Just no Werther’s real grandpas: Big interview with “Max and the Wild 7” director Winfried Oelsner
First he wrote the novel and the screenplay with his partner Lisa-Marie Dickreiter – and then he was responsible for the film as a director: We talk to Winfried Oelsner about the children’s crime thriller “Max und die Wilde 7”.
Max is nine and lives in a retirement home. First there were three novels about the young detective who solves 7 criminal cases together with a smart senior trio named Wilde. This week, a movie called “Max und die Wilde 7” was launched, in which the title hero is played by the young actor Jona Eisenblätter. A real success story from start to finish. But how did it all come about?
: How does it actually work to write a novel for two?
Winfried Oelsner: We have always called it a ping-pong game. First an idea was developed, from the film business we are already used to the work steps Exposee and Treatment. And then we actually first wrote a script for the novel – but it has nothing to do with the film now.
We just wanted to find out how the characters, how the scenes work. So we lashed the plot – and only then started the actual novel. Lisa wrote the first version of the text because it comes from prose. We then kept revising that together, but not every sentence was discussed from the start.
: When you were writing, were you sure that the novel would be made into a film?
Winfried Oelsner: No, not at all. The idea for the novel arose spontaneously, we don’t even come from the children’s film scene. Lisa suddenly had this first sentence in her head: “My name is Max, I’m nine years old and I live in a nursing home.” She called me and we noticed that there was something in it: a little Miss Marple, an adventure story, a friendship story in between the generations.
There was the idea of making a film material out of it right away – but we decided on the novel after all, with the ulterior motive that it would be easier with the film if the book is successful.
FILM STARTS: “Max und die Wilde 7” is now coming to the cinema at a time when grandparents and their grandchildren have not been able to see each other for months, because visits to the old people’s home were advised against …
Winfried Oelsner: Of course, it wasn’t planned that way. But for us it was always about telling a generation story – and not with these kind senior citizens whom we jokingly called Werthers-Real-Grandpas. Just like in the candy advertisement, in which the grandfather paints the garden fence and everyone is noble and good. That’s exactly what we didn’t want. We tell of a gang that sometimes gets along rough with each other.
It was the distributor’s decision that the film should come out now. I think it’s good – of course it’s a risk, but it yesmovies in with the times and people want to go to the cinema again. I hope that we can sweeten the summer for many children a little.
They say shit after all
: One thing that you have kept in spite of criticism in Amazon user reviews, for example, is the language, which is sometimes a bit rougher when people say “shit”. I have to admit: I think that’s great, the whole film feels much more “real” …
Winfried Oelsner: You say it. You really spoke from the bottom of my heart to your film review. There is a contradiction, especially at Amazon – and at first you wonder how to deal with it. But especially in the context of our story, it is important that the characters are authentic – and if they use a rougher word in extreme situations, then that’s lifelike.
If we only used the swear words as a means to make the characters appear “cool” and “hip”, then I would find the criticism justified. Otherwise, I see it the other way around: If you polish everything up smoothly, then you turn it into a germ-free thing. It is less exciting and less fun for the children.
I talked a lot with primary school teachers, and we also did test screenings – also on this very subject. The reaction was always: “Leave it that way!” There are always parents who get upset about it, that’s their opinion and that’s okay too. But one mustn’t sand everything smooth out of hasty obedience either, that bothers me anyway with German film, which is often proceeded too anxiously not to offend anyone.
FILM STARTS: One thing that has been added to the film, however, are the numerous self-deprecating allusions to the real career of Uschi Glas, who embodies the seasoned actress Vera in “Max und die Wilde 7” …
Winfried Oelsner: For Vera, we wanted someone with the necessary star power, but who is also willing to approach the matter with a certain wink – and fortunately, Uschi Glas was immediately hooked. It then developed from this willingness – the star cuts, the Bravo Otto’s, the allusions to their own films. It really was the case that we discussed on the set that it would be nice if we had a few more film awards for Vera. Uschi only said: “Yes, I have everything at home, you can have it.”
: Did the idea arise out of a general admiration for the acting icon Uschi Glas? Or did you have a crush on her as a teenager yourself?
Winfried Oelsner: No, that was a bit before my time. The star cuts were made in the seventies – and I was born in 1972, so I only read Bravo in the eighties. So Uschi Glas is not one of my childhood favorites, I would lie.
There are actually two castles behind the Geroldseck
MOVIE STARTS: The retirement home in the fictional Geroldseck Castle is the most important setting in history. Did you have a role model in mind when you wrote the novel? Or did you just look for the set specifically for the film?
Winfried Oelsner: We first looked for the castle for the film – and that was very lucky. Because it is important to believe that a retirement home will fit in there. Many castles look big in photos, but are actually quite small. We then found our exterior motif in Braunfels Castle – the walls are so wonderfully nested, there are many nooks and crannies.
We found the right interior in Büdingen north of Frankfurt. Years ago, the princely family lived there personally – and many of the rooms are still in a habitable condition to this day. So we didn’t have to completely furnish empty rooms or empty a museum first. It felt a little like we were filming in people’s living rooms.
Is there a sequel?
FILM STARTS: If you want to make a second part of children’s films, you usually have to hurry up – on the one hand, the young actors are getting older, on the other hand, the target audience also grows from the appropriate age …
Winfried Oelsner: That is exactly the problem. We’d like to do a second part, we’re already working on the script. But of course it also depends on the success of the first film. The advantage is: “Max und die Wilde 7” starts pretty unrivaled, it fills a gap and thus gets more time to breathe. I hope for a decision in the fall. Then we could shoot in summer 2021 and bring the second part to the cinemas as soon as possible. Not too big a gap would be great.
: If you shoot a second part, will it be the story from the second volume of the novel series?
Winfried Oelsner: Yes. With “The Ghost Grandma” we have expanded the story twice: On the one hand, it is a scary genre, because the castle is haunted – and on the other hand, football is becoming an important topic. It’s about a match between a school team and a senior team – we would like to see cameo appearances from old football legends, we have already made initial contacts.
“Max und die Wilde 7” has been in German cinemas since August 6, 2020.
“Max und die Wilde 7” has been in German cinemas since August 6, 2020.