In the wake of A Very European Break-up, a multinational team of young enthusiasts have created a new series called Points of You that explores different aspects of European humour. E&M asks Ryan Wichert, the producer of the show, to elaborate.
E&M: How did the idea for Points of You originate? What were your influences?
Ryan: As I grew up bilingually, my mother being British and my father being German, I was used to co-existing in two very different cultural environments. From an early age this sparked an interest and a certain fascination for other nationalities and cultures. When I then met Sebastian – one of the other producers – we quickly bonded over this mutual interest. He later on spent 6 months living in France and upon his return we decided that what we had experienced, namely different cultures, stereotypes, national clichés, linguistic misunderstandings had a huge comedy potential and leeway. So we started planning a comedy format where all these aspects could be integrated. Comedy wise I have always been inspired by slightly wackier and almost absurd comedy formats such as Seinfeld, Monty Python, and also Friends.
How long did it take to produce the series?
Too long! Ha! We started planning and developing ideas in 2009 and shot our pilot episode later that year. 2010 we started sketching out a first series and shot that in late 2011. 2012/13 were entirely devoted to post-production and building a website and creating a home for the series on Twitter, Facebook & YouTube. The actual time we spent on set was 18 days!
How many episodes have you filmed? Have you planned any for the future?
The first series consists of eight episodes. Due to the nature of Points of You and its narrative perspectives that means four stories, told from 2 perspectives each, so four in total. As far as a second series is concerned we have plenty of ideas and stories. Some scripts are already partly written and we’d love to share more POY adventures with our audience. The only missing ingredient is funding!
How were the international cast and crew assembled? What was it like working in such an environment? Could you share an on-set experience you are not likely to forget?
Initially we were hoping to work with a small cast & crew. When we first approached our director it quickly became clear that to guarantee the production values we had set ourselves we would need a much larger crew behind the camera. Berlin being such a cultural and social hub we were lucky enough to build a talented and committed crew for the project and had around 35 people on set at peak times. Due to the international flair of the series we attracted many creatives from other countries and can now proudly say that Points of You has to date involved over 120 people from 14 different countries. A truly international project! Working in such an environment is both demanding and very rewarding. People from other countries might have had a different training and thus brought a different skill set to the job. Also there were times when we were speaking 3 different languages on set! I remember giving a rather long and emotional Thank-You speech in German at the end of a shoot and when I was finished I noticed that our Japanese set designer – Kumi – who didn’t speak a word of German was just staring at me with a big question mark over her head, having no idea what I’d just said. So I clumsily summed up my speech by saying: “Thank You Kumi” to which the entire crew started laughing and Kumi’s question mark grew even bigger.
Humour based on national stereotypes has been around for decades. Do you think series such as Points of You may contribute to a more ‘European’ style of humour?
I definitely think that the series offers a mixture of different styles of humour. I co-wrote the episode with a professional German scriptwriter. So there’s already 2 very different comedy styles. One of our main actresses trained in Paris, so then she brings a French comedy understanding to the script we’ve written and – voila! – there’s 3 nations’ input in one gag. Sure, the idea has been around for a long time, but I think the tone has changed somewhat. Where years ago you’d have a comedy series about the Germans being portrayed as over-the-top Soldiers, nowadays the humour lies elsewhere. In a way the humour has become less political and historical and more character driven. So we can have a “typical” German and don’t even touch upon any war associations.
How were the four nationalities represented in the series chosen? Do you plan to extend the cast in the future, and, if so, whose flags and accents can we expect?
As the original idea is based on Sebastian’s and my own experiences we knew we’d have a German and an English character. Sebastian being heavily influenced by his trip to France suggested a French character. Sara is an Italian actress we really wanted to work with so we kind of created Sofia for her. Luckily, she agreed to play the part! Yes, we plan to extend! I don’t want to give away too much, but expect a Turkish character and someone with a Polish accent!
What are the advantages and drawbacks of releasing a series on youtube, as opposed to traditional tv channels? Do you think this is the future for such productions?
Clear advantages are creative independence and fan input. We don’t answer to anybody other than ourselves and our fans. Also the production circle is relatively small and fast. If we’re on set and need to change a line in the script we can just do it. We don’t have to call somebody and get it signed off. A clear disadvantage is the lack of funding options. We’re not eligible for 90% of creative funding bodies and ironically thus far haven’t been able to secure monies from the EU for this project either. A clear challenge is that we really have to fight to reach our audience. When you’re broadcast on TV the channel will advertise your show and people will zap through and notice you. The vastness of material available on the internet means that unless you work very hard, you’re invisible. People might love your series, but if they don’t know you exist, well…
That being said I think it absolutely is the future! With more and more TV devices being web enabled the gap between watching TV and watching web content is shrinking by the day. America really has the edge in this area. The big studios are releasing big budget web series with huge stars attached and they are reaping the rewards. Europe is still a bit more cautious. Unfortunately.
Should sitcoms remain just sitcoms, or is humour a powerful means of expression? What is the message you’re trying to get across to a 28-member-strong Europe today?
I think humour is one of the most powerful tools known to man. Apart from a nuclear bomb maybe. The message – if there is one – is that despite all national stereotypes and clichés, despite all cultural misunderstandings and differences we are all united in Europe and while we may mock our differences it’s those differences that make us who we are as a continent. How boring Europe would be if everyone were the same. Apart from this message I guess Points of You is just trying to put a smile on people’s faces – all over Europe!
Cover photo: Ryan Wickert (All rights reserved)