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  • AutorenbildRobert Zerbst

"STERNE" On-Set-Experience - did it leave a trauma?

The actors arrived, the set is prepared, the last arrangements have been made, the props are ready to go and the weather couldn't be better. The shooting can start on schedule, 13 days on location, beginning on the 14th august of 2019. It seems almost unbelievable as it starts and even less believable as it comes to an end.

The preproduction was extremely difficult and nerve-wracking due to the costs, costumes, cast and crew. A period piece should be prepared well - as every other project too.

Dreharbeiten "Ein Einblick in ein Trauma"
Till Gringmuth, Theresa Wagner, Robert Zerbst, Simon Carl Köber, Leopold Modrakowski & Julius Zimmermann on Set


Jonas Bartel and I spoke about the idea of the project for the first time in Febuary 2019. On that evening we presented the new musicvideo 'Rauch' of the band Only Y (Jonas Bartel, Julius Zimmermann, Till Gringmuth & Leopold Modrakowski).

The idea was simple: a music video for the song 'Sterne' which simultaneously is a short film. In a nutshell: after finishing editing the music video-version I decided to cut a short film-version titled 'A Glimps Into Trauma'.

Over a long period of time I wrote many diffrent scripts. I binned one after another - or better: I put them into my folder of 'old versions'. Then I had three finished stories which I combined into a bigger screenplay.

I read it, took it, put it into the 'old versions' folder too and started from scratch. I kept the idea of an anachronisitc story; added the paradoxical scenes, the historical time setting and the goal to work on the emotional level only.


After finishing the screenplay 'Sterne' a new exciting part of the preproduction began: storyboarding and location scouting. I drew the storyboard during many meetings with Jonas Bartel (lead vocalist Only Y) in the outdoors and in my office. At the end it consisted of about 52 drawings which also meant that we had to shoot about 52 shots.

The location scouting process was as interesting as it was exhausting. It meant finding what I drew and described on paper in the real world: the paths, the groups of trees, the fields, the woods and the farmhouse.

I was most concerned about the farmhouse location - finding one that fits the look, the time period and has the right size would be difficult - or so I thought. But luckily Jonas Bartel knew somebody who had access to such a location. So we drove there and were thrilled by its beauty and its calming nature. We decided to go with this farmhouse, found the remeaining locations nearby and were happy...

... until I calculated the travelling expenses. But thanks to Mr. Stein (owner of the Panorama Apotheke Dresden) we could cover the costs. At this point I want express my gratitute for your support: 'thank you, thank you, thank you'.


The time arrived to find the crew and cast. Which meant: posting casting notices on facebook, hanging them up in Dresden and just talking to people. Having almost no budget made recruting a challenging task but we ended up with an amazing team.

I want to mention one person in particular: Tina Henkel (Leipzig). She was trained as make-up artist at the opera in Halle and is a good friend of mine. With her work in the make-up, hair and cosumte departments she was essential on the set. Without her the material surely wouldn't have turned out as good as it did.

She also was a great help in the researching process and in purchasing the costumes. I will always think fondly of our shopping spree through all the second-hand shops of Dresden lasting for days - ending only just before shooting began.

Tina Henkel | Photo: Franz Gaitzsch

The casting went slowly: no interests in the roles and those who did reply at first were from places like Switzerland. But I had my stroke of luck: Simon Carl Köber (Dresden), Mia Maria Müller (Leipzig), Jennifer Toman (Hamburg) & Regina Felber (Dresden) were interested.

The collaboration with them was great and can be described as a harmonious get together: on a personal level as well as in the creative exchange. They gave many good suggestions, worked concentrated and most importantly: their acting was convincing.

blocking wih Simon Carl Köber and extras
Robert Zerbst, Till Gringmuth | Foto: Franz Gaitzsch


I aimed to create a family like atmosphere on set. We all managed to fulfill this and it was very benefitial for the team's moral. Nothing endangers a project more than a bad work environment, professional distance and the subsequent disrespectfulness. The appreciation of the other, no difference of his position, is necessary for these kind of no-budget-productions, probably for every production.

Working together as a concentrated team, in constant exchange and giving 100% all day long needs an environment that supports everybody. The dedication to the project provides the initial motivation but it has to be further fueled, otherwise the energy runs dry quickly.

The best example for our team spirit was the joint breakfast in the old farmhouse's living room early in the moring. It gave us an eccentric and rural feeling when the sun rose up and slowly awakened the old house with it. Every morning we were put in the mood to continue shooting just by the location itself.

As we started building the set for the next shot Tina Henkel began working on the actresses and actors. Two hours later we shot the first take.

,Sound is rolling? Sound is rolling. Scene six, shot D take one. Camera is rolling? Camera is rolling. And clap. [clap]. Attention please, quiet on set we are rolling. [break] Aaaaand please.'

What followed were 13 exhausting but valuable days of shooting. The last scene consisted of the most difficult shot: '[...] a man with his dog walks by dead bodys lying on the ground [...]'. What did the author think in the moment he wrote this scene, I asked myself.

As I wrote the scene I didn't expect 28°C (82,4°F) on a plain field in the blazing sun. You do not think of these things while writing because it would stop your creative flow.

But it went great. Tina Henkel worked hard in the shadow of a tree and prepared the 16 extras. We set up the dolly and rehearsed the scene a few times before the human extra-bodies were lying on the ground so they wouldn't dehydrate.

Panagiotis Smponias, Tina Henkel | Foto: Franz Gaitzsch
Till Gringmuth | Foto: Franz Gaitzsch
Foto: Franz Gaitzsch


It was unbelievable once it was over. It was done, we were done, I was done. The pressure finally disappeared for a short time. But now the question is: is the material any good?

It is what it is. If the audience likes it that is not for me to know - we can only do our very best.

The music video-version has been finished and was first shown to the public in a small event in november 2019, shortly before my departure to the US. Nine month of course is not a standart production length for a project of this budget size. But we were aware of its required efforts and energy from the beginng and found it to be worth it.

The music video-version 'Sterne' has been officially selected for the 'Bundesfestival junger Film 2020' in the category 'Junger Clip' and also for the 'UFA-Filmfestival 2020'. How the jury will decide remains to be seen.

Frame "Sterne"

Now the postproduction of the short film-version 'A Glimps Into Trauma' (ger.: 'Ein Einblick in ein Trauma') is almost finished. The details will soon be posted in a diffrent article.

I would like to thank everyone involved from the bottom of my heart. From setrunner, extra, cook, actor to sponsor etc. - you are the reason for making the project possible. Most importantly I want to thank the band Only Y, its members and my friends Jonas Bartel, Julius Zimmermann, Till Gringmuth and Leopold Modrakowski for agreeing to this project.

The headline suggested that the project left me with a trauma but the complete opposite applies. It wasn't traumtic, much more a dream and a valuable experience in my life.

Thank you for reading and have a nice day!

Robert Zerbst

Translation by Luise Greve

#filmproject #nobudget #musicvideo #dresden #saxony #drama #shooting #screenplay #crew #cast #teamwork #dream #planning

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