“I‘d always dreamt of becoming a rock star“, says writer-director Jakob M. Erwa who has made three feature films since graduating from Munich‘s University of Television & Film (HFF) in 2007 and most recently serving as the co-creator/head writer/director of the six-part TV series ECHOS which was previewed at this year‘s Berlinale Series Market Selects.
“I had been in rock bands since the age of 12 and had even been planning to study at a music academy after finishing secondary school before I realised that film is an art form that allowed one to combine all the other forms of artistic expression,“ he recalls. “Film allows you to tell stories through images, and music and sound also play an important role in film. Something I did from my childhood was tell my own stories – even the lyrics of my songs in the band were stories. So, it was a logical consequence of my interest in all things artistic to subsequently focus on film.“
Hailing from Austria‘s Graz, Jakob made his directorial debut with the HFF graduation film HEILE WELT which won the Diagonale‘s main prize for “Best Austrian Feature Film 2006/07“ before then directing the five-part youth series TSCHUSCHEN:POWER for ORF in 2009 and the psychological drama HOMESICK which premiered in the Berlinale‘s Perspektive Deutsches Kino sidebar in 2015. A year later, his adaptation of Andreas Steinhöfel‘s bestseller, the coming of age drama CENTER OF MY WORLD, opened in German cinemas to critical and popular acclaim, winning numerous audience awards at festivals around the globe as well as the Bavarian Film Prize for Best Newcomer Director and the New Faces Award for Best Debut. “My goal as a filmmaker is to make entertainment and reach as many people as possible with my stories, but, at the same time, to combine this with a social message,“ Jakob explains. “There are issues that move and concern me and can affect my own life to a greater or lesser extent – and I am always looking at ways of making them more accessible to a wider audience and doing this in an entertaining way.“
“I read a lot of books and if something attracts my interest, it won‘t then let go of me for days or weeks so that I have to see if the film rights are free,“ he says. In fact, with Steinhöfel‘s novel, Jakob had to wait eight years before he succeeded in securing the film rights and another six years passed devoted to the development of the screenplay and the film‘s production before it reached the cinema screens in November 2016. “There are some subjects where you don‘t have to stretch them out to the length of a series and then again, others where I think that I‘d like to take my time with the characters and give them space to develop. ECHOS, for example, was a project where we could approach the subject from several angles thus making it more diverse.“
While diversity is of paramount importance for Jakob in his work both thematically as well as in the casting, he also strives for truthfulness in his actors‘ performances. “This already begins with the casting sessions as I‘ll select specific lines of dialogue for the auditions and also write descriptions of each role so that the actors can properly prepare themselves - and then having enough time for rehearsing with the actors before we actually start shooting,“ he explains.
Meanwhile, although the last couple of years were largely taken up with working on ECHOS, Jakob nevertheless has been occupied with several other film and TV projects in parallel. One is VALESKA, his planned adaptation of 1980s transgender model Valeska Réon‘s autobiographical novel Blumen für ein Chamäleon, which he and Lieblingsfilm imagine being structured as a European co-production with partners from France, Belgium or Luxembourg. In addition, he is developing a TV series for Dreamtool Entertainment based on YouTube star Jonas Ems‘ novel Schattenseite and the romcom TV series BERLIN WEDDING, as well as the film projects JIMMY RELOADED about a former boy band star planning a comeback with unexpected consequences and SUMMER IN CLARENS exploring three blurry weeks in the life of the legendary composer Tchaikovsky. “I‘ve also been looking into German queer history because there are so many fascinating stories there to tell.,“ Jakob says, “And what with the popularity of people like RuPaul and Ryan Murphy on the streaming services, I think that the audiences in Germany are waiting to see more stories set in a queer and diverse world.”