EXCLUSIVE: Christine Günther and Chevy Chen, the co-founding heads of Berlin and Los Angeles-based production company Fireglory Pictures, first met in Germany via Doug Liman’s executive produced series Covert Affairs.
“I was handling international producing work and met Christine when I came over to Berlin for some unit work,” recounts Chen.
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The pair hit it off and started collaborating on a piecemeal basis and then firmed up the working relationship with the creation of joint company Fireglory Pictures just over eight years ago.
They have completed three features under the banner to date: whacky rom-com Kiss Me Kosher, feature documentary Nasima, and ex-convict drama Home, on which they were co-producers.
Projects on the boil include hybrid live variety show and documentary project Music and the Machine by Jacob Kornbluth, best known for Inequality For All and Saving Capitalism; transhumanism drama The Procreators, in which a couple are given the opportunity to design their unborn child, and the narrative series The Babes, inspired by the story of Madeleine Altmann, the founder of the first women-owned and run porn site Babes4U.com.
Chen says there is ‘no formula’ for the type of projects they board but suggests it’s a fusion of their different tastes.
“My background is very 1980s, 1990s blockbusters in Hollywood, and Christine’s is more arthouse and European. Our tastes smash together, although we also trade places now, which is fun,” he says.
“We find stories that kind of sit in between and carry over, so they’re exciting and fun and entertaining, as much as a popcorn film can be, but also have substance and are there to bring meaning, to explore, to poke a bear and bring questions and conversations forward.”
Günther figuratively likens the editorial line to “storytelling street food”, that is “accessible, but then surprising with elements and ingredients that might challenge the taste buds.”
“We’re really trying to put out stories that not only create discourse for the sake of discourse, but also bridge gaps, bring people together, and I almost don’t dare to say it, but I’m going to say it, make the world a little better through storytelling.”
The industry veteran – whose recent separate line and executive producing credits include Killing Eve and The Flight Attendant – points to Shirel Peleg’s Tel Aviv-set feature Kiss Me Kosher as an example of such a film.
The picture revolves around a wise-cracking Tel Aviv bar owner who gets involved with non-Jewish, German biologist Maria and faces stiff opposition from her Holocaust survivor grandmother, who in turn is in love with her Palestinian neighbor.
“It’s a film about love and understanding and coming together when the stories of the past could lead us to stay in our respective corners,” says Günther.
“It’s very profound in its meaning, interactions and dynamics as well as the topics it touches on, from the Shoah to the Nakba, the conflict and the occupation, but it’s wrapped in a ridiculous screwball format.”
The film’s trajectory also reveals the challenges that Fireglory Pictures has navigated in its early days of existence, with its first productions coming to fruition as the Covid-19 pandemic kicked off in early 2020.
“When we rehearsed the film in Israel, we were sitting in bunkers because rockets were flying into Tel Aviv,” recounts Günther, referring to a March 2019 flare-up in the Middle East conflict.
“We finished the film and took it to market in Berlin in 2020, just as Covid hit. It got invited to Karlovy Vary for its festival premiere. We were looking into flights when it was cancelled,” recounts Günther.
Miraculously, the film enjoyed a buzzy theatrical release in Germany in between two lockdowns in September 2020.
“The film’s message is probably needed more than ever, but it’s unimaginable to go out with it now. It’s too soon and too close,” says Günther of the film, which will likely release in early 2024.
Günther and Chen are taking the setback in their stride.
“We released three films during Covid, which still gives me major PTSD. We should call ourselves, not sure if this is quotable but it comes from the bottom of my heart, Whack-A-Mole Productions,” says Günther.
The pair are pushing on with developing and producing their slate, tapping into finance and producer partners on both sides of the Atlantic.
“We’re cherry pickers on both sides of the pond,” says Günther. “There is a way to combine U.S. equity with European soft money and grants that feels very natural and reasonable for us and our partners.”
The company is currently in production on Patrick Shen and Brandon Vedder’s As Slow As Possible, an immersive and meditative film exploring the concept of time, to which German director Philip Gröning (Into Great Silence) is attached as executive producer.
“I just had dinner with Philip, who is a long-time collaborator of mine and a mentor to me. We’re very excited about that collaboration. It’s our most arthouse project but fits with our general mandate to provoke thought, and will provoke thought also through its form,” says Günther.
“This has to be a sanctuary experience for audiences that needs to be experienced in a theatre,” she adds, saying parts of the film could also be broken out for installations in arts spaces.
The company is in pre-production on Kornbluth’s Music and the Machine. Berlin-based music producer Victor Van Vugt, best known for his work with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, is on board as a producer and Fireglory is also seeking other partners for the hybrid work which also involves a live variety show component, shot in Las Vegas.
The company is at the packaging, financing and casting stage for The Procreators, written by Daniel Y-Li Grove (The Persian Connection), and French screenwriter Audrey Schebat’s English-language directorial debut Nothing To Lose, on which UK company Lucky Mothers is a co-producer.
The latter film is set in a not-so-distant future in which individuals in debt to society are put up for auction as a final kindness by the state, to make good use of them before they meet their death by ‘liquidation’.
Further feature projects in development include Chiara Centioni’s documentary Falling Into Vali, in which the Italian director, a former QVC shopping channel presenter, follows in the footsteps of late bohemian Australian artist and dancer Vali Myers, in a personal journey taking her from Italy’s Amalfi coast to New York and Australia’s Gold Coast.
Italian New York-based jewellery designer Amedeo Scognamiglio, whose collection with late partner Roberto Faraone Mennella shot to fame after it was featured on Sex In The City, has recently joined the project as executive producer.
The company is also currently working on a pilot for six-part Berlin-set series Oval, with writers and showrunners Janna Maria Nandzik (The Empress) and Stefan Titze (How To Sell Drugs Online Fast) attached. The drama revolves around the unexpected side effects of an empathy pill on the city.
“The next stage is get the pilot to potential partners,” says Günther.
They are re-cranking up development on The Babes, which is in the very early stages of development and was stalled due to the writers’ strike.
Fireglory has a producer agreement with the comedy-drama series’ subject Altmann, who lives between Berlin and Boston and came to them with her story.
“She was pointed in our direction. She pitched us the idea and we thought, this is exactly what we want to do. It’s one of our projects that was completely stopped by the strike, because we could not reach out to writers and showrunners, we’ve just picked it back up.”
A final project in the early stages of development is Alisa Berger’s dark comedy Sockpuppets exploring the theme of misinformation through the story of a young American ‘content provider’ who winds up working at a Russian troll farm.
“We’re waiting on the next draft so some things will change but essentially this is a true-ish story as it could have happened leading to 2016… we’re really looking at creating a dark, acerbic comedy around something that is deeply divisive and political, anchored in one woman’s true-ish account.”
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