes through the club, and you can use every single extra and scene. It was paradise, because it was so real and so big.
How familiar are you familiar with the Berlin clubbing scene?
I’m quite familiar with it because I moved to Berlin 8 years ago, so I had quite a long time to do my research. But I never really went fully into that world. Jut a weekend, or a night. But it’s a dangerous world, because it leads you out of the real world and it gives you the opportunity to forget about your problems. If you use it too much you forget about reality and that’s not a good thing.
What’s your funniest clubbing experience?
Being woken up by a girl telling me I’d been asleep for three hours. I thought it was fine as I was at home. She gave me a weird look and said, “don’t you want to put your trousers back on?” It turns out I was so drunk that I thought I was at home in bed, so I’d taken my jeans off. But I was in the middle of a club.
Are you proud that the show will be exposed to international audiences?
Yes absolutely, I’m so proud of it. So I was never doing international before, and now this is something that people in England, Spain or Italy will see.
And obviously you’ve lived in Berlin for 8 years. Do you think the show is a love letter or a criticism?
I think it’s both. These things we talk about, and the bad things that happen, they happen all over the world. I think it’s a love letter, and Berlin’s the secret main character of the show. It’s beautiful, and there are dark places, yes.