We’re On It, Comrades!
This March, the Czech pubcaster premiered the new mystery comedy series We’re On It, Comrades! which revived the popular tradition from the 1980s which saw Czechoslovakia and West Germany co-produce films and series together. The project united Czechia’s CT and Barletta with Germany’s ZDF and Network Movie. The series which is part of ZDF Studios’ catalog will debut internationally as part of the MIPDrama selection at MIPTV.

Yako Molhov talks with writer Miro Šifra and producers Maja Hamplova, Matěj Chlupáček, Robert Schaefer and Bettina Wente about the idea to bring back the Czech-German co-productions and the challenge of making a series that would interest viewers not only in the two countries, but also internationally.
We’re On It, Comrades! revives the great tradition of Czechoslovak-German co-productions from the 80s, with many of them receiving cult status in Eastern Europe. How was the idea about this co-production born and what was the main inspiration?
Miro Šifra: It all started with Czech Television, which gave us the opportunity to infuse a fresh twist into classic, proven genres. After we wrote the script, we found that the story and its tone also resonated with international audiences. It was at this point that Network Movie and ZDFneo joined us. We further consulted with them to ensure that the scripts would be understandable to a German audience as well.

The series focuses on the Institute of Paranormal Phenomena. Tell us more about the storyline and the main characters - are they based on real events/people?
Miro Šifra: During the Cold War, scientific institutes around the world were investigating paranormal phenomena such as telepathy and teleportation. One such institute existed in Czechoslovakia, which we used as inspiration. Each week, our scientists investigate a different paranormal phenomenon - ranging from UFO abductions and spontaneous combustion to forest monsters - while constantly being followed by two agents of secret service. Our main character is David, a skeptic and weary man who claims not to believe in paranormal phenomena, yet his own daughter levitates at home. The reason behind her levitation and what happened in his family forms a powerful personal storyline that we follow across the episodes.

We’re On It, Comrades! was produced by Czech Barletta Production and German Network Movie. Where was the series shot, how was financing secured and who had the creative oversight?
Maja Hamplova and Matěj Chlupáček: The whole series was shot in the Czech Republic, using a lot of sound stages, especially for the Institute of Paranormal Activities and apartments of the characters. For exteriors, we basically travelled all around the country, and spent more than a half of the project outside of Prague, in different cities and villages.

The series was financed by the Czech Television, Barletta, the Czech Film Fund, Network Movie, ZDF and ZDF Studios. Each partner had a creative oversight, as this team was really a blessing, with amazing creative producers at each side.

Having Robert Schaefer, Bettina Wente and Maik Platzen from ZDF/Network Movie involved already from the development process was something very unique though, as Czech series rarely get this kind of precise dramaturgical treatment.

Period dramas and comedies have been on the rise in the CEE lately, while the crime and mystery genre has been a mainstay for many years in Czechia and the region and is also very popular in Germany. Did those trends play a role in choosing the storyline?
Miro Šifra: Absolutely. We sought to find a new way to combine genres which we know resonate well with the audience. While we have already produced several crime and period dramas, this time we aimed for a lighter, comedic tone. The element of mystery naturally emerged due to the subject matter of our investigators delving into paranormal phenomena.

Are Czech and German TV viewers similar when it comes to their taste in fiction?
Robert Schaefer and Bettina Wente: Even while reading the scripts we got a good impression of how close we are culturally. So we think that everybody who loves a good mystery and is up for some supernatural fun on TV will have a great time – in Czech Republic as well as in Germany.

What was the budget of the series and was it higher, being a co-production, compared to other Czech series?
Maja Hamplova and Matěj Chlupáček: The budget of the series was approximately 3.7 million euros, which is higher than usual for Czech productions. Considering its historical setting, the genre and production value, it is still considerably less then it would probably cost in any other Eastern European country.

The series recently debuted on CT1 in the Czech Republic, with strong ratings, attracting nearly 1 million viewers. When will the series premiere in Germany and in other territories; are you negotiating deals for the series in other regions as well?
Robert Schaefer and Bettina Wente: The series is prepared for release in Germany on ZDFneo in fall 2024. ZDF Studios as world distributor will launch the series at MIP Drama in Cannes in April 2024.

Have you planned more partnerships with Czech and with Slovak broadcasters/producers?
Robert Schaefer and Bettina Wente: We are looking forward to keeping things going which started so great with this show. We are planning to collaborate again on Comrades season 2, and of course we are also interested in more projects promoted by such talented partners like Matej, Miro and Maja.

ZDF Studios is distributing the series. What will attract international audiences to We’re On It, Comrades?
Robert Schaefer and Bettina Wente: We’re On It, Comrades combines 1980s nostalgia, Eastern European culture, and comedic paranormal investigations to attract international audiences. Its humorous approach, cultural exploration, familiar references, and universal themes make it accessible and entertaining for viewers worldwide.
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