"Changing consciousness without tensing up" - Joachim Kosack in interview

With its commitment to more diversity in front of and behind the camera, UFA is the first German company to send a signal. Joachim Kosack, Managing Director of UFA GmbH and UFA Serial Drama gives insight into the background of the decision in an interview. 


In a series of articles and interviews, we will address the issue of diversity in serial storytelling from different angles, each with a different focus, to provide a snapshot in 2020 and beyond. Where does Germany stand in this debate and in international comparison? How is diversity reflected in other parts of the increasingly globalized series market? What impact does this have on the production landscapes and this resulting material?

In light of recent events, we begin by looking at Germany - more specifically, at UFA's self-commitment, which aims to make more diversity a reality in front of and behind the camera by 2024. One of the stated goals behind the self-commitment: to depict the diversity of society in order to live out inclusion and tolerance.

Gerhard Maier, Artistic Director of Seriencamp Conference and Festival spoke with Joachim Kosack, Managing Director of UFA GmbH and UFA Serial Drama, about the need for broader change and why sometimes as a company you have to force yourself to change.

What was the nucleus from which the ideas for the self-commitment and the guides for material development emerged?

Joachim Kosack: Two and a half years ago, we took a close look at the results of Maria and Elisabeth Furtwängler's MaLisa Foundation and came to the conclusion that we had to come up with an audiovisual diversity charter. We subsequently made a necessary decision: Not to deal with any form of diversity immediately - otherwise we would have discussed the charter for a long time and without concrete results.

We decided to first look at gender and breaking down stereotypical narratives. We then followed that up with a charter that asks questions of all development teams: How do I need to interrogate materials to raise awareness of how role models are portrayed and gender relations. It became clear to us that this must also apply behind the camera - and that  we need to address other diversity issues as quickly as possible   - with People of Color, people with  impairments, LGBTIQ*.

But it was also clear to us pretty quickly that - if we didn't want to be accused of talking a lot in the Diversity Circle but not really changing anything - we needed concrete action steps. After a long and heated discussion this summer, we came to the conclusion that the only way to implement these changes was to make a commitment.

Where does the accompanying awareness of the need to take such a clear position here with concrete steps come from? 

Joachim Kosack: For the past two to three years, UFA has been demonstrating time and again how it is pushing to break down stereotypical narratives.  The employees* have been making it very clear for years how important they think it is that a big company like UFA shows a politically and socially relevant awareness - both in front of and behind the camera. This is deeply rooted: Wolf Bauer has always pointed out that it must be clear to us that we act in a socially relevant way with our programs - in historical and contemporary formats as well as in formats such as GZSZ or Deutschland sucht den Superstar.

This awareness is evident in employees who have worked strongly and self-committedly in the direction of "green producing" and diversity. Nico Hofman and I, as joint directors, have always agreed that filmmaking also involves a social or political mission that requires a stance. 

Do storytellers* bear greater responsibility here, since their own work has much more immediate impact?  

Joachim Kosack: In the noughties I produced parallel telenovelas as well as "Die Flucht" and "Stauffenberg". I came from highly intellectual theater, and went to Good Times Bad Times. Back then there was no social media, but the fans were still at the door in Babelsberg - and when you walked through the rows of these fans after ten hours of conceiving stories, you knew that what you had come up with in the past ten hours you were going to tell exactly to these people.

As a storyteller*, I always have to be clear about what I'm triggering. We depict realities that trigger something and are formative. I think the term educational mission is too broad here. But I think it's always about setting impulses.

I have to be aware of that, and that's why it's important what attitude I approach this with. It's not about the approach "How do I want to change German society?", that's too didactic. But I have to know that I am making a contribution. That's why it's important for a company like UFA that the makers are free to make creative decisions and that we don't take a selective approach to the subject. We ask ourselves as a whole UFA: What does our overall portfolio look like?


This seems to illustrate a corporate culture that is rooted much deeper than just in strategies drafted at the top.  

Joachim Kosack:  Corporate culture is not created when CEOs sit down in a fancy hotel with an expensive coach and develop a purpose or culture. Corporate culture only arises when people have the desire to shape it and sit on issues. But they will only do that if they are valued and if they are given the resources and the opportunities to shape it.  

A culture of listening is important for this, as is agile and team-based working. I believe that in teams - to use an analogy from sports - there must always be captains or player-coaches. As on the football field, however, everyone has to play their part - not everyone can play striker. But working together is just as important in sports as it is in filmmaking: Directors are important, but so are writers, camera and costume and make-up designers, etc.


Diversity is corporate culture and also includes the questions: How do we want to work with each other and how do we position ourselves as a major player in socio-political terms.

But this obviously applies not only in socio-political terms, but also with regard to changes in the industry. Does something also have to change here in training to meet the changes in the international production landscape?                

Joachim Kosack: In training, it is also becoming more important to be aware that film always emerges from a team. Auteur filmmakers, who determine all aspects of a film themselves, are partly at least discontinued models. The question arises as to what extent the creator of a classic ninety-minute film is still important in newcomer awards and not the team behind it. A lot will change here in the next few years - just as a lot has already changed in recent years 


You also always have to create tools first to be able to act more diversely and to address people, for example on the topic of "recruiting". Not only for actors or writers, but also in accounting, in communication or in post-production. Our industry is very academically white. We also need to go to other, new places to invite people to join us.

The establishment of the series as one of the primary storytelling forms of the 21st century seems to be putting some of the industry's old ways of thinking and doing things to the test. Is the will to see this change and help shape it important to be viable in the future?  

Joachim Kosack: When I started teaching series in the early noughties, some of my first students were Robert Dannenberg and Bora Dagtekin. They wanted to make series and at that time they were still seen as aliens. There was a phase where there were young creatives who thought series were great, but before "In the Face of Crime" there was nothing in Germany that could interest them. At the same time, the broadcast slots were becoming increasingly scarce and almost exclusively American. After Dominik Graf with "Im Angesicht des Verbrechens", Tom Tykwer with "Babylon Berlin" or UFA with "Deutschland83" discovered the series as a narrative for themselves, that changed. Today, it's probably harder to find students in Ludwigsburg who want to make a ninety-minute movie rather than a series.

Nico Hofman and I are shaped here by the idea of allowing change: Making generational contracts and realizing that every ten years there's a new generation that needs spaces. Decision makers are going to change, we see that with public broadcasters as well as streamers.

If you don't adapt to generational change as a university as well as a large company, you will quickly become a discontinued model. The dynamism of a market is always stronger than the structures, as the music industry had to experience in a brutal way.   

What effect should the UFA's self-commitment and guiding principles have?

Joachim Kosack: It's about looking at material and content with a different consciousness. When we created the gender charter, I worked on a script that was set in a high-rise building. In the book, one small role - and this may sound very trite, but it illustrates the point of "consciousness" - was titled "Resident Eugene." Another role was called "Wife of Eugene" - we all hadn't noticed that. Why doesn't it say "Resident Stefanie" and "Husband of Stefanie"? This illustrates the problem very well: why does it say "the chief doctor" or "the chief inspector" in many scripts then?

We also want to continue to serve some stereotypes, they still exist. But the question is always: Is it the only stereotype I work with? Or is it just one of a bouquet of stereotypes? Do I always use the same stereotypes, or do I mix them up? Do I always tell only about the Turkish greengrocer or also about the Turkish politician? I can only achieve this change in thinking through a change in consciousness. And for this change you have to ask yourself questions in your daily business and help each other to think differently.

The self-commitment comes about because we have dared to take the first steps and now want to force ourselves to be able to show visible progress in four years. Only when you force yourself do you change mechanisms and automatisms. We also know that we need to develop tools to make our programmes comparable, to evaluate them and to measure success. We approached the self-commitment first, which forces us to develop the tools. I think if we did it the other way around, we'd still be talking about it three years from now and nothing would have changed.

It's about bringing about a shift in consciousness without hindering creative processes and without being uptight.  In doing so, you have to be allowed to make mistakes and admit that you're still wrong about certain things. 

Mr. Kosack, thank you very much for the interview.