Ex-UFA Boss Nico Hofmann and Beta Film’s Jan Mojto on Their New Partnership

Ex-UFA Boss Nico Hofmann and Beta Film’s Jan Mojto on Their New Partnership

Two of the true giants of German production are joining forces. Nico Hofmann, the long-time CEO of German production powerhouse UFA and producer of such award- and ratings-winning German series as Generation War, Deutschland 83 and Charité, is leaving the Fremantle-owned company to go solo. And he has signed a first-look deal with Jan Mojto’s Beta Film. Mojto, who has built up Beta into one of Europe’s leading independent production and sales companies — with shows like Babylon Berlin, Professor T, Sisi and Hudson & Rex, and Beta producer Jan Wünschmann will work with Hofmann to co-produce German and European series and films for the international market.

Hofmann and Mojto have a history going back decades. The duo pioneered event television in Germany and helped elevate small-screen German drama to international prominence with limited series including The Tunnel (2001), The Tower (2012) and Generation War (2013), co-produced between Mojto’s Beta and Hofmann’s UFA-owned production group TeamWorx (now UFA Fiction), that sold globally and were ratings hits both in Germany and abroad.

Mojto, who called the deal “the best decision I’ve made in my career” and Hofmann “one of the best German producers,” said: “He is a gifted storyteller. His professional and personal qualities, which I have known for more than 25 years, are the ideal foundation for many projects to come – stories for Europe from Germany.”

In their first international interview since unveiling the deal, Hofmann and Mojto spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about their big plans for the small screen.

Nico, why did you leave UFA and join up with Jan at Beta?

Nico Hofmann Last September, I handed over the helm of UFA to Sascha [Schwingel] on my own initiative, and he’s done a great job of restructuring the company. I’ve been involved in the transition but anyone who knows me knows that just sitting on a company board is not me. I have a great connection to UFA, to Bertelsmann, to [Bertelsmann owner] Liz Mohn, who I think is an amazing woman and a true feminist. But corporate life, ultimately, is finite. At this stage in my life, at 64, I have to do what truly interests me.  Jan and I have spent more than 25 years making television together. Since we’ve known each other, it has always been our desire to find a way to intensify our relationship. It was my decision to step down from UFA on March 1, and I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of structure I wanted for my own company. I decided to enter this first-look, exclusive agreement with Jan. I’ll still have a few projects with UFA, things I help create, like Ku’Damm, but the future is with Jan and Beta. We have made more than 20 productions together and we have a very similar idea of how to make film for TV out of Germany.

Jan Mojto We wanted to do this since we’ve started working together. From the first time I met Nico and worked with him, my goal was to cooperate more closely. Because I think he has an incredible talent as a producer. He’s not the only one in the world with this talent but he’s one of very few. And that, in the end, is what this business is about. Back then, with The Tunnel, we both thought it was time to make shows with event character out of Germany. We had the same vision. Nico delivered on the production side, and I made sure that the projects were financed.

We have always worked together on subjects that went beyond pure entertainment to address bigger historical or political themes. 

‘Generation War,’ a co-production between Hofmann’s TeamWorx and Mojto’s Beta Film, was a global hit, winning an International Emmy.

Beta Film

Nico Hofmann We always believed that strong national shows, like  Generation War or The Tower, would find an international audience, that people wanted that quality. Netflix’s great successes are not all out of America. Success comes from the quality of the stories being told, wherever they are from. I’ve spent 25 years with Bertelsmann, a company I still feel very connected to. With Jan, we share a friendship but also very similar cultural tastes – the books, the content that interests us. We’ve done more than 20 projects together. To me, Jan is one of the greatest living Europeans. He draws on the whole trove of European history and culture, including his own personal history. Jan understands how to tell local stories that look beyond borders and are told in such a way that they can go around the world. This, coupled with Beta’s financial, production, and sales structure, is a combination that is like an elixir of life for me.

Do you have a name yet for the company?

Hofmann I have a lot of ideas for a name but at the moment, what’s important is the cooperation with Jan and getting projects off the ground. Then I can figure out a great name. What I want to make clear though, this isn’t TeamWorx part 2 or any other revival of old structures of what I’ve done in the past. This is a cooperation with Jan as an important partner and advisor. 

Mojto I think it’s impressive that, at the peak of his power, influence, and fame [as CEO of UFA], he found the courage to say, “I’m done,” and to start something new, on his own. I was there 25 years ago when I [left Kirch Group and] founded Beta. I think this is the right moment, and the energy that this cooperation will set free will let us create something special. 

What sort of projects will you be doing?

Hofmann To give you an idea of what sorts of things we are looking at: Around two years ago, I sat down with [Berlin cult band] Rosenstolz to talk about a project on Queer Berlin in the 1980s, a story about AIDS, death, but also resurrection and the release of positive energy, also sexual energy from that time. It’s a deeply “Berlin” story. It has to do with that time, when I was also living in Berlin, it’s a very personal story for me. Jan and I are discussing several ideas about epic stories of German families, which could be compared to  The Crown, family stories that reflect the era they lived through.

Mojto Two big family stories, in particular, set in the 20th century – in two very specific milieus. One is an artistic milieu, so the German century through the world of art, and the other in the world of German business and industry.

Beta Film is known for its high-end European series like ‘Babylon Berlin’

Courtesy of X Filme

Hofmann The luxury I have is I don’t have to do 10, 20 series. I’m no longer with UFA, where I have to cover the entire spectrum, from light entertainment shows like Germany’s Got Talent to high-end series like Where’s Wanda? for AppleTV+. I can pick and choose the top projects that we want to do together.

Do you have specific talents you want to work with?

Hofmann You should remember that Jan and I have always pushed the [TV] form forward, the style of Generation War or Mogadishu are worlds apart. We’ve always sought out the most compelling younger talents that can take storytelling further. Like Christian Schwochow, who started his career with us [as the director of The Tower] and has directed multiple episodes of The Crown.  We are looking to work with the absolute top talents in the German-speaking world. The Film Academy Baden-Württemberg, where I’ve taught for the last 25 years, has been a treasure trove for new talent.

You cannot stay still in this industry, it’s incredibly dynamic, which is why we want to rely on young talents. My biggest competition is my own students. If you aren’t ready to engage with these young talents, with a generation that is 30 years younger that has a completely different approach to subjects, to aesthetics, to storytelling, then you’ve got no business making film and TV. 

What does that market demand right now, what’s different from the recent past?

Mojto Going forward, the decisive element will be quality and not, as it had been in the recent past, how different or unique a project is. So, the decisive factor will be how well a show is made. Quality will win.

Hofmann The competition for quality is the most exciting element right now and it’s the same in the U.S. as it is here. The old model of producing everything and seeing what works is over, with the streamers or the networks. The pressure to deliver quality has become greater and greater. A series like  Charité or Ku’Damm  could be a Netflix commission today. Now, there is an interesting cross-over competition between public broadcasters, commercial networks, and the streamers. In the end, it’s about who is telling the story, how radical are they in their approach, and who has the talent to pull it off. 

Mojto Financing will become a much more important aspect than ever before. We used to have a commission from one main broadcaster that covered most of the budget, with a small minimum guarantee against international sales to make up the gap. But the development of new projects and the increased budgets for series have led to a more complex financing structure. Therefore, there is an increasing demand for national and international co-productions and a combination of national and regional soft money. It is the question of who can work together. The second question is: Will the remaining streamers move towards a broader, more mainstream audience? I think they will. It will become more difficult to combine financing from a German broadcaster and a German streamer, for example. They will be competing for the same audience more and more. But change brings new opportunities. With The Swarm, we have seen one of the most complex forms of international financing of any TV series.

Do you think we’ll start to see cooperation between streamers and public networks, co-financing and co-distributing shows?

Hofmann This is already happening. For almost a year now, we have been seeing all forms of alliances, between broadcasters and streamers, streaming projects for cinemas or cooperations, limited series done for the cinemas and then the streamers, everything is being discussed.

Mojto Due to economic pressure, there will be more of these kinds of cooperations. Which forms these will take on remains to be seen. 

How serious was the loss of Sky Deutschland, which got out of original productions last year, for the drama market in Germany?

Mojto We’re already feeling the loss of Sky Deutschland. I think that Sky is a sign of a broader consolidation in the market. We have to see what will happen with other players. How many streamers will survive? I expect a contraction. Last year was already a tough year. All the big companies felt it and will continue to feel it. At the moment, cost cutting is in. But I think it is a short-term trend. The environment is difficult, demands are high. The asset that Nico and I offer is experience. When we say we are going to do something, people believe us.

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