A Coffee In Berlin [Oh Boy] , the final film of our
Public Espresso themed trilogy about coffee and Constructivism.
We’ll also be hosting a post-screening coffee cupping
at Public in the lobby of The Lafayette.
Ticket Information: Free and Open to the Public
• Stop in early for FREE Breadhive granola while supplies last! •
courtesy of Music Box Films:
Jan Ole Gerster’s wry and vibrant feature debut A Coffee in Berlin, which swept the 2013 German Oscar Awards, paints a day in the life of Niko, a twenty-something college dropout going nowhere fast. Niko lives for the moment as he drifts through the streets of Berlin, curiously observing everyone around him and oblivious to his growing status as an outsider. Then on one fateful day, through a series of absurdly amusing encounters, everything changes: his girlfriend rebuffs him, his father cuts off his allowance, and a strange psychiatrist dubiously confirms his ’emotional imbalance’. Meanwhile, a former classmate insists she bears no hard feelings toward him for his grade-school taunts when she was “Roly Poly Julia,” but it becomes increasingly apparent that she has unfinished business with him. Unable to ignore the consequences of his passivity any longer, Niko finally concludes that he has to engage with life. Shot in timeless black and white and enriched with a snappy jazz soundtrack, this slacker dramedy is a love letter to Berlin and the Generation Y experience.
courtesy of press notes:
Before we talk about the movie that is, I want to ask about the movie that wasn’t, because this sprung from an abandoned project …
Well, there have been many ambitious scripts, and parts of the script I was working on are in the film. The original script made me feel like a fraud, so I stopped working on that and did nothing for a couple of years … I call this the research. And yeah, wrote this script in two weeks and for the first time it felt good to work on something like that! People gave me good feedback on it, and I got confident.
When people make debut features about aimless young people, it’s usually assumed that it’s in some way semi-autobiographical …
As I said I had to research it, it is a little bit autobiographical. It is personally, but not necessarily private. It’s inspired by a period I went through.
Were there any particular instances that were pulled from your life, or would you say it’s a kind of autobiographically inspired fiction?
That’s a nice way of putting it. No, for example, I was thinking about the conversations I had with my dad about future job situations and how a lot of young men—at one point in their life, when they’re stuck in the process—need to have this sort of conversation. A lot people identify with that scene more than I ever thought. This is definitely inspired by something personal.
Since you wrote it so quickly, did you do any other drafts?
Yes, I think there were two other drafts because the first draft was too long and my producer asked me to make it a bit shorter and I didn’t really know where to start … so I changed the size of the letters, which gave me 10 pages … then the producer figured it out, so I made a third draft, a real draft, and kicked out a few scenes.
Were there sequences of Niko meeting characters or encounters that ended up being dropped?
Yup, there were a couple of scenes. One scene I shot but had to lose during editing, and others I kicked out at an earlier point in the screenplay. Let me think, there was a scene where he meets a priest from Africa; they have a conversation about Bono from U2 and talk about music, and it was fun, but it just wasn’t leading anywhere.
Was that something you shot?
No, we shot a scene with a little boy after Niko walks through the forest. He comes to the lake and sees a little boy fishing, and they have a conversation about fishing and it was too much of a metaphor—these two boys, traveling back in time with this innocent kid, then the father joins them, and it was too much, so I had to cut it.
Seems like many of the people Niko encounters are doubles for him?
Yeah, I always saw him as this dark something that gets more and more visible by the encounters with other people that put a light on him. Every character makes something of his character understandable …
Did the character of Niko come first, or did the idea of the structure or the other characters?
Both came at the same time. I thought it was challenging and appealing to have this passive character and portray him through encounters with others. You can’t really tell what came first. I think these types of characters always fascinated me, so I always had him in mind and the idea of some sort of a road movie that never leaves Berlin, really. It’s a road movie of someone who has to walk because he lost his license. So yeah, this is how it started, with a vague idea of this passive young man that was inspired by many characters that I always loved in films and literature.
Could you give some examples of characters you love in film and literature?
Benjamin Braddock of The Graduate is someone I identified with as a teenager, and still do in a way. Not because I had an affair with a much older woman, but because of his relationship to the world he’s living in.
How long was your shoot?
Why black and white?
It was black and white in my head from the first page. I think I needed some kind of abstraction from the neighborhood that I know very well from real life, especially because the film is about everyday life and normal conversations. I kind of felt like it needed this distance that at the same time expresses or describes the distance that the character feels from the world.
Lit specifically for black and white?
We did a lot of tests to figure out which colors turns out to be a shade of gray. That was actually my working title: 50 Shades of Gray! But you’re right, we tested the black and white, back and forth. I think we considered 60mm until the very end, and then when we knew what our budget would be like, because we were trying to get more money, we decided to shoot digital.
What is your method when it comes to working with and shooting actors?
Actually I shot a lot; I was a little bit embarrassed when I went to editing. But it was always the same situation. We had Tom on set, and everyday someone else came in. Because every scene was like a short movie, my feeling was always like, “we only have him for one day, so let’s try this with this shot.” I hope to shoot more economically in the future.
Would you shoot the characters in blocks or would you do a character a day?
Most of the actors agreed to perform in this film for free, and said they had this one day where they could shoot it and come to my set …
Did you rehearse with them beforehand?
We rehearsed a little bit. There were a few actors that were into rehearsing. Usually I don’t really make them rehearse, because sometimes my experience has been that it’s not a good idea to rehearse forever. I was very happy with my ensemble, with my cast. Almost everyone in the picture I wanted to have, and I was very confident I was going to get good performances. For example, the neighbor character is a friend of mine, and I had no doubt that he would deliver a great performance.
Was it always part of the design to have Niko going through a downward structure through the film?
I don’t know, I enjoyed writing these scenes, I enjoyed torturing this character, it was fun to write. I tried to make the movie darker and darker, I think also the tonality of the scenes, especially the one with the old man in the bar, is different from what the film is like in the beginning …
When you were writing the film, did you have specific places in mind? Or were they more general locations, then you found where you wanted to shoot?
Well I don’t go to golf courses, for example, so I had no golf course in mind. For me, they all look the same; some are more beautiful, some…I don’t know. But there were a few locations I had in mind: for example, that theater and the restaurant where they meet Julia for the first time. When we did location scouting with the cinematographer in Berlin, we tried to find places that we kind of like but are about to disappear because the city is constantly changing. It’s becoming cleaner and slicker every day …
Is his apartment over in East Berlin?
No, this apartment was not an easy location to find. Because we wanted it to be a place where obviously no one is living, you know he just moved in. But the worst thing about a black and white film is just clean white walls. We looked for that empty apartment forever. I thought that would be the easiest location to find …
Did you have a neighborhood in mind?
Okay, so the apartment is actually put together from three different locations. There’s the living room in one location, then the bathroom (when he’s in the shower) in a different location (the same location as his backyard where he sees the neighbor playing foosball against himself), and there’s his living room and the view out of his window—which is my place.
How did you keep it straight? Did you have to draw out a floor plan?
I was thinking about that. I think, yeah, we had some sort of floor plan, but we ignored it.
Was the role written with Tom Schilling in mind?
Tom is a very close old friend of mine. We share the same taste in music and films and talk a lot about our projects. At one point I gave him the screenplay of Oh Boy for his opinion, though I didn’t have him in mind when I was writing it because he looked very young and it was important that Niko was in his late twenties. But Tom gave it his best shot to age as fast as he could … drinking in the morning, smoking, became a father, didn’t sleep very much…something changed and he became more mature, and then he wrote me a handwritten five-page letter about how he understood the character, how he loved the screenplay. So he convinced me, and I’m happy for that every day.
Did you work on the film alone with Tom before working with other actors?
We talked a lot about the script, but we didn’t rehearse a lot. We did a few rehearsals, but not every scene with every actor. The psychological test, for example, we rehearsed. I rehearsed with the neighbor. I didn’t rehearse with the old man because he’s a very well known German actor. I’m a big fan, so I asked his agent to give him the script and his first response was, “he’s not shooting anymore student films, he had some terrible experiences and he’s through with student films.” But thank god the agent made him read it and give it a try.
Where did that scene with the old man in the bar come from?
It’s pretty close to something I experienced in a bar a few months after I moved to Berlin. There was a very drunk old man sitting next to me talking about the war. I didn’t have encounters like this where I came from, so for me it described the city very well—this ultramodern new Berlin where you can still experience the ghost of history everywhere. And the fact that some people really experienced what went on and are still around stuck with me. It was one of the first scenes that made it into the script.
You’re playing this history off of modern day life, which seems totally different. What does that interest stem from, wanting to counterpoise these two worlds?
Moving to Berlin made me think about the past and what it’s like being German. These days I don’t think about it too much anymore, but when I was in my early 20s I had some experience. I was traveling to foreign countries and had experiences that make me think about what it’s like being German, what it means. I had this awareness and interest in how Germans deal with it these days. So the scenes you see in the film aren’t necessarily about the past, but how the past is still part of the present and somehow still part of our everyday life. I’ve tried to find scenes that express that the past is still everywhere, in a way, and I thought the best way to show it was this Nazi film folklore. Somehow, the whole industry is obsessed with making films about that time, but for some reason I don’t like them or they aren’t good and I was wondering what the problem was making really truthful films like that, why they always turn out to be the same kind of film. I don’t know … I found it very appealing trying to express what I felt at that time by having that scene in the script.
Do you think this generation is spoiled?
I think not, I don’t like generalizations. I meet great young people; they have jobs, dreams, and they’re happy. But I meet a lot of people as well who are unhappy, spoiled, and kind of scared about the future.
They say this will be the first generation that will be poorer than their parents; do you think they have a good reason to be scared?
That’s what the experts say, yes. I know a lot of people who have this kind of financial backup in a way. I don’t know anyone who lies to their parents about that money. Having all the freedom and all the opportunities to find yourself, whatever that means, turn out to be a jail for a lot of people.
Do you think that encounter with the old man provides Niko with a kind of motivation? Is the implication that there’s a sense of purpose in his life after that moment?
Yeah, I’ve always seen the scene, besides the strong subject, as an encounter with someone like Niko who dies alone, having never really found a way to deal with his life. So I’ve always seen this scene as a wake-up call for him.
Do you think the film within a film is kind of a double for the movie?
I was seriously thinking about making that my next film. For lack of a better idea.
At what point did the decision to use jaunty jazzy music come in?
That’s a long story. I started the editing and I had singer-songwriter music in mind. I never thought about working with classical, traditional film composers. I always wanted to make a score with musicians. Maybe I liked the idea that the music could be a character of its own.
Were you going to have songs about the characters, like commentary?
Not really. You should have told me two years ago; that would have been the best idea! Unfortunately we don’t really have a German Paul Simon, so I never found a singer-songwriter I was happy with. The singer-songwriter music I worked with in editing made the film very heavy. Then I asked a friend of mine—Sheryl McNeal from South Africa, who lives in Berlin and has a band called The Reader—to give it a try, because she plays piano. At that point, I was already trying jazz but the temp tracks were all unaffordable, blue note jazz kind of stuff. So Sheryl played around on the piano, and at that point I was already in love with jazz as the right music for the film, because it has the irony I was looking for and the melancholy that is never too heavy in one direction or the other. Besides that, I liked that it gives the film some kind of a timeless feel. Sheryl wrote a few pieces that I liked a lot, but she felt very uncomfortable with the jazz moments. She was very good at scoring the solo piano sequences with Niko, the moments that describe his inner mood, feelings and character. Every time it was more about the city, the craziness of everyday life, the jazz parts, she was very unhappy and so was I—because she’s not a jazz musician.
So I tried to find jazz musicians, but in Berlin the techno scene is huge, not jazz. And I was a little concerned I wouldn’t find a band with old school groove to it, you know. We were in the process of mixing the film and the rough cut was already getting invited to festivals. We still had no score, but they were announcing our premiere. In desperation, I went to a bar in the middle of the night. You can solve many problems in your life by going to a bar in the middle of the night, that’s what I experienced at least. And there was a band playing, one guy on piano and the other on trumpet, and I don’t know if I was slightly drunk, but they sounded like Chet Baker. I was like, “Wow, these kids can groove” and gave them a DVD of my film. They invited me to their rehearsal room, where they jammed to the film and hit every cut. They had never done film music before, but they totally got the idea of editing and composing to cuts. I felt so relieved, you can’t imagine, it was a lucky break.
bio courtesy of press notes:
Following his civil service, including training as a paramedic, Jan Ole Gerster completed an internship at X Filme Creative Pool GmbH, where he worked as Wolfgang Becker’s personal assistant and coordinator during the preparation, filming, editing and postproduction of Good Bye, Lenin! In 2003 Jan Ole Gerster began his studies in directing and screenwriting at the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin.
From 2003 to 2009, he completed several projects, including the documentary The Making of Good Bye, Lenin! and wrote the script for Sick House, part of the short film series GERMANY 09-13 SHORT FILMS ON THE STATE OF THE NATION (which also featured directors Tom Tykwer, Wolfgang Becker, Fatih Akin and Dani Levy, amongst others). A Coffee In Berlin (titled Oh Boy in Germany) is Gerster’s feature film debut.
LinksHere is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:
3/31/16 – “You know there’s a thing—since I was in high school, I read a book called The Art Spirit by Robert Henri, and in it he talks about this art spirit that transformed itself into the art life for me. Coffee is part of the art life. I don’t know quite how it works, but it makes you feel really good and it serves the creative process. It goes hand in hand with painting for sure.” David Lynch on coffee and creativity – link
4/3/16 – What are your favorite scenes centered around coffee? – link
6/4/16 – “The CCC turns one year old this month with a lineup highlighted by the great Werner Herzog. The Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God director is also a fascinating documentary filmmaker, and his latest looks to be no exception. Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World by Werner Herzog, a study of our interconnecting online lives, has its Buffalo premiere at 7 p.m. on June 13 at the North Park Theatre (1428 Hertel Ave.). The month also includes Mark Cousins’ Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise – Free Film Screening, a documentary about the nuclear age, at 8 p.m. on June 8 at Burning Books (420 Connecticut St.). And Jan Ole Gerster’s charming narrative feature A Coffee In Berlin screens at 1 p.m. on June 25 at the Mason O. Damon Auditorium at the Buffalo & Erie Central Library (1 Lafayette Sq.).” Christopher Schobert, Buffalo Spree magazine – link
6/16/16 – “With themes reminiscent of Frances Ha, down to its being filmed in black-and-white, A Coffee In Berlin presents a day or so in the life of Niko, as he careens from one absurd interaction to another, clearly floundering, but still not seeing that it is up to him to create the life he wants. Not tomorrow, but right now.” Sheila O’Malley, RogerEbert.com – link
6/22/16 – “Imagine if, instead of Titanic taking the day, Good Will Hunting had swept the Oscars the year both films were nominated. That’s basically what happened in Germany when Jan-Ole Gerster’s low-budget Oh Boy beat Cloud Atlas at the Lolas last year. Here was a modest, black-and-white debut coming out of nowhere to win six of the country’s top film prizes, and to see the film is to understand why: Renamed A Coffee In Berlin for its long-overdue, Music Box-backed U.S. release, this day-in-the-life indie says something profound about an entire generation simply by watching a feckless young man try to figure it out.” Peter Debruge, Variety – link