Spy story 'Homeland' Coming to Berlin

Attracted by generous subsidies, there are rumors that the fifth season of the hit U.S. TV drama "Homeland" is going to be filmed in Berlin.
Will Claire Danes soon look so distressed in Berlin?

The Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Nazi-built Tempelhof Airport, the ruins of the Wall, the television tower – Berlin has plenty of dramatic backdrops perfect for a hit U.S. TV show such as "Homeland."

Which is probably why Alex Gansa, the co-creator of the series, recently told a movie industry magazine that the fifth season of the series is slated to be filmed in the city.

This would be spectacular news for German fans and everyone in Berlin who has anything to do with movies and television. So is "Homeland," which sees CIA agent Carrie Mathison – played by Claire Danes – wage her own war on terror, really coming? If so, where exactly? What will Berlin get out of it? What will the U.S. production get out of it? Are all the overall conditions right for the project?

The made-in-Berlin trend for international films is nothing new. A couple of months ago, Glienicke Bridge was blocked off so Steven Spielberg could shoot his new Cold War spy movie, which will star Tom Hanks. And Quentin Tarantino and the Wachowski brothers, the makers of The "Bourne Ultimatum," have also come to the city and made use of its Babelsberg film studios.

But it’s not just the facilities, scenery and historical locations they come for. They are also keen to take advantage of generous subsidies.

The storyline will likely take place in Germany, in Berlin. Alex Gansa, Co-creator, "Homeland"

The German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) is bringing films and money to Germany that otherwise wouldn’t come, says Jens Steinbrenner of the German Producers Alliance. The eight projects with the largest DFFF grants in 2013 were international co-productions that received around €25 million, or $26.8 million. The subsidy amounts to 20 percent of the budget spent in Germany, he noted, so through these eight projects it triggered a foreign investment of an additional €100 million.

It’s a money and jobs machine. A similar effect is expected from "Homeland," a globally successful production. In it, the unconventional Mathison, who has bipolar disorder, receives information in Iraq that terrorists were able to “turn” a captured American soldier called Brody, played by Damian Lewis. The double agent goes on to become a friend and arch enemy to the CIA agent.

The subsidizing of such a series hasn’t, as of yet, been a focus of the DFFF, although TV dramas have been given a re-evaluation in recent years. It used to be that television series tended to be dismissed but now shows such as "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men" and "Homeland" are state-of-the-art technical productions.

This puts the DFFF in a difficult position. Its guidelines don’t generally encourage support of TV series, and its budget has dropped from €70 million in 2014 to €50 million in 2015. The guidelines will be revised at the beginning of 2016, but this is unlikely to affect TV shows, says DFFF project manager Cornelia Hammelmann.

This is surprising when you consider that a big U.S. production company such as Fox21 is apparently in favor of filming in Berlin, even if it is keeping quiet about costs and specific plans for "Homeland."

But the DFFF is not the only potential source of funding for foreign production companies. The German minister of economics could contribute to "Homeland" coming here. Sigmar Gabriel announced at the Berlinale film festival in February that the ministry will continue to strengthen its commitment to the film industry and initiate its own funding instrument.

Besides promoting international co-produced films, said a spokesperson, the concept also provides for the subsidizing of top quality series formats. The funding program, which could be in the double-digit million range annually, is expected to be ready to launch in the fall of 2015. But this could come too late for "Homeland," which will start filming its fifth series in September.

The fourth season is still yet to be broadcast in Germany. It was set in Afghanistan and Pakistan and featured a major shakeup in the plot, ushering in a fresh start for Mathison. Besides a change in location to the German capital, the fifth series will also include a time jump, according to Mr. Gansa, after which Carrie is no longer part of the CIA. “The storyline will like take place in Germany, in Berlin,” he said.

Video: The trailer for Homeland Series 4.


As was the case in the fourth series, the relocation to Europe will include nods to the region’s current political events. This might include events in Ukraine, although Mr. Gansa admits they will be walking a fine line there. Whatever happens, Mathison is expected to be processing her CIA experiences and dealing with the contempt and disillusion she felt at the end of the last season.

If the series is shot in Berlin it is something that major producers such as the online U.S. streaming service Netflix will take a closer look at. Even if state-funding is not forthcoming, it would be proof that the city has the infrastructure to serve as a media location, says Jens Steinbrenner of the German Producers Alliance.

Benjamin Benedict, a producer with the successful German TV production Ufa Fiction, says that Berlin, with its unique history, is highly attractive as a filming location. “Likewise, from a professional point of view, Berlin is a world center for film and TV production, with the highest quality filmmakers in front of and behind the camera,” he said.

“Berlin was the capital of the Cold War. That is why Berlin was for a long time the spy capital of the world.”

Where exactly fans will be able to catch a glimpse of the series' stars is not yet known. Babelsberg Studios and location marketing firm Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, may have an interest but are saying nothing.

Fans will just have to wait and see.


This article originally appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]