NEW YORK – Jorgo Papavassiliou, a Greek from Germany is the director of the successful Cosmote TV production 42 Degrees Celsius (42° C), a psychological thriller which has captivated the audience and has been receiving excellent reviews for a few weeks now.
This is, of course, only one of Papavassiliou’s successful productions in a remarkable career, with important and award-winning works in the German film and television industry. He spoke with The National Herald about his early years in Germany, his career, the peculiarities of the Cosmote TV series but also the challenges of shooting, which took place immediately after the first wave of the pandemic in an area of Corfu known for its "wild" beauty.
TNH: Mr. Papavassiliou, tell us a bit about yourself. You are, in essence, a Greek living abroad, as you grew up in Germany.
Jorgo Papavassiliou: I was born in Greece, but I moved with my parents to Germany when I was 3 years old. They were immigrants there and worked hard, mainly in the factories. That's how I grew up. In the meantime, I went to America for a year, in 1985, on a student exchange program. I returned to Germany, passed the entrance exams and went to University. I studied in Munich and then, as a graduate, I applied to enter the School of Directing, for which I passed other exams. All this took place up until 1997. From then on, I moved to Berlin which was with Cologne and Munich, the centers of television and cinema in Germany. Of course, I have to say that as a person and as an artist, I was greatly influenced by American cinema and, when I matured more, by French cinema.
TNH: What does Germany offer a director?
JP: Germany has several advantages. First of all, it has money, while it utilizes cinema and television as an industry, something that does not yet exist in Greece. In other words, they treat it the same way they produce other products, such as cars. They have studios, they have technology, quantity and quality. In general, they have developed a huge experience and we see this in the end result. To understand, in numbers, what I mean, I will tell you this: In one year, they produce a total of 2,500 TV movies, movies and series. Do you understand the number? From telenovelas to movies.
TNH: But is there a disadvantage in relation to English-language productions, that is, that the German language is not as widespread?
JP: These productions are translated and dubbed. I have made films in Germany, which have been sold in 50-60 countries. From romantic comedies to every genre. The Germans are more successful on television, perhaps not as much in cinema, but that's another discussion. On television and the so-called "online streaming" they have succeeded. We see it on all known television platforms.
TNH: Currently one of your works has become very popular in Greece. I mean, of course, the miniseries 42 Degrees Celsius on Cosmote TV, a Greek psychological thriller. Let us first discuss the philosophy of the script.
JP: The producer and show runner of this series is Natalie Douka, who came up with the idea ten years ago. The purpose was to show, through a psychological-erotic thriller, what is happening in the countryside, behind what we see on the surface. It basically approaches the "myth" of the Greek family, which we admire and use as the basis of our daily lives, as it is very important for our lives, as it supports us in difficult times. It shows, however, that not everything behind the curtains is rosy: There may be jealousy, lying or even murder. This, then, was the idea: A hot Greek summer to bring everything to the surface. All the lies. We would say that this series flattens the Greek "myth of the family."
TNH: In the series, we see a contradiction: The bright summer image of Greece in a "dark" atmosphere. How did you reconcile this?
JP: Let me emphasize that, from the beginning, I told the producers, but also Cosmote, the following: It would be a big mistake to make a thriller with the Scandinavian look. Firstly, it cannot be done practically with the light that exists in Greece and, secondly, it is not possible to make a copy, because the viewer will see through it. We have to have our own approach to style and to the thriller. We have elements that are "dark", but, basically, our goal was to take the romantic element and make it dangerous. With the drone shots we made the feeling a bit strange: Although we do see the beautiful landscapes of Greece, they are not "beautiful" as they would be presented in a romantic drama or a romantic comedy. There is a danger in the atmosphere. We also put in the insects. Each insect represented a character. We created a thriller with a Greek signature. It also had dark spots, but, above all, the philosophy was that the "beautiful" was becoming "dangerous". You will notice, however, even more "bad" shots. If you watch at the end, a character, Dimitris, stands with his mobile phone in the sea. The sea, as seen in the shot, is ugly, the seaweed is visible, as well as the feet on the seafloor, which are sometimes beautiful, sometimes dangerous. We did not want, on the one hand, Greece to look like it does in Mama Mia, but neither did we want to go to the standards of a Scandinavian thriller, with the colors of Northern Europe.
TNH: The shooting took place, if I am not mistaken, last summer, in the midst of the pandemic. How did this condition affect your work?
JP: First of all, it affected us financially. I have not calculated how many thousands of euros the production spent in Corfu, where the shooting took place, just for the COVID-19 tests. We were all in one hotel exclusively, while it was forbidden to have contact with people outside the workshop. We followed that. We tested twice a week. Also, if someone left for personal reasons and returned or if some actors came in and were vaccinated, they had to take a test, at least 48 hours before filming. Remember, at that time there was no rapid test or self-test, but only the molecular one. Also, these were expenses. The same goes for the shooting for the new series in Crete. We do not have contact with people outside the workshop, although now things are not as dangerous, since half the workshop has been vaccinated. But not all. We test often. If some people have not done the test, whether we are talking about colleagues or employees in the workshop, they do not even come near us. First they have to have a negative test and then they will come to the set. The masks, of course, need not be mentioned. Indoors, there is no crew member who does not wear a mask.
TNH: The series is now available on the Cosmote platform, with all episodes on demand. There is no such agony of waiting for the next episode, as the viewer can binge watch. Do you think it is better that way or is the "magic" lost?
JP: It is definitely better that way. Especially for our series, because it has some important details that need to be taken care of. There are people who saw it with a gap of two or four days between episodes. They did not have the same approach as someone who saw the episodes in a row. When time passes, we forget details. They had to watch it a second time to understand the symbolism I had included, while they understood the details later. As well as the big surprise in the last episode. I believe that "On Demand" is the future. From what Cosmote TV informed me, most of them sat in silence for a while and watched the whole series. It is also the fact that it hooks you and you want to see the sequel. I'm a big fan of David Lynch and when I saw at 20 years old, Twin Peaks I realized that the thriller is like a puzzle and you should not miss anything. So 42 Degrees Celsius is a series with so many puzzles that one must look carefully.
TNH: After this psychological thriller, will there be a sequel?
JP: Surely the producer and Cosmote have thought of something for the future, but I do not know if it will be based on this story. Of course, it's a bit difficult to continue in this series with the way it ends. Also, I do not know if this sequel will be with me. In any case, Cosmote TV was a great success, both with our series and with "Eteros Ego" and I believe that in general there will be continuity in this. It is important, when we talk about television that relies on its subscribers that they identify in such a way with the series.
TNH: In closing, tell us about the series you are currently shooting in Crete.
JP: It is a series of 12 episodes for ERT. It is called Cartes Postales and is based on a book by Victoria Hislop. We started filming in early March in London, where I had to go through a ten-day quarantine again. It is expected to wrap on July 16. We have the "creme de la creme" of Greek actors, Maria Nafpliotou, Vassilis Haralambopoulos, Gerasimos Skiadaresis, Anna Mascha, Giannos Perlegas, and Orfeas Avgoustidis starring, that is, very big names and I am proud of that. We will create something very powerful. Of course, nothing to do with a psychological thriller, here, we are talking about drama. The goal in this series is to do something with a very strong Greek identity, with an international look and quality.
The series 42 Degrees Celsius is available on Cosmote TV on demand and stars Katerina Lehou, Christos Loulis, Emily Koliandri, Theo Alexander, Alexandros Logothetis, Natalia Swift, Kostas Nikouli, Michail Tabakakis, Semiramis Ampatzoglou, Nikolakis Zeginoglou, Marielli Manoudaki, and Stephania Sotiropoulou.