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An interview with: Uschi Feldges and Tobias Pausinger

Every year at the Berlinale, current books that have great potential to be made into films are presented at the Books at Berlinale event as part of the Berlinale Co-Production Market. Renowned publishers and literary agents pitch the material that can be turned into a film or series format to the filmmakers in attendance. We spoke to the two producers Uschi Feldges and Tobias Pausinger about their experiences of the event, what role they play as producers in literary adaptations and what ideas they are taking away from the event.

How well do you know Books at Berlinale?

Tobias Pausinger (TP): This is my fourth time here.

Uschi Feldges (UF): This is actually my very first time here. For many years, I worked at the Berlinale myself and unfortunately didn't have time to look at all the programmes. But now that I'm a producer, I enjoy attending events like this.

And what was your impression?

UF: I am very happy, the event was a total ray of light. I was particularly impressed by the bridges that were built in a very short space of time between the most diverse topics, perspectives and narrative styles. The form of presentation – the moderation [Syd Atlas] was also fantastic. – meant that our perspective as producers was also taken into account. As a result, windows were opened for us into the different worlds, and I was therefore able to imagine entire scenarios.

Do you immediately have images in your head when you hear stories?

TP: Either I don't have any in my head – really none at all – and that only happens when the pitch or the story doesn't appeal to me. Or my head immediately starts spinning. It also depends on the angle from which certain material is presented. Personally, I'm someone who always gets to the character and then to the plot. For me, it's like meeting people. First the person inspires me, then comes the background, the context, the story.

How did you experience Books at Berlinale 2024 this time?

TP: Once again, I particularly liked the pleasant atmosphere and the mood here in the hall. It's very friendly and inclusive because it doesn't really have a business vibe. That's very pleasant. Because you get to know each other so well on both sides.

And I found the selection exciting. The titles covered a wide spectrum.

UF: That's true. I even had the talent question and IP packaging [IP=Intellectual Property] directly in mind for two or three submissions.

What is IP packaging?

UF: We are not the authors, but the producers, who I like to call facilitators, and we play an important role keeping an eye on the market. And to sometimes turn the market upside down altogether. But this requires collaborators, broadcasters and financing partners. So the question about "How to make it possible?" has already been raised in my mind today.

How important is the collaboration of the author of the original book for planned film or series adaptations?

UF: That depends very much on the project in question.

The question is not only how you look at it as a producer, but also how far the author is prepared to open up or perhaps even let go. Film and series adaptations are a translation into a new medium, which for the author always means a separation from the characters, for example, and often there is a certain amount of pain with that. This also determines the extent to which the author wants to or can still be involved in the further development of the project. It's about separation and falling in love again.

Do you have a literary film adaptation in mind that has completely won you over?

TP: That's an interesting question. With some films or series, you don't even know that there's a literary model because it's not a priority in the marketing. Right now, I’d say "Poor Things".

My first experience with a film adaptation of a novel, apart from children's stories, was probably "Garp" by John Irving. The film made a big impression on me back then, that was before I was even involved in the industry. I read the book after the film and discovered John Irving for myself. The film adaptation of the book is really good. I'll never forget the opening sequence with the frisbee, where the baby suddenly flies into the air. The film made cinema history in a visual way. So, the book and the film are a perfect match.

What did you think of the book when you read it for the first time after the film?

TP: It was different. Because it's such a successful film adaptation for me, the two formats can coexist. Often enough, there is a moment of disappointment because a ninety-minute film can't capture the whole book.

Overall, I find it problematic when people talk specifically about wanting to directly adapt a book into a film. It's often more of a business model. It usually works quite well with children's stories or if there is a famous IP. Overall, however, I prefer to talk about an adaptation, which can also be pushed to the point of being unrecognizable when it comes to the original material. It's about taking set pieces from a novel, for example characters or storylines that inspire you, and continuing or retelling them. This is where the pain of separation, beautifully described by Uschi, comes into play. In my opinion, creating something new and independent is the fine art of this process. This is the only way that the two formats of film (or series) and book can coexist perfectly.

Uschi, how do you work? Do you have an idea and look for the right people or do people come to you with concrete ideas?

UF: Every project is different. Here at Books at Berlinale, it would usually be an adaptation of an existing book. That's why the focus here is on further developing the material and asking the question about with whom. Next, I would now have to clarify the rights, look for suitable talent, etc. However, I would describe myself as a developing producer, I often get involved in the material very early on.

How do you understand the role of a producer, Tobias?

TP: It's very character-dependent. There are producers who proactively scout talent or find the right people or invite authors who inspire them and then ask them what they are currently writing about. Other producers tend to come from the direction of picking up a story themselves that triggers something in them emotionally and want to tell something new from it. That is perhaps more the direction I come from. I hear something and am inspired to do more. So at events like Books at Berlinale, I'm more interested in characters and/or events, not necessarily the book per se, but rather the story as a whole.

TV series often work a little differently. The so-called storyworld is often exciting here. For example, I can well imagine the book that was presented today, "A Poisoner's Tale" by Cathryn Kemp, as a tv series. [A powerful historical thriller that reimagines the true story of Giulia Tofana,the first documented female serial killer in history, who gave poison to the women of Renaissance Rome so they could kill their abusive husbands.] It's highly visual and has a serialisation feel to it. The story has a big story arc, so something goes straight through your head conceptually.

What other ideas are you taking away with you?

UF: I've just completed my first 'To Do' on my list because I got in direct contact with the author and her agent's office, which I found interesting, and now I'm looking forward to the follow-up. But first, of course, I have to prepare and read the book and I'm really looking forward to that.

TP: I'll let the event sink in for now. But I definitely have a few characters that I found exciting and that I hope will stay with me for a while. The character Jo Van Gogh-Bonger from Simone Meier's "Die Entflammten" definitely appealed to me. I'll have to read the material again. And then see what comes of it.

Uschi Feldges und Tobias Pausinger bei Books at Berlinale 2024

© Tina Pfeifer, FBM

Uschi Feldges studied theatre, film and media studies as well as international development and international business administration in Vienna and Denpasar. From 2011 to 2023, she ran the editorial and production office BAGAGE in Berlin together with Sonja Heitmann.Among other things, she produced a multi-award-winning art commercial with Emeka Ogboh (Sufferhead Original, dokumenta 14), the immersive AI installation CHOM5KY vs CHOMSKY in association with Schnelle Bunte Bilder and the National Film Board of Canada and worked as a production mentor for One Fine Day Films and Deutsche Welle Akademie in Kenya.From 2013 to 2017, she directed the special series "Berlinale Goes Kiez" for the Berlin International Film Festival. 

Uschi Feldges has been a producer at BASIS BERLIN Filmproduktion since 2023. In 2023, she won the Förderpreis Produktion Neues Deutsches Kino with the German-Iranian feature film LEERE NETZE by Behrooz Karamizade.

Tobias Pausinger trained in international film production and financing in Ludwigsburg, Los Angeles and Rome and holds an MBA from the Technical University of Munich.Since 2002, he has been responsible for the acquisition of a large number of award-winning films for international sales at Bavaria Film International and The Match Factory.Over the years, Tobias has continuously advised various film festivals and industry initiatives on content and strategic issues. In 2011, he co-founded the Art:Film initiative to promote artistic film and the visual arts. From 2017-2019 Tobias worked as a consultant for the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM) in the Department for International Affairs and the Film Industry and was the German delegate on the Board of Eurimages. In 2019, Tobias returned to The Match Factory as Head of Development and Acquisitions.

He left TMF at the end of 2022 to focus more independently on talent development, packaging and promotion.

The interview was conducted by Tina Pfeifer, PR Manager at Frankfurter Buchmesse.